A mom's journal of the sweet things in her life...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chocolate-Dipped Pretzels with Candy Canes and Sprinkles (Or Faking Baking)

It feels like every time I turn around I have something that I need to bring cookies to. My kids have three functions this week for which I'm required to bring stuff. You'd think that I'd be prepared, with all the baking I do but I'm not. I'm scrambling.

Then it occurred to me that I have a box of uneaten Mars Bars leftover from Halloween. If you've been around here for a while, you know how I like to melt chocolate bars with butter and make squares. It's a problem. But not today. Today it's a solution. A much-needed quick fix for yet another gathering for which I'm required to bring sweets. Here's the link for the recipe for Mars Bar Squares. After I made them, I was melting the chocolate for the topping (I decided to go rogue and use white chocolate instead of chocolate chips), I started thinking about the pretzels I have in my cupboard. Then I remembered seeing a post on Savory Sweet Life about pretzels dipped in white chocolate and then dipped in crushed candy canes. And it was down hill from there.
Instead of using my melted chocolate for it's intended purpose, (being the topping for the Mars Bar Squares), I pulled out my pretzels and started dipping. It was fun and easy and they looked so darn festive. When I ran out of pretzel twists, I pulled out the skinny rod pretzels. But I was also out of white chocolate and candy canes, so I grabbed some milk chocolate and sprinkles.  
In an effort to compensate for my now naked Mars Bar Squares, I threw some sprinkles on them too. Done.
Except now I have these delicious pretzels that look so cute and I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that they're not for me.

I know this isn't exactly 'baking'. In fact, it's not baking at all. It's totally faking. But it works - it's fast and delicious. And pretty. So there's that.

Some tips for the pretzels:

Alice at Savory Sweet Life says to dip the pretzels in the melted chocolate and then dip them directly into the crushed candy cane. This works, however, I found that the candy canes were getting soggy with chocolate. It's much easier to dip them, then lay them on your parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle the candy canes on top. This method also allows you to control how much candy cane you have on each pretzel.

I would dip 3 or 4 at a time, then sprinkle them with candy cane (or sprinkles). Any more than that and I found the chocolate would set before I sprinkled them and therefore not stick as well.

Allow to chill in the fridge for a good 20 minutes before putting them in containers or the chocolate gets messy looking. Also, put saran between the layers so they don't stick together.

And finally, a good quality chocolate always tastes better than melting chocolate chips. Then again, if that's all you have on hand, it's still better than nothing. Chocolate on pretzels is the right thing to do.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


My son's nut allergy has kept me from baking a lot of stuff I love. I really feel the pain at Christmas time. So many of the good recipes include nuts. Why can't he be allergic to liver? Or fruit roll-ups? Grilled cheese sandwiches even? Or, better yet, McDonald's? 

So when the talk started about getting some of the 'girls' from my family together to make my aunt's famous turtles, I was a bit torn. Turtles are a right of passage at Christmas time. No one should go without them. And dammit, I'm tired of feeling deprived. And then it came to me, in a moment of sheer brilliance, a rarity these days, why not make some turtles with a pretzel base so he can have them too? Think about it, a crispy, salty pretzel base used as the vehicle to deliver the chewy caramel and chocolate. I'm good.

Turns out I'm not a trailblazer after all. Thousands of people before me had already discovered this treat, probably around the same time they invented the wheel. So much for patenting my stroke of genius. 

But I digress. Meet the crew of turtle makers:
Me, my mom, my sister and aunt, Janette. That's us laughing. 
At nothing whatsoever.

We used my aunt's recipe. She's been making turtles for over 20 years and she's known for them in our family. She's also known as Mama J to some, but after our day of turtle making, I just call her Miss Bossy Pants, with love and affection, of course. And always behind her back.
In yet another stroke of genius, (I was on fire that week), I suggested roasting the pecans first, for the nut version. If you don't do this already, you must. It really does make a difference. We roasted them at 350 F. for about 10 minutes, or until they smelled fragrant. Allow to cool before you use them.
Then we lined several large baking sheets with parchment paper and  placed the pretzels a couple inches apart on some of the sheets
 and the toasted pecans in clusters of 2 on the others.
When cooking your caramel, you have to watch it closely, checking the temperature frequently, and stirring constantly. You can test it by dropping it into a glass of cold water and if it stays together as a solid 'mass', it's ready. I'm sorry if that sounded bossy - that'll happen. You try spending a day with Miss Bossy Pants.
At this point, you add the butter and vanilla and stir vigorously.
 Then the fun starts. Drizzle the caramel by the Tablespoon on to your base of nuts and pretzels.
Have you ever noticed that when you spend the day with your mother, your sister, and your mother's sister that you never get called by your actual name? 
 Don't worry if your turtles look sloppy. Once the caramel cools, it's moldable. You can shape them with your fingers.
 But make sure your fingers are clean though, cause that's important. And make sure your spatulas are clean too, cause there's always someone who loses their self control and forgets that their daughter is holding a camera and writes a food blog.
See what I mean? I was 'trying' to get a close up of the food. She has nice teeth though, yes?
Sorry mom. I know you didn't think those pictures would be 'published', but I couldn't help myself. In time you will forgive me. You're still gonna babysit for me next Friday though, right? Right?!
Before you answer that, mom, look at this face. 
Don't punish him for the sins of his mother. 

Okay, back to the turtles. Chop some milk chocolate and melt it slowly over low heat for dipping the turtles. I suppose you could use dark chocolate if you wanted to WRECK them. It's entirely up to you though. No judgment from me.
Note: this recipe only allows for enough chocolate to dunk the top half of the turtles into the chocolate. It's less messy that way too - and less time for them to 'set'. (Oh yes, less calories too.)
 I drizzled a line of melted white chocolate over the ones with the pretzel base - just to make it easier to identify which was which. Told you I was on fire with great ideas.
 And there you have it. Chocolate turtles. I was about to throw in that stupid jingle from the turtles commercial, "Mmmmm I love turtles", but I hate corny.
 I had big plans of gifting these beauties to friends. But upon further reflection, I decided that the whole 'sharing' idea that seems to go hand-in-hand with the Christmas season, is highly overrated. My friends can make their own bloody turtles. And so should you. Here's Aunt Janette's famous recipe - word for word.

Turtles (makes approximately 5 dozen)
(Source: My aunt, Janette)
1 C. heavy cream
1/2 C. milk (2% or whole, don't use skim)
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/2 C. white sugar
3/4 C. corn syrup
dash of salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. butter

Toasted Pecans

.3 to.4 kg milk chocolate (this is enough for dunking the tops only and do this to reduce the calories ha ha)

Combine the heavy cream and milk and divide in half, you use 3/4 C. at first then add second portion.

In large saucepan (dutch oven size) mix 3/4 C. of the cream/milk mixture, white sugar, brown sugar and corn syrup and salt. Mix and bring to boil over medium heat; cook to soft ball stage. While it is cooking you can get the cookie sheets ready using parchment paper to cover. Put 2 full pecans together in rows, 5 wide, 6 deep (you will use 2 cookie sheets).

To test for soft ball stage: one drop of syrup into very cold water and it should form a nice soft ball. Once it's reached soft ball stage, slowly add in the other 3/4 C. of the cream/milk mixture stirring continually. Cook until consistency is closer to hard ball but not hard ball stage. I test by putting a teaspoonful onto the cookie sheet and if it stays together and after a minute or two, you can mold it slightly with your fings and it stays then it is ready. Also the color should be a medium carmel color.

Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Mix again.

Drop caramel over nuts. Once you've done the whole pan, go back and mold with your fingers any that are irregular in shape. Put into fridge to chill.

Meanwhile melt chocolate.

Once turtles are cool, coat the tops in chocolate. Put back into fridge or freezer to set then package up.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Double Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies

I still don't have my Christmas tree up. This is unusual for me, it's usually up the last week of November. I'm feeling left out, I wanna be one of the cool kids. Tomorrow - come hell or high water, a tree will be erected in my living room. 

But tonight...I baked. I feel much better now. I also chatted with my BFF for 2 hours on the phone, so all is good in my world. My husband is at his work Christmas party. I've been reading a lot of blogs and people are talking about the stress of having to attend their husband's dreaded work Christmas party. I feel for them, I do. Even as I snort with laughter at the perils of having to find something to wear, and then the whole crisis of whether or not to wear pantyhose. I, on the other hand, elect not to participate. I'm not missed, I'm okay with that.

So, in lieu of stuffing myself in a pair of Spanx and applying a second layer of make-up to my tired and haggard face, I put on my favorite sweats and decided to put a dent in my Christmas baking. I started with these: Double Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies from Bon Appetit. These babies are decadent, I almost made them for my daughter's class but now I'm glad I didn't. They're delicious, but they're for the hardcore chocolate lover, they might not be appreciated by little ones. I'm gonna test that theory tomorrow on my own kids, right after I feed them the mandatory Saturday morning pancakes. 

These cookies are a dense like a brownie, except they have the crisp outer layer, similar to the Chocolate Crackle cookie without the icing sugar. Then they're drizzled with chocolate and finished with crushed candy-canes. Delicious and pretty, a nice addition to a cookie platter. The original recipe calls for peppermint extract in the cookie dough, but I opted not to do that. My friend Kim once told me that the chocolate-mint combo was an abomination. I almost slapped her. We made it through that rough patch though.

I've included the recipe exactly as written in the magazine, with my changes in brackets.

I found the dough a little soft for rolling into balls, but a quick 10 minutes in the fridge remedied that.
Don't you love my new spatula? I bought it just cause of the color. 
 Bake for 7 - 9 minutes, until cracks appear, like this:
Allow to cool completely.
 Now take a couple of candy canes and beat the hell out of them. Pretend you snatched them from the hands of the bratty kid who's mean to your daughter. It's more fun that way. And don't act appalled, not all kids are precious.
 Drizzle the cooled cookie with melted chocolate
 and then add the smashed up candy canes.
Yum, yum and yum.
Keep reading for the recipe. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes with Flour Frosting

Do you have a princess in your house?

It's my daughter's turn to bring the class snack tomorrow for her kindergarten class. For the month of December, the school's rigid guidelines for healthy snacks has been abandoned, and the kids are encouraged to bring their 'favorite' snack. Perfect, I thought. It will give me an excuse to get some Christmas baking done. My daughter loves sugar cookies - I figured I could do up a double batch of Christmas themed cookies, send half with her, and still have some for my own baking stash. Two birds with one stone and all that.
Except that today she declared that her favorite snack is chocolate cupcakes. With white frosting and sprinkles. Not on my Christmas baking list. But what the princess wants, the princess gets. I can't argue with her today, I haven't the strength.
I used my 'go to' recipe for the chocolate cupcakes by Hershey's but decided to experiment with the frosting. I wanted a nice creamy white frosting without the sickly sweet sugar taste and the grit that comes with it. After some blog surfing, it became clear, the solution would be Flour Frosting. Not exactly the most appealing name, I admit, but trust me, it's good. I read several recipes and then, gleaning the parts that I thought sounded best, came up with this version.
So, if you're looking for a new way to dress your cupcakes, and you aren't a fan of overly sweet icing, give this one a go. It's sweet enough that the kids still love it but not so sweet that the adults are scraping it off. It's easy, although it does take a little longer.  The end result looks a little different than a regular icing, it's not as smooth looking. (I noticed that this was also the case with all the recipes I found that had pictures.) So taste it before you assume you've screwed it up, it's surprisingly good. I piped mine with a star tip to disguise the less-than-perfect appearance, a few Christmas colored sprinkles, and it was perfect. It might be a new favorite.

The recipe for the chocolate cupcakes can be found here.

Flour Frosting

5 Tbsp. flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup milk
1 cup softened butter cut in cubes
1 tsp vanilla or vanilla powder
pinch of salt

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar, flour, salt together. Add the milk and cook over medium heat, whisking continuously until the mixture thickens (about 5 minutes). Add the vanilla.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and refrigerate until cool. Once cool, beating on medium speed with paddle attachment, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time.

If the frosting is too soft, chill it for a few minutes until it becomes more firm. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Homemade Twix-Like Cookie Bars or Thousand Dollar Bars

Oh. My. God. I've discovered the most amazing treat. The best part is they're easy to make.


In my search for some new 'confection-type' treats to include in my Christmas baking, I found these amazing bars on the King Arthur Flour website and adapted them. You start with a rich, buttery shortbread base, then spread with a chewy caramel filling, cut them into thin finger-style strips, and dip them in milk chocolate.

THEN...I took it one step further. I sprinkled them with some Fleur de Sel. You could use any coarse salt - but I had the good stuff and these bars were worthy of it.

I'm so happy with myself right now I can't even talk about it. There are no words. Just make them, you'll see for yourself. These have officially been adopted into my Christmas baking repertoire. I love them. I'm hooked. Send help.

Start by combining a cup of butter with a cup of icing sugar and 2 tsp. of vanilla in your stand mixer. Once it's smooth and creamy, add 2 cups of flour and mix until it comes together. Press into a foil-lined 13x9 inch pan that's been greased.
 Poke several times with a fork to prevent puffing when baked.
Bake at 300 degrees F. for 30 to 40 minutes (I baked mine for 32 minutes), until the edges begin to turn a golden brown color. Let cool.
 To make the caramel filling, I used a 340 gram package of Kraft caramels. (There are approximately 40 individually wrapped caramels inside.
 Unwrap the caramels and put in a medium microwave safe bowl.
Add 2 Tablespoons of cream.
 Microwave on High for 2 to 3 minutes - checking frequently. It's important to not to overcook the caramel or it will become very hard.
 Stir the caramel until it is smooth
 and then pour onto your cooled crust.
 Spread evenly over crust with an off-set spatula. I spray my spatula with Pam which makes it easier to move the caramel around without sticking too much .
 Put the crust with the caramel into the fridge to cool and set. I pulled mine out when the caramel was 'set' but not so cold it was 'hard'. It was slightly pliable still so the knife could easily cut through it. Pull the bars out of the pan before you begin cutting, this makes it easier to get nice clean slices.

Melt 6 ounces of milk chocolate with 1 Tablespoon of vegetable shortening.
 Place one cookie into the chocolate to coat the bottom, then spoon the chocolate over the entire cookie. 
 Remove the cookie from the chocolate with a fork - shaking it gently to allow excess chocolate to drip off the cookie and back into the bowl.
 Place onto a cooling rack to allow chocolate to set. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt if desired.

Once the chocolate has set for about 30 minutes, move cookies to a parchment lined sheet and put in the fridge until completely set.

Recipe for Homemade Twix-Like Cookie Bars
(Source: Adapted from King Arthur Flour website)

Cookie Layer:
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temp.
1 cup icing sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Combine the butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. Add the flour and mix until dough comes together. Press the dough into a 13x9 inch baking pan that has been greased, lined with foil and then greased again. Prick the dough in several places with a fork to allow the steam to escape and prevent the dough from forming bubbles. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the edges begin to turn a golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Caramel Layer:
1 x 340 gram package of Kraft caramels (approximately 40 individually wrapped caramels)
2 Tbsp.  cream

Put the unwrapped caramels and cream in a medium microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, checking and stirring frequently, until the mixture is completely melted and smooth. (Do not over cook - or the caramel will harden and become brittle.) Spread the caramel mixture over the cooled cookie crust using a off-set metal spatula. (I spray mine with non-stick cooking spray to prevent the caramel from sticking.) Refrigerate the bars until the caramel sets. (I waited about 20 minutes.)

Remove the bars from the pan by pulling on the foil lining, being careful not to break the bars. Using a sharp knife, cut the bars into thin fingers or cookies, whatever size or shape you prefer.

Chocolate Coating:
6 ounces of milk chocolate
1 Tbsp. vegetable shortening

Melt the chocolate with the shortening in the microwave at 50% power, checking and stirring frequently, until completely smooth. Drop one cookie at a time into the bowl of melted chocolate, spooning chocolate over the tops and using a fork to remove the cookie. Give a gentle shake over the bowl of chocolate to remove excess. Allow to set on a cooling rack for about 30 to 45 minutes, then sprinkle with coarse salt and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Put them in the fridge until the chocolate is completely set.


P.S. - In a couple weeks my aunt will be giving me, my mom and my sister a cooking tutorial on homemade chocolate turtles. The good ones...with homemade caramel. Stay tuned!

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