Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Caramel, Cashew and Chocolate coated Pretzels

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I hope that everyone had a great Christmas.  My husband made it back from his trip on Christmas Eve despite the crazy weather so I was very glad that we were all able to spend Christmas together.  I can't believe that it is all over and that we are starting a new year.  Where does the time go?  Remember when you were a kid and it seemed like time went so slow.  It always took so long to get to your birthday and to Christmas.  Now you turn around and another year has passed.

Enough of that, I should get on to the food.  I have been baking up a storm this season but unfortunately I didn't take pictures of most of it.  I know, what was I thinking?  A friend of mine paid me to make her holiday treats so I made 150 mint chocolate brownies covered with a mint chocolate ganache.  Absolutely delicious, but I only took one measly picture.  They were delicious though and it was really nice to have someone pay me to bake.  

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While I was making the brownies, I got a call from my mother-in-law who asked me to make her 160 cookies for some treat bags that she was putting together.  My mother-in-law is an amazing cook and baker so it was an honor for her to ask me to bake for her.  She had run out of time and needed them the next day so I had to put together those quickly.  Yet again, one measly picture.

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After all that baking, I still needed to put together my treats.  I decided to make these delicious pretzels that I dipped in chewy caramel, rolled in chopped cashews and then drizzled them with dark and white chocolate.  Can I say if these were a drug, I would be an addict.  I love the combination of salty and sweet and this one worked perfectly.  The sweet, creamy, chewy caramel and the salty nuts and pretzel were amazing.  Can you believe that after making these that I took not one picture?!    I think that I was just tired or something.  But, luckily, I needed to make some more today because I didn't get around to everyone before Christmas.  It's never to late for treats though, right?!

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Caramel Cashew and Chocolate Covered Pretzels

40 pretzel rods

One batch caramel (recipe follows)

1 ½ pounds chopped cashews

10 oz dark chocolate

10 oz white chocolate

1. Dip the pretzel rods into the slightly cooled caramel and then roll into the cashews. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and allow to set up. After a few minutes, turn the pretzels over and reshape the caramel that has pooled on the bottom. Allow to cool completely.

2. Melt the dark chocolate over a double broiler, stirring frequently. Remove from heat when it is almost all melted. Stir until completely melted. Pour into a Ziploc freezer bag and clip a small hole in the corner. Drizzle the pretzels with the dark chocolate. Repeat with the white chocolate. Allow the chocolate to set up.


1-pound box dark brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Whipping cream (if necessary)

Combine all ingredients except for the whipping cream in heavy 2 1/2-quart saucepan (about 3 inches deep). Stir with wooden spatula or spoon over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves (no crystals are felt when caramel is rubbed between fingers), occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush, about 15 minutes.
Attach clip-on candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat to medium-high; cook caramel at rolling boil until thermometer registers 236°F, stirring constantly but slowly with clean wooden spatula and occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush, about 12 minutes. Pour caramel into glass bowl (do not scrape pan).

If caramel becomes too thick to dip into, add 1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream and briefly whisk caramel in bowl over low heat to thin.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chocolate sugar cookies

Well, I have kind of given up on the 12 days of cookie thing but I still plan on sharing more treats before the holidays.  I guess it wasn't the best idea to start that while I was working every night until midnight.  Things around here have been a little crazy.  I am so not ready for Christmas.  I haven't even been shopping!  I have just been so tired from working and trying to get the things around the house done.  I don't know how single parents do it?!  Anyway, now onto the cookies. 

Today, my kids and I went out to lunch with my Grandma.  After lunch was over, they were begging me for one of the cookies that was sitting in the display case.  Of course I said no but I prefaced that "No" with the promise of going home and making cookies.  When I asked them what kind they wanted to make, they all agreed on sugar cookies.  I thought that it would be fun to try to make chocolate sugar cookies.  To please everyone, I made one batch of chocolate and one batch of regular sugar cookie dough.

When it came to frosting these little cookies, I realized that I was all out cream cheese which is my staple for frosting.  So to top these off, we decided to make an almond glaze which went really well with the chocolate cookies and only took a minute to make.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies

6 Tbs butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1.  In a cup combine the heavy cream and the lemon juice and set aside to curdle the milk.  In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  While it's mixing, combine the dry ingredients into a large bowl stir to combine all the dry ingredients.

2.  Add the egg to the butter and sugar mixture and mix until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.Add teh vanilla and mix to combine.

3.  Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter  mixture and mix just to combine.  Add half of the cream mixture and mix to combine then follow that with half of the remaining flour.  Repeat with the remaining cream and then flour.  Mix only until just combined.

4.  Separate the dough into two discs and wrap in plastic wrap.  refrigerate for at least one hour. 

5.  Preheat the oven to 350°.  On a well floured surface, roll out the dough to desired thickness and cut with cookies cutters.  Bake for 7-9 minutes cookies are set in the middle.  Remove to a cooling rack.  Once cooled, frost as desired.

Almond Glaze

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 tsp. almond extract

2-4 Tbs. heavy cream or milk

1.  Mix all of the ingredients adding more milk until the glaze has reached desired consistency.  Dip the top of each cookie into the glaze and place on cooling wrack to allow the glaze to set.

Friday, December 12, 2008

12 Days of Cookies: Caramels

Ok, so caramels aren't really cookies, but they are definitely something that I needed to include since I make them for my holiday treat plates.  This recipe was actually an extension of last months Daring Bakers Challenge.  We had the option of making these caramels along with the caramel cake.  I ran out of time last month but still wanted to give them a try.  I have used several different recipes for caramel and I wanted to see how this one measured up.  They were chewy and creamy with a hint of vanilla.  Absolutely delicious!


from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111


1 cup golden syrup ( I used 1/2 cup light corn syrup and 1/2 cup dark corn syrup)
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.)

Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.
Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

Fleur de Sel Caramels
: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.
Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

12 Days of Cookies: Sables

There are very few things that are more mouthwatering than crumbly butter cookies.  They just about melt in your mouth and have a smooth and sweetly buttery taste.  The sugar crystals on the edges give them a slight crunch.  These are great dipped in chocolate too or flavored with nuts or lemon zest.  You can also substitute some of the flour for cocoa powder to make chocolate sables.  These really are a very versatile cookie which are perfect for any holiday cookie plate.


1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1/4 cup powdered sugar,sifted

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

2 large egg yolks, room temperature

2 cups flour

for brushing

egg yolk, beaten

course sugar

1.  In bowl of a mixer fitted the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy.  Add the sugars a and salt and beat just until incorporated.  With the mixer on low, add the yolks one at a time and mix to incorporate.  Dump the flour in a mix just until the flour disappears.  Give the dough one last mix by hand.

2.  Divide the dough in half and place on wax paper forming into logs.  Refrigerate for several hours.  The dough can also be frozen for a few months.

3.  Preheat the oven to 350°.  Brush one of the logs with a little of the beaten egg yolk and roll into the sugar to coat.  Carefully cut the dough using a sawing motion.  Place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

12 days of Cookies: Cartwheels

In hopes of being better prepared for Christmas this year, I have decided to start my holiday baking.  I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite cookies/treats that I like to make for the holidays.  My hope is to share a new cookie or treat everyday for the next 12 days, which will take us pretty close to Christmas and should hopefully complete my holiday baking.

For my first day I thought I would share my Nana's Cartwheels.  She came up with these little gems to use up the extra pie dough from all of those extra holiday pies.  Now as a family we make extra pie dough in order to make these.  They are flaky, slightly chewy and covered in cinnamon and sugar.  The aroma when they bake is heavenly, and really, where where can you go wrong with pie dough, butter, cinnamon and sugar.


Pie dough:
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 heaping cup of shortening
cold water

1. Make the pie dough: Add the flour and salt to a large mixing bowl and mix to combine. Using two butter knives, cut in the shortening until it is the size of small peas. Move most of the mixture to one side. Sprinkle a Tablespoon or two of water over the small section of dough and mix with a fork to combine. Don’t over mix though. Pull a little more of the flour mixture over to the side; add another Tablespoon or so of water and mix. The dough should just come together but not be too wet or too dry. Continue this until all of the dough has been mixed with water. The amount of water will vary each time that you make it so don’t rely on any specific measure. I usually start out with a cup of cold water and don’t use all of it.
Shape the dough into 2 discs and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

pie dough
About 2 1/2 Tbs. of softened butter per disc of dough
about 1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Roll the pie dough out into a thin rectangle. Spread lightly with softened butter. Sprinkle with brown sugar and rub it all over the surface of the dough lightly covering the whole surface. Sprinkle evenly with cinnamon. Roll up like a jelly roll pinching the ends. Place seam side down onto a lightly greased cookie sheet curving the dough into a semi-circle. Make thin slices in the dough making sure not to cut all the way through the dough.  Sprinkle to top with a little white sugar if desired.

2. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the filling is beginning to bubble out the sides.  Be careful not to overcook as they will firm up more when they cool. Let cool and slice into pieces using the slits in the dough as a guide.