Vanilla bean marshmallow laced with dark chocolate, a layer of salted caramel on the bottom all held upright by a graham cracker crust.
These are inspired by a sweet from my favorite cupcakery in DC, Baked & Wired. Though I’m usually there for the carrot cake concoction, my husband likes to grab anything he spies with marshmallow. So it happens we came home with something they called an OMG Bar one day, and it fascinated me. I couldn’t get it out of my head. You know I love my layers!
Theirs begin with a layer of graham crust, then caramel, then a marshmallow topped with chocolate ganache. I used my own recipes to create the layers as they are in the original but I had trouble getting the ganache to stay put on the marshmallow (it was doing this sliding thing). So instead, I opted to swirl in some dark chocolate like I do in my brown sugar marshmallows.
The result is a bar that’s mostly marshmallow; a special brown sugar vanilla bean one at that, interrupted by layered swirls of dark chocolate, a bit of homemade salted caramel on the bottom all on a basic graham cracker crust. It’s sweet and salty with different textures and flavors, so fun to eat!
How to make Caramel S’mores Bars
Graham Cracker Crust: You’ll grind the crackers then mix them with melted butter and press into the bottom of a pan. I bake my crusts so they are firm to slice without crumbling, but just for 10 minutes. Simple!
Caramel: I’m using my basic caramel recipe but modifying it just slightly so it will be firm enough to hold up as a layer. We’re using the dry caramel method, so cooking the sugar until it’s melted then begins to caramelize. Once it’s amber colored, add the heavy cream (careful it will bubble up!) then the rest of the ingredients. While it’s warm and loose, you’ll pour it onto the graham cracker layer and then let it firm up.
Chocolate Swirled Marshmallow: Making marshmallows is basically three parts: blooming the gelatin, cooking the sugar, then whipping them together.
You’ll need a thermometer for the sugar; instant, candy or even laser. It’s going to boil until it hits 250 F and once there, pour it into the stand mixer and add the gelatin. Whip until it’s a thick marshmallow fluff.
Homemade caramel for layered bars
Whether it’s on a brownie, layered between graham crackers and marshmallow, you want a caramel that won’t be too stiff to cut but also not too soft that it will run too quickly at room temperature.
That’s where the balance comes in for this recipe: it’s buttery, well salted and can hold up well under the marshmallow. It has a delightful pull to it (think, mozzarella cheese pull!) and tastes wonderful against the graham crust.
To control the amount of liquid that goes into this (so that it isn’t overly runny) I use the dry method: cooking sugar until it melts and caramelized without water. I add a few drops of lemon to the caramel to protect it from crystalizing (which can easily happen with the dry method).
For bars, especially ones that are going to be sweet up and down, I like to cook the caramel to a darker hue which deepens the flavor and helps firm it up.
Tips & Troubleshooting for homemade caramel
Make sure to warm the heavy cream before adding it to the hot caramel or the caramel will seize.
Add the heavy cream slowly, one tablespoon at a time, stirring as you do.
If the caramel separates after adding the cream and butter, it can be brought back together by whisking vigorously over heat. Adding the vanilla, which causes it to bubble up, will help at this point too.
Tips & Troubleshooting Homemade Marshmallows
You can either use a clipped candy thermometer to watch the caramel or a laser, which is cleaner but you’ll want to check the sugar frequently less you overcook it.
Whip the marshmallow fluff until it starts to pull from the sides and is thick. If you overwhip it it will be overly stringy and difficult to remove from the bowl. If you underwhip it it’ll be pretty soft in the pan. 10-12 minutes in the mixer is usually enough.
Caramel S'mores Bars
Graham crackers, smooth & salty caramel and a chocolate swirled marshmallow on top!
½ cup or or 113g butter can use salted herereduce fine sea salt to 1/4 tsp
1/2teaspoonsfine sea salt
1teaspoonpure vanilla extract
2 envelopes or 17g powdered gelatin
⅓ cup or 85g cool waterfor the gelatin mixture
1vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
⅓ cup or 88gcup waterfor the sugar
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon or 95g ghoney
226g or heaped 1 cup brown sugar
¾tspfine sea salt
100gdark chocolatechopped fine
Line a greased 8 or 9” square pan with parchment paper on both sides so they overlap. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Make the graham crumb layer
Grind the crackers into crumbs and melt the butter. Combine them until the mixture is like wet sand. If it seems overly dry, add a bit more melted butter. Press the mix into the bottom of the pan in an even layer.
Bake for 10 minutes then let cool while you make the caramel.
Make the caramel
In a deep pot, add the sugar. Squeeze a few drops of a lemon over the sugar and use a wooden spoon to stir it until it’s mostly mixed. Turn the heat on to medium.
Warm the heavy cream in the microwave, just for about 30 seconds. Have the other ingredients closeby for the caramel when it’s ready.
Stir the sugar frequently as it melts and darkens. Once it is all liquid and amber colored, let it cook for another minute (the longer you leave it the deeper the flavor but if left too long, it will turn bitter).
Pour the heavy cream in very slowly, stirring as you do. The caramel will bubble up so be careful. Lower the heat, then add the butter and salt and stir until smooth. Take off the heat and add the vanilla, stir to combine. Pour caramel over the graham layer and set aside to firm up.
Make the chocolate marshmallow layer
In a small bowl, add the cool water and the vanilla scrapings (or extract). Then add the gelatin and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In a deep pot, add the sugar, water, salt, honey and scraped vanilla bean (if you used a bean). Set over medium heat and stir until combined. Clip a thermometer to the pan and let cook until the mix reaches 245-250 F. Pour into the bottom of a stand mixer bowl and remove the vanilla bean. Let cool for just a minute then add the gelatin (it should be one big glob now) and attach the whisk.
Whisk on low to start, then work up to medium and let it whip. Meanwhile, heat the slowly chocolate until almost, but not fully melted (I do this in the microwave) and stir until smooth. Let cool slightly.
After about 10 minutes of whipping the marshmallow should be thick, shiny fluff. Pour in the cooled, melted chocolate and give it a couple of big, strong strokes so it swirls a bit.
(If the caramel has gone very firm and cool, set it in the oven to warm up and loosen a bit so the marshmallow layer will adhere to it better.)
Pour the marshmallow over the caramel and gently get it into an even layer.
Set the bars aside for about 4 hours to firm up. To slice, warm up a knife under hot water and dry it (a little oil on the knife helps cut through the marshmallow without sticking).
Store bars in the fridge if making them ahead of time. These slice best at room temperature.