These are the most irresistible chewy bars and are very easy to make! A layer of buttery oat mixture is topped with chocolate, gooey caramel or dulce de leche, nuts, and a crunchy golden brown crumble topping. They're a crowd-pleaser, keep well, and can be frozen.
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Originally posted in September 2018, it has been fully updated with images and text to serve you better.
Our carmelita bars recipe is cousins to the popular no-bake chocolate peanut butter oat bars, so you know you're in for a treat.
They're like oatmeal cookies with chocolate and caramel in bar form. A piece with a cold glass of milk is a kid's heaven.
I don't know where you live, but people here go crazy for anything sweet made with oats.
Add chocolate, and you have a winning combination. Add dulce de leche or caramel, and they start crushing on you.
These oatmeal carmelitas are an adaptation from a vintage recipe I had pasted on my recipe binder as a teenager (hence the name Vintage Kitchen for this blog). It made it into this century, internet and all, and still holds its place.
About this recipe
- Super easy to make: it takes 15 minutes to put this carmelitas recipe together and 20 minutes in the oven.
- Keeps very well: they can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for a month, always well covered.
- A crowd-pleaser: who wouldn't love these ingredients together, right? It's one of our favorite desserts for potlucks, barbecues, picnics, and birthday tables. A small piece goes a long way as they're so rich. It gets rave reviews every single time.
- Oats: I use old-fashioned rolled oats (traditional oats) because they have more texture, but you can use instant or quick-cooking oats.
- Butter: I always use unsalted butter, but if you have salted simply omit the salt in the recipe.
- All-purpose flour.
- Salt: I like to use kosher salt when baking. But regular table salt works just fine.
- Baking soda.
- Chocolate chips: use your favorite semisweet chip. I love Ghirardelli premium baking chocolate chips, Callebaut 54% chocolate wafers, and Nestle toll house semisweet chips.
- Caramel or dulce de leche: both work. You can make homemade caramel sauce or buy a jar at the grocery store, use my homemade dulce de leche, or buy dulce de leche online. Or use soft caramels such as Kraft caramels.
- Nuts: I love walnuts or pecans, but other nuts work, like hazelnuts.
How to assemble carmelitas
- Oatmeal crumble: this mixture is a step short of making oatmeal cookies and it's used for both the bottom crust and top layer. It's just a matter of mixing the ingredients together until crumbly and can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for a day.
- Chocolate layer: it's thick and added after the base is pre-baked.
- Caramel layer: it's added after the chopped walnuts and you won't be able to spread it, so you need to add it in small spoonfuls covering as much as you can, and let the heat dissolve it further.
My #1 tip is to not overbake them.
The oven is set a tad lower than for a cake or cookies. That's because it's important not to let them bake more than needed so they stay chewy.
Light golden brown top: that's your cue to take them out. If you wait until they're a deep golden hue, make sure you don't store them for too many days as they will toughen a little bit each day, especially if stored in the refrigerator.
- Organization: read the recipe first and ensure you have ingredients at the correct temperature, equipment, and enough workspace. This will make the process so much easier.
- Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as it can be, but it might take you more or less time. You can use a thermometer(like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that your oven is at the right temperature. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
- Don't overbake: the crust is pre-baked for a few minutes so that it stays crunchy, and the assembled bars only need to be lightly colored. This is important so that the carmelitas are chewy and not tough.
- Double batch: if you want to make twice the recipe (and who can blame you) I recommend making two pans. You can make double the oatmeal crumble in one bowl but bake them separately. The baking time will be less and you'll avoid overbaking them.
- Make ahead: carmelitas keep well at room temperature for 2 days and in the fridge for several days (well wrapped). They can be frozen for a month (I wrap them first in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil).
- Caramel filling: if using soft caramels, scatter them, unwrapped, over the nuts. They will melt as they bake. Alternatively, melt caramel squares in a small saucepan with a few tablespoons of heavy cream and make a toffee sauce. Drizzle over before sprinkling the crumble topping.
- Variations: combine milk chocolate chips with the semi-sweet, using the same total amount. The bars will be sweeter. Add a little ground cinnamon and vanilla extract to the oatmeal mixture for a mellower oatmeal cookie bar.
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- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups traditional oats
- ¾ cup packed brown sugar
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- Large pinch of salt
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, chunks, or chocolate chopped into small pieces
- ¾ cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
- 1 cup dulce de leche, thick caramel sauce, or soft caramels, unwrapped (see Notes below)
- Preheat the oven to 325ºF / 170ºC.
- Spray or butter a 9-inch square baking pan (23cm) and, if you want to, line the bottom and two of the sides with a strip of wax or parchment paper that is a little narrower than the bottom of the pan and long enough to come up both sides. So two sides will be unlined but greased. The paper will make it very easy to remove the block of carmelitas when it's time to cut them.
- Stir to combine flour, oats, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
- Add melted butter and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until it’s all wet, with no dry parts remaining.
- Reserve 1 ½ cups of this mixture (loosely measured not packed), and press the remaining crumb mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan.
- Bake for 10 minutes, until it starts to dry and color a bit. You don't have to bake it fully.
- Take it out of the oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips or chunks over the hot base.
- Sprinkle the chopped walnuts on top of the chocolate.
- Drop the dulce de leche or caramel mixture by spoonfuls on top of the walnuts. It will not cover the whole surface. That’s fine.
- Sprinkle the reserved oat mixture and very lightly press it down. You don't want to compact it, just make it slightly adhere to the rest of the ingredients.
- Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until it starts to color. Don't overbake it.
- When you take it out of the oven, run a smooth knife along the sides to separate any dulce de leche that might have stuck and make it hard to unmold later.
- Let cool completely on a wire rack.
- Lift the paper to take out the whole block from the pan and cut it into squares or rectangles.
- Eat at room temperature.
- Store leftovers covered in plastic wrap or in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days, or refrigerated. They can be frozen for a month, well wrapped.
Organization: always read the recipe first and make sure you have ingredients at the right temperatures, as well as the equipment and space needed. This will make the process so much easier!
Baking time: all ovens and pans are different, even if they look similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as can be, but it might take you more or less time. Use a thermometer inside the oven (like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that the temperature is right. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
Don't overbake: the crust is pre-baked for a few minutes to stay crunchy, and the assembled bars only need to be lightly colored. This is important so that the carmelitas are chewy and not tough.
Double batch: if you want to make twice the recipe (and who can blame you), I recommend making two pans. You can double the oatmeal crumble in one bowl but bake them separately. The baking time will be less, and you'll avoid overbaking them.
Make ahead: carmelitas keep well at room temperature for 2 days and in the fridge for several days (well wrapped). They can be frozen for a month (I wrap them in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil).
Caramel filling: if using soft caramels, scatter them, unwrapped, over the nuts. They will melt as they bake. Alternatively, melt caramel squares in a small saucepan with a few tablespoons of heavy cream and make a toffee sauce. Drizzle over before sprinkling the crumble topping.
Variations: use milk chocolate chips with semisweet chocolate chips, using the same total amount. The bars will be sweeter. Add a little ground cinnamon and vanilla extract to the oatmeal mixture for a mellower cookie bar.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Category: Bars & Brownies
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: International
- Serving Size: 1/12
- Calories: 446
- Sugar: 37.3 g
- Sodium: 183.5 mg
- Fat: 21.7 g
- Carbohydrates: 59.3 g
- Protein: 5.9 g
- Cholesterol: 30.5 mg