Carmelitas are a layered cookie bar that's filled with caramel and chocolate chips encased in a buttery crust then baked until they're gooey and golden. They're a handheld dessert that's ideal for the holidays, game day or packed up for picnics and backyard barbecues.
This type of cookie bar is one that's an all time favorite at our house. The ingredients to make are the kind that are regularly found stocked in the pantry and the caramels are typically the only item I'll need to pick up. You can use those famous little square Kraft caramels in place of the Trader Joes caramels, if those are easier for you to find. They do result in a more chewy texture and you'll need to give them stand time at room temperature to soften a bit before serving.
How to Make the Best Carmelitas Recipe
- Ingredients you'll need to make homemade Carmelitas: Chopped pecans, all purpose flour, butter, quick cooking oats, light brown sugar, baking soda, salt, Trader Joes Fleur de Sel caramels, heavy cream, vanilla extract and semi sweet chocolate chips or milk chocolate baking chips.
- Kitchen gadgets you'll need: A non stock 13 x 9 inch baking pan, heavy duty aluminum foil, a hand mixer or stand mixer, measuring cups and spoons, a small saucepan to make the caramel and rubber spatula or spoons for stirring.
- When choosing the caramel I've tried this recipe using two different brands. My personal preference is to use Trader Joes Fleur de Sel Caramels. The texture of the caramel is softer and it maintains that after baking and cooling. If you can't find them, rest assured you can use classic square cellophane wrapped Kraft caramels instead.
- When using Kraft caramels, you can expect the Carmelitas to be more chewy in texture as that caramel sets more firmly as it cools. You should also let them stand at room temperature to soften a bit prior to serving.
- You can line the pan with heavy duty foil or parchment paper. Carmelitas are sticky, so either way it's important to grease the foil or parchment paper so they'll release more easily once set.
- While it's not classic to put pecans in the dry crumb mixture, I do prefer it. Pecans add to the texture that complements the gooey caramel so well. It's the perfect contrast of textures.
- It's important to allow these ample time to cool after baking before you attempt to cut them into squares. Cooling them to room temperature is best, then cut into squares and chill in the refrigerator an airtight container.
- When storing, it's always a good idea to separate stacked layers with wax paper or parchment paper, to prevent the Carmelitas from sticking together.
- Store Carmelitas in an airtight container chilled for up to one week or freeze for up to 2 months.
More Southern Style Cookie Bars to Make
Many cookie recipes can be transformed into bars with little adaptation apart from the baking time. You'll need to treat cookie bars just like a cake and check the center with a tester or toothpick to be certain they've baked all the way through. More cookie bar recipes you may also like to try:
- Bodacious Butterfinger Bars are buttery and rich with bits of Butterfinger candy bars in every bite.
- Pineapple Coconut Chess Bars aka gooey butter cake, are rich and decadent.
- Snickerdoodle Cookie Bars are bound to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
- My recipe for German Chocolate Brownies is the only one you'll ever need.
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Cheesecake Bars are a fusion of two desserts combining them into one handheld treat.
- Easy Cherry Pie Crumb Bars are a cake mix hack that anyone can make.
- Strawberry Oatmeal Bars from Well Plated.
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Helpful Kitchen Items:
- 1 ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts divided use
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 ½ cup quick cooking oats not instant
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 48 soft caramels, unwrapped i.e. Trader Joes Fleur de Sel Caramels
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup milk chocolate chips or semi sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with heavy duty foil, leaving 1-2 inch overhang. Butter or spray with cooking spray on all sides. Set aside.
- To make the crust: Use an electric mixer on low speed or by hand, mix together flour, oats, baking soda, salt and softened butter. Mix just until crumbly. Add ½ cup pecans, mixing through until evenly distributed.
- Divide mixture in half, pressing one half firmly onto bottom of pan. Place into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. (Place reserved mixture in fridge to keep chilled)
- To melt caramels: Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt together caramels and cream on low heat until smooth. Remove from heat, add vanilla. Mix well.
- Remove crust from oven, let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and pecans. Pour melted caramel over chocolate chips.
- Sprinkle reserved crumb topping over caramel and return to the oven baking for 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden.
- Remove from the oven and loosen the edges from sides. Cool in the pan completely before cutting.
- Store chilled in the refrigerator or at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Cool and freeze for up to 2 months.