Caramel slice

Ah the caramel slice, or, in Misanthropic Hostessland, the baked good formerly known as JB Bars.

Way back when I first encountered these, I thought the middle was a penuche, or brown sugar fudge. While I’m a fan of the penuche variation, the mana-like substance that makes up the middle layer of this variation is actually a caramel made of sweetened condensed milk.

Think dulce de leche.

Ah!  Now I have your attention.

In this take on the treat, the shortbread base includes coconut.  If you haven’t already clued-in,  coconut is like the Australian version of Frank’s Hot Sauce.  They put that s*&t in just about everything.

But back to the caramel.  In this version, sweetened condensed milk is heated along with some butter and golden syrup (also in everything Australian) until everything is combined.  Then it is baked on top of the shortbread base until it looks like Deadpool without the mask.  Trust me, though it be ugly, it’ll taste exactly like you imagine Ryan Reynolds tastes.

I had a tough time getting this part just right.  I went through four iterations before I was brave enough to leave it in the oven long enough to let it set up.

Once cooled, the unsightly caramel gets a gorgeous layer of chocolate.

The recipe below makes a 9X9 inch square.  It won’t seem like enough–but –cut these into 1X1ish inch squares.  The term decadent could take a lesson from these bad boys.

Store them in the fridge.  However, they’re safe at room temp (they’ll just loosen up a little…kind of like I do when thinking about what Ryan Reynolds smells like).

Speaking of Ryan Reynolds–TD and I saw the most recent Deadpool movie in Australia.  Guess what?  Not the least bit different from going to the movies in the U.S.

Caramel Slice

Recipe cobbled together from several.  Read through before you start baking!

Ingredients

for the shortbread base

  • 1 C (150G) all purpose flour
  • ½ C (40G) desiccated or shredded and chopped coconut
  • 1/2 C (about 125G) unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ C (90G) golden brown sugar

for the caramel

  • 1/2 C (about 125G) unsalted butter
  • 2 X 395G cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 C (115G) golden syrup (light corn syrup will work)

topping

  • 1/2 C (200g) semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips
  • TBS vegetable oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line 9X9 pan with parchment going both ways so that there is 2 inches overhanging the lip of the pan all the way around (see photo above).  Oil parchment
  2. Sift flour into a medium sized bowl.
  3. Add-in coconut butter and brown sugar until everything is just combined (dough will be very soft and moist–it won’t feel like shortbread)
  4. Press dough into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes until golden on top.
  5. While base is cooking, melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on very low heat.
  6. Stir-in milk and golden syrup.  Bring heat up to low-medium and stir for 8 minutes until mixture is slightly thickened (the difference is subtle).
  7. Once shortbread base is out of the oven, pour caramel over.  Return to oven and bake for at least 30 minutes.  The top should be golden and while it will still have some jiggle, it shouldn’t be liquid.  Err on the side of over-done here.
  8. Refrigerate until completely cool.
  9. Melt chocolate and vegetable oil together.  Pour over chilled caramel.
  10. Refrigerate until set-up (ideally at least a couple of hours)
  11. Cut into 1 inch slices (you’ll be tempted to go bigger but these are very rich).
  12.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
  13. Will keep up to 5 days.

Alfa who?

Guess what we’re making?

[note–the pot above is utilized only as the bottom of the jerry-rigged  double boiler and for making dulce de leche where its contents do not interact with the food–I promise I’m not poisoning people with teflon].

It’s been a while since I had fun with dulce de leche.  And, I was thinking about my friend Melissa who moved to Argentina.  Another friend of mine was just there and it got me wondering why haven’t I been?  Why not just hop on a plane?  There are multiple daily flights out of LAX on LANS.  I could be there before sundown tomorrow.

And then reality set in.  There is that thing I spend most of my time doing called work.  And there is that dishwasher that needs to be replaced.  And those Kitchen Gods who are insistent on being fed.  So, I settled on missing Melissa and making alfajores.

As if the dulce de leche filling wasn’t enough to motivate me to give these a whirl, I’ve long been intriugued with the idea of swapping out traditional flour with cornstarch.  I’ve done some experimenting with shortbread recipes, to mixed results.  So, this was an excuse to experiment.

Unlike my shortbread attempts, this was a success.  Just barely sweet, the cookies were tender and crisp.  I managed to coax exactly two dozen little round cookies out of the dough.

.

Alfajores are often rolled in ground coconut as a finishing touch.  As coincidence would have it, the other recipe I made the day I made these also included coconut as a main ingredient.  Not wanting to over coconut the recipients of my treats, I left off the coconut here.

Alfajores

from Chow.com

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon pisco or brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup dulce de leche at room temperature.  For recipes goes here and here
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. Place the cornstarch, measured flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk briefly to combine; set aside.
  2. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl once with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks, pisco or brandy, and vanilla and mix until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, gradually add the reserved flour mixture and mix until just incorporated with no visible white pockets, about 30 seconds.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a smooth disk, and wrap it tightly. Place in the refrigerator until firm, at least 1 hour.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface or, between two sheets of parckment. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Roll to 1/4-inch thickness (the dough will crack but can be easily patched back together). Stamp out 24 rounds using a plain or fluted 2-inch round cutter, rerolling the dough as necessary until all of it is gone.
  6. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet and at least 1/2 inch apart. Bake 1 sheet at a time until the cookies are firm and pale golden on the bottom, about 12 to 14 minutes. (The cookies will remain pale on top.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. Flip half of the cookies upside down and gently spread about 2 teaspoons of the dulce de leche on each. Place a second cookie on top and gently press to create a sandwich. Dust generously with powdered sugar before serving.

 

Sweet and salty

You didn’t think I’d do a month of Halloween treats and forget the caramel did you?  And, this isn’t just any caramel, this is Ina Garten’s fleur de sel caramel.  These little treats are very rich, just slightly chewy and have enough salt that they border on savory (think kettle corn).

While the sugar and water get to boiling, prepare the pan.  Cut the parchment so that it sits neatly along two sides and overhangs on the other two (enough to use the extra parchment to lift the finished caramel out of the pan).

This is a two-pan caramel recipe.  Sugar and water come together in one while heavy cream and butter are warmed in another.

Once the sugar and water reach a pale sunny blond…

In goes the dairy (be prepared for a little angry caramel for a few minutes).

Bring the whole mess up to 248 degrees.

And then into the prepared pan and into the fridge until completely cooled.

Now it’s time to really get to work.  This is a soft caramel and as such, imprints easily.  Like fingerprint easy.  To avoid mucking up the beautiful shiny caramel with my grubby fingers, I put on plastic gloves for this next part.

Tightly roll the caramel to halfway.

Cut into eight pieces.

Srinkle with fleur de sel.

Then repeat with the other half.  I wrapped each little piece in parchment (I cut a couple of 10X14 inch pieces into eight equal-sized parchment rectangles giving me 16 pieces total).  You could also use waxed paper or cellophane.  A few years ago I used this really cute waxed paper from The Container Store.

Over the years I’ve made these on-and-off for the holidays.  Something tells me they’ll making a comeback this year.

If you like this, you might like these

Salted Caramel Squares

Scratch Twix

Soundtrack

MJ in the house.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

Ina Garten

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan (or loaf pan) with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to drape over 2 sides.
  2.  In a deep saucepan (6 inches diameter by 4 1/2 inches deep) combine the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden brown color. Don’t stir – just swirl the pan to mix. Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly at the end!
  3. In the meantime, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel to a simmer in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, set aside and keep warm.
  4. When the caramelized sugar is the right color, slowly add the cream mixture to the caramel – it will boil up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (it’s hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.
  5. When the caramels are cool, use the parchment paper to pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Starting at 1 end, roll the caramel up tightly until you’ve rolled up half of the sheet. Cut the sheet across and then roll the second half tightly. You will have 2 (1 by 8-inch) logs. Sprinkle both logs lightly with fleur de sel, cut each log in 8 pieces. Cut parchment papers in 6 by 4 1/2-inch squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

Candy is Dandy: Scratch Twix Bars

Like any proper Angelino, I spend a good deal of time sitting in my car participating in that daily rite of torture called commuting.  In addition to keeping an eye out for the elusive chorizo truck during my morning pilgrimage up the 110 freeway, I also like to devote time to having deep thoughts.

Unfortunately for my chances at winning a Nobel Prize of any sort, the caliber and nature of my deep thoughts would be more at home in a Cosmo or Martha Stewart Magazine than Scientific American or The Economist.  Much of the initial planning for Gingerbread Royce happened while I sat idling on the freeway.  And more than once, I’ve found myself thinking through alternate ways of loading the dishwasher.  Like I said, deep thoughts.

The origins of this recipe came from one such commute.  And, given the nearness of my favorite holiday and the central role that candy plays in it, I thought now would be an apropos time to share.  On that faithful morning a couple of months ago, I was pondering the merits of the Twix bar and how one might go about making them from scratch.  In bar form.  I’m sure there are recipes out there but I wasn’t really interested in anything that already exists.  I wanted the challenge of creating my own.  So I did.  And after some trial and error that would make Goldilocks proud, I think I came up with a fairly decent version.

This recipe begins with a shortbread base.  Shortbread is sort of like curry.  While it categorically refers to a certain kind of butter-based baked good, the similarities between recipes end there.  In this case, I’ve used a shortbread that includes golden brown sugar as a complement to the caramel that will sit on the top bunk.

First cream the butter.  Then add the sugars and cream them as well.  Trust me, the abuse of ingredients has just begun. Ooohhh…fluffy.

Press the sticky dough into a parchment-lined pan.  Then poke all-over with a fork so that the steam can escape and you don’t get un-even shortbread.

Into the oven.  And when it comes out: golden brown.

While the shortbread is cooling, it’s time to play with chemistry.  Combine sugar, water and light corn syrup in a heavy sauce pan and bring it to a boil.

While things are heating up over here, melt the butter and add cream in a separate pan.

Soon (but really, it won’t seem soon enough.  In fact, it will feel like an eternity because, you know what they say about watched caramel sauce), things will get a little golden.

In what seems like no-time, things go from pale gold to amber and it’s time to get down to business.

Once the caramel is just a tad darker than the picture above. Very carefully pour in the cream and butter mixture.  Don’t be afraid, all hell is supposed to break loose at this point.

Don’t worry, things will calm down a bit.  And then you wait for the caramel to get to that magical 248F on the candy thermometer.

At precicely 248F it’s time to pull the plug, get this off the heat and pour it over the shortbread.  Now promise me something here.  Promise okay?  The aroma is going to be killing you…buttery, creamy, caramely.  BUT now matter how strong the impulse, do not touch the caramel.  If life was a game of Candy Land, caramel at 248 degrees would be the molten lava.  Get it?

Spread the caramel evenly and sprinkle with sea salt.  Then transfer the whole mess to the fridge and allow the caramel to set up.

When the caramel is firm, it’s time to crown our little project.  Melt about a cup of your favorite chocolate (I’ve used bittersweet here).  I’ve heard you can melt chocolate easy in the microwave, but I like to use a glass bowl over simmering water.

Smoooth.

Once the chocolate is melted, spread it evenly over the caramel layer.  I like to use an off-set spatula for the job.  Yeah, I know, you’d like me to use some better skills when photographing stuff…

Let the chocolate set-up in a cool, dry spot.  DO NOT PUT IT IN THE FRIDGE.  Putting it in the fridge will cool the chocolate down too quickly and it won’t temper properly.  The result is dusty looking chocolate.

As usual, I recommend letting the whole thing rest over night.  Then.  Cut as desired and try not to eat the entire pan.

Of course, if three layers is just a jumping-off point.  Why not four.  Or five?

The Scratch  Twix Bar

Makes about 100 1 inch squares

Shortbread Base:

  • 20 TBS (2 1/2  sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature.
  • ½ C packed golden brown sugar
  • ¼ C superfine sugar
  • 2 ½ C sifted flour
  • ¼ t kosher salt

Caramel:

  • ½ C sugar
  • ¼ light corn syrup
  • 1 ½ C heavy cream
  • 4 TBS unsalted butter
  • ½ t vanilla extract
  • Sea salt for sprinkling

Chocolate Layer

  • 1 C chocolate bits (I used bittersweet but use what you like)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Cream butter until fluffy (about 2 minutes).  Add in sugars and cream additional 3 minutes.  By hand, gently fold in salt and then flour until dough comes together.  Press dough into a buttered, parchment lined 9X13 inch baking pan.  Create vents by poking dough all over with a fork.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until cookie is golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool.

For caramel.  Combine sugar, corn syrup and ½ C water in a deep saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer.  Bring mixture to boil.  Continue to boil until caramel is a golden brown.  Do not stir the mixture.  In a separate pan, melt butter and add cream, letting the mixture come to a simmer.  Remove from heat but keep warm.  Once caramel reaches the desired color, carefully add-in the cream mixture.  The liquid will bubble up immediately but will calm down quickly.  Stir in vanilla with wooden spoon.  Cook mixture for 10 minutes until it reaches 248 degrees F (note: the temperature will be this high when you pour in the cream but will drop some and then come back up).  Once the caramel reaches 248 degrees, very carefully pour over cooled shortbread.  Use a spatula to spread the layer evenly (do not use fingers and do not tough the caramel, it is extremely hot).  Sprinkle sea salt over caramel if desired.  Place shortbread and caramel into the fridge to cool.

Once the caramel is cool and firm, the final chocolate layer can be added.  In a double boiler, gently melt 1 C of desired chocolate pieces.  Once pieces are melted, gently spread an even layer over caramel.  Allow the chocolate layer to set-up in a cool dry spot.  Do not refrigerate until the chocolate is completely set (doing so will decrease the temperature too quickly and the layer will appear dusty or grey).  Once chocolate is set, cut to desired size and store in the refrigerator.