Caramel Cashew Shortbread Squares

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When I was little, I hated cashews. Hated the flavor, the texture, everything. Peanuts were my nut of choice. My mom used to buy bags of cashews and shelled peanuts for our camping trips when I was a kid and I made a face whenever she pulled out the cashews. As an adult though, I can’t get enough of them. I don’t know when that changed. Perhaps it was the hundreds of take-out cashew chicken dinners in college or just the general process of tastes changing, but now I eat them like it’s my job.

We’ve been slowly thinning our pantry for a while, but for some reason I still have tons of baking ingredients. Coconut, chocolate chips, marshmallows and cashews. We don’t make a lot of desserts, but I couldn’t help but think that the cashews would make a perfect somewhat light bar to give us something to nibble throughout the week. Problem is, that with finals I’ve been completely short on time. With a little searching though, I found an amazingly easy base recipe and decided to give it a go!

Ingredients:

adapted from Brooke MClay/Babble
1 (17.5 oz.) packet sugar cookie mix (I used Betty Crocker)
3/4 cups butter, melted
2 1/2 cups whole roasted, salted cashews
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple pancake syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 cup mint-chocolate chips
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel

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Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Lightly coat the edges of a 7×11 inch glass baking dish, or 10″ round pie plate with cooking spray. In baking dish, use a fork to combine sugar cookie mix and 1/4 c. of melted butter. Press firmly into bottom of pan to create shortbread crust.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine cashews, sugar, syrup, vanilla and remaining butter. If you’d like to add chocolate chips whole, add them at this time. Otherwise save for the end. Pour over prepared crust. Sprinkle grated lemon peel over the top.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 22-24 minutes, or until mixture is bubbling and edges begin to set. Remove from oven, allow to cool until completely set (about 1-3 hours). If you didn’t add chocolate chips to the mixture, melt over medium heat in a saucepan and drizzle over cooled bars.
  5. Slice into squares to serve. Store in refrigerator.

These are superbly delicious for how easy they are! Neil typically doesn’t love a lot of baked goods, but we’ve easily eaten the majority of the pan over the course of the week. The combinations of flavors and textures are perfect. Smooth and creamy caramel, crunchy cashews, a hint of lemon and mint held together by a sweet and crisp shortbread crust. They are just delightful, and perfect for those busy times you want something special but don’t have the time for complicated recipes.

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