Martha Stewart's caramel nut barsMartha Stewart's caramel nut bars

First, a warning—DO NOT MAKE THESE! THE RECIPE DOES NOT WORK!! I sent Martha Stewart a sharply worded email to that effect but haven’t heard back from her.

Now, the discussion—I got Martha’s new baking book for Christmas and this is actually the first time I have tried making anything out of it. It’s been by my bed and I’ve read the whole thing, though, and this is the recipe that probably attracted me the most. I’m a sucker for the mix of sweet and salty; think of Payday candy bars and chocolate-covered pretzels, and this is a shortbread base covered with a caramel topping mixed with assorted salted nuts. That sounded heavenly to me, even if the recipe was a little more work than you want in a bar cookie. For instance, you have to make home-made caramel, using a candy thermometer, and you have to roast all the nuts and chop them. I did take a short cut by mixing the shortbread in the food processor instead of the mixer, which is always easier and quicker, but still.

Anyway, I was willing to go to the trouble if I would have spectacular cookies at the end. Another annoyance is that the recipe carries over onto the next page of the cookbook, so that I had to keep turning the page back and forth, which was also at a place in the book that was stiff with a photo section so it wouldn’t stay turned, or even open. I think cookbooks should be laid out so recipes never do that, make you have to flip pages back and forth.

Well, I burned the first batch of sugar syrup, and you all know how easy that is to do from my post on flan, but in this case I wasted 4 cups of sugar, which I had to throw down the sink. I started over again and got it right this time, watching closely when it began to get near the temperature I needed. Then I mixed heavy cream and butter into the syrup and let it cool for a bit, all as called for in the recipe, eventually adding the nuts, pouring over the baked cookie base and putting into the oven for, as the recipe said ‘10 minutes, or until set’. As soon as I read that I knew it would never work. There was simply nothing in the topping, such as eggs, to make it ‘set’, and no amount of baking would make it do so. But after wasting all that time and expensive ingredients I figured Martha and her assistants must test these recipes, musn’t they? So I persevered, although doubled the baking time. Of course, it wasn’t set when it came out of the oven; the caramel topping was slopping all over. But by then I knew that more baking wouldn’t really help. You try baking caramel—heat softens it, it doesn’t firm it up! So I figured that maybe thorough cooling would ‘set’ it.

The way the cookies look in the photo is as good as they got, shortly after cutting them. As time passed the topping began ever so slowly to creep and run like some kind of primordial ooze. I had taken them between layers of waxed paper to an all day event and what I was left with was waxed paper fused together by layers of nutty caramel. Huge disappointment and tremendous irritation with Martha. Maybe she has pounds of sugar, nuts, butter, and pints of heavy cream to waste but I do not.


I have very rarely had luck with Martha’s recipes…the pictures are gorgeous but I think of her as that neighbor who bakes and cooks like a dream but leaves something out of the recipe if you ask her to share her secrets. See this blog for a similar experience…

Thanks for the validation, Marcy—loved your photo! I have a great biscotti recipe I make with variations that I give in decorative tins for Christmas gifts and it’s very popular. It’s slightly adapted from the Chez Panisse cookbook and works like a dream. I know it’s not as impressive-looking as what you were trying to make but there’s something to be said for reliability! Check back in the fall because I will post it as a public service.

It’s interesting because on the weekend I made a marble cake with white chocolate cake out of her baking book and it didn’t turn out well at all. It was quite dry and I was disappointed.

I’ll keep your results with the caramel bars in mind!

Hi “Mom,”
I like your blog — primarily because Martha Stewart makes my lips involuntarily curl. But I have a tremendous recipe for caramel nut bars, which sounds a lot like Martha’s, only easier. I make them all the time — they’re by far my most requested cookie. I just made a batch last night. If you’d like to try them, please let me know via my blog or email and I’ll be happy to send it along! (All on one page — so you won’t have to flip anything) :)

I am really sorry to hear about your oozing nut bars. I made them this weekend and they worked out great. I agere about the problem with having to turn the pages, but I cook out of that book all the time and everything seems to work like a dream. Good luck :)

i agree with you. I tried some of martha stewarts’ cookie recipe. It DIDN"T work. All her pictures look nice, but somehow, it just doesn’t work for me. Even though I followed her recipe to the dot.

Hi, I made the caramel nut bars, brought the caramel up to 325, and then baked for 20 minutes (twice the time instructed.) The consistency was good, didn’t ooze, was soft and chewy. As a former pastry chef, I’ve found that commercial and home kitchens and equipment vary tremendously—more cookbook testers should test on home equipment. Anyway, just wanted you to encourage you to make these again with these slight alterations.

I have a cookie exchange paty to go to tomorrow and saw this recipie at barns and noble trying to get ideas…..I happen to make PHENOMENAL french butter caramels from scratch. I knew I wanted to make a cookie that showed them off a bit. When I read her recipie it stuck me odd that they are finished off in the oven, too. The cream and butter need about 5 to 7 minitues of cooking (or reducing) in the pot after you add them to the sugar to get a thick, chewy consistency. I am going to try baking the shortbread crust through and adding my own caramel recipie with roasted walnuts over the top. The caramel is always runny/pourable at first, and will take app. 4 hours at room temperature to set. You may be able to speed this up on the back porch:) I will write back later and give you the full recipie if they turn out.

Hi, I just made these caramel nut bars and they did not come out. I followed the receipe to a T and still it is runny, I am trying to think of what to use it for, maybe as a center for somethng, any ideas I don’t want to waste the ingredients, they are expensive. I wish I would of read this before I made them, I got the recipe from a cook book of cookies and copied it, I did not know it was Martha’s recipe. So help me any ideas on what to do with it.

Hi Rachel-Sorry you had to duplicate my experience. The only mistake I think I might have made may have involved the temperature of the sugar syrup when I added the cream as I am not a veteran of homemade French caramel.

Yes, the ingredients are expensive and all I can think of doing with your big pan of slop is using it as an ice cream sauce. Either scraping the topping off, or even chopping up the shortbread and using the whole thing; maybe you could layer that with ice cream in pretty glass flutes and put them in the freezer before the dinner party, might make a unique dessert, sort of a “caramel shortbread fool.” Which is what we are. :)

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