“Carmelitas”. Even the name sounds delightful!! Have you ever had a carmelita? You probably have right? And if you have had at least one then, of course, you have had many!! Because carmelitas are those types of things that you really can’t stop yourself from eating and eating and eating until they are gone.
And after making these the other day, it really got me to thinking about when I first had one. Well, my first experience with them was actually back in college. I had a roommate who swore her mom made the best bars in the world and they were called carmelitas. She insisted that they were to die for.
And so, one weekend, several of us packed into her car, drove to her house and made a batch of these bars……together. You’ve heard the old saying that “too many chefs spoil the broth” or something to that effect right? Well I never really experienced this phrase until this incident.
Because, you see, my other roommate read the recipe as saying 1 Tablespoon of baking soda instead of 1 teaspoon. Only we didn’t realize the error until we eagerly attempted to bite into them. Needless to say; they were inedible. And we didn’t have the ingredients to make more. 🙁
So I did not actually try carmelitas in college. It was not until a few years later that I had lunch for the first time at a Potbelly restaurant that I remembered those bars. Those Sheila’s Dream Bars of theirs are like the best thing on the planet and I figured those elusive carmelita bars from college must be a lot like these. So I immediately went home and tried to recreate my own version. (My very first recipe creation!)
Besides my own history with carmelitas, I was also just interested in the origin of these tasty little bars. I mean, they are everywhere on the internet and they are all quite similar so they must originally come from somewhere.
After doing a little digging into the short history of these bars, (I can’t help it, I am a history teacher after all!!) as near as I can tell, the term carmelita was fist used in the 1967 Pillsbury Bake-Off by Erlyce Larson who called her treats “Oatmeal Carmelitas“. Or at least, I couldn’t find a reference to the name before that time period. These bars are made with caramel ice cream topping and they won first prize!
I then found this post from a blog called “foodstalkers” that talks about her mother making oatmeal caramel bars from a recipe that came out of a 1985 Southern Living Magazine. This recipe uses baking caramels and an egg. She even has the picture of the actual magazine from 1985 which is pretty cool!! (I love old baking magazines!!)
By 2006, Southern Living changed the name of these bars to oatmeal carmelitas but it’s the same recipe as they had in 1985.
Many carmelita recipes that you find on blogs in the past few years seem to have their origin from Lulu the Baker’s post in 2010, which is a great read about how she was hoping to win a contest and…..didn’t. I am not sure how she came about her own version because there is no attribution on her recipe though some people who commented on her post explained how they had been making these types of bars since the 60’s. One even said she had an old Pillsbury Bake-off cookbook from 1969 with the original recipe. (Wouldn’t I love to see that!! )
For my own version, I prefer the baking caramels mixed with cream. I like the texture of it better than the ice cream topping version. I make mine with no nuts because my daughter is allergic. I like mine to be more like the dream bars from Potbelly that are less crumbly and more cookie like. I also like caramel and chocolate chips on the top as well as the middle!
What about you? Do you have a great story about carmelitas? Do you know anything about their past? Do tell!!! 🙂
- 3/4 c. melted butter
- 3/4 c. brown sugar
- 1 t. vanilla
- 1 c. all purpose flour
- 3/4 c. old fashioned oatmeal
- 1 t. baking soda
- 30 baking caramels (un-wrapped)
- 1/3 c. heavy cream
- 1. c. chocolate chips (plus about a 1/4 cup for sprinkling on top of the bars) ( I used a mixture of semi- sweet and milk chocolate. Butterscotch would work well too!)
- 10 unwrapped caramels
- 2 TBLS heavy cream
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 9x9 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.
- In a large bowl, stir the melted butter, brown sugar and vanilla until mixed. Add the flour, oatmeal and baking soda and continue stirring until all ingredients are mixed thoroughly.
- Using half the batter, press down evenly onto the bottom of the pan.
- Bake for 10 minutes. (Do not over bake)
- Meanwhile, place the caramels and cream in a small sauce pan. Stir over medium heat until all the caramels are melted and blended.
- Pour the caramel over the hot bars. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the caramel and carefully drop several dollops of the remaining dough on top of the chips, flattening slightly. Use the remaining chips to press on the top of the dough.
- Bake for an additional 25 minutes making sure not to over bake as the caramel may then get hard.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Cover with foil and place in the refrigerator to firm up for an hour.
- Meanwhile, stir the remaining caramel and cream in the sauce pan to drizzle over the top of the bars when they come out of the refrigerator.
- Bars may be cut into 16 bars and caramel may be drizzled before or after you cut them into bars. (I drizzled mine after I cut them so the caramel sauce runs down the edges! 😉
Try these similar bars: