Tag Archives: caramel

Crunchy consolation for a crappy week

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

The rain on our skylights sounded like a jackhammer this morning. It was a quick deluge, fitting for how various news landed on our doorstep last week. Gorgeous, mysterious fog was replaced by a pelting downpour. Unfortunately this change was an appropriate marker. Last week can eat it.

As much as I know that life comes with death, light with dark, joy with pain (Oh no! Now Milli Vanilli is in my head.),  I never snuggle up to death and it’s tendency to pop up uninvited. There’s the obvious ways, like the passing of those we love, but there are other ways death shows up. Ways that don’t come with a memorial or expected grieving period. The fading friendship. The dissolving marriage. The termination of a job.

The only place I’m super comfortable with death is in the garden. There, it’s easy to respect that the richest soil forms through the decomposition of things once alive. There are tangible benefits at the end of the process, too. Luscious tomatoes, stunning flower beds.

Monday brought the stabbing news of friends’ divorcing. I sobbed with the intensity of this morning’s rain, heartbroken. It’s devastating to know someone you love has to push through a hurricane of grief, unsure when she’ll step out of it. I woke up Tuesday and cried more. This is one of those times I desperately want to wave a magic wand even though I know that journeying through the grief is critical for healing. I just really, really hate that part.

For someone nearing forty, I’m astonishingly unfamiliar with divorce. Only a few friends have been through it, but none with whom I was walking closely at the time. Equally amazing, none of my close friends parents’ divorced as I was growing up. Until now, my only intimate experience has been through my husband’s family, and I walked into that scenario several years after the fact. I see their scars, but I wasn’t present in the acute stage. I didn’t have to survive the flood.

Thursday, Harry came home with word that HR Guy was traveling from headquarters to the Seattle office. Since the only time he comes is to lay people off, we had a hint. The entire Seattle office was laid off Friday. Saturday evening he started to feel bad, Sunday morning he had a fever. He’s currently holed up in our bedroom suffering through the flu.

I stress baked Friday. Baking centers me. (Especially kneading dough. I forget until my hands are in the thick of it, but man, it’s therapeutic. I should keep dough rising all around the house as a preventative care measure.) Since Harry felt pretty certain he knew what was coming, I felt pretty certain my husband would return home sad. I flipped through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and found her Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars. My caramel-loving, sweet-toothed, out-of-a-job husband would be all over those.

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Miles claims that these are The Best Treat I’ve ever baked. After Harry commented that they were delicious, Miles corrected him. “No, Papa. They are THE BEST.” They are reminiscent of a candy bar. An extremely satisfying one. The brown sugar base tastes a little nut-buttery. The dark chocolate layer counters it’s sweetness nicely. Top that off with the awesomely crunchy caramelized crispies and you have a winner in our household. These will appear again. Hopefully in celebration instead of consolation.

I’m currently savoring each little chapter of Anne Lamott’s Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. These words resonate with me right now:

When you’re in the dark, you have to try to remember that it’s a dance – dark, light, dark, light, dim. Or when you’re in the sun but the clouds come, of course you instantly think, Oh God, now it’s going to get cold and wet, and it’s all fucked, but then you might remember that when it was dark an earlier time, your friends shined a little thin light on it, and you remember one thing that sort of helped, one more step you can take, maybe one more thing you can try.

I see my friend watching for light. Taking great care of herself during torrential grief and looking to friends to help her navigate, to hold the light. I feel hope for our family, too. Just a few days in and we already feel buoyed by the support our friends have lended. I hate the dark, but I’ve walked this path before and the rays break through often enough to keep me steady.

If you’re walking through a storm right now, please be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Seek out your friends. Let them know you’re sad and need support. Exercise. Sleep. Nourish yourself. Hang out with people who make you laugh yet are compassionate and kind enough to know when silence and a hug is more appropriate. And maybe bake yourself and your loved ones a delicious treat.

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Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. Yields 16 bars

BASE

  • 4 ounces (8 tablespoons; 113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (102 grams) all-purpose flour

TOPPING

  • 3 1/2 ounces (99 grams) dark chocolate (60-80% cacao), finely chopped
  • 1/2 recipe Caramelized Rice Crispies (or alternately 1 cup rice crispies, large flake coconut, popcorn, or mixed nuts, etc… as a topper)

Preheat the oven to 375℉. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite sides so you can lift the bars out of the pan. Butter the paper.

Beat the butter, brown sugar, sugar and salt together on medium speed until smooth, light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour all at once and pulse the mixer about five times to beat in the flour. If it doesn’t completely blend in, mix on low speed until it disappears.

Scrape the sticky, thick dough into the lined pan and spread it over the bottom of the pan to make an even layer. I used my fingers, wetting them down a bit to counter the dough’s sticky nature.

Baker for about 22-minutes, until the base is golden brown and puffed up a bit.

Immediately top the bars with the chopped chocolate. Sprinkle it evenly over the base and return the pan to the turned-off oven for a couple minutes, or until the chocolate is melted. Spread the melted chocolate evenly using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula.

Break off pieces of the Caramelized Rice Crispies (or whatever topping you choose) and lightly press them into the chocolate until the top is completely covered. Cool to room temperature on a rack. Once cooled, put the pan in the fridge for 20-minutes to set the chocolate if it’s still fluid.

To serve the bars, remove the cookie out of the pan by using the parchment overhang and place it on a cutting board . Cut them into 16 squares.

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Caramelized Rice Crispies

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups (53 grams) rice crispies

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Have a pastry brush (silicone preferred, but not necessary), cold water and a spatula standing by.

Sprinkle the sugar over the bottom of a large saucepan or a wide skillet that gives you enough space to stir comfortably. Sprinkle the water over all the sugar. Turn the heat to medium / medium-high and bring the sugar to a boil. Dip the pastry brush in cold water and wash down the sides of the pan if any sugar spatters. At the first sign of color, remove the pan from the heat and add the rice crispies.

Using a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, stir until the syrup disappears. You will see cakey white streaks on the bottom of the pan as the syrup gets absorbed and sugar hardens on the bottom of the pan.

Return the pan to medium / medium-high heat and stir without stopping. (Be careful, it’s incredibly hot.) As I stirred, the white cakey bottom of the pan liquefied again, helping to coat each grain of cereal with the caramel. I stopped stirring and took it off the heat once the entire pan’s white cakey bottom was reabsorbed into the crisps. You want the cereal to be a deep caramel color. (It’s alright if the sugar smokes. That flavor will be nice, too.)

Immediately scrape the rice crispies onto the lined baking sheet and spread them out into a single layer. Work fast, because they’ll harden quickly. Allow to cool. Use half of these to top the bars and the other half to snack on or throw on ice cream.

(Cleaning your pan will be significantly easier if you throw it back on the heat with some water in it. Bring it to a boil to soften the hardened sugar.)

 

Still hungry?

It was particularly soggy and gray today, which felt perfect for the luxuriously lazy day I enjoyed. Harry let me sleep in until 10. I didn’t get dressed until 2. I lounged while sipping coffee, watched Peep cartoons with the boys, and showed them bits of a video from my exchange student year in Holland. Harry and I have been trying to give each other plenty of quiet moments to recharge our introverted souls, so I wrote from home with only the sounds of raindrops on our skylights while the he took the boys to burn off energy.

It feels either a little late or extremely soon to be sharing a pumpkin cheesecake recipe with you. Yet here I am. I worried I might not remember what I did to make this one so successful if I didn’t record it today. I sliced one of few remaining pieces to take a picture for you and then sacrificially consumed it. Someone had to take one for the team. Let me assure you that if you love pumpkin, there is no reason to wait a year to make this beauty. She’d be welcome at the next holiday, I’m certain, but next weekend shouldn’t be a problem either. Otherwise, visit this recipe next November. You won’t be sorry.

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I’ve been making a version of this cheesecake for at least four years, either for Thanksgiving or Harry’s birthday, which falls shortly thereafter. I actually made him a birthday cheesecake for nearly a decade! It was this particular one that made us move that tradition to Thanksgiving because we prefer it to pumpkin pie.

Anyways, after four years of messing around with versions of this idea, I finally landed on the keeper. I got rave reviews from our friends last night, so I’m feeling even more confident that the recipe is fit to print. Like all good cheesecakes, it requires a bit of patience and several steps in the process, but it’s totally worth it. (Read ahead so you know what you’re in for.) You can make it easier by purchasing salted caramel sauce and/or canned pumpkin. Your cheesecake will still taste amazing.

First off, the caramel sauce. If you’re going to buy some, I recommend Fran’s or Hot Cakes salted caramel sauce to my Seattle friends. I have no idea what options are out there for those not in Seattle, so my apologies to the rest of you. Last year I tried making my own and messed it up, so I ended up buying one of the tiny jars of gold. I always justify the purchase with, “It’s a holiday!” while simultaneously wincing at the price, knowing it’s basically just cream and sugar.

This year, I tried again with a different recipe and succeeded. Smoky, sweet and salty, this caramel is divine. We all tasted spoonfuls of it, oohing and aahing. Plus, it felt incredibly freeing to be done with those pricey jars. Caramel no longer has to be an annual splurge.

The recipe came from my most recent cookbook acquisition, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. I promised myself I would only buy two cookbooks this year, and by October that had been fulfilled: Shroom and A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus. Then, Dorie’s latest book came out and I desperately wanted to hear her speak at our local cookbook shop, the price of admission being her cookbook. I hemmed and hawed, but in the end Harry had a late work meeting that conflicted, instantly solving my problem. Fan that I am, though, I noticed her book giveaways on Instagram. The exact same day I mailed Shroom to it’s winner I was notified that I won a signed copy of Dorie’s book from her publisher! I cheered and danced all day! Maybe there’s such a thing as cookbook giveaway karma.

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Salted Caramel Sauce

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi. Yields 12-16 slices.

  • 200 g (1 cup) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 300 ml (1 1/4 cup) heavy cream, warm or at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, preferably fleur de sel
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 28 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Without stirring, place the pan over medium-high heat and cook until they melt and start to take on color. Then, swirl the pan quite regularly until the caramel turns a medium amber color. (I didn’t time this, but I’d estimate that it took about five minutes. Be patient. The color = flavor.) It will boil and may even smoke. This is ok, just keep swirling to keep it from burning. Use a silicone pastry brush or a small silicone spatula dipped in cold water to brush the splatters from the sides of the pan back down into the caramel as it cooks. You can test the color of the caramel by dropping some from a spoon onto a white plate. Once it’s dark enough, turn off the heat.

Standing back and being careful to not burn yourself, add 3/4 cup of the cream, the salt and the butter. (This is easiest if they’re poured in simultaneously.) There will be a little volcanic eruption in your saucepan, but it will calm down soon enough. Once it does, stir it until it is smooth and creamy using a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon. Then stir in the vanilla extract. Next, add in the final 1/2 cup of cream. (You can leave this out for thicker sauce, or add even more cream for thinner. For the pumpkin cheesecake, I recommend using what I’ve written.)

Once cooled a bit, store it in a jar or two, with a piece of plastic film pressed against the surface. It will keep refrigerated for up to a month. Reheat it gently before serving.

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Salted Caramel and Roasted Pumpkin Cheesecake

Inspired by Lynne Vea’s PCC recipe

Crust

  • 130 g (1 cup) gingersnap cookie crumbs
  • 130 g (1 cup) honey graham cracker crumbs
  • 4 ounces butter (1/2 cup; 1 stick), melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Filling

  • 24 ounces full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree (A little shy of 500g- I forgot to weigh mine so this isn’t exact but it shouldn’t matter if it’s off by a bit)
  • 1/3 cup full-fat sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup salted caramel sauce, plus extra for drizzling

To make the crust, blitz the cookies and crackers until they’re fine crumbs. Mix them together with the salt, melted butter, and sugar. Press them evenly into a 9-inch springform pan. Freeze the crust at least 15-minutes, then bake it for 10-minutes at 350℉ on a center rack. Let it cool while you make the filling.

Lower the oven temperature to 325℉.

To prepare for the water bath, have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan ready. Also, have a kettle of water on to boil. Lastly, make sure that your springform’s bottom and sides are tightly wrapped with aluminum foil. I wrapped mine three times; at least twice is necessary to prevent water from seeping into the pan. (I’m anxious, so I pretty much always overcompensate.) You can wrap it before making the crust or after the crust has cooled.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (though a hand mixer will work- you’ll have awesome arm muscles by the end!), beat the cream cheese at medium speed for about 4-minutes or until it is completely smooth. Add the sugar and salt; beat for another 4-minutes. Regularly stop to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to incorporate ingredients evenly. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each one enters. Reduce the speed to low and add the pumpkin, sour cream, flour, spices, and caramel sauce. Once it’s silky smooth, give it a few final stirs with the spatula.

Pour the batter over the cooled crust. Rap it on the counter a time or two to smooth it out. If you desire, pour a little caramel swirl over the top. You can use a toothpick or chopstick to make lines from your circles, or form whatever design floats your boat.

Place the springform pan into the roasting pan. Place this in the oven. Fill the roasting pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the springform. Set a timer for 90-minutes. You only need to rotate the pan if your oven heat is extremely uneven. It’s best not to mess with this, if possible, as the hot water and heavy pan is a wee bit dangerous on the move. When the timer goes off, turn off the oven, prop open the oven door and let the cake slowly cool inside for one more hour.

Carefully lift the springform pan out of the roasting pan. Inevitably some water will have made it’s way between the layers of foil, so take care not to let it spill on you. Remove the foil and let the cheesecake come to room temperature. This is best done on a rack with a baking sheet below it to catch drips.

Loosely cover the cooled cake and refrigerate it at least 4 hours. (It can be wrapped and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.)

Prior to serving, run a table knife between the crust and the sides of the pan. If you’re so inclined, you can use a hair dryer to heat the sides and help with the release. I don’t find this necessary, but I also don’t mind imperfections in my cheesecake. Unlock the springform and carefully remove it from the base. It’s nearly impossible to remove the entire cake from the base of the springform pan, so I recommend serving it from there. The crust is a bit of a challenge to slice through. You’ll need to push hard. I recommend slicing one piece at a time. It gets easier after the first piece, and an awesome knife and excellent pie server will help you do the job. If you’re so inclined, warm up some extra caramel sauce to pour on top of each slice.

Enjoy! I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving. This post goes out to my amazing host, and her parents, who made me feel like I should open a bakery. xoxo