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.

 

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.

 

 

Dulce de Leche III

Yes, we’re back to dulce de leche.  But really, why would anyone ever leave?

Let us review.  I’ve already talked about two dulce de leche making methods.   The first involves boiling the sweetened condensed milk in the original can in a water bath.  I tried this method before reading about the apparent danger of explosion with this method.  A little to my disappointment, mine did not explode…in fact it worked well though took about 3 hours.  In the second method, the milk was baked in a water bath inside a roasting pan.  So really, was it roasted?  This method was also successful and took much less time than the dangerous method.  Thanks David Lebovitz.

I tried one more method this summer: the  double boiler.  While a fine dulce de leche resulted, like the boil-in-a-can method, it too took forever.  FOREVER. AND there wasn’t even the excitement that it might explode at any moment.

The winner in my book:  bake your dulce de leche.  Easiest hands-down.

What did I do with the third batch of dulce de leche you ask?   Dulce de leche sundaes made with homemade vanilla bean ice cream, prailined pepitas and cinnamon-laced whipped cream.

Dulce de Leche Brownies, Por Favor!

When I travel I like to bring back a recipe or food idea native to the culture. From Venice came risotto. From France: Camembert. From Taiwan: mochi. So, when I was in Chile for work, I was on the look-out. Chile has great food and I had more than my share of beef, salmon (pronounced saLLmon) and wine of the Carmenere variety (somehow a case of it even followed me home).  But alas, I didn’t return particularly inspired to make something new. So, I’m admitting now, this recipe is a bit of a cop-out.

But before I move on, I have a picture viewing hint.  If you place your cursor over a picture you can click on it to enlarge.  When I was proofing this post the pictures looked really small so I thought I’d bring this little tidbit to your attention.

Dulce de leche is popular in many Latin American countries. It’s very rich, very good and almost impossible to mess-up. So, inspired by David Lebovitz’s own version, I bring you my not-particularly-creative but definitely good dulce de leche brownies.

Since I used my own brownie recipe http://www.tmhostess.com/2010/01/the-brownie-stands-alone/, let’s focus on the dulce de leche. Dulce de leche starts and ends with a single ingredient: sweetened condensed milk. Yep, that’s all (though if you are like me, you’ll add in a little kosher or sea salt).

I’ve come across three ways of making it, two of which I’ve tried, one I will detail here and the third will come next week. The first version involves placing an open can of the stuff in a pot filled with water (well, filled up to about an inch from the top of the milk can). Then you boil the water for about two hours, replacing the water as it turns to steam and stirring the milk occasionally. This worked well when I tried it. Apparently, this technique carries the risk of exploding cans of caramel that seems scares people away. The third version I’ve come across involves using a double boiler.

Here is the second version; credits to David Lebovitz.

Get out your roasting pan and a thick pie or baking dish (I like glass). Yes both; we’re going to bake via water bath. Now, add the sweetened condensed milk to the smaller pan (I used a 9X13 pan for my brownies so I used 2 14oz cans of milk).

Before we move on, want to hear a cool story about South America? See the little dish up in the right-hand corner of the last picture? It’s wear I put my rings when I cook.  But that’s not the cool part.  My friend Melissa brought the dish back for me from her sabbatical trip to South America. While she was there she also met a boy, fell in love, got married, had the world’s cutest baby (seriously, the cutest) and now they all live in Buenos Aires Argentina.  That’s the cool part of the story.

Back to the dulce de leche.  Add about 3 inches of water to the roasting pan.

After you have created the water bath, carefully move whole operation into an oven pre-heated to 450 degrees (really, you should put it on a lower rack than I did).

Bake for 35-45 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir et voila—you’ve got dulce de leche. Really, that’s all there is to it.

But here is the thing. Dulce de leche is very, very dangerous stuff to have around. At least if you are me. Which means fairly immediate re-purposing is required. In this case it involved brownies.

Let the dulce de leche cool to room temperature. While it is cooling, pull together your favorite brownie batter. I’ve linked to mine above.

When the dulce de leche is cool to the touch but still spreadable it’s time to get down to business. Pour half of your brownie batter into a prepared pan.   Now, drop 1/3-1/2 of the dulce de leche in teaspoons, evenly spaced throughout the pan.

Drag a knife through the first layer to spread the dulce de leche a bit.

Next, pour the remaining batter over the spread caramel. Repeat the teaspoon and spreading action. Pretty isn’t it?

Now, into the oven. While you are waiting, pay your dues to Balu the kitchen god who watches every project with vigilance from the top of the refrigerator.

The brownies are even pretty when they come out of the oven.

Let the brownies cool completely. In fact, because of the sticky factor of the caramel, you may want to throw the brownies in the fridge over night before cutting.

And here, straight from Santiago Chile to you (and by straight, I mean completely circuitous and probably not even really related), I bring you the dulce de leche brownie.

Dulce de Leche, version II

1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Sea salt to taste.

Preheat over to 450 degrees.

Pour milk into a smallish baking dish (a pie tin will do as well). Please smaller dish into a larger dish (I used a roasting pan). Fill roasting dish with about 3″ of water. Into the oven it goes. Check at about 30 minutes. Stir and then check at 5 minute intervals until caramel is the color of peanut butter (of course you could cook it more or less to taste). Let cool and store in the refrigerator.