Chocolate Macadamia Nut Bars
I tasted these bars for the first time a few years ago on a visit to Hawaii’s Big Island. They have a buttery brown sugar shortbread cookie base packed with toasted macadamia nuts, a layer of caramel that bakes into the shortbread layer, and a generous topping of bittersweet chocolate.
After downing one in just a few seconds, I decided I must have this recipe. I tracked down Cathy Haber, who I learned had created these prize-winning bars for a Kona Chocolate Festival. After multiple pleadings she said she couldn’t give me the recipe because she had sold it to the owners of a café where she had been hired as the resident baker. However, she was willing to answer a few of my questions.
Cathy revealed she based her recipe on one for pecan turtle bars, substituting Hawaii’s macadamia nuts for the pecans. She also bakes her bars in a half-sheet pan, a larger-size jelly-roll pan measuring 17 x 12 inches, and cuts them into 3-inch squares. After some sleuthing on the internet and a little tinkering, I came up with this version, which, in side by side tests with Cathy’s bars, taste exactly the same. Because they’re so rich, I make the bars half the size as hers and bake them in a 13 x 9-inch pan. If you want to make them Cathy’s way, simply double everything and use the same kind of pan she does. I keep the bars refrigerated and bring them to room temperature before serving.
Chocolate Macadamia Nut Bars
Macadamia Nut Base
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts, preferably unsalted, but salted is fine
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (dip the dry measuring cups into the flour container filling them to overflowing and sweep off the excess with a metal spatula; 7 1/2 ounces weight)
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate morsels
Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 baking pan. Put the macadamia nuts into a shallow baking dish and toast them in the oven, stirring once or twice, for 5 to 10 minutes or until they are an even, deep golden brown color. Watch them carefully so that they don’t burn. Set aside to cool.
Put the flour and 1 cup brown sugar into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process about 10 seconds to combine them thoroughly. Add the butter pieces and process until the mixture is like very fine crumbs, about 30 seconds. Stop to scrape the work bowl as necessary.
Stir in the nuts and place in the prepared pan Press firmly to make a compact layer.
In a heavy medium saucepan melt the 1/2 cup butter over low heat. Add the 1/2 cup brown sugar and stir well with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined and smooth. This may take 1 to 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high and cook, stirring constantly, until the entire surface of the caramel is bubbly. Cook and stir 30 seconds more. Immediately pour the hot caramel over the nuts and spread evenly with the back of a metal spoon.
Put the pan in the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the entire surface of the caramel bubbles.
Remove the pan from the oven. Wait 1 minute, then sprinkle the chocolate morsels evenly over the caramel.
Let stand 2 to 3 minutes for the heat to melt the chocolate. Spread the chocolate evenly with an offset metal spatula or the back of a metal spoon. Cool completely, then refrigerate to set the chocolate. Store in refrigerator. Cut into bars with a sharp knife.
Makes about 30 bars.