Caramel Candy Bars

I’ve reached the point in my baking repertoire where a shortbread cookie layer topped with caramel and finished off with a rich layer of chocolate has become a bit mundane.  It’s delicious, but where’s the fun in so much predictability?  These Caramel Candy Bars provide a refreshing deviation from the norm with the addition of all things almond, including almond extract,  almond flour, and chopped almonds.  In a further unexpected twist, half of the shortbread dough is sprinkled on top of the caramel to create a streusel layer that is then topped off by a generous layer of chocolate and toasted almonds.  While these Caramel Candy Bars require a bit of time and work, the results are anything but ordinary.
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Caramel Candy Bars

Makes one 9×13 inch pan
(from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook)

Ingredients

Crust

1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup (5 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar (also known as powdered sugar)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 large egg
2 3/4 cups (11 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
1 cup (3 1/4 ounces) toasted almond flour or finely ground toasted almonds

Filling

2 cups (16 ounces) firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup (11 ounces) light corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick; 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup (8 ounces) cream (light, heavy, or whipping) or evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Frosting

1 cup (6 ounces) chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
3 tablespoons (2 ounces) light corn syrup
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) chopped toasted almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch pan and line the pan with lightly greased aluminum foil.

Crust

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and confectioners’ sugar until well combined.
  2. Beat in the egg, and scrape the bowl as needed.
  3. Add the vanilla and almond extract, and mix until well blended.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together the four, salt, baking powder, and almond flour until well combined.
  5. Stir the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture, and mix until well combined.
  6. Divide the dough in half.  Press half the mixture into the prepared pan.  Save the remaining half to use as the streusel topping (Press the dough into a log, and freeze it while making the caramel.)
  7. Bake the crust for 15 minutes, until it’s lightly browned around the edges.  Remove it from the oven, and cool slightly while making the filling.

Filling

  1. In a large (3 1/2 to 4-quart) heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the brown sugar and corn syrup.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.  Cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes without stirring, to wash any sugar crystals off the  insides of the pan.
  2. Uncover the pan, stir in the butter, and continue to boil, stirring often, until the caramel reaches the soft ball stage, 234°F on a candy thermometer.
  3. While the syrup is boiling, gently heat the cream in the microwave or over low heat on the stovetop until it’s hot but not boiling.
  4. Remove the syrup from the heat, and slowly stir in the hot cream.  Be careful as the mixture will bubble up.
  5. Return to the heat and cook until the mixture reaches firm-ball stage, 245°F to 248°F.
  6.  Stir in the vanilla.
  7. Pour the caramel over the baked crust.  Let the filling cool for a few minutes.
  8. Remove the dough log from the freezer and use a coarse grater to grate the crumbs over the top of the hot caramel, or use your hands to crumble the reserved crust mixture over the hot caramel.
  9. Bake the bars for 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown.  Remove the bars from the oven and cool them on a rack.

Frosting

  1. In a saucepan set over medium heat, or in the microwave, stir together the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter, until melted.
  2. Spread the frosting over the cooled bars.
  3. Sprinkle the almonds over the warm chocolate, and let the bars rest until the chocolate firms up, several hours or overnight.  You can refrigerate the bars to speed up the firming process.
  4. If you’ve refrigerated the bars, let the bars come to room temperature before cutting into 1 x 2-inch bars (if you cut the bars right out of the oven, they may be difficult to cut and break off unevenly).

Beer & Pretzels Caramels

I’ve made so many variations of caramels that it’s about time that I experiment with beer caramels.  Typically, the smell and flavor of beer is a bit too strong for my taste, so I started out conservatively by using a pale ale with a somewhat intimidating name and label (New Belgium Voodoo Ranger) but seemingly less aggressive flavors of citrus and tropical fruit from eight hops and low bitterness.  The end result was a caramel with a hint of citrus and fruitiness and a slight dryness in taste.  You can definitely taste the beer, especially at the end, but the caramel flavor still shines through.  I layered mini pretzels on top since I’ve been told that pretzels go well with beer, and they provide a good textural contrast and a bit of saltiness.

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Beer & Pretzels Caramels

Makes 80 pieces of caramel (depending on size.  I like to cut them small as these are packed with flavor)
(from Craftbeer.com)

Ingredients

2 cups brown sugar
2 sticks butter
1 cup corn syrup
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 12 oz. bottle of your favorite beer (pale ales work well)
Sea salt
Pretzels (I used mini pretzels)

Directions

  1. Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan with high sides, melt butter and brown sugar over medium heat until well combined.
  3. Slowly add beer and corn syrup, and stir well.
  4. Add the sweetened condensed milk, and keep stirring constantly.  Be careful as the mixture will bubble up quite a bit.
  5. Cook caramels to 244-246°F.  This can take up to 20-30 minutes.  Do not stop stirring once the sweetened condensed milk is added or the caramel will burn.
  6. Once the caramel reaches you reach 244-246°F, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
  7. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan.
  8. Sprinkle a light layer of sea salt on top of hot caramels.  Use less sea salt if you’re also including salted pretzels.
  9. Lay the pretzels on top of the warm caramel.
  10. Let the caramel set until firm enough to cut.  I used the refrigerator to help speed up the cooling process.

Delta Caramel Cake

Sigh… it’s been one of those baking days when nothing seems to turn out how I’d like it too.  I  took advantage of the extra hour from Daylight Savings by baking a super rich, delicious, chocolate stout cake, and the cake was out of the oven and cooling, all before 10am.  But disaster struck when I discovered that the cake was glued to my Bundt cake pan, and in my attempt to turned it out of the pan, it became a pile of crumbled chocolate cake rubble.  Unwilling to submit to cake failure, I turned to my second choice recipe to try, Delta Caramel Cake.  It’s basically a rich, tender yellow cake slathered with a thick caramel icing.  The cake was quick and easy to bake, but the caramel icing was another story.  I like to think of myself as a bit of a caramel making expert so I didn’t hesitate when I read in the recipe introduction that “it’s a labor of love to make”.  Sigh… I think it all started going downhill when I added the caramelized sugar to the evaporated milk mixture and everything got lumpy, no matter how much I stirred and coaxed it to meld together.  Still I forged ahead, unwilling to submit to two cake disasters in one day.  I picked out the especially big chunks of sugar from the icing and half heartedly frosted the cake.  I held my breath as I cut a small slice of cake to test it out (at this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this cake tasted terrible given the day’s baking mishaps), but to my relief and delight, this cake is so delicious that it has helped soothe my bruised baking ego.  I’m not posting the caramel icing recipe because I don’t trust it.  BUT this cake recipe makes one of the tastiest yellow cakes I’ve had, so it makes a great base for any of your favorite toppings, icings, frostings, etc.

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Delta Caramel Cake 

Makes one 2-layer 9-inch round cake, serves 12
(from Anne Byrn’s American Cake)

Ingredients

Shortening/butter and flour, or non stick baking spray for prepping the cake pans
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup whole milk, warmed

Directions

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Lightly grease and flour the bottom of two 9-inch round or square pans.  I like using a non stick baking spray with flour.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until the mixtures is combined and lightens in color, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and scraping down the bowl as needed.
  5. Mix in the vanilla extract, and set aside.
  6. In a medium size bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  7. Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Blend on low speed until just incorporated, about 1 minute more.
  8. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans.  Smooth out the top of the batter with a spatula.
  9. Bake the cake until it’s golden brown and the top springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, about 25-30 minutes.
  10. Remove the pans from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges of the pans, and turn out the cakes.  Then flip the cakes one more time so they can cool right side up.
  11. Since I’m not recommending the caramel icing recipe that I used, feel free to frost the cake however you want when the layers have cooled.

Classic Caramel Sauce

I’m pretty serious about making caramels, so it should be no surprise that I own a cookbook dedicated solely to caramel.  This Classic Caramel Sauce is so much richer and more flavorful than the stuff that comes from a bottle or jar at the grocery store.  The most difficult part of making caramel sauce is watching it intently and stirring (and refraining from stirring) at just the right times to make sure it doesn’t burn.  So, if you feel like you can dedicate half an hour to watching caramel cook, give this recipe a try.

I like making this caramel sauce a bit thicker than the original recipe calls for and using it for a glaze on cakes.  I drenched my Norwegian Sour Cream Pound Cake in caramel sauce below.
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Classic Caramel Sauce

Makes 1 cup
(from Carole Bloom’s “Caramel”)

Ingredients

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulate sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon honey
4 tablespoons (2 ounces, 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a boil.
  2. In a 3-quart heavy-duty saucepan combine the sugar, water, and honey, and cook over high heat until the mixture comes to a boil.
  3. Brush around the inside of the pan with a damp pastry brush at the point where the sugar syrup meets the sides of the pan.  Do this twice during the cooking process to prevent the sugar from crystallizing.  Cook the mixture over high heat, without stirring, until it turns amber colored (6-10 minutes).  The darker amber the sugar mixture is, the fuller flavored the caramel will be.  David Lebovitz recommends caramel to be the color of an old copper (US) penny.  I tend to err on the side of the caramel being darker colored, but I make sure to watch the caramel carefully as it can start to burn in a matter of seconds.
  4. Lower the heat to medium and slowly add the hot cream to the sugar mixture while stirring constantly.  Use caution as the cream will bubble up and foam.  Continue stirring to make sure there are no lumps.
  5. Stir in the butter until it’s completed melted.  Depending on how thick you like your caramel sauce, you can take the sauce off the heat at this point (it will be quite runny), or you can keep cooking it over medium-low heat for another 2-5 minutes until it thickens a bit.  When I drizzle caramel sauce over my cakes as a glaze, I continue to heat it for at least 5 minutes until it reaches the desired thickness.
  6. After the caramel sauce has been removed form the heat, stir in the vanilla extract.
  7. Transfer the caramel sauce to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, cool sightly, and server warm.

Note:  The caramel sauce can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  Slowly warm in a microwave or over a double boiler until it is a bit more fluid before use.

Chocolate Caramels

These Chocolate Caramels are proof that the best recipes don’t need to come from a fancy cookbook or famous chef.  This recipe for Chocolate Caramels was included when I ordered candy wrappers.  The ingredients are basic, and the instructions are simple, yet the caramels are utterly sublime.  They taste a lot like See’s Candies chocolate lollipops but with a chewy caramel texture.  I made a few slight modifications like adding a little bit of cinnamon and a finishing salt.  Adding 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon provides a hint of cinnamon without overpowering the chocolate.
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Chocolate Caramels

Makes a 9×9 inch pan of caramels.  The number of caramels will depend on the size that you cut them.
(from Caramel Wrappers.com)

Ingredients

3 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup cocoa (I prefer natural high fat cocoa powder)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finishing salt to sprinkle on top (optional, Maldon Sea Salt Flakes is always one of my favorites)

Directions

  1. Butter a 9×9 inch pan or line it with parchment paper.  I prefer using parchment paper as it makes it easy to remove the caramels from the pan.
  2. Mix the sugar, light corn syrup, cocoa, butter, and whipping cream in a heavy, large saucepan.
  3. Boil, stirring constantly until a candy thermometer reaches 248°F.  If you want slightly softer caramels, cook the caramels to 246°F.  Don’t boil the mixture too vigorously, otherwise the caramel will burn.  Also stir the mixture constantly and don’t take your eye off of it to keep it from developing hot spots and burning.  It will take a while (15 minutes or more) for the caramel to reach the right temperature so just keep stirring.  Your patience will be rewarded.
  4. Take a caramel off the heat, and quickly, but carefully whisk in the vanilla and cinnamon (be careful as the vanilla may cause the caramel to bubble up a bit).
  5. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan.
  6. Sprinkle sea salt on top of the caramels.
  7. When cool, cut into small squares with a buttered knife or pizza cutter and wrap in waxed caramel/taffy wrap or waxed paper. I really like the convenience and look of cellophane candy wrappers.

Note:  The caramels will keep for two weeks in an airtight container at room temperature and longer if refrigerated.  Bring them to room temperature before eating.

Hazelnut and Almond Brittle

Because it’s not slathered in chocolate or piled high with toppings, I always forget how utterly delicious and super addictive nut brittle is.  This nut brittle recipe is proof that keeping it simple is super.  I used whole hazelnuts and almonds, but you can use nearly any nut you like.  One of my favorite things about this recipe is that although the brittle is hard, once you bite into it, it has an airiness and light crunch to it, and the richness of the nuts provides a good contrast to the sweet caramelized sugar.  I’ve been told that this brittle was so delicious that people fought over the crumbs.

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Hazelnut and Almond Brittle

Makes one 11 x 17 inch sheet
(from Chocolates and Confections at Home with The Culinary Institute of America by Peter P. Greweling)
My notes are in [ ] below.

Ingredients

1 pound (2 cups) sugar
4 ounces (1 1/2 cup) water
12 ounces (1 cup) light corn syrup
1 pound (3 cups) [I’ve used 13-14 ounces of nuts too, and it didn’t seem to skimpy] unsalted hazelnuts, almonds, or other nut that you like [skin on is OK]
1 teaspoon salt
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) butter, unsalted, soft
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Directions

  1. Line a large sheet pan [I prefer an 11×17 inch pan so that the brittle isn’t too thick and difficult to bite into.  The orginal recipe recommends a 10×15-inch sheet pan.] with parchment paper [making sure the parchment paper goes up the sides of the pan], or you can lightly oil it [I prefer using parchment because it makes for super easy clean up and it doesn’t add any extra flavors and grease like oil can].
  2. Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a 4-quart saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant rubber spatula.  Cover and boil for 4 minutes. [This helps melt the sugar crystals that may be clinging to the side of the pan]
  3. Remove the cover, insert a thermometer, and cook without stirring to 240°F. [It should be a very light brown color.  You’ll have to experiment a little with this, as the brittle is more flavorful as it darkens, but you also run the risk of the brittle burning if you brown it too much.]
  4. Add the nuts, and cook while stirring to 320°F [make sure to stir often to ensure the nuts do not burn], or until the batch is light brown [My batch started to brown around 310°F, so make sure to keep an eye on it.  Also, the brittle will darken up when you add the remaining ingredients, so it’s OK if it starts out very lightly browned.].
  5. Remove the pan from heat, and quickly mix in the salt, butter, vanilla, and baking soda thoroughly.  Be careful as the ingredients will bubble up as you add them.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan and spread to the edges using an offset spatula. [The texture may seem a little puffy and difficult to spread, but it will settle down it cools.  Just try to make the top as even as possible.  Also, try to keep the brittle from going too far up the  sides of the parchment paper.]
  7. Allow the brittle to cool to room temperature.  Break into the desired pieces. [Depending on what size pan you use and how thick the brittle is, you can use different methods to break the brittle into pieces.  When the brittle is thick, I use a meat tenderizer to break up the brittle.  But that also creates a lot of “wasted” tiny pieces of brittle, which can be used for ice cream topping or sprinkling over other desserts.  I prefer to break the brittle up with my hands as I can control the size better, which is why I use an 11 x 17 inch pan as the brittle is just the right thickness for me.]

[Notes: The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several weeks.

Since this recipe is so versatile, feel free to experiment with different nut combinations. I like pairing almonds with pecans since they have different textures.  I’ve also experimented with adding 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (I add it during Step 5 of the cooking process)  which adds a slight but noticeable cinnamon flavor, and walnuts are a good nut to companion for cinnamon.]

 

 

 

Chocolate Covered Crispy Butterscotch Caramels

Take a chewy, rich butterscotch caramel, mix in some Rice Krispies cereal for a bit of crunch, slather on a thick, smooth, dark chocolate ganache, sprinkle a little sea salt on top, and voila, you’ve just been introduced to the perfect little candy, Chocolate Covered Crispy Butterscotch Caramels.  The trickiest parts of this recipe are 1) making sure the caramel gets to the correct temperature (a bit of patience and vigilant attention are needed) and 2) waiting a few hours for the chocolate ganache to firm up so that you can cut the caramels into squares.  So, if you have a bit of patience and a candy thermometer, get to it!  You won’t be disappointed.

The Maldon sea salt I used created little crater-like designs on the chocolate ganache.  And the crater-like surface of the caramel is due to the rice krispies.

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Chocolate Covered Crispy Butterscotch Caramels

Makes 48 pieces
(from Abigail Johnson Dodge’s Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets)
My notes are in [   ] below.

Ingredients

Caramel-Puffed Rice Layer

12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces + 2 tablespoons, softened, for greasing the foil
1 1⁄3 cups (9 1/4 ounces) firmly packed dark brown sugar
3⁄4 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup [light corn syrup also works]
1 1⁄2 cups puffed rice cereal [rice krispies]
1 1⁄2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1⁄4 teaspoon table salt

Chocolate Ganache

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped [I like to used Trader Joes dark chocolate bar]
1 tablespoon vegetable oil [I used canola oil.]

Directions

Make the Caramel-Puffed Rice Layer

  1. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan (the straight-sided kind) with foil, leaving about a 1-inch overhang on two sides. Generously grease the bottom and sides of the foil with the 2 tablespoons of softened butter (cooking spray works, too).  [I prefer to line the pan with parchment which works equally as well as foil, and parchment doesn’t need to be buttered.  Just make sure you use enough parchment so that it overhangs two sides by an inch or so.]  
  2. Put the remaining butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, and golden syrup in a large heavy saucepan. Cook, without stirring, over low heat until the butter is melted, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Boil, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 250°F, about 5 minutes.  [It took longer than 5 minutes for my caramel to reach 250°F, so keep a close eye on the caramel during this step.]
  3. Slide the pan from the heat and add the puffed rice, vanilla, and salt. Be careful—the mixture will bubble up, and the steam is super hot. Using a heatproof spatula, stir, without scraping the bottom and sides, until blended.
  4. Pour the crispy caramel, without scraping the bottom or sides of the saucepan, into the prepared baking pan. Set aside to cool until warm to the touch, about 45 minutes.

Make the Ganache

  1. Melt the chocolate and oil in a small heatproof bowl (you can use the microwave or an improvised double boiler).  [I used the microwave and melted the chocolate in 20-30 second increments to ensure that the chocolate would not burn.]
  2. Whisk until well blended and smooth.
  3. Pour the melted chocolate over the still-warm caramel. Using an offset spatula, spread the ganache evenly.
  4. Set aside to cool completely, about 4 hours. [It took longer than 4 hours for my ganache layer to cool and firm up enough to cut cleanly.  You can refrigerate the caramels to harden the chocolate more quickly, but don’t cut the caramels when they’re cold because the chocolate will crack and separate from the caramel layer.]

Finish the Caramel

  1. Use the foil [or parchment] “handles” to lift the entire caramel from the pan. Carefully peel or tear away the foil [or parchment] and discard; set the caramel, chocolate side up, on a cutting board.
  2. Grease the blade of a long, sharp knife with butter or cooking spray and, using a ruler as a guide (or by eye), cut crosswise into 8 equal strips and then cut each strip into 6 pieces.
  3. Serve immediately or wrap in small pieces of waxed paper or cellophane (2 3⁄4-inch squares are the perfect size). Serve in mini cupcake wrappers, if you like.  [I prefer to serve my caramels in mini cupcake wrappers.]  

Note: The caramels can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one month.

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bars (aka Homemade Twix)

I had extra special visitors in town earlier this year, so of course we had to bake something ridiculously sweet and addictively delicious.  My dear visitors share my love of Twix candy bars, so we made a homemade version with buttery, tender shortbread, a chewy, thick layer of caramel, and a smooth, dark chocolate ganache.  Even though there are three separate components to this recipe, each is quick and easy to make (the caramel is is made from Kraft caramel squares).

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Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bars

Makes One 9″ x 13″ pan
(from King Arthur Flour)
My notes are in [ ] below.

Ingredients

Shortbread Layer

1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) All-Purpose Flour

Caramel Layer

2 cups (20 ounces) caramel, cut into small chunks [I used Kraft caramel squares]
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Chocolate Layer

3 cups (18 ounces) chopped milk chocolate or dark chocolate, melted [I used chopped Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate bars]
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (optional)

Directions

Shortbread Crust

  1. Preheat your oven to 300°F. Spray a 9″ x 13″ pan lightly with cooking spray, or line with parchment, and set aside. [I prefer lining with parchment paper.]
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the flour. At first the mixture may seem dry, but will come together as you continue to beat at medium speed.
    Take the dough (it will be somewhat stiff) and press it evenly into the pan. Lightly flouring your fingertips will help with any sticking.
  3. Prick the crust all over with a fork. The holes will allow steam to escape and the crust will bake evenly with fewer bubbles.
  4. Bake the crust until it’s lightly golden brown on top and the edges are deeper golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately run a knife around the edges to loosen the crust. Set it aside to cool completely.

Caramel

  1. Melt the caramel and cream over low heat in a small saucepan [or with short pulses of heat (20-30 second increments) in the microwave].
  2. Pour the caramel over the cooled crust and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill and firm up.

Chocolate Layer

  1. Melt the milk or dark chocolate [I prefer dark chocolate] slowly in a double boiler or over very low heat.
  2. If it seems very thick, add a tablespoon of shortening to thin it. [I used shortening and find that it makes the chocolate easier to work with.]
  3. Pour evenly over the chilled caramel layer and spread to cover all of the caramel.
  4. Return to the fridge until the chocolate is well set.
  5. Cut into 2″ x 2″ squares to serve. [Don’t cut the bars directly out of the fridge as it will be difficult to cut because it’s so cold and the layers may separate.  Wait until the chocolate softens a little and then cut into bars.]

Note:  It’s best to store these bars in the refrigerator.  These bars can also be cut and dipped in milk chocolate to resemble Twix bars. After the caramel layer has chilled firm, cut down the length of the pan, splitting the bars into two long, narrow bars. Then cut each long strip into “fingers”. Dip the chilled bars into melted chocolate and place on parchment paper to set for several hours.

Chocolate Rolo (Caramel) Cookies

One of my most profound discoveries from my college years was coming across this Chocolate Rolo (Caramel) Cookies recipe among the little recipe books stuffed in shelves at the supermarket checkout line.  Over the years, I’ve made these cookies for nearly every occasion, celebration, commiseration,etc., and anyone who  knows me remotely well and/or has lived in somewhat close proximity to me has at some point in their lives tried these cookies.  The soft, fudgey chocolate cookie with slightly crisp edges gently cradles a single Rolo in the center, which right out of the oven oozes with caramel when you split the cookie down the middle.  After the cookies have cooled a bit, the caramel firms up to a chewy texture which provides yet another dimension to the cookie.  I’ve made a few tweaks to the recipe over the years so you could say it’s reached the “old family recipe” status of awe.

A few minutes out of the oven…
Chocolate Rolo Cookies- 1

Chocolate Rolo (Caramel) Cookies

(The original recipe is from Pillsbury, but I’ve made a few tweaks to it over the years.)
Make approximately 4 dozen (or more) cookies

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder [I like to use half unsweetened cocoa powder (Penzey’s makes a good one) and half sweetened cocoa powder (I like Ghiradelli sweet ground chocolate).  I feel like this combo adds more depth to the chocolate flavor.]
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark or light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 large eggs
48 Rolo® Chewy Caramels in Milk Chocolate, unwrapped (from 13-oz. pkg.)
Sugar for rolling cookies

Directions

1. In medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
2. In large bowl, beat together 1 cup of sugar, brown sugar, and butter until light and fluffy. I recommend using a stand mixer if you have one to ensure everything is mixed really well. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
3. Add the vanilla and eggs, and beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
4. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and make sure everything is mixed well (scrape down the bowl), but do not overmix the dough.
5. Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for 30 minutes or more until the dough firms up a bit.
6. Preheat the oven to 375°F. For each cookie, scoop about 1 tablespoon of dough, and wrap it around one Rolo, making sure to completely cover the Rolo. (Note: If the dough doesn’t fully cover the Rolo, the caramel will melt and leak out of your cookie while baking.)
7. Roll the dough into a ball. Then roll the dough ball in sugar to create a light coating.
8. Place cookies approximately 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets or cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.
9. Bake at 375°F for 7 to 10 minutes or until the cookies are set and the tops are slightly cracked. They will still be a bit soft and puffy, but do not overbake as the bottoms may burn.
10. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for about 2 minutes. This is important because the cookies are really delicate right out of the oven and can break easily. Plus, their centers are heavy (because of the caramel), and if you move them before they’ve firmed up a little, the centers will fall out. Then remove the cookies from the cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes or until completely cooled.

Notes: I highly recommend eating some cookies before they’re completely cooled so that you can experience the caramel oozing out of them. However, be very careful as the caramel can be hot.

These cookies are best the day that they’re baked, and they will keep well for about 1-2 days. After that they get a bit dry and crumbly.

Dulce de Leche Shortbread Bars

Look at this chocolate.  It’s as smooth as glass.   And if you were sitting on your surfboard in the middle of this calm chocolate ocean, you won’t even be bummed that there wasn’t a wave in sight because you could dip your finger down past the dark chocolate into the sticky, cinnamon-infused dulce de leche sitting below, eventually stopping at the crispy, crumbly cinnamon-coconut shortbread crust.  You can’t get more stoked than that.
Salted Dulce de Leche Shortbread Bars- Penzeys2
All the delicious layers.
Salted Dulce de Leche Shortbread Bars- Penzeys3

Dulce de Leche Shortbread Bars

(Adapted from Penzey’s)
Makes approximately 24 bars
My notes are in [  ].

Ingredients

Shortbread Base

1 cup pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Dulce de Leche

1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons Lyle’s golden syrup (available by the sweeteners) [I didn’t have Lyle’s so I used Steen’s Blended Syrup Southern Made]
1 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Chocolate Topping

16 oz. dark chocolate [I used Trader Joe’s 72% 1lb dark chocolate bar.]
1 teaspoon butter
1-2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

Directions

Shortbread Crust

  1. Preheat the oven to 360°F.
  2. Line a 9×14 inch pan with parchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour mixture, brown sugar, coconut, butter, and cinnamon. Mix well on low.
  5. Press the dough into the baking pan so that it’s about 1/4-inch thick.
  6. Bake at 360° for 10 minutes.
  7. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool a bit.

Dulce de Leche

  1. Combine the milk, golden syrup, and butter in a small heavy saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, making sure to stir constantly.  At one point, the mixture may start to get lumpy (like ricotta cheese), but just keep stirring and it will smooth out.  Cook until big bubbles form and the mix is thickened and a light caramel color, about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Take the dulce de leche off of the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  3. Whisk in the cinnamon.
  4. Pour the dulce de leche over the shortbread base and gently spread it.
  5. Return the pan to the oven for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and let cool.

Chocolate Topping

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter using a double boiler or in a glass bowl placed over a pot of boiling water. Stir until melted.
  2. Pour and spread the chocolate over the cooled caramel.
  3. Sprinkle with the sea salt. [I forgot to sprinkle the sea salt on my bars, but next time I’ll make sure to do so.]
  4. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set, about 2 hours.
  5. Let the cold bars site at room temperature for about five minutes, and then cut into bars [if you cut the bars right out of the fridge when they’re too cold, the chocolate may crack or separate from the dulce de leche].  Cut and serve or refrigerate the cut pieces in an airtight container.