These addictive bites are crunchy-sweet nibbles, loaded with caramel and toasted nuts. Reader Chryssa Giannini serves these every year and they are one of the first cookies to disappear from the holiday table. Makes 30 bites.
1¼ cup all-purpose flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup sugar
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup heavy cream
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
3 tablespoons honey
2 cups sliced blanched almonds
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking pan.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until well-combined, about 1 minute. Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla extract. At low speed, add the flour mixture and mix until crumbly, 10 to 15 seconds.
Pat the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Using a fork, prick the dough well. Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool while you prepare the topping. Leave the oven on.
In a medium-sized heavy saucepan combine the water and sugar and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly and occasionally washing down the sides with a wet pastry brush until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to high and cook, stirring, until the caramel turns a dark amber color. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the heavy cream. (Be careful: The mixture will bubble up.) Add the butter and honey and stir until the butter is melted. Stir in the almonds and orange zest, tossing the almonds until they are completely coated.
Pour the hot caramel mixture over the pastry base and, using a small offset metal spatula, spread it into an even layer, making sure that the nuts are evenly distributed. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the almonds are lightly toasted and the caramel is bubbling. Cool the bars in the pan on a wire rack for at least 1 hour.
Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan to release the bars. Carefully invert the bars onto a cutting board. Turn them right side up. Using a serrated knife, cut into 30 squares.
Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.