Heartland Turtle Bars…with walnuts!

Turtle Bars 2

Last month I participated in a month long medical elective for integrative/alternative/complementary medicine.  25 medical students from across the country stayed in a retreat center in Ben Lomond, CA.  We all had to prepare meals for each other which turned out to be a blast!  I really enjoyed that when I baked a dessert, it was gone within 24 hours and for a change it wasn’t me who finished all of it 🙂

Turtle Bars

One evening I got the urge to bake and was looking through our ingredients to see what I would be able to make.  Turns out I had everything for these bars except pecans.  So I used walnuts instead and they worked beautifully!  I’m trying to come up with an alternative word to turtle to describe these with walnuts, but I haven’t come up with anything yet.  The crust for these bars is magical and rustic with oatmeal and cinnamon.  This was also the first time that I ever made caramel from scratch before.  It was easy and I used half and half instead of heavy cream (it was all I had on hand to work with) and the sauce thickened nicely as it cooled.  I would make these bars immediately!

Turtle Bars 3

Heartland Turtle Bars…with walnuts!

adapted from une gamine dans la cuisine


The crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted

The filling:

  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

The caramel:

  • 2 Tbsp half and half (or heavy cream)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 Tbsp  unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes

DirectionsPreheat the oven to 350 F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking pan with butter.  Then line the pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil leaving a slight overhang around the edges.  Butter the parchment paper or foil.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Add the brown sugar and use your hands to work it into the other ingredients.  Mix in the oats.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the melted butter. Using a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir until the mixture is wet and combined.

Spread about 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Press into an even layer across the bottom. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or just until the edges begin to brown. Remove the pan from the oven and place onto a cooling rack.  Leave the oven on.
Allow the crust to cool for 1o minutes and then sprinkle the chopped walnuts and chocolate chips over the crust evenly distributing them.

To make the caramel sauce, place the brown sugar, salt, and butter cubes into a medium-size sauce pan. Heat over medium-high until the butter has melted, stirring frequently.  Bring the mixture to a slow boil and boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly.  The mixture should be darkening in color at this point.  Once the mixture has darkened at least a little, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the half and half.   Pour the hot caramel directly over the chocolate walnut layer in an even distribution.  Use a spatula to carefully help spread the caramel if it is uneven.  (The goal here is not perfection but just that caramel is roughly covering most of the chocolate walnut layer)  Sprinkle the remaining crust onto the caramel layer.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the top is light golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and place it onto a cooling rack. Serve warm, cool, or with vanilla ice cream!


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