Ah. Cashew caramel cracker bars. This holiday recipe has been a tradition in my family for a long while. I remember one Christmas in particular when our niece and nephews were up to their tiny elbows in sweetened condensed milk, saltines, and chocolate as they helped us make these. In other words, this is a terrifically easy recipe to make with kids. We don’t share them beyond immediate family. They’re too good.David Leite

Four pieces of cashew caramel cracker bars on a round wooden board with a knife resting beside them.

Cashew Caramel Cracker Bars

5 / 6 votes
This cashew caramel cracker bars recipe is made with saltines, sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, and chocolate. A sinfully easy food gift.
David Leite
Servings35 to 40 bars
Calories106 kcal
Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time50 minutes
Total Time1 hour 15 minutes


  • A 10-by-15-inch (25-by-38-cm) jelly roll pan and a candy or deep-fry thermometer


  • 2 1/2 sticks butter, melted
  • 35 (about 4 ozs) saltine crackers, preferably Nabisco Premium Saltines (1 sleeve)
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • One (14-ounce )can sweetened condensed milk
  • One (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup toasted unsalted cashews, coarsely chopped


  • Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a 10-by-15-inch (25-by-38-cm) or sorta similar size pan with a large sheet of aluminum foil, leaving a few inches of foil hanging over the longer sides of the pan.
  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Pour 1/4 cup melted butter into a measuring cup and into the foil-lined pan and spread it to cover the bottom of the pan. Line the pan with a single layer of crackers. If there are small gaps between the crackers, don’t worry about it.
  • Clip a candy or deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pan containing the remaining melted butter. Stir the brown sugar into the butter and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 2 to 4 minutes, until the mixture forms a thick syrup and reaches 248°F (120°C) on the thermometer.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and slowly, slowly whisk in the condensed milk until blended. Pour the mixture over the crackers, being sure to completely cover the crackers.
  • Bake the bars until bubbly and brown, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Remove the pan of bars from the oven, scatter the chocolate chips over the top, and let rest until the chips soften and maybe even begin to noticeably melt, about 5 minutes.
  • Using the back of a spoon, a knife, or an offset spatula, spread the softened chocolate evenly over the surface of the caramel mixture. Sprinkle with the cashews and, using your fingers or the back of a spoon, press them into the chocolate. Let cool slightly and then transfer the pan to the freezer until the chocolate sets, about 30 minutes. If you’re short on freezer space, simply slide the pan in the fridge for an hour or so.
  • Invert the pan of caramel goodness onto a clean surface (don’t worry if you lose some cashews from the surface; they’ll be great for topping an ice cream sundae or adding to cookie dough or just nibbling). Carefully peel back the foil from the bottom of the bars [Editor’s Note: This may be the most time-consuming and tedious part of the recipe. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. #worthit] to reveal the cracker underside and place the bars, cracker side up, on your work surface. Let the bars warm at room temperature for a few minutes.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut the bars along the cracker outlines. Turn the cracker bars right side up. If desired, cut each square in half or quarters.
Holiday Baking by Sara Perry

Adapted From

Holiday Baking

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Serving: 1 barCalories: 106 kcalCarbohydrates: 8 gProtein: 1 gFat: 8 gSaturated Fat: 4 gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 3 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 17 mgSodium: 13 mgPotassium: 36 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 6 gVitamin A: 202 IUVitamin C: 1 mgCalcium: 9 mgIron: 1 mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2005 Sara Perry. Photo © 2005 Leigh Beisch. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

These cashew caramel cracker bars are absolutely delicious. They start with a crisp cracker layer that’s covered with a buttery caramel layer. These layers are topped with chocolate and chopped toasted cashews. The bars effectively incorporate salty and sweet. The end result is something in between a candy and a cookie.

I’ve made something similar in the past, but there was no condensed milk in the caramel layer. The condensed milk makes the caramel layer softer and creamier. I’ve also thrown all sorts of things on top, such as mini M&Ms, pretzel pieces, raisins, and other kinds of nuts, so you don’t have to stick with cashews if they’re not your thing.

For the best flavor, make sure your nuts are well-toasted and fragrant.

The bars are best eaten at room temperature. If you try to bite into one straight from the fridge, you’ll definitely end up hurting some teeth. Also, my freezer is not big enough to fit a sheet pan, so I left these in the fridge to harden instead. It takes a little longer, but the chocolate and caramel will still set up just fine.

These bars are so easy and yet so elegant. I’ve made a similar recipe with pecans but cashews elevates this version just a bit.

The 35 crackers didn’t quite cover my jelly roll pan. Next time I would use 5 extra crackers or so to cover the pan. Using my candy thermometer, it took my butter and brown sugar just a hair over 3 minutes to reach 248°F. I wasn’t watching them while in the oven. I think next time I would set the timer at 8 minutes and pay more attention. At 10 minutes, I had almost burned the caramel.

I did need to wait until my pan cooled down a bit before putting it in the freezer. Before that, I couldn’t resist sprinkling a tiny bit of Maldon sea salt over the top.

Cutting as instructed in the recipe would yield 35 servings but since these are very decadent, I cut them in half again and this provides plenty for sharing!

This is a more sophisticated spin-off of the infamous “Christmas Crack” that many of us have tried and loved. The difference is that these are more chewy and smooth although they still have the crunchy snap of Christmas Crack, especially on the end pieces. My kids and their friends as well as my husband and I really loved these and I am sure they would be great on a holiday cookie platter or packed into fun holiday gift packages.

The 35 saltines were exactly one sleeve of saltines. I used dark brown sugar but next time I will use light brown as this is what I always have in my pantry. Do not worry if you don’t have freezer space! These will set up in the fridge after 1 hour.

So simple and so delicious! The thick and chewy caramel layer cooks up to a smooth and just slightly gooey butterscotch “cement” that binds the flaky baked crackers and the chocolate nut layer together.

These are incredibly rich! Luckily they cut neatly! Each cracker could easily be sliced into 2 or even 4 pieces. I made a 1/2 batch using an 11-by-7-inch Pyrex pan. It held exactly 15 crackers with no gaps between the crackers. All the times and temperatures worked just fine with the smaller volume of ingredients.

These will be going into our regular “break room” treat rotation. Quick, easy, and based on pantry staples that I pretty much always have on hand.

These are dangerously delicious! A very easy dessert that’s versatile—it can be topped with any type of nut really! I’ll definitely be adding this to my repertoire.

My one recommendation—don’t flip your masterpiece over to cut it! Take it off the foil and cut it right-side-up. It’s so beautiful and flipping it will damage it and ruin the presentation.

I guarantee these bars won’t last long—they are very addictive!

I think you could get 35 to 70 servings.

I used an 11-by-17 baking sheet and it worked just fine.

My sweetened condensed milk came in a 10-ounce can (not 14-ounce as described) and I didn’t realize this until I got home. I used it anyway and, despite being 4 ounces short, it wasn’t a problem! My cashews were salted (I love salted nuts) and if you like sweet/salty, I highly recommend doing this!

I probably should have pulled them out at 9 minutes because the edges were starting to brown too much.I let my pan sit on the counter for 20 minutes to cool and then put it in the freezer when it was still warm. I let it set in the freezer for exactly 30 minutes as instructed and it had set.

I really don’t like the instruction to to turn your pan over and cut it upside down. I regret doing this because the top was so beautiful and then it got bruised, dusty, and lost nuts as a result. Next time, I will flip it to peel back the foil, but then flip it right side up to cut it. There’s no need to follow the lines of the saltines—you can cut them any size you like, and in fact, the size of the saltines is too big. Half the saltine is the perfect serving size because they are so sweet.

I took it to book club and all of the ladies loved it. I also brought it to work and it was well received.

I feel like it also could have used 2 layers of cracker as that didn’t really come through as well but maybe it was the cracker I used. I felt like it could have been more salty—it was slightly too sweet to me, however, everyone else loved it.

I ended up melting that portion of butter for pouring over the crackers first and then melting the other portion of butter. My candy thermometer never reached the proper temperature but the caramel thickened within 3 minutes so I took it off the burner so it didn’t overcook. Once I poured the caramel over the crackers, the crackers floated up a bit so they weren’t 100% straight in the final product. The mixture bubbled and almost burned in the oven even though I was watching it very closely. Not sure what can be done about that.

It tasted good but I would add 1 tsp or more salt to see if that balanced it better.

I took these to a football party where they were demolished and praised by everyone there. This recipe was so good. It will definitely go into my list of staple party recipes.

I followed the recipe exactly. It took me approximately 20 minutes from start to finish to make the recipe, with another half hour in the freezer to cool the bars down. I used Nabisco Premium Saltines and Nestle Semi-Sweet chocolate chips. And cashews. My favorite of all nuts. That one word had me hooked on making this recipe. Sweet, salty, crunchy—cashews have it all.

As a “mistake,” I added the chocolate chips on top of the mixture before putting the mixture back in the oven to bake for 10 minutes. It didn’t hurt a thing or make a difference in the outcome of the recipe. It just meant I didn’t end up spreading out the chocolate to make an even chocolate layer. It didn’t make a difference in the end product. I then sprinkled 8 ounces (by weight) of cashews instead of 1 cup (8 oz. being the whole can of cashews and I used a can of halves and pieces and skipped the “course chop” of the cashews). I didn’t toast the nuts beforehand but after. Once I got the cashews pressed down into the caramel chocolate mixture, I put the pan back in the oven to toast the top for about 2 to 3 minutes. Then I transferred the pan into the freezer to cool down for 30 minutes. Most all of the cashews stuck to the caramel and chocolate and I cut them immediately and placed them in an airtight container.

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    (Quote from the movie “Hook”) “You are the Pan” David. If this is what the holidays looked like in your family The One is one lucky duck. These are the easiest, best tasting concoction ever made with saltine crackers. The caramel sauce came together easily (I knew I had a candy thermometer for a reason) and since I always trust your recipes, I knew I could improvise and still get great results so I changed it up a bit. I had some Health bar crumble pieces so I added about 2/3 cup when I layered the chocolate chips on the hot bars. I didn’t have cashews so I toasted some pecans and chopped them up. It’s cold in the Northeast and I didn’t have room in my freezer so I put them out on the deck and just kept an eye on the dog (she’s a rescue from Hurricane Katrina, her favs are watermelon and shrimp but she will eat everything except raw carrots). These bars are addictive and I’ll be packing them up to send as gifts tomorrow – the quicker I get them out of my kitchen the less temptation they will be to pair them with some Puerto Rican Coquito (which they are awesomely great with and probably pack enough sugar and calories for a whole week).

    1. Marilyn, you had me at, “You are the Pan.” But, you sealed the deal with coquito. I luuurrrvvv coquito. And I love your freelancing. I make these marvelous treats every Christmas. This year will be no different–I may have to try your improv, too!