Tag Archives: Caramel

Pretzel Crusted Turtle Bars

Hot on the heels of posting about Challah Monkey Bread and Brown Sugar Valentines Heart Cookies, I had every intention of sharing with you the recipe for a delicious Baby Kale and Brussels Sprouts salad this week. But somehow, here we are with Pretzel Crusted Turtle Bars.with text 2F 625 sqTo be honest, it’s not entirely my fault. I have been noticing quite a few pretzel crusted treats floating around cyberspace recently. Naomi of Baker’s Royale made these to satisfy her pregnancy cravings.  Averie of Averiecooks did a top crust of pretzels on her treats.

I started thinking about what I would love to combine with pretzels and the answer came to me instantly…Turtle Bars. If you have never heard of Turtle Bars, let me enlighten you.  Imagine a chocolate base topped with a pecan caramel layer, reminiscent of Turtles Candies. Adding a crushed pretzel layer is a really inspired idea.
whole pretzelscrushing pretzelsadding melted butter to crustcrust ready for ovenThe thing is, you would imagine that Pretzel Crusted Turtle bars would be pretty damn good. But something kind of astonishing happens when you combine these three layers. Alone, each layer sounds yummy. But the synergy that occurs when these three layers combine is something akin to a culinary explosion. The whole somehow becomes so much more than the sum of its parts.stacked 1
Essentially what we have here is a crunch sandwich, with the bottom layer providing salty crunch from the pretzels, and the top layer providing sweet crunch, from the pecans and caramel. Sandwiched in between these two awesome layers of crunch is a chewy fudgy chocolate layer. it doesn’t get better than this.
cracking eggchocolate layer 1candy thermometer in caramelspreading on pecan caramel layerAfter photographing these, I realized that these bars needed to find a good home, other than mine. I took half to my Yoga class and I do believe I heard a few “oohs” and “aahs” mixed in with the “ommmmm” chanting! The other half disappeared quite quickly at my hairdresser’s.3 bars on tile

Click here to print recipe for Pretzel Crusted Turtle Bars.

on twig tray

 

Caramel Chocolate Dipped Pretzels and a Labour of Love!

on tray 625a sqAbout 6 months ago, my sister Jody asked me to make caramel dipped pretzels for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. She wanted to use them as place cards for lunch. Of course I quickly agreed. I love my niece and my sister very much. Besides, when it was my oldest son’s Bar Mitzvah, 10 years ago, she laboriously snipped twigs from her garden and fashioned them, with a hot glue gun and incredible manual dexterity, into numbers for the table cards for our dinner.

Another sister (I have four of them plus one bother!), Bo, baked and iced 225 of these adorable sugar cookies to give out to guests. They were created to look like the Bar Mitzvah boy! My siblings and I hail from a genetic pool of hard working and deeply creative folks! table numbersNicky cookies 2With the long lead time she had given me, I had ample time to research and test recipes so that we would have the perfect pretzel. My sister has a finely developed sense of aesthetics and we spent many hours discussing the appropriate colour shape and size of the tag to tie onto the pretzel bag and the colour of the ribbon. We debated fonts as well as font weights and sizes. We looked at the pros and cons of dipping all in dark chocolate or half in milk and half in dark. We contemplated coloured sprinkles vs. Skor bits. No option was left unconsidered.in brown vase 3Fast forward to a week before the Bat Mitzvah and I had yet to produce a single dipped pretzel. Somehow I just hadn’t gotten around to it. There was no shortage of caramel chocolate dipped pretzel rods on the Internet for inspiration.  I found these and  these and these. However, most of them used ready-made caramels and just melted them for dipping. I needed to make 140 pretzels! By the time I finished unwrapping enough tiny caramels for melting, the Bat Mitzvah would be over. Besides, my niece deserved better than store bought caramel.

During my research I discovered that most recipes for homemade caramel followed a fairly similar ingredient list and methodology. I settled on a caramel recipe from Mrs. Fields’ blog (of the cookie fame).  Following the methodology of most of the recipes I found, I dumped butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk into the pot, brought it to a boil and started stirring. I ended up burning the bottom of the pot.  Dumped that mess out and started over again. Here is an excellent tip to remove burnt debris from the bottom of your pot: fill pot halfway with water, add a few tablespoons of powdered dishwasher detergent and bring to a boil. Rinse and scrub and most of it should come off.

Attempt # 2: I melted the butter, and then stirred in brown sugar until it dissolved. Then I added the corn syrup and condensed milk and boiled until my candy thermometer read 245°F. Once I started working with the caramel and it began to cool, it hardened too much for dipping.

At this point I suspected that my candy thermometer was off. I decided to test it by bringing a pot of cold water to a boil. Once the water was at a rolling boil, I checked my thermometer. It read 202°F.  If you recall from science class, water boils at 212°F. My thermometer was off by 10°F!

For my third attempt, I made the mental math adjustments and took the caramel off the heat at 235°F. Perfect!

making caramelspooning on caramel

I prepared a little video to show the coating and decorating process.

My sister and niece were thrilled with the finished pretzels. My sister ended up labelling them with beautiful kraft brown tags and purple raffia ribbon. She displayed them in glass ginger jars, All the guests gobbled them up very quickly.

pretzels for Em 3 pretzels for Em 2 in shot glasses 1

Click here to print recipe for Caramel Chocolate Dipped Pretzel Rods.

in brown vase 1

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tarts and a very sweet Mother’s Day.

Today I am grateful for several small and large blessings! I am grateful to be relatively pain free. If you read my last post,  you, may recall that I was in bed for over 8 days with terrible back and leg pain. The MRI revealed a bulging disc which was pressing on a nerve and causing me back pain. It seems to have eased greatly and I am back on my feet again. I feel grateful for a wonderful husband who brought me an extra hot skim milk latte in bed this morning.

Although I couldn’t be in Toronto today to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mom, I am grateful to have 5 siblings all living there to celebrate with her. They gathered at my baby sister’s house and had a “friendly” game of softball. Some family members tend to get a bit competitive about these things so hopefully no one sprained a hamstring sliding into first base or got bonked on the head from being tagged out at home plate. I’m sure to get a play by play analysis very soon.

Finally, I am grateful for my sweet children. My oldest was unable to spend today with me, but he drove for over 5 hours to come home for a short visit yesterday. My middle child bought me a beautiful blue hydrangea plant and gave me a very fitting (and funny) card .

And my youngest, with the help of his sister, made me a video on YouTube, serenading me with Elvis’ “Love me Tender.” So sweet!

I made these tarts a few days ago and thought we would have them today for dessert. Unfortunately they were all gone the day I made them. Luckily I have other sweet things to satisfy me!

These tarts are the creation of Lucy Waverman, food columnist for the Globe and Mail. I have adapted the recipe somewhat.  The original recipe produced tarts that had a thin layer of caramel and then a thick layer of ganache. I doubled the caramel recipe so that the finished tarts would have a thick layer of both caramel and chocolate.I also added some salt to the caramel filling as well as a few decorative flakes on top of the ganache filling.

I made them in mini muffin tins. Not only do they look adorable, but there is no guilt at all involved in popping one (or three) of these into your mouth. The contrast in textures of this mini bite are what make it so special. Biting into the crisp flaky pastry you discover a silky smooth layer of bittersweet slightly salty caramel covered in a thick layer of chilled chocolate ganache. The ping on your tongue from a melting crystal of fleur de sel helps these tarts from being too cloyingly sweet.

Begin with making the caramel, as it needs time to cool and firm up. Sugar, water and corn syrup are boiled until a rich amber colour is reached. Finish with whipping cream and a pinch of kosher salt.

I like to roll out the pastry dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper, right after making the dough. Then I chill the rolled out dough. Be sure to roll the dough very thin (1/8 of an inch thick) for these mini tarts.

Let the tart shells cool completely before filling. I find it easiest to put the caramel filling into a disposable piping bag.

Finish off with chocolate ganache and a few flakes of fleur de sel.

Click here to print recipe for Salted Caramel Chocolate Tarts.

Caramel Apple Cake

I learned how to make this cake many years ago, at one of my very first professional cooking jobs. I was working in an upscale take-out food shop in Toronto’s Yorkville area called Dinah’s Cupboard. I learned so much from Dinah Koo, the shop’s owner. She demanded perfection and precision and a certain discipline that is lacking in many kitchens. She cooked with big flavours and was a master at presentation. I am forever grateful to her for teaching me so much. It was my job to make 4 of these cakes every day. We baked them in 9 x 13 inch rectangular cake pans and cut the cakes into large squares to sell in the shop.

After I left Dinah’s Cupboard, I didn’t make that cake again, for a very long time. I guess I was sick of it or had just forgotten about it. But then a few years ago I was working on a column for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). It is traditional to have honey cake on Rosh Hashanah, to symbolize a sweet new year, however, I hate honey cake. Luckily, it is also traditional to have apples on Rosh Hashanah, so I decided to feature an apple dessert of some sort. And then, I remembered this apple cake. I decided to bake it in a Bundt pan, to make it look a little fancier. We had several other desserts at our dinner, but this was the first to disappear.

I had forgotten what a great cake it is. It is perfect for entertaining as it can be made a day ahead of time. it is also wonderful for breakfast with a big glass of milk, or at bedtime with a cup of tea. It is a moist, dense, intensely flavourful cake. The outside of the cake gets a bit crispy from the caramel glaze that is poured on top of the cake. The inside is tart from the apples, but also sweet, in that slightly bittersweet way that only dark caramel can be.   This is cake perfection. I am warning you that it is very hard to have just a little bit. Your guests will ask for just a sliver and then they will be back at the cake, hacking away at it for more slivers, until there are only crumbs left. Not that my friends and family are like that, of course!

I decided to make it again this weekend, so I could take pictures and tell you all about it. I went to the basement to find my Bundt pan, and sitting next to it on the shelf were my mini Bundt pans. I decided to make a double recipe and make a big cake as well as some minis. An applepalooza around here! My husband was so happy.

I decided to use a mix of Granny Smith and Honey Crisp apples. You want some tart apples in this dish that will hold their shape when baked.

The apples get peeled and sliced into wedges for a big cake or diced for the mini cakes. Then the apples are then bathed in a sugar cinnamon mixture.

No need to take out your mixer for this cake. Everything gets mixed together in a big bowl. Whisk eggs, vegetable (or coconut) oil, orange zest, orange juice and vanilla extract together. Lately I have been using vanilla bean paste, instead of vanilla extract. You get those pretty vanilla flecks in the cake.

Then the dry ingredients are added to the wet and the whole batter gets mixed. You will think that there is no way all the dry ingredients will get incorporated, as this is such a heavy dense batter. But persist, use some elbow grease and it will all come together. Just think of all the calories you will be burning in advance of eating this cake!

Then the cake gets assembled. It’s a little like making lasagna. Layer 1/3 of the batter into the pan. Arrange one half of the apples on top, then more batter, a second layer of apples and finally the last third of the batter.

The minis are just so adorable!

Once the second layer of apples are covered with batter, into the oven it goes. While it is baking, you can prepare the caramel glaze. Butter, brown sugar and heavy cream are cooked until hot and bubbly.

Once the cake comes out of the oven, it’s time to add the caramel. Now I’ll share with you the secret to what makes this cake so incredible.

Then you must exercise extreme patience and let the cake cool COMPLETELY, before trying to unmold it. Looking at the sad bottom of this cake, all riddled with holes may have you a little concerned. Then you unmold it and it just looks like a boring Plain Jane Bundt cake. But wait, yee of little faith.  Slice into it and taste. You will be a believer!

Click here to print recipe for Caramel Apple Cake.

Holiday Baking Day 2: Chocolate Chunk Caramel Cookies

When it comes to chocolate chip cookies, people are very particular. Some like them thin and crispy; others love them thick and chewy. There are those who love them all warm and gooey from the oven.   Then there are those who prefer them once they have totally cooled, and the chocolate has a snap when you bite into them.  Finally, there are those who love them best straight from the freezer once they have cured for a few days.  Granted, that camp is quite small (by the way, I am firmly in this camp) but they have their followers. Here is a tale about one chocolate chip cookie that is far superior to any other I have ever tried.

A few months ago, while surfing various food blogs I came across the following sentence, “I have found the last chocolate chip cookie recipe I will ever need.” Wow, I thought, that is a very bold statement and one not to be uttered lightly. However, being a food blogger myself, I know how we, as a group, are prone to exaggeration. These cookies were originally created buy Ashley at notwithoutsalt.com.

As I read through her recipe I became intrigued. All of the chocolate chip cookie recipes I have made over the years use both white and brown sugar. The white sugar makes the cookies crisp and the brown sugar, because of its hygroscopic (i.e.: it absorbs moisture from the air) properties, makes the cookies chewy. This is the first recipe I have ever seen that uses a third sugar – Turbinado sugar. Turbinado sugar is a golden coloured natural brown sugar is produced by extracting the juice from sugar cane, heating it to evaporate water and crystallize the sugar, then spinning in a centrifuge to remove some impurities and further dry the sugar. It can commonly be found at bulk food stores.

I must say a few words about the chocolate you choose for these cookies. Ashley says you must use the best quality chocolate you can afford. I made them with Valrhona Manjari 64% Chocolate from Madagascar. I know, I sound like such a chocolate snob, but I really believe that this chocolate took my cookies from good to outstanding. The Manjari chocolate is often sold in what they call “Les Feves” or “pistoles”. Essentially these are discs of chocolate that are reminiscent of chocolate chips on steroids. But they have none of the chalky, waxy quality of chocolate chips. I cannot emphasize too strongly, do not use chocolate chips for these cookies. Chocolate chips contain an emulsifier in them to help them hold their shape during baking. You want the chocolate to completely melt in baking and then harden once again after cooling. There is some kind of physical change that takes place during the melting and cooling, that gives chocolate chunk cookies a special snap or bite to them that you just do not get with chocolate chips. Buy a few bars of good quality chocolate (at least 60-70% cocoa content). If you can’t find Valrhona Manjari 64% Chocolate, try some chopped Callebaut or even Lindt dark chocolate.

With a small sprinkling of fleur de sel, just before baking, these cookies are pretty close to perfection. But, not one to leave well enough alone, I added chopped caramel candies to mine. These are a hefty cookie, crammed full of large shards of chocolate and little tunnels of caramel.

This recipe makes about 32 cookies, or less if you are they type to nibble on raw cookie dough. You know who you are, so adjust your yield expectations accordingly!

I used a 2 inch ice cream scoop and put 9 cookies on a 18 x 31 inch cookie sheet.

Warm from the oven or cold from the freezer, these cookies are pretty fantastic.

Click here to print the recipe for The Perfect Chocolate Chunk and Caramel Cookie.