Caramel-Oat Cookie Bars

caramel bars

M and I chopped off all of our hair today.  Or rather, I chopped my hair and he buzzed his off.  It is hot here.  If it isn’t humid and blazing sunshine, it is pouring rain.  And summer camp starts in ten days.  Yes, camp, that stretch of July when all our time and energy is funneled into the herds of students gathering to learn choreography, diction, improvisation, film acting, and getting said herds of children to all of these activities at Point A, Point B, Point C…

I love camp.  I really do, but it is also all-consuming.  What free time I do have is usually spent catching up on sleep.  Every year, I have disappeared during camp season.  I plan to, as always, do my best to post something.  I have weekly pot-lucks that allow me to feed everyone and test out recipes on a crowd, so hopefully I will have enough inspiration to prompt a few posts during the crazy weeks.

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In the meantime, it is now crunch-time for lunch prep.  If I can get my act together, I would like to make a huge batch of my meatballs that featured in my Swedish Meatball recipe.  I plan on adding a little oregano to a big batch, and then cooking them all off in the oven.  I’ll make a batch of gravy and a batch of marinara sauce and package it all up into lunch size portions.  If I am really productive, I’d like to make a batch of Asian potstickers as well.  It has been ages since I made them, but making the filling, then the dough, and wrapping up all of the dumpling parcels is even more time-consuming than the meatballs.   We will also stock-up on some individual mac and cheese, miso soup, and asian noodle packs in case of extremely time-crunched mornings that necessitate tossing a package into a lunchbox and heading out the door.

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My meal plans will focus on dinners with a quick turn-around time and the option to keep as leftovers for lunch the next day.  In past years, I have seriously under-utilized my crockpot, so perhaps I can make up some freezer packs.  After M and I successfully made sushi a few weeks ago, I know I can wrap up a few rolls using cooked fish or vegetables–a smoked salmon philly roll or a shrimp salad roll–without too much trouble.  M definitely prefers a “hot lunch” or, at least a lunch that feels more like dinner, rather than a sandwich.  Usually, it works in our favor, since I will make dinner to feed four people and pack up half for lunch the next day.  Throughout the year, I typically aim to cook for three so that I have leftovers, since I bring my lunch every day and eat while working at my desk.  M sometimes has the time to come home for lunch, and does go out with the crew occasionally.  When summer rolls around, it isn’t that hard to up each portion of ingredients to serve the pair of us twice over.

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As mentioned, we have a weekly potluck for staff that is always exciting.  I’ve had some fun challenges given the wide variety of dietary needs and inclinations of our staff: gluten-free, vegan, nut-free, dairy-free, depending on the week and on the dish.  It certainly keeps me on my toes!  We rotate courses, so over the summer, I will bring a main dish, a side dish, and appetizer, and a dessert.  These simple, unassuming-but-delicious caramel bars just might make it onto the potluck table, or I might try substituting ingredients to make them vegan and nut-free.  The chewy caramel sandwiched between crunchy oatmeal crusts is just too perfect.  I have to share it!  I’ve already used the same crust to make some rhubarb bars, that will also be appearing shortly.

Do you have any ideas for packed (gluten-free) lunches?  I do have access to a microwave, luckily!

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(Salted) Caramel-Oat Cookie Bars

Serves: 15-24, depending on cut size | Prep: 20 min. | Cook: 30 min.

For the Base:

  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 1/2 c. oat flour
  • 1/2 c. brown rice flour
  • 1/2 c/ tapioca starch
  • 1/4 c. ground flax seed
  • 1 c. light brown sugar (not packed)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 Tbsp. butter (1 stick)
  • 4 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1/2 c. chopped nuts, optional

For The Caramel

  • 3/4 c. white sugar
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar (not packed)
  • 1/2 c. honey or maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt*
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 8 Tbsp. salted butter*
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

*If you use unsalted butter, add up to 1/4 tsp. additional sea salt.  

Make the Crust Base

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Whisk together oats, flours, starches, flax, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until the thoroughly combined.  Melt the butter and oil, then add to the dry mixture.  Stir until the liquid in mixed evenly throughout (sometimes it’s easier to mix with your hands).  The mixture should be crumbly and clumping.  Reserve one heaping cup of the mixture and press the remainder into a 9″ x 13″ pan.  Bake the bottom crust for 10 minutes.  If adding chopped nuts, mix into reserved crumb topping.

Make the Caramel

Please note: you will need a candy thermometer or an instant-read meat thermometer.

Dice the butter into small cubes.  Mix the vanilla and salt with the cream.  Add both sugars and honey to a deep pot.  (When adding the butter and cream, the mixture will boil up.  Please use a pot (like you would for boiling water) rather than a shallow sauce or frying pan.)  If using a candy thermometer, clip to pan now and make sure it is not making contact with the bottom of the pan, but that the end is submerged in the sugar-honey mixture.  (If using an instant-read thermometer, wait until later!)  Cook sugar and honey over medium heat.  Whisk constantly.  The sugar will begin to melt.  If it gets clumpy, turn the heat lower and whisk slower.  Continue whisking as sugar liquifies, until mixture begins to boil.  Stop whisking.  Do not stir the mixture, but allow it to cook over medium heat until it turns copper-brown.  Once you stop whisking, this is when you begin to watch the thermometer.  If you are using an instant-read, submerge the end into the liquid, but be sure to keep it from touching the bottom of the pan.  When the temperature read 245 degrees, remove the pan from the heat.  Whisk in butter, one piece at a time.  After all butter is melt, whisk in cream mixture.  The mixture will bubble with the addition of butter and cream.  Continue whisking until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Assemble and bake the bars

Remove the par-baked bottom crust from the oven.  Carefully pour warm caramel over the crust.  Crumble reserved topping evenly over caramel.  Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes, until golden and bubbly.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Before completely cooled, cut bars.  Cool completely before serving.  Store in a tightly-sealed container for up to one week.

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Snickers Cake

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After making Snickers Pie for M’s birthday for the last two years, I vowed to switch things up from that delicious sugar coma.  Shortly after last year’s pie, I was considering adding something to the pie itself, to cut the pure caramel+peanut mix that fills the shell.  But when his birthday rolled around this year, I thought I might try my hand at a Snickers cake–mostly because I had an excuse to use salted caramel frosting, but also because I thought it would be simpler than making Snickers Pie.  Please, feel free to laugh at my hopeless wish.  If there is a way to over-complicate dishes, I will find it.  Ahem.  Anyways, I went searching for a cake recipe–one of the few baking “staples” for which I have not yet developed a favorite recipe.  A little research brought me to David Lebovitz’ German Chocolate Cake, along with recommendations for making it gluten-free.  I had some experience with frosting and with caramel, so I didn’t think it would be too difficult to combine the two.  My idea was two layers of chocolate cake, sandwiching a layer of caramel-peanut mix, and wrapped up in salted caramel frosting.  Nothing revolutionary.  But, let’s step back and take a moment to look at some facts because, while I tried not to think about it, I was pretty unprepared to make this cake.

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  1. I haven’t successfully baked a gluten-free cake purely from scratch.
  2. I haven’t ever frosted a layer cake.
  3. I had just grabbed Raw Sugar from Costco–super exciting!–but I had never baked with it.

To be fair, I could manage with the cake part and the frosting part.  I had done some research.  I knew about crumb coats.  However, the raw sugar truly threw me for a loop.  When I started the cake, it wouldn’t cream and blend into the butter (on a side note, I know there are two pretty big camps regarding creaming butter+sugar in GF baking.  Some say to definitely mix the ingredients until smooth and uniform to ensure a nice smooth batter.  Other say that creaming the butter and sugar causes spreading in cookies and other weird imbalances.  I am in Camp Cream The Butter+Sugar.  But please, use whatever works for you.)  Anyways, after 15 minutes at high speed in my KitchenAid, there was a little bit of difference.  A tiny taste was less…crunchy.  But still far from smooth.  Since the next step in the recipe is to add the melted chocolate+water mixture, I went ahead, thinking the last vestiges of warmth from the melted mixture would help to further encourage my sugar crystals to dissolve.  Well, long story short, my crystals did not really dissolve, but I plowed ahead anyways, knowing that I had to bak the cake that night, in order to frost it the next day to be ready for M’s birthday.  I think I over mixed the batter.  Thankfully, the lack of gluten kept it from getting ‘tough’ which is the traditional concern with over mixing.  The batter was, however, super aerated and fluffy.  Since beaten egg whites are added to the batter, I knew we were going for a light and fluffy batter.  But the overeaten batter + egg whites = too much light and fluffy.  The cake baked up extremely crumbly and a tad dry.

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I pressed onward once again hoping that the addition of caramel and frosting would add some moisture to the cake.  Thankfully they did, and even managed to hold together the crumbling cake.  I made the caramel, mixed some with the peanuts and some into frosting and hoped things would work out in my favor.  A crumb coat was definitely essential–I even put the cake in the freezer for 10 minutes to really set the crumb coat.  I decided (one of the better decisions in this process) to do a thin layer of frosting between the layers of cake and the peanut-caramel mixture, which really helped to stick everything together.  However, while spreading the outer layer of frosting onto the cake, I started to worry that I would not have enough frosting.  So I concentrated on the sides and decided to spread another layer of caramel and peanuts over the top to hide the frosting-less surface.  And once the layer of peanut-caramel frosting had been applied, and the frosted portion of the cake given what little decorative touches that I could manage for my first real frosting attempt, I really lost control.  A drizzle of chocolate would look really nice.  Why not some caramel too?  So much for simple.

 

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What’s done is done, and this cake finally was finished.  I shut it in the fridge for the next day after giving M a sneak peek.  On his birthday, we finally managed to make room for a little slice right before bed.  We went to Texas de Brazil for dinner, a Brazilian steak house where you pay a flat price, like a buffet.  They have an incredible, mostly gluten-free-friendly fresh “salad bar” that is actually rounded out by cheese, charcuterie, roasted vegetables, and other delights that far surpass the typical salad bar fare.  Then, waiters will come around to your table with freshly seared, hot and smoky skewers of meat of every variety: slicing off as much flank steak, top round, filet mignon, roast beef, chicken, pork, and ribs you can eat.  I repeat, AS MUCH MEAT (and delicious salad bar offerings) as you can eat!  It is a magical place.  Except for the sausage, all the meats are gluten-free, and most of the salad bar offerings are as well.  The staff is very knowledgeable, just mention your need for gluten-free dining when you make the reservation.  I had never been to Texas de Brazil before, and while M and I put up a good fight, when we finally managed to roll our stuffed selves home, the last thing we wanted was cake.

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Several hours later, we managed a few bites.  The frosting and the caramel helped with the slightly dry cake, and a couple of seconds in the microwave helped even more.  I’ve handed out slices to co-workers and to M’s mum, and would deem this cake to be a reasonable success.  I want to try this cake again, but I do not think the recipe will make it’s way into my files.  However, this salted caramel buttercream frosting and the built-up layered cake will stay.  I will just have to continue my quest to make delicious GF cake.

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Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting

For the Salted Caramel Sauce:

  • 1 c. white granulated sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. butter, cold and cubed
  • 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tsp. sea salt

For the Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 c. salted caramel sauce
  • 2 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract, optional

Make the caramel sauce:

Measure out all ingredients–when the process for caramel begin, it goes very quickly.  Add the sugar to a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pan.  Whisk constantly over medium to medium-high heat.  Within a few minutes, the sugar will begin to liquify.  The sugar will clump, but that is okay.  Just keep whisking. When the last lump begins to melt, stop whisking.  Place a candy thermometer in the sugar, making sure the tip is not ouching the bottom of the pan.  Swirl the pan to keep the liquid moving.  When entirely liquid, cook for a few more minutes, until the color darkens to an amber color–only one or two shades darker.   The candy thermometer should read between 350-355 degrees F.  Immediately remove from heat and add cubed butter.  Begin whisking to mix in butter.  Be careful, the sugar will bubble with the addition of butter.  When butter is completely melted and thoroughly mixed in with the sugar, add the cream.  Again, the mixture may bubble.  Continue whisking until thoroughly combined.  Stir in salt.  Pour the sauce into a heat-proof container and allow to cool completely.

Melting sugar is EXTREMELY hot.  Use the utmost caution to keep it from coming in contact with your skin.

Making the frosting:

Beat the butter and vanilla extract (if using) in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed.   Slowly add powdered sugar, allowing each increment to mix well before adding more.  Finally, add caramel sauce.  Mix until combined.  Turn speed to high and beat until frosting has doubled in volume, about 1-3 minutes.  Use immediately, or store in fridge.  Allow to come to room temperature before attempting to frost the cake.

Snickers Cake

  • 2 8-in round or square chocolate cakes baked from your favorite recipe (baked in a pan lined with parchment paper for easy removal)
  • 1 batch salted caramel buttercream frosting
  • 1/4-1/2 c. additional salted caramel sauce
  • 1 1/2 c. roasted peanuts
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped dark chocolate, optional
  • 1/2 tsp. coconut oil, optional
  • Tools: parchment paper, knife, spatula

Start with cake, caramel sauce, and frosting that are all at room temperature (completely cool).  Mix peanuts with the additional caramel sauce until just coated.  Line the serving plate with four thin (about 4 in. wide) strips of parchment paper.  These will sit under each edge of the cake–you will eventually pull them out from under the cake, so make sure you are able to grasp the edge.  They prevent the frosting from getting all over your plate and make for a prettier presentation.  Slide a knife around the edge of the cakes in the cake pans.  Carefully, but quickly, tip the first layer onto the serving plate.  Adjust the parchment paper lining if necessary.  Spoon about 1/2 c. of frosting into a small bowl to prevent crumbs from transferring to the large bowl of frosting. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the top surface of the cake, leaving the layer slightly thicker at the edges.  Spread about half of the peanut mixture over the frosting, leaving 1/2-1 in. of frosting around edges.  Spread another thin layer of frosting to coat the peanuts, filling in the space on the sides to make it all level.  Carefully tip the second cake on top.  Adjust to line up edges if necessary.

Spoon another 1/2 cup of frosting into the small bowl.  Spread the cake with a crumb coat, the thinnest layer possible.  Coat all exposed surfaces of the cakes.  Place cake in freezer for 5-10 minutes to set crumb coat.  Using a new, and therefore un-crumby, spatula, spread remaining frosting on cake.  Add extra to the sides, pulling upwards to create a slight edge.  Spread remaining peanut-caramel mixture onto top of cake, spreading frosting around the edges to hold peanuts in place.

Melt chopped chocolate and coconut oil in 30-second increments in the microwave.  Drizzle cake with chocolate and remaining caramel sauce. Wrap (use toothpicks to prevent saran wrap from touching frosting) and refrigerate until ready to eat.  Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

 

 


Revisiting Snickers Pie

Well, around this time last year (actually, to the day, I’ve just noticed) I posted a recipe for Snickers Pie that I made for a ‘special friend’…blahblahblah.  You guessed it.  The special friend was M, and, having only just started dating, we were caught in a strange trap of how much to share, with whom, and when.  Anyways, clearly that’s worked out pretty well: here we are a year later and I’m bringing you another Snickers Pie with tips, tricks, and a warning label (and minimally better photos).

I made this year’s pie almost exactly like last year’s.  I did substitute ground up Annie’s Snickerdoodle Bunny Cookies for the graham crackers (I’ve tried the new Snickerdoodle and Gingersnap flavors, both are wonderful!).  Because the cookies themselves were flavored, I excluded the brown sugar and the cinnamon in my graham cracker crust, and dropped the melted butter down to 3-4 Tablespoons to accommodate for that.  This crust was awesome!  It shined through, even against the chocolate, caramel, and peanuts.  Annie’s cookies will be my new go-to for cookie-crumb crusts.

I also very nearly burnt the caramel sauce (it cooked up to about 5-10 degrees hotter than the recipe recommended).  After I tasted a smidge of cooled caramel, I was worried.  It had the distinctive burnt, bitter edge.  I didn’t have time to make more caramel and was rather upset, but M insisted that paired with the chocolate and run through with peanuts, it would be fine.  He was right.  The nearly-burnt caramel helped to cut through the sweetness of this pie.  I wouldn’t recommend purposefully trying to reach this point of near-burning caramel, unless you have a lot of experience with the substance.  Non-burnt caramel is equally delicious, and a better participant in this sugar-riot of a recipe.

Now for the warning:  now that I have perfected my original recipe, I hereby give this warning: This pie is extremely rich and very sweet.  This is a tiny-sliver for a serving type of dessert, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on the side to help cut through the sugar.  I sliced far too big of slices the first round, and though we gamely and happily ate all of our servings, M and I fought off sugar comas all the way through Skyfall.

I still love the idea of this pie…if it can actually be called that.  Pie is the best term I can think of, as it is filling in a pie shell.  I make it in a spring-form pan, so, uncut, it looks like a chocolate-topped cheesecake.  In all reality, it is a giant candy bar.  But, if Pecan Pie is consider pie, I think this should be as well.

Snicker-themed desserts are a likely theme for M’s birthday, at least until he requests  something different.  But I think that next year, I will have to cut this pie with another layer.  I was considering adding a layer of nougat (minus the almonds) like an actual snickers bar, but I think it still might be near too much sugar.  We’ve found that dairy cuts through the sugar very well, right now, I think my best bet would be to put a layer of cheesecake (or chocolate cheesecake) under the caramel-peanut layer (and probably make a half-batch of that recipe).  It would help to vary the flavors, and the tang of cheesecake is very welcome here.

Even so, this decadent pie is still our to enjoy.  We’re careful to eat only thin slices, if only to keep ourselves alert and functioning for the hour after eating. I’m wondering if we’ll finish it by Thanksgiving, and the influx of desserts that come with that holiday.  But for now, if you feel the need for a dangerously decadent dessert, follow the link below to my earlier post with the full recipe.  The only tweaks I made were mentioned above, and either crust pairs wonderfully with the candy filling!

SNICKERS PIE RECIPE (link to my earlier post)


Better Than ___________ Cupcakes

When I was in the prime of my childhood (i.e. grades K-7 when it was still fun to play outside all day, every day), there were 37 children living in our cul-de-sac.  Not the block, not the sprawling network of a ‘neighborhood’, but the 19-house stub of a street.  It tumbled out 37 bodies under the age of 15 every Saturday morning.  Nowadays, with my–ahem–broader view of the world and especially of the area where I live, I realize how lucky we were to have our house on that street.  We were two turns away from the busiest street to the north, with a generous network of neighborhood to the south.  A similar cul-de-sac was across the street, and, of course, our ended in a wide circle that we were never tempted to stray from.  Parents in the neighborhood drew a line: “Don’t go past the corner”.  And 99% of the time, we didn’t.  My mother got a large, old copper whistle to call us home for dinner.  The shrill notes stretched just long enough to reach our ears at the top of the street.

There was more than enough to do on our little street.  Summer evenings turned our circular end of the street into a milling sea of bicycles, without a care for traffic.  One lucky summer, an ice cream truck came every other night for two weeks straight.  We climbed trees, built forts, collected seed pods. Endless hours were spent on our trampoline, in the neighbor’s clubhouse, and playing some sort of jumping game most akin to reverse limbo with more dangerous results.  Whoever jumps over the stick held at the highest place, wins.  The losers are those who catch the stick with an ankle and careen face-first into the ground.

We thought it was fun.

While the children of the cul-de-sac whiled away our hours in constant contact, the adults were friendly, but didn’t push the neighborly relationship much beyond sidewalk conversations as they collected their progeny, and the occasional stroll-and-chat through a neighbor’s yard sale.  (It does make me laugh, as the new generation on the street have young, 10-and-under children, and the parents seem much more social than our parents ever did.)  Once, we decided to try to change that.  I must have been on the older end of the spectrum, and all of the kids decided that we wanted a barbecue.  We made flyers and stuck them in everyone’s mailboxes after pleading with our parents.  Feeling especially kind, we even put flyers in those houses of families without children (in our tiny world, I doubt we’d ever met some of those households).  And then we got to planning, pre-facebook.  We took polls as to who would bring what kind of food, who could drag their grill down into the street.

And there, in our family’s own search for picnic food, we found a recipe on the back of a Carnation sweetened, condensed milk can.  Or perhaps a box of cake mix.  All the same, the title was alluring (Better Than Anything Cake) and the ingredient list was even more so (anything containing toffee with always get my vote).  This was pre-gluten-free, and the height of my childhood meant the hieght of my mother’s quick-fix dishes.  The recipe was simple enough.

Mix up a batch of chocolate cake (preferably Devil’s Food) according to package directions.

Bake the cake in a sheet pan (I chose cupcakes for portability).

Poke holes throughout the top of the cake with the handle of a spoon (or a fork, for cupcakes).

Pour one can of sweetened, condensed milk and one bottle of caramel sauce all over the top.

Let sit overnight so the sauces can be fully absorbed into the cake.

Spread top with one tub of Cool Whip and sprinkle with one bag of Heath toffee bits.

The ultimate 90’s recipe.  Quick, easy, all prepackaged, no measuring required.  And let me tell you, it was delicious.  This was serve-with-a-spoon cake.  It couldn’t stand up to being sliced, so soaked with caramel, but that wasn’t too much of a problem.  Needless to say, we took home a pan and some crumbs at the end of the night.  I’m positive that someone at the barbecue let my mother in on the other name for this cake: Better Than Sex Cake.  Either way, years later as I began to stumble through the world of online recipes, when I encountered “Better Than Sex Cake”, I knew what it was.  I’ve seen it with a variety of names (Better Than Sex Cake, Almost Better Than Sex Cake, Better Than Almost Anything Cake…), take your pick.  The ingredient list and the assembly have always been the same.

Recently, when a friend and I planned dinner while compiling a lesson plan, I was charged with dessert.  It had to be easy to make  the morning off, be transportable, and delicious for those eating gluten-free or not.  And, I had a bag of Gluten-Free chocolate cake mix wallowing in my pantry.  Cupcakes.  Cupcakes were a must.  The dessert would have to survive coming to work with me, a stint in the work fridge, and the drive to my friends. Cupcakes offered the portion-ability and portability that would be perfect.  I didn’t quite prep well for this recipe.  At the grocery store, I grabbed some cream cheese, heavy cream, and whipped cream, deciding to figure out frosting later.  I grabbed the toffee, we had the caramel and condensed milk at home.  I forgot cupcake liners.

By lucky chance, M’s mum had huge cupcake liners at home.  It worried me since they fit strangely in our muffin tin, but this turned into a stroke of pure luck.  With these cupcakes, the taller the liner, the better.  I scaled back the condensed milk and the caramel (only used about 6 Tablespoons of each), since I didn’t have the time for these to soak up the sauce overnight.  If you are able to give these cupcakes the time to rest, I highly recommend it.

I also did not want to take a chance with pure whipping cream as frosting.  Inevitably, in our long journey, it would melt.  Ultimately, I ended up compromising with a whipped cream cheese frosting I’ve seen on a few sites that is phenomenal and entirely stable.  In my cream-cheese-loving-opinion, this frosting only makes these cupcakes better, but for you BTSCake purists, perhaps investigate whipping cream stabilizers?  I’ve never used them before.  Either way, with very little effort, you can have delicious  cupcakes that people will be talking about all week (my co-workers can attest to that!)  You don’t even have to share our little secret about the cake mix…

Better Than ____________ Cupcakes

For the Cupcakes

  • 1 package gluten free chocolate cake mix + ingredients listed on package for making cupcakes (or use your favorite homemade chocolate cake recipe, prepared to batter stage)
  • 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
  • 6-8 Tbsp (or more) sweetened condensed milk (low-fat/non-fat is fine)
  • 6-8 Tbsp (or more) prepared caramel syrup/sauce
  • 1 cup Heath toffee bits

For the Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz (1 package) cream cream (low-fat is fine, non-fat is not)
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • Pinch of salt

Prepare your cake batter as directed on the package, or according to your usual recipe, adding the tablespoon of brown sugar with the dry ingredients or with the other sugars in recipe.  Once the batter is thoroughly mixed, stir in chocolate chips by hand.  Spoon into cupcake liners and bake according to directions for cupcakes.

Remove cupcakes from oven and allow to cool.  Meanwhile, mix caramel syrup and sweetened, condensed milk.  Poke a dozen or so holes into the top of cooled cupcakes with a fork or a toothpick.  Drizzle a spoonful or so over each cupcake (more of the syrup mixture can be added depending on how much time you can allow the cupcakes to set.  Up to a tablespoon per cake if they can sit overnight).  Allow cupcakes to set as long as possible: at least one hour and up to overnight in the refrigerator.

Make your frosting: in medium bowl, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form (watch carefully at end to see that you do not over-whip the cream.  If you see it starting to separate, stop!  The next stage after stiff peaks is butter!).  In large bowl, combine softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Beat until smooth.  Fold in whipped cream.  Remove cupcakes from fridge, sprinkle with toffee bits.  Spoon frosting into piping bag, or a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off and pipe onto cooled, set cupcakes (or simply spread with a knife).  Top with additional toffee bits.


Chocolate-Peanut-Butter & Coconut-Caramel Knock-off Cookies

Can you guess what I’ve been working on?  Its is the season of delectable cookies sold by a certain leadership group for girls.  A delicious season.  Just when we begin to recover from the Christmas candy and the cookie swaps, these little babies come knocking.  Only, now, I can’t answer.  Last was not so bad.  I was still in school and it was ignore the delectable bites when they weren’t in my kitchen. But this year, I am back home.  And the rest of the family can eat those cookies.  Several boxes appeared in my pantry, and I knew I was facing the inevitable.  I needed some cookies.  So I had to make them.

I used the recipes from Nicole at Baking Bites.  As you can see, she already has a lovely collection of knock-off recipes.  Including a gluten-free Thin Mints recipe.  But if you look closely at my (unfortunately dim) photo, I didn’t make Thin Mints.  I intended to.  They were third on the list.  But I won’t mislead you:  these cookies are a little labor intensive.  The taste is worth it, absolutely, and a double batch (one for each cookie) made over six dozen cookies.  Thats right.  One batch makes three dozen delectable morsels of nostalgia.  So if you can find the time to put in the elbow work of rolling, baking, filling, and dipping; you won’t be disappointed.

Look at all that melting chocolate…

I want to point something out from the get-go:  The recipe for these cookies uses (A) a store-bought All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour (Bob’s Red Mill) and (B) that blend contains bean flour.  I know the controversies of bean flour in gluten-free baking.  I’ll readily admit, I hate the smell of raw bean flours, and made the mistake of tasting the dough.  Please don’t.  That metallic-penny grit haunts my dreams. Seriously.

But, when baked, that taste and smell disappears entirely.  And, the bean flour in this mix makes the dough very pliable.  That is worth it in such an involved process for these cookies.  Mixing, rolling, and cookies out the cookies was an absolute breeze!  Plus, I had a bag of Bob’s Red Mill GF AP flour languishing in my pantry (a thoughtful purchase from someone trying to help…I couldn’t tell them I usually wasn’t fond of it).   As far as the “Bean Flour Bloat”, I’ve never had any issues resulting from bean flour.  And, if you think about it, we probably shouldn’t be eating enough of these cookies at once to have that much of an effect on our systems.  If you absolutely do not want to use a bean flour mix, I would suggest trying a baking mix with some elasticity–I’ve found that Soy Flour is the next best choice in that area.  Unfortunately, I haven’t worked with it enough to give measurements for a good mix.

My modifications were directly in the cookie dough, and I used the same dough for both the Tagalong- and the Samoa-knockoffs.

I used Nicole’s filling without any modifications.  Please follow the link above to find those.

Knock-off Cookie Base

  • -1 cup butter, softened
  • -3/4 cup sugar
  • -1 3/4 cup all purpose flour mix (Bob’s Red Mill GF)
  • -1/4 tsp baking powder
  • -1/2 tsp salt
  • -1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • -1/4 c. milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (flour mix, baking powder, salt) until thoroughly combined.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar for 2-3 minutes until light, fluffy, and completely incorporated (the mixture will turn faintly yellow).  Beat in vanilla extract and milk, mixing thoroughly after each addition.  Slowly add in dry ingredients, mixing well.  The dough should not be too sticky, and should be malleable.

Roll dough out to 1/8-1/4in thickness between two pieces of well-floured parchment paper.  Cut into 1-1 1/2 in circles.  Gather scraps and re-roll, continue cutting out circles.  If dough becomes too soft, refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.   Place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.  The cookies will not spread in the oven.  Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, until they begin to brown.  Browning will be very slight, as the dough contains no eggs.

Allow cookies to cool completely, and follow Nicole’s instructions for filling/topping/dipping in the link above.

I’d say they look pretty close to the originals!

Christmas Cookie Round-up

So I missed the sense of posting these recipes before the holidays so that you could also make them.  My deepest apologies, as these recipes were quite successful in my book.  For my first year (truly) tackling holiday baking sans gluten, I couldn’t be more thankful that each of the seven recipes I made panned out.  I’ll admit I was  little nervous and more than a little crazy.  At the end of it all, I made 25 dozen cookies!  I might scale things down a little next year.  But I’m putting all of these up now (with unfortunately scant pictures, they were all gifted away or eaten before I remembered to take individual pictures of them) so that you and I can file them away for next year, or for that Tuesday in June when an insatiable craving for wintry flavors overtakes you.

First round of baking (clockwise from top right): Lemon Tea Cookies; Frosted Gingerbread Cookies; Turtle Cookies; Lemon Bars (the Tea Cookies reformed); Almond slices; Chocolate-Peppermint Biscotti; Gingerbread, Turtle & Lemon cookie overflow.  The ‘Twix’ bars and macaroons didn’t even make it into the photo!

My common sense lasted long enough to decide to use the same basic flour mix

  • 2 parts white rice flour
  • 1 part tapioca starch
  • 1/2 tsp xanthum gum per cup

 for almost all of the cookies.  Mix up a large batch of the blend now, it’ll be much easier than trying for the math come mixing time!  For the almond slices, I punched up the flavor by adding almond meal, and the Twix bars and Coconut macaroons used minimal-to-no flour.  But for all of the others, this is the blend I used.  But enough chatter.  Onto the (multitude of) recipes!

Lemon Tea Cookies

I adapted Food.com’s recipe, making them gluten-free and upping the lemon factor.  There is no such thing as too much lemon!

Cookies:

  • -1 2/3 c. (233 g.) GF flour blend  (or: 78g/about 2/3 c. tapioca starch, 156g/about 1 c. white rice flour, 3/4 tsp xanthum gum)
  • -1 cup butter, softened
  • -1/3 c. powdered/confectioner’s sugar
  • -1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • -2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • -few drops pure lemon extract

Filling:-2/3 c. granulated sugar

  • -4 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • -3 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • -1 Tbsp. butter
  • -1 tsp. cornstarch
  • -1/4 tsp. salt
  • -1 extra-large egg, beaten

In large bowl, beat butter, powdered sugar, lemon zest, lemon extract, and vanilla until well blended. Stir in flour blend until dough forms. The dough will be crumbly.  Feel free to toss aside your spoon and mix with your hands until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Shape dough into 1″ balls.  Place balls 2″ apart on cookie sheet and use your thumb to make indentations into each cookie. Bake 8-10 minutes until golden.  I’ve found that gluten-free thumbprint cookies often puff up their indentations.  Take a tablespoon or teaspoon measuring spoon (whichever size is more appropriate) and repress the indentation when cookies are removed from the oven.  Allow cookies to cool completely on the cookie sheet before removing to a wire rack.  The cookies will be very delicate.

In a saucepan, combine all filling ingredients and stir constantly over low heat, for about 20-25 minutes, until thickened.  Cool about 15 minutes.  Spoon filling into cookie wells, dust with additional powdered sugar.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Variation: To make Lemon Bars: press refrigerated dough into a 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, until golden.  Make filling as instructed and pour over cooked crust.  Cook layered bar in 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes, until edges of filling begin to brown.  Cool, dust with powdered sugar.

 

Gingerbread Cookies

I’ll be honest: I intended for these to be Shauna’s Soft Molasses Cookies, without any modifications.  But somehow, between my kitchen-scale-less math, my 1.5-ing the recipe’s amount, and my own tendency to play, they turned out much like gingerbread, dense and chewy, and showcased far more ginger than molasses.  This is the recipe I worked most heavily with by weight, which warranted a lot of math, but it is much easier with my new kitchen scale!  I’ve included the approximate cup breakdown as best as I can.

  • -2 3/4 c. + 1 Tbsp (400g.) GF Flour blend (1 1/2 c. + 3 Tbsp White Rice Flour, 1 c. + 2 Tbsp Tapioca Starch, 1 1/2 tsp. xanthum gum)-1 tsp. salt
  • -1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • -1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • -2 tsp. ground (dry) ginger
  • -1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • -2 sticks of butter, softened
  • -1/2 c. white sugar
  • -1/2 c. molasses
  • -2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely minced.
  • -2 eggs
  • -1/4 c. crystallized ginger, finely chopped

Whisk together all dry ingredients in medium bowl.  Cream butter and sugar in large bowl.  Add molasses, then fresh ginger, then eggs, one at a time; taking the time to fully incorporate each addition. Slowly add in dry ingredient mix, again, taking time to fully incorporate each portion of dry ingredients.  Fold in crystallized ginger.  Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Roll dough into 1″- 2″ balls, then press onto cookie sheet with palm to slightly flatten.  Bake for 12-14 minutes.

Mix 1/2 c. powdered sugar with 2-4 Tbsp milk and 1 tsp vanilla extract to make frosting.  The frosting should be soft enough to puddle after it is spread on top of the cooled cookies, but thick enough not to drip down the edges.  It should dry stiff, but not too hard, on top of the cookies.

Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on size of cookies.

These almond cookies are an old family recipe, one of those yearly constants whose smell and taste scream “Christmas”.  Spicy and nutty, they were also the very first adaptation I tried after discovering I had to give up gluten.  These are great freezer cookies-make a batch, wrap into logs, and freeze one to slice and bake when unexpected company arrives.  Add a few minutes to the bake time, and you can even bake the cookies without thawing.

Spicy Almond Slice Cookies

I used almond flour in these cookies to up the nut flavor.  You can replace the almond flour with an additional 3/4 c. + 1 Tbsp of the GF Flour blend.

  • -1 c. (112 g.) almond flour
  • -2 1/2 c. + 1 Tbsp. (350 g.) GF Flour blend (or: 1 1/2 c + 1 Tsbp White Rice Flour, 1 c. Tapioca Flour, 1 tsp xanthum gum)-1 c. butter, softened
  • -1 c. granulated sugar
  • -3/4 c. brown sugar
  • -1 Tbs. cinnamon
  • -3/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • -1 tsp. baking soda
  • -1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • -1/2 tsp salt
  • -2 extra large eggs
  • -2 c. sliced almonds.

In  medium bowl, whisk almond flour with GF flour blend.  In large bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, vanilla, nutmeg, salt, eggs, and 2 cups of flour mix until well-mixed.  With wooden spoon, stir in remaining 1 1/2 (+ 1 Tsbp) flour and sliced almonds.  Dough will be very stiff, use hands to mix if necessary.

Divide dough in half.  Shape each half into 10″x3″x1″ log, wrap each in wax paper or plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 1 week.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut brick into 1/4″ slices.  Place slices 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes until browned around edges.  Cool on wire rack.  Store tightly covered.

Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

In addition to copious amounts of math, I undertook the imposing task of my first batch of biscotti, without a proper pan and gluten-free at that.  I turned to Nicole at Gluten-free On A Shoestring for the know-how.

Chocolate-Peppermint Biscotti

I adapted these from Nicole’s Dairy-free Chocolate Almond Biscotti.  I knew I wanted a mint element for one type of cookie, as it is such a quintessential ‘winter-taste’ for me.  The chocolate drizzle and white-chocolate-based peppermint bits nix the dairy-free factor, but the cookies themselves are still dairy-free.

  • -1 1/4 c. + 2 Tbsp (196 g.) GF Flour mix
  • -1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • -1 tsp. baking powder
  • -1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • -1/2 tsp. salt
  • -1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • -3 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • -3 Tbsp. canola oil
  • -1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • -1 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
  • -3/4 c. chocolate chips (I found a mix of peppermint chips and dark chocolate chips that worked perfectly)
  • -2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  In large bowl, mix all dry ingredients except chips and cornstarch.  Add eggs, oil, peppermint extract, and vanilla, mix for several minutes until batter is smooth.  In small separate bowl, combine chocolate chips and cornstarch.  Stir to coat.  Add mixture to batter and stir until well combined.

Pour dough into a biscotti pan (preferred) or into a greased 9×13 pan. Shake the pan to even out dough, and smack bottom on countertop to release air bubbles.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm(ish).  Turn down heat to 300 degrees F and remove pan.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then run knife around edges to release loaf.  Allow to cool completely in pan, then turn out onto cutting board.  If baked in biscotti pan, slice crosswise about 3/4″-1″ thick.  If using 9×13″ pan, slice loaf in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise into 1″ slices.  Place slices two inches apart and return to oven.  Bake about 20 minutes until dry and crunchy.  Allow to cool entirely.

Melt 1/2 c. chocolate chips.  Stir in 1 tsp. canola oil and 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract (optional).  Drizzle over cooled biscotti. (I tried the dipping method like fancy coffee shops, but it was messy and not as pretty.  Sprinkle with peppermint bits or crushed peppermint candies.  Allow to cool.  Store tightly covered.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

I’ve actually never made these turtle cookies with regular flour, but my tweaking the gluten-free version has improved with each time I make them.  I’ve also made nut-free batches, without rolling the cookies in anything, but, if you can eat them, nothing beats this delicious chocolate-caramel-pecan combo.

Turtle Cookies

Adapted from Bree’s recipe.

  • -1 egg
  • -1/2 cup butter, softened
  • -2/3 cup sugar
  • -2 tablespoons milk
  • -1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • -1 cup GF flour blend (2/3 c. White Rice Flour, 1/3 cup Tapioca Starch, 1/2 tsp. Xanthum gum)
  • -1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • -1/4 teaspoon salt
  • -1 1/4 finely chopped pecans
  • -16 caramels
  • -3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • -1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • -1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Separate the egg.  Reserve both parts.  Cream together butter and sugar in large bowl.  Whisk together flour blend, salt, and cocoa powder in separate bowl.  Beat vanilla, egg yolk, and milk into butter and sugar mixture.  Stir in flour mixture until just combined.  Cover and chill for 2 hours, up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  While oven is heating, roll dough into 1″ balls.  Whip reserved egg white until frothy.  Place pecans in separate bowl.  Dip dough balls into egg white and then roll in pecans.  Place 2″ apart on baking sheet and use thumb or tablespoon measure to press indentation into center of cookie.  Bake about 10-12 minutes until set.  Repress wells in cookies if necessary.  Cool on wire rack set on parchment paper.

Melt caramels and cream together in microwave or double boiler, stirring frequently.  Fill cookie wells with liquid caramel, let cool.

Melt chocolate chips with vegetable oil in microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until fully melted and mixed.  Use a fork to drizzle chocolate over cooled, filled cookies.  Let set.  Makes 2 dozen cookies.

These “Twix” bars are another classic in my house.  Originally only made at Christmas, over the years, we have been more successful at convincing my mother to make it more often, until we were finally able to make them ourselves.  These are incredibly easy cookies, and cheap, for folks who can eat gluten.  Gluten-free prices make it a little more costly, but this recipe is also very forgiving to substitutions.

“Twix” Bars

Feel free to play with the components of this recipe.  The cracker base provides a wonderful salty-sweet combination, and the graham-cracker caramel has a more distinctive taste, but, if you have a reliable recipe for sturdy caramel, feel free to use it in place of the caramel.  Nut allergy?  Swap in some soy butter, or make a simple ganache in place of the chocolate-peanutbutter top.

  • -2 boxes table crackers (find some similar to Saltines or Club crackers, preferably squared or rectangular)
  • -1 c. graham cracker crumbs (buy a box of GF grahams or make your own to crush up)
  • -3/4 c. brown sugar
  • -1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • -1/3 c. milk
  • -1/2 c. butter
  • -1 c. chocolate chips
  • -2/3 c. peanut butter

Line a buttered 9×13 pan with table crackers, breaking into pieces as necessary to fill bottom.  Heat graham cracker crumbs, sugars, milk, and butter in a saucepan, stirring frequently.  Bring mixture to a boil, boil for 5 minutes, or until thickened.  Pour over crackers, spread to corners if necessary.  Put on another layer of crackers.  Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter until liquid.  Spread over crackers.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Cut into bars and refrigerate for another hour, until set.  Serve chilled.

Makes 2 dozen bars.

I made coconut macaroons from a basic recipe; one I’ve seen all over the web.

Coconut Macaroons

There is such a minimal amount of flour in this recipe, you can use any kind.  I had some coconut flour on hand, and love the thought of purer flavors, so that is what I used.

  • -1 (16 oz) bag flaked coconut
  • -1 (14 oz) can condensed milk (I used fat free without any problems)-1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • -2 Tbsp. coconut flour
  • -1/4 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven 350 degrees F.  Mix coconut flakes and flour in bowl.  Add condensed milk and vanilla extract, stirring until all coconut is coated.  Dropped by rounded tablespoons onto greased baking sheet.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Remove from baking sheet immediately with thin spatula (cookies will stick if allowed to cool on baking sheet) and transfer to wire rack covered with wax paper.  Allow to cool.  Melt chocolate chips and drizzle over cookies.  Store tightly covered.

Makes 1 1/2 dozen cookies.

 


A Very Special Pie

I have a…ahem…special friend who is about to have a birthday.  Or just did, as I’ve finally discover how to time post publishing for later dates, I’m sticking to the safe side of things and putting this to publish after his birthday.  Though I doubt he knows about this blog.  But just to be safe…

Anyways: special friend+birthday=birthday festivities.  Also, coincidentally, he is also gluten-intolerant.  I met him a year before my own diagnosis, and it was the time spent with him that really prompted my to guess that gluten was my issue, and to start the food journal that confirmed that diagnosis.  It was gluten or it was coffee, folks.  I have to say I’m glad it was the former.  I love my lattes.  Or any coffee really.  But I also love alliteration. Deal with it.

Anyways. Birthday.  I’d toyed with the idea for a while, knowing my friend’s love of pie and, frankly, his obsession with snickers.  All of my searching for snickers pie resulted in some odd mixture that used the candy bars and cream cheese.  Probably still delicious, despite the promised heart attack, but I wanted something more pure, something undeniably “Snickers+Pie”.  When I found this chocolate caramel tart from mybakingaddiction.com I knew we were in business.  Here was the starting point I was looking for.

Snickers Pie

Adapted from Jamie’s Chocolate-Caramel Tart on mybakingaddiction.com

The Crust:(I tried several different crusts for this pie: Jamie’s shortbread, traditional pie crust, and finally settled on a graham cracker crust.  I like the touch of cinnamon and the guaranteed crunch against the soft caramel and chocolate.)

The Filling (Caramel & Peanuts)

  • -1 1⁄2 cups sugar-3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • -1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • -6 tablespoons water
  • -6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • -6 tablespoons heavy cream
  • -1 tablespoon sour cream
  • -1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • -1 1/2-2 c. dry-roasted, salted peanuts

The Chocolate Ganache

  • -3/4 c. heavy cream
  • -3/4 c. (4 oz) bittersweet or dark chocolate chips/pieces

Make the Crust: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Whisk graham crackers crumbs, cinnamon, and sugar in bowl until well-mixed.  Add melted butter, stir until all crumbs are coated and mixture sticks together when pressed between fingers.  Press mixture into 9-inch pie pan or 6 (3.5 in) tart pans.  Make sure crust is even throughout bottom and sides of pan.  Refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes). Bake for 13-15 minutes.  Allow crust to cool.


Make the Caramel: Put a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk together sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 6 tbsp. water and bring to a boil. Allow to boil, without stirring, until a candy thermometer inserted into the syrup reads 340° (PLEASE check your candy thermometer before use.  Temperature is crucial here.  Attach your thermometer to a pot of water and bring to a boil.  Water boils at 212 degrees F.  Read what temperature your thermometer is at when the water boils and adjust your waiting for the caramel temperature accordingly.  For instance, my thermometer read 5 degrees to low.  I had to wait until my thermometer read 345 degrees for this caramel). Remove pan from heat and whisk in remaining ingredients (butter, cream, sour cream and vanilla) until smooth. Pour a thin layer caramel into cooled pie or tartlet shells.  Then add peanuts to remaining caramel and stir until thoroughly coated.  Pour peanut-caramel mixture into shells and let cool slightly; refrigerate until firm, about 3-4 hours.


Make the Chocolate Coating: In medium bowl, combine cream and chocolate pieces, reserving about 1 Tbsp of chocolate pieces for seed. Microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring well between each intervals.  After 3 or 4 intervals, stir chocolate and cream for 1-2 minutes.  The remaining lumps should melt into the mixture.  Add you seed chocolate and continue stirring until those melt in as well. Spread chocolate evenly over pie/tartlets and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours. If desired, slice a mini snickers as garnish. Serve cold.