Walnut bars are a buttery and rich dessert treat. Crunchy walnuts are coated in a chewy honey caramel, then baked on top of a buttery and tender shortbread cookie crust.
If you have a sweet tooth, you'll love these rich and decadent dessert bars. Walnut bars are made with a layer of shortbread cookie crust topped with honey caramel filled with crunchy walnuts.
They may look complicated or difficult to make, but walnut bars are surprisingly easy. There's just two steps involved - making the shortbread crust and the caramel topping. The rest of the work is done by your oven.
Walnut bars can be served any time of year, but are particularly popular for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I recommend slicing them into small bites since they're so sweet and rich.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Butter - Unsalted butter and the listed salt can be substituted with salted butter if desired.
- Sugar - Confectioner's sugar works best in the crust because it melts in seamlessly without adding a grainy texture. I also find confectioner's sugar easier to work with in shortbread recipes.
- Vanilla - Adds flavor to the crust.
- Salt - Enhances the flavor of the crust.
- Flour - I've only tested this recipe with all-purpose flour, so I can't say for sure how it would work using flour alternatives. To prevent wasting ingredients, I recommend searching for a recipe that's developed using ingredients you'd like to use instead of making substitutions in this recipe.
- Brown sugar - The base of the caramel filling. Adds sweetness and caramel flavor.
- Honey - The base of the caramel filling. Adds sweetness and a floral or citrus note (depending on the type of honey you have on hand).
- Butter - Unsalted butter and ¼ teaspoon of the listed salt can be substituted with salted butter if desired.
- Vanilla - Adds flavor to the bars.
- Salt - Enhances the flavor of the bars and cuts through the sweetness of the caramel.
- Walnuts - Any nuts will work in this recipe. Cashews, peanuts, and pecans are great choices.
- Heavy cream - Helps keep the caramel topping soft and chewy.
Tips and tricks
Properly measure your flour - My biggest tip when making shortbread is to properly measure your flour. To do this, I highly recommend using a kitchen scale for 100% accuracy. If you don't have a scale, I recommend the spoon and level method. Use a spoon to add flour to your measuring cup, then level off the top with a knife.
Why measuring flour is tricky - When scooping your flour with the measuring cup from a bin or bag, this compacts the flour into the cup, adding up to 25% extra flour to your recipe. The most common complaint I receive about shortbread recipes is that the dough is too dry - this is because too much flour has been added.
Crumbly dough is okay - Shortbread dough will look a little crumbly when mixing the ingredients together, but should hold together when pinched between two fingers.
Use a medium-sized saucepan - Your caramel will double in size while boiling, so keep this in mind when choosing a saucepan.
Allow bars to cool completely - Once your bars come out of the oven, allow them to cool to room temperature. The caramel topping needs time to thicken before slicing into your bars, and will look thin straight from the oven.
Frequently asked questions
The recipe is written to fit an 8x8 square baking pan.
Any nuts will work in this recipe. Cashews, peanuts, and pecans are popular substitutions.
Store your shortbread bars at room temperature in a sealed container for 3-5 days. Bars can be refrigerated to lengthen their lifespan (up to a week), but should be brought to room temperature before serving.
Yes, walnut bars can be frozen for up to three months in a tightly sealed freezer safe container.
- ½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ⅓ cup (66 g) granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ cups (150 g) all-purpose flour
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter
- ¾ cup (160 g) brown sugar
- ½ cup (168 g) honey
- 2 cups (226 g) chopped walnuts
- ⅓ cup (76 g) heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add vanilla and stir to combine. Add flour to butter mixture and mix until a dough forms. Dough may be crumbly, but will hold together when pinched between two fingers.
- Press dough into an even layer in prepared baking pan. Prick the top of the dough with a fork, then bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned around edges and top. Remove bars from oven and set aside until topping is ready. Leave your oven on.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, add butter, sugar, and honey. Bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then add heavy cream. Boil for 1 more minute.
- Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and salt. Stir to combine. Add walnuts and stir to coat.
- Pour topping over shortbread crust. Place bars back in the oven and bake for about 18-22 minutes, or until entire top is bubbly. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before slicing (topping needs time to firm up).
- These bars are very sweet, so small slices (20-24 for this size pan) work best.
- Walnuts can be substituted with your favorite nut. Cashews, peanuts, or almonds are great choices.
- Bars will keep for 3-5 days at room temperature in a sealed container. If storing in the refrigerator, allow to come to room temperature before serving.
- Use the spoon and level method for measuring your flour: Use a spoon to add flour to your measuring cup, then level off the top with a knife. If scooping flour using your measuring cup, this compacts flour into the cup and adds up to 25% extra flour to your recipe. For best accuracy, weigh your flour instead.