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.

California Blondies

My secret career fantasy is to sell bar cookies on the local farmers market circuit.  I can just see myself hawking misanthropic brownies and bella bars early Friday mornings as the sun slowly burns off the fog at the Venice Farmer’s Market.  Then on Saturdays I’d move to Santa Monica or Playa Vista.  Sunday would definitely be Brentwood.  There’d be no store front, at least in the beginning.  But, I’d do a brisk online business.

I even have a name for the little operation (but I’m not going to tell).

And while this truly is a fantasy (someone has to pay the homeowners insurance and keep the Kitchen Gods deep in kibble), I’ve always got my eye out for new bar and square recipes.  In the name of research of course.

This one is inspired by the butterscotch blondie recipe in the newly published Lemonade Cookbook.  Lemonade is an addictive southern California boutique chain that pairs seasonal ingredients with old-school cafeteria-style service.  I’m embarrassed to admit there is a location mere yards from my office at USC but the anxiety of selecting what I wanted on the fly kept me from ever trying it while I worked there.  Stupid for my tastebuds.  Probably pretty smart for my wallet.

In addition to the dozen or so creatively prepared salads–think watermelon radish and ahi or Israeli couscous and truffle oil–they also do decadent sandwiches and have a whole station of slow-cooked delicacies displayed in a rainbow of Le Creuset dutch ovens.  Your tray-push ends in a display of house-baked treats and, of course, half a dozen varieties of lemonade.   Don’t get me started on the cucumber mint.   Even if you don’t live in L.A., Lemonade has a presence in the LAX Delta Terminal.

I’ve never actually tried Lemonade’s butterscotch blondie in-store.  But, they had me at coconut on the ingredient list.

Like many kitchen-sink style recipes, this one begs for variation.  Here, I swapped the pecans for almonds and the golden raisins for actual butterscotch chips.  I’m also working on a holiday version that could make an appearance as a featured player in the Misanthropic Bake-a-palooza.

Butterscotch Blondies

from The Lemonade Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 2 C all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks, 12 TBS) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 C dark (I used golden) brown sugar, loosely packed
  • 1 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs at room temp.
  • 1/2 C white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 C pecans toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 C golden raisins
  • 1/2 C shredded sweetened coconut, toasted
  • *Obviously I think the last four ingredients are open to interpretation.  In this iteration I used butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, toasted coconut and toasted almond slivers.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9X13 inch pan with parchment and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  3. In a small heavy-bottomed sauce pan add the butter and swirl it around over medium heat until is melts and foams.  Continue to cook it gently until it is a brown-amber color and smells nutty (about 5 minutes).
  4. Add the brown and granulated sugars.  Stir to combine fully.  Remove from heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Add butter mixture to a large bowl, beat in eggs (you don’t need a standing mixer for this).
  6. Fold in flour mixture until just incorporated.
  7. Fold in remaining ingredients.  Pour batter into prepared pan smoothing the top with a spatula.
  8. Bake until the top is lightly brown and firm, 25-30 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan on a rack.  Cut into 2-inch bars.

Shake Your Cherry Ripe Bonbon

I love wandering the aisles of grocery stores in other countries.  I may be overstating this assertion, but I think grocery stores are a pretty accurate proxy of a country’s cultural, political and even geographical positions.  The snack food aisle (often aisles) is one of my favorite.  I love perusing the exotic packaging and, when I can cipher  the language, the strange and wonderful flavor combinations.  I’ll admit, part of the allure is the “ewww gross” factor.  Smoked shrimp Doritos?  Limberger Cheetos?  Disgusting…and yet…completely fascinating.

While I generally draw the line at observation on the salty snacks, international candy is a favorite of mine to bring back as gifts (especially since many of the interesting varieties can be purchased through duty-free shops, helping with the customs issue).  I probably brought back $50 worth of candy from Hong Kong a couple of years ago.  I have no idea what it was…but the packaging was gorgeous.

Before heading to Australia, a friend of ours gave TD the inside line on her favorite Aussie candy bar: Cabury’s cherry ripe.  Intrepid chocolate triers that we are, we managed to procure a cherry ripe within hours of landing in Melbourne.  Dark chocolate+coconut+glace cherry bits makes an excellent combination.

Photo credit: http://www.cadbury.co.nz/products/bars/cherry-ripe.aspx?p=3550

Once the cherry ripe seal was broken, there was no going back.  In order to preserve our own innocence, I purposefully did not count the number of cherry ripe bars purchased while “in-country.”

I did realize early on however, that the coconutty-cherry middle had a very similar consistency to the needhams I made last fall.

And so, upon return to the U.S., I got down to business recreating the cherry ripe bar into bonbons.  The middle of a cherry ripe bar is darker than my little bonbons…more of a crimson than a candy apple.  But, candy apple was the only red food gel I had in my stash at the time.  I ordered the glace cherries from Amazon.  I’m fairly certain the only thing anyone uses those things for are fruit cakes…and the middle of summer is decidedly NOT fruitcake season (insert joke here).

I used a 1/2 ounce scoop to form the chilled guts into little balls.  Then I froze the balls and, pulling them out of the freezer in batches of 12 or so, dipped them in dark chocolate.

TD claims these taste very similar to the original.

Provided their lurid color, I think they’d make a good halloween treat.

Soundtrack

INXS (the original, not the one they tried to make over a few years ago).  These guys were a major part of the musical landscape that was high school for me.  Need you Tonight, Suicide Blonde and New Sensation all bring to mind images of swim meets and beach days at La Jolla Shores.  What I didn’t find out until later was that the band’s original name was The Farriss Brothers: Andrew, Jon and Tim.  While the spelling is different, two of the three are what my father and grandfather are called.

Cherry Ripe Bonbons

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes (not seasoned) (you could easily get this amount from a single large russet potato)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lb  confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 7 ounces flaked coconut
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla
  • 7 ounces glace cherries, finely chopped (you can also buy “cherry chips” where the chopping has been done for you
  • red food gel
  • 18 ounces (about 1 1/2 packages)  chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 paraffin wax block, the same paraffin you melt to use on top jam (2 1/2 by 2 1/2)

Directions:

  1. Pare, cook, and mash potato to make three-quarters of a cup. Add salt.
  2. If you are making recipes right after boiling the potato, use the still-warm sauce pan or dutch oven. The pan should still be warm enough to melt the butter off the heat.  If not, turn on heat to low and allow butter to melt.
  3. Turn off heat and add mashed potato, confectioners sugar and gel.  Fold to evenly mix color.
  4. Add-in flaked coconut, chopped cherries and vanilla.
  5. Mix well and turn into a buttered 9X9 inch pan and spread evenly.
  6. Refrigerate to harden.
  7. When hard, scoop and then roll into balls (I used a 1/2 ounce scooper).
  8. Place cut squares back into the fridge until dipping.
  9. For the dipping chocolate, again use a double boiler or place a heat-proof bowl over a sauce pan of simmering water.
  10. Add paraffin and allow to melt.
  11. Add chocolate and allow to melt.
  12. Stir well to mix ingredients.
  13. Dip in the chocolate mixture (with a fork, toothpick, or my personal favorite, bamboo BBQ skewer).
  14. Place on waxed paper to harden.

 

Hello, my little Lamington

As I think I’ve mentioned, TD and I spent a couple of weeks in Australia during the second half of May.  As I’m sure many people do, we have an ever-lengthening list of places in the world we’d like to go and Australia had been on that list far too long.  I also happen to have on my own personal bucket list, with the goal of spending at least one birthday on each continent.  Australia made for continent number five.

Deciding to go to Australia or sort of like deciding to go to the United States in terms of geographic breadth.  Not wanting to spend the two weeks on planes, we chose three cities: Melbourne, Sydney and Port Douglas (an hour outside of Cairns).  This meant only two domestic flights and maximized our time on the the ground.

As I’ve said at least a million times in previous posts, my favored souveniers come in the form of photos and recipes (or at least inspirations for recipes).  We dropped the ball a bit on photos.  I’d estimate that at least half of the 50 or so pictures we took are of wallabys and a certain koala we met at an animal sanctuary.  Of those, a surprising number happen to be selfies of said koala and TD.  Hmm.  Luckily, Australians do like their baked goods and sweets.  The most famous of which is, the Lamington.

This little tea cake is named after either Lord Lamington, the Governor of Queensland from 1896-1901, or his wife, Lady Lamington.  Like red velvet cake, the mythology of the treat’s exact origins differs by account.  However, the most common story suggests that the yellow cake, dipped in chocolate icing and then rolled in coconut, was developed by the Lamington’s chef when confronted with unexpected guests at tea.  Lacking fresh cakes, the chef used the day-old sponge cake and the rest is history.

I have an admission, we didn’t have a chance to actually try Lamingtons while in Australia.  I know it makes me a poor researcher, but I assumed the cubes of coconut covered confections were giant marshmallows.  Oops.

It wasn’t until late in the trip that I realized my gaff, and so, I set about rectifying my mistake by making my own.

In reviewing recipes, I settled on David Lebovitz’s version.  Because, it makes so much sense to make an Australian cake using a recipe from an American living in France.

While he was in Australia, he didn’t get to try them either.

I think these would be a ton of fun to make with kids.

Mostly because they’re incredibly messy.  See that unappetizing bowl in the top center of the photo below?  That was my hand-wash station.  True Lamington form requires one to dip the sandwich cakes in the runny icing (by hand) and then roll them around in the coconut (by hand).  Not wanting to get coconut in the icing (in retrospect I have no idea why I was so concerned), I dipped, rolled, set, washed hands, dried and repeated. Sixteen times.

I’m pretty sure I lost about a quarter of the icing and coconut to what ended up on me.

In the end, it was worth it.  The recipe calls for desiccated coconut.  I was too lazy to find the desiccated version and went for shredded.  The Australians seem pretty okay with variation (in fact, they seem pretty okay with just about anything), so I don’t think they’d mind.

These reminded me of something Little Debbie would make.  In a good way.  Little Lamington does have a certain ring to it.

Now, consider yourselves warned.  By my count, I’ve got six more Australia-related posts in the pipeline.  Next week we’ll take a little break for some Fourth of July fun but after that it’s back to my version of boring vacation slides.

And one more thing.  Well done Bruins Baseball!  If my math is correct, that’s 109 championships, a first for baseball and about a million 8-claps.

Soundtrack

Colin Hay of course

Lamingtons

adapted just slightly in technique from David Lebovitz

16 Individual Cakes

Ingredients

For the spongecake:

  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cup (175 g) cake flour*
  • 2 1/2 ounces (70 g) melted unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the chocolate icing:

  • 6 ounces (170 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/2 ounces (40 g) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) milk, whole or lowfat
  • 2 cups (220 g) powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutch-process (sifted if lumpy)
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 cup (200 g) unsweetened shredded coconut

Directions

1. To make the spongecake, butter a 9-inch (23 cm) square cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the eggs and granulated sugar and salt on high speed for five to ten minutes, until thick and the batter forms a well-defined ribbon that remains on top of the batter when you lift the whip. Stir in the vanilla.

3. Fold the flour into the egg mixture by putting the flour in a sifter or mesh strainer and sifting the flour over the top of the beaten eggs while simultaneously folding the flour in using a whisk.

(You might want to steady the bowl on a damp towel, twisted and rolled up into a circle, or get someone to hold the bowl while you fold.) Fold in the melted butter until no streaks of butter are visible, but do not overfold.

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

5. When cool, unmold the spongecake onto a cutting board and remove the parchment paper. TMH note: since the origins of the cake involved day-old sponge, I wrapped up the cake tightly and froze it over night for ease in cutting.  And authenticity.

6. Trim the ends and cut the cake in half horizontally using a serrated bread knife.  (I find it easier to cut the cake into two rectangles first, and cut each one separately.)

7. Make the chocolate icing by melting together the chocolate, butter, and milk in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove the bowl from the pan of simmering water when smooth, then whisk in the powdered sugar and cocoa powder.

8. Spread a generous 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the chocolate icing over one layer of the spongecake, then top with the other half of the spongecake, sandwiching the two together with chocolate icing in the middle.

9. Cut the cakes into sixteen squares.  TMH note: I was worried about the two halves sliding around during the dipping process and so, arranged the squares on a 1/4 baking sheet and put them in the freezer for 30 minutes to encourage the icing to form a stronger glue.  It worked as I can report no slippage.

10. Whisk two tablespoons of boiling water into the icing. Put the coconut into a shallow baking dish or bowl.

11. Use your hands to dip the Lamingtons into the chocolate, rolling them around to make sure each side is coated with the chocolate icing, then wipe off any excess on the side of the bowl. Place the Lamingtons in the vessel of coconut, tossing them around gently to get them coated on all sides.

12. Once iced and tossed in coconut, place the Lamingtons on a wire cooling rack and let stand until the icing firms up a bit.

Nope, Germany does not have palm trees

I recently learned that TD is a fan of german chocolate cake.   That got the wheels turning.  And, in true pink-peppercorn style I thought; ‘he says he likes german chocolate cake, how about if I make deconstructed german chocolate brownies.’  In my defense, I discovered his affinity because he chose german chocolate cake ice cream at Baskin Robbins.  So…I learned about one thing from another thing and then made something else entirely.  Sounds about normal.

It wasn’t until I was making the dulce de leche that it struck me as odd that something from Germany included coconut as an ingredient.

Now, I’ve never been to Germany, but, I am fairly certain the Bavarian Forest is not home to palm trees.  So, no German coconuts.  Which begs the question–how did the German chocolate cake get its coconut?

The answer?  It didn’t.

The name is actually a bastardization of a recipe that utilized a chocolate by Bakers Chocolate called German’s (after the man who created it).  The original cake (at least according to every source I could find) was created by a Dallas housewife in 1957 and was called German’s Chocolate Cake.  This confection calls a milk-chocolate cake its base and is filled and topped with a pecan, coconut and caramel icing.  In addition to coconut my nod to the original uses dulce de leche and walnuts.  Because, that’s the beauty of baking.

A note on the dulce de leche.  You can buy it if you want.  Even my local understocked grocery store (you know, that one without the mushrooms) carries dulce de leche.  It just happens to cost about $10 a jar.  Do your wallet a favor.  Buy a $1.50 can of sweetened-condensed milk and follow one of the two recipes listed below.  Or, better yet, send me $10 and I’ll make the dulce de leche for you :).

If you like this you might like these

Dulce de Leche

Dulce de Leche Brownies

Soundtrack

The Lads.  I’ll explain later

German Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces chopped milk chocolate
  • .5 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1.5  C sugar
  • scant 1/8 C high quality cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 C all purpose flour
  • 1 C toasted walnuts, chopped
  • 1 C (or more to taste) shredded coconut
  • 1 C mini bitter or semi sweet chocolate bits
  • 1 1/2 C dulce de leche (store bought or make your own here or here)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 9X13 pan with parchment and butter entire pan
  2. Using a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt butter on low.
  3. Once butter is melted, add chopped milk chocolate, remove from heat and let sit for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Whisk chocolate and butter until smooth.   Allow to cool to room temp.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa and salt.
  6. Whisk-in eggs one-at-a-time, combining fully between each.
  7. Whisk-in milk chocolate mixture.
  8. Gently fold-in flour until just combined.  Fold-in walnuts, chocolate bits and coconut.  Transfer to prepared pan.
  9. Using a spoon, add dollops of dulce de leche at regular intervals (3 rows of 5 dollups should do you). Run a skewer through the caramel and batter to distribute.
  10. Bake for 34-45 minutes or until an inserted tester or toothpick comes out with moist crumbs when inserted.

 

 

Is that a potato in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Let’s see if you can figure out where I’m going with this.

Start: riced potato.

Mash.

Add shredded coconut.

Mash.

Two, yes 2 pounds of confectioner’s sugar (I know, just don’t think about it too much).

Patient folding.  More folding.  A lot of folding.

Into the fridge.

Pizza roller + ruler.  Yes, I  used a ruler.  I use them often when baking, they make me feel secure.

Back into the fridge,

A little chocolatey skinny dip.

And allow me to present:

The Needham.

So, I was sitting in traffic on PCH one weekend morning and in my channel surfing landed on a story on NPR about these candies.   Famous in Maine, they are a very much the homemade Mounds bar with a surprising ingredient: potato.  Intrigued, I tried them for myself.  And you should too.  They were fun to make and when I shared?  People lost their heads.  I’m not kidding.  Lost.  Heads.

The story behind them is also fun.  For the original broadcast, go here: Maine’s Needhams, A Sweet Treat of Earthy Potatoes.  Incidently, it wasn’t until I went to write this post that I realized the story was part of a larger series, Americandy, Sweet Land of Liberty.  I swear, my honeycomb post from last week was completely unrelated.  And yet, here it is again.  Coincidence? Karma?

If you like this, you might like these:

Coconut (Festivus) Cake 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bon Bons AKA Pete Schweedy’s Balls

Soundtrack

New Mumford and Sons

Needham Candies

adapted from food.com

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup mashed potatoes (not seasoned) (you could easily get this amount from a single large russet potato)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (1 lb) packages confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 (7 ounce) bags flaked coconut
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 18 ounces (about 1 1/2 packages)  chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 paraffin wax block, the same paraffin you melt to use on top jam (2 1/2 by 2 1/2)

Directions:

  1. Pare, cook, and mash potato to make three-quarters of a cup. Add salt.
  2. If you are making recipes right after boiling the potato, use the still-warm sauce pan or dutch oven. The pan should still be warm enough to melt the butter off the heat.  If not, turn on heat to low and allow butter to melt.
  3. Turn off heat and add mashed potato, confectioners sugar, flaked coconut, and vanilla.
  4. Mix well and turn into a buttered 9X13 inch pan and spread evenly.
  5. Refrigerate to harden.
  6. When hard, cut into small squares.  A pizza cutter works wonders but a knife will work too.  Ruler optional. Cutting into 1-inch squares yielded about 117 pieces.
  7. Place cut squares back into the fridge until dipping.
  8. For the dipping chocolate, again use a double boiler or place a heat-proof bowl over a sauce pan of simmering water.
  9. Add paraffin and allow to melt.
  10. Add chocolate and allow to melt.
  11. Stir well to mix ingredients.
  12. Dip in the chocolate mixture (with a fork, toothpick, or cake tester–I found it worked best when I placed a square on the tines of an upside down fork, dipped everything, let the excess run-off and then gently slid off the back of the fork with a second fork).
  13. Place on waxed paper to harden.
  14. This halves easily.