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Layers of flavors make cookies a treat

WICHITA, Kan. -- Carry a plate of bar cookies into a room and watch heads turn. There's something reliably tempting about layers of chocolate, nuts, cream cheese and other ingredients in a rich, gooey, brownie-like treat.

WICHITA, Kan. -- Carry a plate of bar cookies into a room and watch heads turn. There's something reliably tempting about layers of chocolate, nuts, cream cheese and other ingredients in a rich, gooey, brownie-like treat.

"I think they look a little fancier than just bringing cookies or a plain cake," said Amy Wood, 31, of Wichita, Kan. "Because you can layer different flavors, people get excited about them."

Not long after leaving college, and early in her cooking career, Wood hit on bar cookies as an ideal contribution to bring to office events.

And it's a bar cookie recipe that made her one of 15 finalists in the national Betty Crocker "Bake Life Sweeter" contest.

Despite her success in the Betty Crocker contest, Wood doesn't consider herself a master cook. In fact, the contest appealed to her because it required participants to use a step-saving cookie or brownie mix in the recipe.

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But Wood does enjoy "playing around" with recipes until she comes up with something that's her own.

In the Betty Crocker contest, she came up with the bar cookie equivalent of a Snickers candy bar, including a nougat layer that she incorporated from another recipe.

Wood tries out her recipes on her husband, Robert, co-workers at the Sedgwick County Health Department and her parents' friends in the Wichita Area P.T. Cruisers Club.

"I think everything can be eaten in moderation. You need to get in a physical activity and watch what you eat around" regular meals.

"Don't eat a pizza, and then have this," she said of her bar cookie. "Yesterday, I ate a salad for dinner because I knew I had this."

Peanut Butter Cookie Candy Bars

Cooking spray

COOKIE DOUGH CRUST:

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1 pouch (1 pound, 1.5 ounces) Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix

1 tablespoon water

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 egg

NOUGAT LAYER:

1 1/2 tablespoons water

1/3 cup light corn syrup

3 tablespoons butter

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1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons peanut butter

Dash salt

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

CARAMEL LAYER:

1 14-ounce bag caramels, unwrapped

2 tablespoons water

1 1/2 cups dry-roasted unsalted peanuts

TOPPING:

1 11.5-ounce bag milk chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray bottom of 13-by-9-inch pan with cooking spray. Make cookie dough as directed on pouch, adding water, vegetable oil and egg.

Press dough into pan. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool to touch.

In large bowl, beat 1½ tablespoons water, corn syrup, butter, vanilla, peanut butter and salt with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy.

Slowly add powdered sugar. When nougat is the consistency of dough, press evenly over cookie crust. Set pan in refrigerator.

Melt caramels in a small sauce pan with 2 tablespoons water over low heat. Once melted, stir in peanuts. Pour the mixture evenly over the nougat layer. Cool in the refrigerator, about 15 minutes.

When the caramel mixture is firm, melt milk chocolate chips in an uncovered small microwavable bowl on medium-high (70 percent) for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave for 20 additional seconds as needed, then stir. Continue until melted and smooth. Once melted, pour evenly over caramel layer. Cool completely until chocolate is set (bars can be refrigerated to speed up the cooling process). Cut into bars. Store covered at room temperature.

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