Caramel Coconut Cluster Bars

There are few things in life that make me as happy as a delicious bar cookie. Shortbread on the bottom. Some sort of caramel layer. Nuts or coconut or seeds. And chocolate. Dipped in chocolate, drizzled in chocolate, painted with chocolate. Any of these options are okay.

My usual go-to bar for this type of craving is Alice Medrich’s Toffee Bar. Seriously delicious. Seriously addictive. Seriously easy to make. Like really really easy to make.

But my friends’ daughters have all been talking about Girl Scout cookie orders and I was looking through my Baked books for some ideas and then I found it: Samoa-inspired bar with coconut.

Delicious. Declared a winner by a discerning judge. Consumed in vast (don’t ask how vast) quantities by me.

But I did make some amendments and have suggestions for some more.

First of all, the recipe calls for sweetened shredded coconut. It also calls for about 100 pounds of 30 different types of sugar (hyperbole alert). So I used unsweetened coconut. I found it delicious because the coconut flavor came through. It also calls for milk chocolate mixed with dark chocolate for the glaze/dip. I also find milk chocolate too sweet – especially when coupled with the afore-mentioned 100 pounds of sugar – so I used only dark chocolate. And it was supposed to make 24 bars. When I tried to cut them into 24 bars, each one was huge. No way was I going to be responsible for the insta-diabetes infection of so many colleagues. So I cut them into 48 bars.

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In the future, I’ll probably use Alice Medrich’s shortbread crust recipe. I found this one difficult to press evenly in my cake pan and it was far too crumbly for the all important chocolate dipping step at the end. I’ve included her recipe below.

Caramel Coconut Cluster Bars

FromĀ Baked Elements

Yield: 24 bars (officially; I cut them into 48)


For the toasted coconut

3 cups (about 300 grams) shredded (un)sweetened coconut, divided

For the cookie base (see alternative recipe below)

2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated (white) sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the caramel layer

1 cup light corn syrup (I used vit sirap)

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated (white) sugar

1/2 cup (115 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

2 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the assembly

6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60-72%), coarsely chopped

2 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, coarsely chopped


Make the toasted coconut

Preheat the oven to 300F. Line a (ridged) baking sheet with parchment paper.

Spread the coconut in an even layer on the baking sheet and toast, tossing and turning every 4 minutes or so, until the coconut just starts to turn golden, about 12 minutes total. Remove the coconut from the oven and set aside to cool.

Make the cookie base

Increase the oven temperature to 350F. Lightly spray a 9×13 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper, allowing the parchment to overhang on two sides. Lightly spray the parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and the flour mixture and beat just until combined.

Turn the dough out into the prepared baking pan and, with lightly floured hands, press it into an even layer on the bottom of teh pan (do not press up the sides). Prick the top of the dough with the tines of a fork (oops! I forgot that step!) and bake the crust for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until golden. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Make the caramel layer

In a medium saucepan, combine the corn syrup, both sugars, and 2 tablespoons of water and stir gently so you don’t splash any of it up on the sides of the pan. Set the saucepan over low heat and continue to stir gently until the sugar dissolves. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure the bulb of the thermometer is immersed in the syrup. Turn the heat up to medium-high and wait without stirring for the mixture to reach 240-245 F, about 7 minutes. Keep a watchful eye on the temperature while you proceed with the next step – you do not want the mixture to exceed 250F.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the cream and sweetened condensed milk. Gently warm the mixture while stirring; do not let it boil.

Once the sugar mixture turns amber, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter and the warm cream mixture until completely combined (be careful, as it will bubble up when you add the cream mixture). Place the pan back over medium heat, stop stirring, and bring the mixture back to 245-250F.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and fold in 2 cups of the toasted coconut.

Pour the caramel directly onto the cookie base and, working quickly, use an offset spatula to spread it into an even layer. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup toasted coconut over the caramel and press lightly to adhere. Let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, then place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a knife to loosen the chilled bars from the sides of the pan, then lift the bars out using the parchment paper overhang. Spray a sharp knife with nonstick cooking spray (I did not need to use spray on my knife, as it cut cleanly) and cut the bars into 24 rectangles and place on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Assemble the bars

Melt the chocolate in the bowl of a double boiler over medium heat.

The recipe recommends dipping half of the bar in chocolate, then scraping off excess chocolate with an offset spatula. The coconut topping and shortbread crust were too crumbly for me to go with that route.

In the picture, the bakers seem to have ‘painted’ half of the bar with chocolate. This might be a better option if your coconut is very loose.

I dipped the bottoms of my bars in chocolate and set them on a wire rack to harden. I melted more chocolate and put it into a small plastic bag, snipped off a corner, and drizzled chocolate over the top of the bars. After the chocolate hardened, I used a fork to pry them off of the rack.

Place the bars back into the refrigerator for 15 minutes to let the chocolate set up. Serve immediately.

The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 4 days. They taste really good directly from the refrigerator as well as at room temperature – entirely up to you.


Alice Medrich’s Easy Shortbread Cookie Base (from Toffee Bars)


12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter

1/2 cup (2.33 ounces) sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour


Preheat the oven to 350F. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Cut the butter into chunks and melt it in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned at the edges.




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