Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars with Peanut Butter Caramel Filling

Difficult: No
Time Consuming: No

This is one of my favorite desserts to bring to events because... 1) They come together quickly.  2) The filling makes them incredible soft.  3) The caramel adds a sweetness that's tempered by the peanut butter, so it's not too sweet.  4) I can't stop eating them.

These bars are amazing.  Possibly one of my favorite things I've made this year, they're that good.  The cookie layers perfectly sandwich the peanut butter caramel middle.  To make it extra special, as I was cooking the caramel for the filling, I dropped in a vanilla bean and stirred until all the little flecks of vanilla caviar speckled the gooey filling (just make sure you take it out before you spread it over the cookie base).

This recipe makes a 13x9" pan of incredible bars.  When you're spreading the first layer of cookie into the pan, you will worry that there is no way that two-thirds of the dough will cover it.  But just keep squishing it around until you get the whole bottom covered - it will seem thin, but the layer will puff up when it bakes.  For the cookie topping, I dropped teaspoon sized dough balls all over the surface, they puff up and spread out, but still leave little windows for the silky, gooey peanut butter caramel to peak through.

The Recipe:
yields one 9x13 pan, cut into whatever size you'd like

 chocolate chip cookie dough
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt 

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
5 tablespoons shortening (if you have a tablespoon sized cookie scoop, it makes quick measuring from a tub of shortening)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips 

Peanut Butter Caramel Filling
1/2 cup (4 oz) evaporated milk
11 ounces caramels, unwrapped (you can buy Kraft Caramels, Kraft Caramel Bits, or Werther's Original Chewy Caramels - I used Werther's because someone bought out all the Kraft caramels)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
*optional: the caviar from 1 vanilla bean, or 1 whole split vanilla bean

1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Optional: Coarse salt, like Kosher or Sea Salt.  You can be extra special by using vanilla sea salt if you have it.


1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a 9x13" pan with foil - leave enough overhang so you can lift the bars out of the pan when they're done.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, lightly whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together, set aside.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and shortening together until combined.  Add both sugars and beat for about 2 minutes - until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla, beat until combined.  Mix in chocolate chips.

3.  Add half of the flour mixture, and mix until just combined.  Then add the remaining flour mixture and mix again until just combined.

4.  Take about two-thirds of the dough and press it into the bottom of the pan.  It will seem like it won't cover, but just keep smooshing it until it covers - it will be fairly thin.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until it's just set and hardly brown.

5.  While the base layer is baking, begin making the filling.  Unwrap caramels and place in a medium saucepan.  Add peanut butter, evaporated milk (and the vanilla bean if you are using it).  Whisk over medium heat until smooth.

6.  When the cookie base is finished (which probably happened while you were making the filling), pour the peanut butter caramel over top, and spread evenly (if you put in a whole split vanilla bean, make sure to remove it.)  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of chocolate chips (or more, I'm not judging) over the peanut butter caramel.

7.  Drop teaspoon sized dough balls over the surface of the caramel layer.  Sprinkle lightly with salt (optional) and bake for 18-20 minutes (until the cookie dough on top is lightly browned)

8.  Cool completely in pan then cut into 24 squares (or however many you want).  I chilled mine in the fridge to make cutting a little easier.

From Everyday Reading

Saturday, July 27, 2013

This time last year: July 2012

Whoops, July is almost over and I almost forgot about this flashback post.  Well here it is!  Last July, this lil' old blog was only three months old.  It was full swing into summer break and I have to admit it was hard to get the oven fired up to bake.  But my love for baking couldn't keep me out of the kitchen for long and I made the following treats.

Up first, my Aunt Lili's Flan.


My aunt is Cuban and is therefore the her flan recipe is legit.  And oh my goodness is it incredible.  With three different types of milk and a half dozen eggs, I've never had better flan in my life.  The creamy custard takes on a sweet and delicate caramel flavor.  If you've been looking for flan recipes, you can stop here, this is it, this is the one.  I'm drooling just thinking about it.

Like I said, summer in Ohio gets surprisingly hot.  It's hot like Florida, but without the benefit of being near the ocean for a breeze.  The air is thick, the AC in the apartment doesn't get to our floor, and I couldn't muster turning on the oven.  So I made these bars.  The pretzel crust is the perfect salty contrast to the richness of the peanut butter and the chocolate on top rounds out the flavor perfectly with a touch of sweetness.

And last, my most popular post to date, Cassata Cupakes

I love cassata cake.  There are two varieties out there: 1) white cake with strawberries and ricotta, which is fine, and 2) white cake with strawberries and custard.  CUSTARD! Hello, dolly.  These cupcakes are a lot of work but are 110% worth it.  A soft yellow cake dotted with strawberries filled with homemade pastry cream, and topped with a whipped cream frosting...what's not to love?  These cupcakes scream summer time, check out the recipe.

A little humor for you...we've all felt like doing this at least once

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fudge Puddle Cookies (gluten free!)

Difficulty: easy
Time consuming: prep 20 minutes, bake 10 minutes

When my husband and I drove home from Florida, we spent an awesome long weekend with my Aunt Kathy in Atlanta which included meeting up with a friend for lunch (hey, Rach!), going to the aquarium, and hanging out. About an hour into our drive home, we got a text from her saying that my wonderful husband left his favorite sneakers at her house and that she'd mail them back to us. She's awesome. As a thank you, I mailed her a care package of desserts including these cookies:

I call these fudge puddle cookies because I can't think of any other way to describe the intense chocolatey flavor of these treats. The cookie gets a lightly crisp exterior, like the delicate skin on the top of the best brownies, and the middles are chewy, dense, and fudge-y. The soft balls of dough melt into thin puddles packed full of delectable dark chocolate. And as a perk, these cookies are gluten free!! Milk was made for these cookies, so have a glass nearby!

Fudge Puddle Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies

1 1/2 cups bitter or semisweet chocolate chips, divided
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2 3/4 cups powdered sugar, divided
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

2. In a small, microwave safe bowl, melt 1 cup of chocolate chips (microwave for 30 seconds on 50% power, stir, and repeat until smooth. Do not over heat or the chocolate will seize and be ruined). Set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, all the cocoa powder, the cornstarch, and the salt. Set aside.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the 3 egg whites to soft peaks. Turn off mixer and add 1 cup of powdered sugar. Resume mixing until the mixture resembles marshmallow fluff and has soft peaks.

5. Add the flour mixture to the egg white mixture, mixing until incorporated and scraping down the sides and bottom as necessary. Mix in 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.

6. Place 1/2 cup of powdered sugar in a small bowl. Using a tablespoon size cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough into the sugar (the dough will be extremely soft but will hold its shape well). Coat evenly in sugar (shaking off excess) and place on baking sheet, leaving about an inch or so between each cookie.

7. Bake for 10 minutes. The tops will look cracked and the chocolate peaking through in between will look molten and under baked (it's not). Remove from oven, let cool on trays for 10 minutes (this helps make them chewy), then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Eat with a glass of milk.

Adapted from Picklee

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Caramel Bourbon Heath Ice Cream

Difficulty: Easy
Time Consuming: not actively, but it needs a chill overnight in the freezer

As soon as I got back from vacation, I was itching to get back into the kitchen.  I really wanted to make ice cream and I found an awesome recipe from Pinterest.  I adapted it to use in the popular 2 Ingredient Ice Cream recipe that's amazing because it doesn't require an ice cream machine, turns out super soft, and is amazingly adaptable with flavors.

This ice cream is so good, I might have kept sneaking back into the freezer for little bites.  And it's definitely a flavor the husband approves of.  The bourbon still has a little bite but it's quickly sweetened by the caramel.  The bits of heath provide a crunchy texture and the flavorscompliments the caramel and bourbon perfectly.

If you don't have any sweetened condensed milk on hand, you can make your own following this simple recipe from Paula Deen:

Dissolve 3/4 cup white sugar with 1/3 cup water (microwave until boiling).  Mix the sugar water with 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1 cup dry powdered milk in a food processor and blend until smooth (or smooth-ish, the milk powder might not be completely dissolved, but that's ok).  If using immediately, set aside to use, or store in an airtight container for up to a week in the fridge.  This makes an equivalent to a 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk.

So, it's confession time....all the ice cream might have been eaten before I took a picture of it.  I know, I'm aweful, but it was so creamy and sweet and awesome, and before long, it was gone.  So the picture below comes from the source of the original recipe, and I've included a link to that below.  I'll definately be making another batch of this again soon, and will update with original pictures later.

Image from How Sweet It Is

Caramel Bourbon Heath Ice Cream Recipe
Yields around 4 cups (1 quart) of ice cream


2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup bourbon (more or less to taste)
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk (or one batch of the recipe above)
2/3 cup prepared caramel sauce (more or less, to taste)
3/4 cup toffee bits or chopped up Heath Bar (more or less, to taste)


1.   In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the cream to stiff peaks (be careful not to overmix, or it will separate and start to turn into butter).  Reduce the mixer speed to low, and slowly add bourbon to the whipped cream.

2.  Using a spatula, fold in the sweetened condensed milk and caramel sauce.  Fold in toffee bits.

3.  Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

The great thing about this recipe is that as long as you stick to using 1 pint of whipping cream to 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk, you can really play around with the other ingredients.  You can replace the Heath with Snickers, the caramel for fudge, and the bourbon with Bailey's....just as an idea.  Play around and really make it what you want it to be. 

Adapted from How Sweet It Is

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Vacation 2013

I just spent a glorious two weeks in Florida with my husband, brother, and brothers girlfriend. Actually, the 2+ week trip started as a night in Tampa to see a Rays baseball game at Tropicana Field then continued down to Sanibel Island after picking up my bro and his lady. Sanibel is a touristy but not busy island in the Gulf not too far from Ft. Meyers. It's known for its shelling and we found lots of sand dollars.

After a week spent hanging by the pool and the beach and reading, we drove up the cost to the Tampa area and spent another week on Anna Maria Island. We shared the first 4 days there in a house off the beach with my brother. The sunsets over the gulf were beautiful, and we saw a lot of sea life like rays, star fish, and fish. We spent the end of the week with some rugby friends and then celebrated the wedding of 2 close friends.

After leaving Florida, we spent a few nights visiting my awesome aunt in Atlanta. We got to have lunch with my sorority sister, Rachel which was awesome. And we also went to this fantastic market and the Georgia Aquarium.  It was a busy almost-three weeks and as relaxing as it was to be away, it's also nice to be home.

Left: Crab in the Georgia Aquarium (no wonder humans are afraid of spiders!); Right: Sunset on Anna Maria Island

Left: Jellyfish at Georgia Aquarium; Right: Beach at Sanibel Island

Left: Whale Shark at Georgia Aquarium ; Right: Starfish found on the sandbar at Anna Maria Island

Three of the best things I ate on vacation were:

Frozen, Chocolate Covered Key Lime Pie on a Stick

Anna Maria Island Donuts
 Banana's Foster Crepes

I didn't completely forget about baking though, and now that I'm back I definitely feel like I went through a little bit of withdrawal. While on vacay I still pursued Pinterest and these are a few of the tasty recipes I found:
Peanut Butter Crunch S'more Bars by Baker Girl
Chocolate Cupcakes with Fluffy Mint Chocolate Chip Buttercream by Cooking Classy
Buttered Popcorn Cupcake with Salted Caramel Frosting and Sauce by Moira Crooks

While on vacation, I also read through many books, which included:
The Dinner by Herman Koch
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
Sugar and Spice (L.A. Candy book 3) by Lauren Conrad
The Infamous Series (three books) by Lauren Conrad
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This put a nice dent into my summer reading list, but I still got a long way to go.

Now that I'm back, I'm ready to get back into the kitchen.  Pop back in a day or so to see the delicious Burnt Caramel Bourbon Heath Ice Cream I made (no ice cream maker required!)