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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candy canes, caramel anything, fleur de sels, holiday candies, sugary goodness

Christmas Munchies

I sit here, partially encrusted in chocolate and wayward caramel, with the faintest hint of candy cane dust clogging my nostrils. In fact, if you were to run your finger along my counters, thousands of sticky sweet microbes would instantly adhere themselves to you. This is the one time of year when, instead of baking armloads of cookies, I dip those arms into pounds upon pounds of chocolate and corn syrup.

To choose one over the other is merely an issue of space over preference. Working with almost no counter space caramels and chocolate enrobed things occupy less space then a dozen cookie sheets sprawled out on every clear surface in the kitchen. Very little of this will actually be consumed by anyone living under this roof… instead, it will go to relatives and co-workers to keep them sugared up, and their teeth slightly aching, over the next week.


Fleur de Sel Caramels from Epicurious.com

* 1 cup heavy cream
* 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
* 1 teaspoon fleur de sel*
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 1/4 cup light corn syrup
* 1/4 cup water

* Special equipment: parchment paper; a deep-fat thermometer
Preparation

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment.

Bring cream, butter, and fleur de sel to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.

Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248°F on thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces, then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.

Using the “Chocolate Dipped Anything” recipe for tempering chocolate from Mark Bittman from the NYTimes.com, I took some Deli Style Pretzel Crisps and slathered them in the tempered chocolate and topped half with pulsed bits of candy canes. The true gem of these are the crisps, themselves. Full of a hearty snap and just enough salt, they provide a wonderful base for their sweet counterparts.

In the face of all that I know and hold dear, I made fudge with Fluff and I have no shame about it. Sure, I can pull off the Fleur de Sel with no issues, but I was not in the mood to push my luck and copped out completely. I am now in possession of five pounds of candy cane laden fudge that would kill my dentist with the mere mention of a whopping five cups of sugar that were used to make it(I made double the recipe below, without nuts)

Never Fail Fudge

* 2 1/2 c. sugar
* 3/4 tsp. salt
* 1/2 stick butter or margarine
* 1 5 oz. can evaporated milk (2/3 c.)
* 1 Jar (7 1/2oz) Marshmallow Fluff
* 3/4 tsp. vanilla
* 1 12-oz. package semi-sweet chocolate pieces
* 1 /2 c. chopped walnuts

Grease a 9-inch square baking pan; set aside. In large saucepan combine the first 5 ingredients. Stir over low heat until blended. Increase heat to Medium and bring to a full-rolling boil being careful not to mistake escaping air bubbles for boiling. Boil slowly, stirring constantly for 5 minutes (use Soft-Ball test). Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and chocolate until chocolate is melted. Add nuts. Turn into greased pan and cool. Makes 2 1/2 pounds.

The only things left now, if I can fit them in, are a few batches of Peanut Butter Buckeyes(a batch made w/Tahini for a friend w/a nut allergy, though we’ll see if it translates) and Biscotti for my partners aunt and mother. Then I fall into detox next month after all of this sugary goodness.

Merry Christmas!

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baking, caramel anything, pumpkin goodness

Fattening up in Fall

Pumpkin Bread with Caramel Cream Cheese Icing

My first job in a kitchen involved desserts and every winter I let that side come out to play. This bread was more like a cake, extremely moist, strong in pumpkin flavor and puffed up nicely in the oven.
I grabbed the frosting recipe from here and the pumpkin bread recipe from over yon, to which I added some chopped pecans to the top of it, instead of inside the bread, in hopes they crunch up a bit. They did and I’ve gorged myself on it for the past three days. One other note–it was baked in a large glass dish, rather than bread pans, adding about 10 minutes to the baking time.

When I stored this I kept the frosting and the bread separate which worked out as the frosting is a bit on the sweeter side. Don’t be afraid to use a little less powdered sugar than is called for in the recipe.

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