a reason to eat caramel, apple cider caramels, caramel anything, fall flavors, smitten kitchen

Apple Cider Caramels

I sometimes forget, maybe after an all night binge on Pinterest, that Smitten Kitchen exists. But, then I see one of her photos pinned and the next few hours are spent catching up on her blog. A recent reminder brought me one of the best recipes I’ve done in a while: Apple Cider Caramels.

Were you a fan of those neon green lollipops that are haphazardly covered in caramel?  Well, Deb–the woman at the helm of Smitten Kitchen–found a way to eliminate the lollipop portion all together, but still capture that childhood memory in a caramel. I think she even improved on the memory.

And I kind of love her for it.

Apple Cider Caramels
From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Apple cider (sometimes called sweet or “soft” cider), as I’m referring to it here, is different from both apple juice and the hard, or alcoholic, fermented apple cider. It’s a fresh, unfiltered (it has sediment), raw apple juice — the juice literally pressed from fresh apples. It’s unpasteurized, and must be refrigerated, because it’s perishable. In the Northeast, I usually find it at farm stands and some grocery stores. I occasionally find vacuum- sealed bottles called apple cider in the juice aisle, but none of the bottled varieties that I’ve tried has the same delicate apple flavor as the more perishable stuff sold in the refrigerator section.

4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or less of a finer one
8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
Neutral oil for the knife

Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This takes about 35 to 40 minutes on my stove. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, get your other ingredients in order, because you won’t have time to spare once the candy is cooking. Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.

Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it.
(Don’t have a candy or deep- fry thermometer? Have a bowl of very cold water ready, and cook the caramel until a tiny spoonful dropped into the water becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball.)

Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, though it goes faster in the fridge. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut (trust me!), to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge.

Do ahead: Caramels keep, in an airtight container at room temperature, for two weeks, but really, good luck with that.

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a reason to eat caramel, caramel anything, edible obsession, fat toad farm, goat milk caramel, Maple's Organic Gelato, Mexican chocolate, Taza Chocolate

Edible Obsession: Maple’s Organics Mexican Chocolate with Fat Toad Farm Goat’s Milk Caramel

You want to lick your screen, don’t you? That trifecta of sugary goodness comes at the union of three outstanding locally produced products: Maple’s Organics Gelato, Taza Mexican Chocolate and Fat Toad Farm Caramel

Maple’s is at the heart of the bowl of sin, blending their already wonderful Gelato with bits of crushed up Mexican styled chocolate from Taza, of Sommerville, MA. What Taza does, traditionally stone grinding the chocolate, isn’t being done really any where else in the US. The process makes for a very unique (coarse) texture to the chocolate and concentrates the flavor, making it more intense.  Maple’s chose one of Taza’s spicy flavors (Guajillo? Chipotle? Cayenne? I’ve already tossed the empty container) and blended that in, adding a nice warming touch with the nibs of chocolate.

Warming? Who am I kidding?  It’s hot. Pretty darn hot, at that. It’s not as ridiculous as the Habanero Gelato I’ve had, but it’s up there. The Missus described her encounter with it as:
         “It’s so damn spicy.” (takes another mouthful) “But, the chocolate is so good.”  (takes another mouthful) “But, it’s so damn spicy.” (repeat until the bowl is empty)

That’s where the Fat Toad Vanilla Bean Caramel comes in. I had the ingenious idea of adding the Vermont made goat’s milk caramel to take off some of that heat and it worked, to a point.  It was thick enough to act as a barrier and the milk, itself, knocked down the heat a few notches. It was tolerable but, in the end, my mouth still felt like it was on fire. But, it’s one of those lovely pleasure/pain moments with food, that we endure because the pleasure (Maple’s chocolate gelatos and sorbettos are some of the best around town) outweighs the pain.

If you like to have your ice cream or gelato make you sweat, then look for Maple’s Mexican Chocolate flavor at a multitude of locations (from here to Connecticut). For Fat Toad Caramel, they list William-Sonoma as a seller, but I’d suggest ordering directly from their online store.

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a reason to eat caramel, baking, baking while baked, brown eyed baker, candy bar pie, caramel anything

Take 5 Candy Bar Pie

It’s candy AND it’s pie?

GTFO.

Actually, it shouldn’t be much of a shock considering that Momofuku Milk Bar does it’s own naughy nougaty version of Candy Bar Pie (see the picture above from Serious Eats) and there are various recipes for pies out there naming themselves after popular candy bars. And, because I’ll make anything as an excuse to eat a pint of caramel, coming across a Brown Eyed Baker recipe for a Take 5 Candy Bar pie, was an easy temptation.

I didn’t even know what a Take 5 bar consisted of until I read the recipe and then found myself thinking, “Fuck. I need to stop doing this to myself.” But chocolate, pretzels, caramel, pecans and peanut butter all in one pie is pretty hard to resist.  So, I quickly ignored my inner thoughts and threw together the richest pie I do believe I have ever baked–or, rather, chilled. That’s right, we now have something to rival Crack Pie.

One change to the recipe is that I used toasted pecans instead of the peanuts that are called for in the recipe because I had them on hand.

For the Pretzel Crust:
4 ounces pretzel sticks, finely ground in a food processor or blender
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the Caramel Sauce:
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
¾ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

For the Pie:
½ cup creamy peanut butter, melted
1/3 cup prepared caramel sauce
¼ cup coarsely chopped peanuts
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

1. Make the Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the ground pretzels, melted butter, and sugar. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and chill in the refrigerator until firm, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, Make the Caramel Sauce. Whisk the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium-size heavy saucepan until well combined. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook the sugar mixture, without stirring, until it becomes a rich caramel color, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream until the caramel sauce is smooth, using caution as the mixture may bubble up. (If the sauce seizes, stir it over low heat until the hardened caramel is melted.) Whisk in the butter and set aside.

3. Assemble the Pie: Smooth the warmed peanut butter evenly over the bottom of the pretzel crust. Refrigerate for 10 minutes. Pour the caramel sauce over the peanut butter layer and gently spread with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts over the caramel layer. Refrigerate for another 10 minutes. Finish with a smooth layer of melted chocolate. Refrigerate the pie until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Pie can then remain at room temperature until serving. If you have leftovers, cover with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature or in the refrigerator.


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a reason to eat caramel, caramel anything, childhood nostalgia, fat toad farm, stickler chocolates, sweet marguerites

Canadian Caramels


My obsession with caramel is known far and wide. I accepted it long ago, probably around age 5 or 6, that this obsession would forever be engrained in me. It’s an easy truth to swallow.

When you consciously love something for a long time, it’s funny to see the evolution happen. Sugar Daddy’s, Cow Tales, 100 Grand candy bars–they were what I raided my piggy bank for and a huge contributor to my ‘husky’ size as a child. Now, I don’t blink an eye to pay $10 for a handful of well crafted caramels.

Caramel is so special to me that I’ve even given part of myself to it. Several years ago, when I was working in a kitchen in town and prepping some desserts for the day, I was severely burned by caramel. I had just finished pouring some hot sugar into ramekins for Flan and was swirling it around in the dishes when some splashed over the side and onto three of my fingers. The pain was excruciating, as one would image that 300+ degree burning sugar would be when it hits your flesh. As I waited for my chef to help me take care of it, I took my unburned hand and continued to swirl the other ramekins. I wasn’t going to see the caramel go to waste. It didn’t and thankfully, despite my injury, the dessert was saved.

That hasn’t stopped me from making my own, though the feeling of being burned still resides at the forefront of my mind whenever I’m making a batch at home. But, I don’t have to make it too often as there are so many great caramels out there that call to my more adult palate. Sweet Marguerites, of South Portland, and Fat Toad Farm, of Vermont, usually fill the void when I have a craving and no desire to turn on my stove. Sweet Marguerites is there when I want one of their salty, gooey caramel filled chocolate daisies and Fat Toad’s unique creamy goat’s milk caramel is often stirred into my coffee instead of sugar.

But, there’s a new caramel in my life, though it’s one a bit harder to procure. Stickler Chocolates, out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, makes a line of dark beer flavored caramels that are out of this world.

Using beer from Garrison Brewing Company in Halifax, the candies are soft, buttery with more depth, and a slight bitterness, than I’m used to in my caramels. Their color is so rich, that it’s hard not to think that there’s molasses hiding somewhere in the recipe. They’re bite sized pieces of what I imagine Butterbeer to taste like.

But, sadly, they’re not really available in Portland. Not yet, at least. The ones that I had were given to me and were quickly gobbled up, leaving me wanting more. Luckily, though, they are available for order through their website and are definitely something to consider when you’re looking for a gift to give a beer or sugar loving friend.

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a reason to eat caramel, caramel anything, matzoh, matzoh crunch, passover fun

Gussying Up Matzoh


Being raised Roman Catholic, my springtime religious holidays–Lent and Easter–were synonymous with fish on Friday’s and glazed ham, respectively. Matzoh, needless to say, wasn’t even in my vocabulary growing up. I have yet to even have Matzoh Ball soup. Yet, somehow, I found myself compelled to make a batch of Matzoh Crunch, the only way I’ve ever eaten Matzoh, after seeing a giant display of it at the supermarket. Otherwise, I can’t think of a single recipe that would have brought it into the house.

It’s quick, it’s easy and so sugary addictive that you will forget exactly how bland the plain Matzoh is. One slight play on this recipe is done with Saltine Crackers, which I’m sure is equally good (especially since Kate raved about it so much).

Matzoh Crunch

4-6 unsalted matzohs

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or unsalted Passover margarine

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 cup coarsely chopped chocolate chips or semi-sweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large (or two smaller) cookie sheet completely with foil. Cover the bottom of the sheet with baking parchment — on top of the foil. This is very important since the mixture becomes sticky during baking.

Line the bottom of the cookie sheet evenly with the matzohs, cutting extra pieces, as required, to fit any spaces.

In a 3-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter or margarine and the brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil (about 2 to 4 minutes). Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and pour over the matzoh, covering completely.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350°. Bake for 15 minutes, checking every few minutes to make sure the mixture is not burning (if it seems to be browning too quickly, remove the pan from the oven, lower the heat to 325°, and replace the pan).

Remove from the oven and sprinkle immediately with the chopped chocolate or chips. Let stand for 5 minutes, then spread the melted chocolate over the matzoh. While still warm, break into squares or odd shapes. Chill, still in the pan, in the freezer until set.

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a reason to eat caramel, caramel anything, naughty chefs, nigella lawson, sea salt, why rachael ray?

The Difference Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’


See that? That, my friend, is Nigella Lawson covered in salted caramel. Apparently she is, “In the middle of a love affair” with it. So much so, that she covered herself in it for the latest issue of Stylist magazine.


And this is Rachael Ray posing in FHM a few years back. A bit of a ‘Farmers Daughter’ thing ya got going on there, Rachael.

Sexy British Cooks: 1
Sexy American Cooks: 0

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a reason to eat caramel, british candy review, british sweets, caramel anything, deep fried mars bars, mars bar

Bag of Limey Treats pt.3

Milky Way please meet your more mature doppelganger–the original Mars Bar. This chocolate bar, filled with my favorite sweet treat duo of caramel and nougat, was one that seemed vaguely familiar to me from convenience store shelves growing up. The bar I had seen, however, had the added dimension of almonds where this UK import was nutless. Not being one who grew up liking almonds or whole peanuts messing with my caramel or nougat, I leaned more towards things like Charleston Chew and 100 Grand, shunning Snickers and the US Mars bar(which would later be renamed Snickers with Almonds).

It wasn’t until my mid twenties that I had heard of the phenomenon that would propel the original Mars bar into it’s cult status and turn it into a staple of American fairways: battered and deep fried. First becoming popular in Scotland, it took several years before Americans would be snatching them up by the armful at county and state fairs. The deep fried candy bar would be the precursor to deep fried Twinkies, cheesecake, Oreos and even deep fried butter. God Bless Texas, huh?

While I did think, for a microsecond, about having this bar tempura battered and fried, I thought it best that this virginal Mars experience was best kept intact and unadorned. And while my munchies would have loved the added salt and oil leaving it as is was the best decision because, so far, it is the best of the bag.

The nougat is a bit darker, lighter and creamier than the one in the American Milky Way. The caramel, richer, more akin to a dulce de leche than any caramel filling I’ve had in an off the shelf chocolate bar. The milk chocolate, like the previous ones, was less sweet than their American counterparts and I find it funny that this bar was created to actually be a sweeter alternative to the US Milky Way bar.

Splitting the bar with the Missus left me pulling my half apart into tiny chunks so that I could savor every last morsel. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a simple candy bar as much as I enjoyed this one and, while novelty seems to have revived it’s popularity, to have it in any other form seems like a true waste of a simple pleasure.

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a reason to eat caramel, baking, caramel anything, homemade, homemade girl scout cookies, samoas

Why I Should Listen to the Missus


Naked Samoas

‘I want this
,’ is all her email said, followed by a link to a baking blog that had a homemade version of the Girl Scout Somoas Cookies–or, for those who are up on the name changes of GSA sold cookies, Caramel Delites.

I told her no and deleted the email. Truthfully, I’m not a huge fan of Girl Scout Cookies and never have been. Maybe it’s something residual because I wasn’t a Brownie or a Scout, though both of my sisters temporarily were(we have a problem with follow through in our family). Sure, there was always a box or two of Thin Mints hanging out in our freezer when I was growing up–the supply seemed to respawn itself whenever we were getting low–but I just wasn’t really smitten with them. Now, as an adult, I will only admit to having a wee bit of badge envy.

Aside from random cravings, I try not to bring preservative filled snacks into the house so we’ve been GSA Cookie free for the past 3-4 years. Every year I have to turn down a co-workers proposal that we just order ‘a box or two’ to help his daughter with sales. I work in sales, so don’t try the heartstrings tug on me because I’m pretty damn impervious to it(unless you’re trying to sell me a kitten or puppy and, for them, I will crumble). After two weeks of the sign up sheet being hung up out back, I resisted all temptation and made it through another year without buying over priced cookies. Hooray for me.

Then, Valentines Day came and the Missus bought me the most thoughtful and amazing present and I realized what a selfish ass I was for not getting her a box or two of her favorite(Samoa’s) and spent the better part of a week trying to find her original email to me, asking for some cookies. But, that email was long lost to the trash bin and a simple Google search retrieved this one, though I opted for the much easier to make bars.

Homemade Samoas Bars
Cookie Base:

1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

First, make the crust.
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan, or line with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Working at a low speed, gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly, like wet sand. The dough does not need to come together. Pour crumbly dough into prepapred pan and press into an even layer.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until base is set and edges are lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack before topping.

Topping
3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz good-quality chewy caramels
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
10 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are ok)

Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (preferably one with sides) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

  1. Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.
  2. Put dollops of the topping all over the shortbread base. Using the spatula, spread topping into an even layer. Let topping set until cooled.
  3. When cooled, cut into 30 bars with a large knife or a pizza cutter (it’s easy to get it through the topping).
  4. Once bars are cut, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Heat on high in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring thoroughly to prevent scorching. Dip the base of each bar into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment or wax paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle bars with chocolate to finish.
  5. Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes 30 bar cookies.

Note: You can simply drizzle chocolate on top of the bars before slicing them up if you’re looking for yet an easier way to finish these off. You won’t need quite as much chocolate as noted above, and you won’t quite get the Samoas look, but the results will still be tasty.

I did opt to make my own caramel using this recipe and cutting the amounts in half, ignoring the set up for the pan for the caramel to set in and picked up the above topping recipe halfway through step #1 where you are asked to stir in the coconut.

1 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cups half-and-half cream, divided
1/2 cup butter, cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  • (Line a 13-in. x 9-in. pan with foil; butter the foil. Set aside.) In a Dutch oven, combine the sugar, corn syrup and 1 cup cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Slowly stir in remaining cream. Cook over medium heat until a candy thermometer reads 250° (hard-ball stage), stirring frequently. Remove from the heat; stir in butter and vanilla until well mixed, about 5 minutes.
  • (Pour into prepared pan. Cool. Remove foil from pan; cut candy into 1-in. squares. Wrap individually in waxed paper; twist ends.) Yield: 1 pounds.

The caramel, because I opted to cut down the recipe, was barely deep enough to give a reading on my candy thermometer. And, because I didn’t want to repeat a bad caramel result, I used the old tried and true, though not very scientific, method of testing the caramel in a glass of cold water. If it held its shape, it was at the hard ball stage–if not, it was still on that side of too gooey. My caramel turned out a hair over the hard ball stage which made it hard to just bite into the bars without fear that a tooth would get cracked. However, the simple act of cutting the bars into quarters and storing them in a container, took away that fear.

But, in the end–for as self-critical as I am–the result brought a smile to the Missus’ face and that’s all that mattered.

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baking, baking while baked, caramel anything, chocolate, cooking until the wee hours, millionaire shortbreads, recipes, sea salt

Millionaire’s Folly

We are the crafter and the cook. The Missus, when she isn’t working or being a full time library student, crafts. And she’s damn good at it. In fact, the desk that I write this at was made by her out of a reclaimed door. Our coffee table? That’s our old wooden futon frame. She’s made me a gorgeous knife roll and apron. Every month, well since her subscription ran out, I buy her a copy of Ready Made magazine. Occasionally, I’ll glance over an issue for things I want to harass her into making or to see what recipes they have that month, but usually I don’t pick it up. This month, however, I made quick work of my magazines and moved on to hers and, for the first time, I actually decided to make something from it’s pages.

The recipe, which I am apparently too unfocused to type out on my own, is from Claire Burnet of Chococo in the Uk. Essentially this is a recipe for ‘Millionaire’s Shortbread.’ While many called for the use of corn syrup and/or sweetened condensed milk, this one had you making the caramel center from scratch. Simple enough, as I’ve made caramel many times over the past few years. I’ve also done a bit of experimenting with tempering chocolate and shortbread is a cinch. Easy enough, right?

Oh, how wrong I was.

My first indication should have been my lack of looking over the recipe and realizing how much inactive prep time I would have as the shortbread rested, baked and cooled. Three hours right there, so it wasn’t the best of ideas to start this project at 8 o’clock at night.


Then there was the time to make and cool the caramel. Another hour or so, pushing things well past midnight before I finished the second step. Exactly what I wanted after a full day of work, right? Well, apparently I didn’t let it set long enough because when I poured the chocolate, the caramel started to run down and around the edges of the shortbread. It was a horrible sticky mess at the time.


But, then there was also the complete lack of realization that I had purchased unsweetened baking chocolate and not 70% dark–something I did not discover until I popped a piece in my mouth to snack on, only to spit it out instantly upon discovering what I was really eating. I made a desperate move and stirred in a bit of Icelandic milk chocolate and sugar to make it edible. Thankfully, the texture on the finished product wasn’t as grainy as I had feared.


One bright note was that I did actually have sea salt on hand, a gift from one of the Missus relatives who is studying overseas.


The end product wasn’t overly terrible. The flavors were good and, for the most part, the textures what I had hoped for, though the caramel was still a little loose even after sitting overnight. The whole thing was very reminiscent of a recipe I’ve made before and the much blogged Saveur Chocolate Caramel Tart. I’m sure this is a much better recipe than what I ended up with and is suited for those that pay much more attention than I did.

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caramel anything, chocolate brownies, edible obsession

Edible Obsession: Simply Divine Brownies Caramel and Sea Salt

There are fewer things in life that I love more than Caramel. Christmas, Easter and Halloween favorites always contained the gooey substance and more than a fair number of baby teeth were lost to Sugar Daddy, Sugar Babies and Milk Duds (not to mention a stray Charleston Chew, but nougat is another story all together). So, it is no surprise that my crutch to lean on in recent stressful times (yea, I’m a stress eater) is a locally made Caramel and Sea Salt brownie.

My growing obsession for the line of Simply Divine Brownies came as a bit of a shock to me as, honestly, I’m not that much of a brownie fan. However, I have a hard time calling these brownies as everyone that I’ve had has more resembled a firmer fudge or truffle than a brownie. The texture is rich and buttery with only the slightest bit of crumble to them. Because they require refrigeration, I eat them cold in little slices basically unable to wait the time for it to come to room temperature. They are a treat, to say the least, and trying to consume a full one in a single sitting may require medical attention. However, with the month I’ve had, I’ve tempted fate on more than a few occasions.

Their newest, Caramel and Sea Salt, is like having a giant Sweet Marguerites truffle (if you haven’t had a Sweet Marguerites Sea Salt Caramel, stop what you’re doing and hunt them down–that’s yet another caramel based obsession). And, while I could always use a little more caramel, for the non-glutton the amount is perfect and the salt is just enough to remind you that it’s there. And, needless to say, these are best paired with an ice cold glass of local raw milk.

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