Category Archives: Confections and Candies

Sweet and Salty Magic Bars

on wire rackThese classic bar cookies have been around since the 1850’s! They also go by the moniker of Magic Bars, Hello Dolly Bars, Five Layer and even Seven Layer Bars. Essentially, they all begin with a melted butter and cookie crust, typically crushed graham wafers. This sweet base gets topped with more sweetness, usually chocolate or butterscotch chips, sweetened coconut and some type of nuts. A thick layer of sweetened condensed milk acts as the glue to hold everything together.

Whatever they’re called, they have never really appealed to me because they just seemed too tooth-achingly sweet. But last week I saw this charming video and knew I had to try this twist on these bars. In her new book, “Modern Potluck”, Kristen Donnelly solves the sickly sweet problem by swapping out a cookie base with a potato chip base. What??? Pure genius.

I had high hopes for these “potato chip crusted magic bars”. The combination of sweet and salty is my kryptonite. I went shopping for potato chips, because I rarely keep them in my house. Shockingly, don’t have much will power when it comes to salt. By the way, did you know that they sell unsalted potato chips? Chicken and waffle flavoured potato chips is one thing, but I draw the line at unsalted! I mean, salt is the whole point of potato chips, right?

I whipped up a batch of Kristen’s potato chip crusted magic bars. I was so excited I could barely wait for them to cool.potato chip crusted barsThe first bite was interesting. The crust was not as crispy as I thought it would be. Nor did it taste as salty as I was hoping for. The second bite left an almost rancid aftertaste in my mouth. I had eaten a few potato chips out of the bag as I was making the crust, and they tasted great. I suspect that cooking the potato chips a second time caused some kind of chemical reaction that changed the taste. I was so disappointed. I knew that Kristen’s idea of adding a salty crust was a great idea and I wanted to make these bars work.

And then I remembered these pretzel crusted treats I made last year. Why not trade potato chips for pretzels? Why not indeed? I topped mine with bittersweet chocolate chips, unsweetened coconut chips, salted cashews, almonds and macadamia nuts, and chopped vanilla caramels.cutting caramels


Watch the magic happen!


These bars have it all. A perfect sweet-salty balance and great textural contrast. Crunch from pretzels, nuts and toasted coconut, gooey sweetness from  sweetened condensed milk,  bittersweet from the chocolate, and chewiness from the caramel. A perfect treat. baked up close

one barOh, and I figured out why they’re called magic bars. Set them out with some cold milk and watch them magically disappear. They are even more delicious straight from the freezer!

Click here to print recipe for Sweet and Salty Magic Bars.

with milk

Kicked Up Matzoh Crunch

4 squares 625 sqI read in the Globe and Mail Food section this week that God gave us cardboard so that we could describe the taste of matzoh. Not this matzoh treat!!

I made this for my sister Bonnie. I slightly adapted the recipe from the April 2015 issue of Bon Appetit. This matzoh crunch is kicked up with a pinch of hot pepper. I wanted to make it with Aleppo pepper because she puts that sh#t on everything! Sadly, if you have been following the news, you will know that Aleppo pepper is almost impossible to get now. The civil war in Syria has virtually destroyed the Aleppo pepper production. (Although the scarcity of Aleppo pepper is the least of their problems.) The citizens of Syria are in my thoughts and prayers.

Aleppo is a dried crushed red pepper. It is slightly fruity, with a whiff of smoke and only moderately spicy. I actually found a forgotten tin of it at the back of my cupboard. Not sure how long it’s been there but it has lost most of it’s potency.

I decided to make a few batches of this treat using a variety of peppers and compare the results.
Maras pepper (sometimes spelled Marash), from Turkey, is a good substitute for Aleppo. It is slightly smokier and hotter. I made a third batch with supermarket red pepper flakes and one final batch with chipotle powder, because that’s my jam!what you'll needBrown sugar, butter and your chill pepper of choice get whisked together over moderate heat until hot and bubbly. Pour over matzoh and spread into an even layer. spreading toffee Bake toffee covered matzoh for about 10 minutes. Top hot matzoh with bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate chips and let sit until they melt. Spread chocolate until smooth.waiting for chocolate to meltTop with toasted chopped pistachios, dried cherries, toasted coconut flakes, coarse salt and cocoa nibs.ready to chillChill and cut into squares.stacked squares 625 sqOr cut into wedges. Any way you slice it, it’s delicious.wedges of crunchThe batches I made with the Aleppo and Maras were not very spicy. The heat was barely noticeable even though I doubled the amount of pepper recomended in the Bon Appetit recipe (I used 1 teaspoon instead of 1/2 teaspoon). The red pepper flakes batch had obvious but not burning heat. It was my favourite. The chipotle was too smoky for my liking. This matzoh crunch is a flavour bomb in your mouth. Sweet (chocolate), salty (coarse salt and pistachios), sour (cherries), bitter (cocoa nibs), spicy and crunchy.

Click here to print recipe for Kicked Up Matzoh Crunch.

On the 8th night of Chanukah: Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares

On the eighth, and final night of Chanukah I gave my true love Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares. Reminiscent of peanut butter cups, but way better because of the crunchy, salty pretzel crust. And, the best part is that they don’t have to be baked!stacked upThis recipe was given to me by my friend Mrs. Dolphin. I’ve granted her this nickname because she shares numerous traits with porpoises. Dolphins are very social animals and excellent communicators. They are friendly, clever and natural performers. Mrs. Dolphin enjoys a very busy and complicated social life. She is charismatic, fun loving and was born to be on the stage. She is very organized and excels in creative problem solving. squares on white boardMrs. Dolphin found this recipe in the food section of the Ottawa Citizen. It was inspired by Trisha Yearwood’s No-Bake Chocolate-Pretzel-Peanut Butter Squares. (Yes, the country singer Trisha Yearwood. Did you know she has a show on The Food Network?)  I took the recipe one step further and made the top layer more lavish, with a marbleized bittersweet and white chocolate topping, because really, we all need more fancy in our lives!what you'll need

making crustpressing crust into panchocolate toppingMarbleizing looks very impressive but it’s simple to do. Here is a video showing you the technique. The video is from my The Ultimate S’mores post, but the method of creating a marble pattern is still the same.

marbelizing chocolate toppingjpg

Click here to print recipe for Mrs. Dolphin’s Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares.

Perfect with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee. The awesome drip coffee stand is from Restoration Hardware. I bought it for my husband because his plastic Melita cone offends my aesthetic sensibilities. with drip coffee

On the fifth night of Chanukah: Chocolate Crunch

stacked upOn the fifth night of Chanukah, I made Chocolate Crunch for my true love. Truthfully, this one was for me. My true love is not a huge chocolate lover. This recipe comes from The Mast Brother’s cookbook.

My friends, The Grizzlies, gave me this book as a gift when I broke my foot a few years ago. It kept me greatly entertained while my bones were healing. The recipes are delicious but what I really love best about this book are the deep, dark, exquisite chocolate photos. The book reads like an adventure novel, following the bearded brother’s unusual journey from their home state of Iowa to their factory in Brooklyn. Plus, how could you not love a book whose dedication reads, “To our mother, we love you.”

The Mast Brothers were on the forefront of the bean-to-bar artisan chocolate movement. They source cocoa beans with unique flavour profiles from around the world, roast the beans in small batches to create truly handmade chocolate, one of the very few chocolate makers to do so. And their bars have the coolest packaging.

This is a pretty simple recipe, no baking required. I tinkered with their recipe, ever so slightly by adding some Skor bits to the mix. Rice Krispies add a gentle snap, while the toffee flavoured Skor bits add a firmer crackle and popHere's what you'll need 1

pouring melted chocolate into crunchThe mixture gets poured into a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerated until set. Sliced into thick slabs, this is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up!sliced

Click here to print recipe for Chocolate Crunch.

Ultimate S’mores

We are living in a time of some amazing culinary experimentation. While culinary mashups are nothing new, witness the Turducken, which has it’s roots in ancient Roman times, some creations have gone a bit too far.

While I love nothing better than a bowl of Cheetos and a glass of wine for dinner, I am not keen to give Cheetos Macarons a try anytime soon. Nor will Goat Cheese and Peanut Buttercup Fries be passing these lips… not ever!

However, I firmly stand behind Donut Ice Cream Sandwiches, and will even stand in line for the Cronut (and anything else that genius Dominique Ansel dreams up!).

So, in the spirit of culinary creativity, I bring you The Ultimate S’moretoasted 2 625 sqready for smores 1Because it’s summer! Because it’s crazy delicious! Do I really need an excuse for taking my favourite Passover snack, Matzoh Crunch and turning it into that summertime staple, the s’more? Instead of using matzoh, I substituted Saltine crackers.saltinesI cooked butter and brown sugar until it resembled molten hot lava and poured it over a layer of saltines.molten gold spreading caramelI baked it until it was bubbling and then I covered it in bittersweet chocolate and marbled in some white chocolate, just because it’s so freaking beautiful.chocolate

Then I toasted some marshmallows and sandwiched them between the caramel chocolate coated crackers.  toasted 625 sqIf you are a purist, like my youngest son, you may prefer them raw!raw 3If you are watching your carbs, perhaps an open faced sandwich is the way to facedHowever you enjoy summer, including the Ultimate S’mores in your celebrations is bound to make it a lot sweeter.

Click here to print recipe for Ultimate S,mores.

stacked smores 1