Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Brown Eyed Baker's Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars - by Lisa

Who doesn't love chocolate, caramel and sea salt? Ever since this delightful combo became popular, I've been thoroughly hooked! My eye is always drawn to recipes that feature this mouthwatering confection, and the recipe featured today was a total winner! My friend Kristi posted it to Pinterest, and when I saw it, I knew I immediately had to try it!

I did make this a few months ago, and sadly I didn't take any pictures. And for some foolish reason I haven't made it again since. Shame on me! In any case, I followed the recipe directly from Brown Eyed Baker. The only change I would make in future batches is making these in a 9x13 pan. The 8x8 I used made the cookie bars was just a wee bit too dense.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars


2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chocolate chips
10 ounces caramel candy squares, unwrapped
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Fleur de sel (or other sea salt), for sprinkling over caramel and bars

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square pan; set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer, mix together the melted butter and sugars on medium speed until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix on low, just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine the caramels and heavy cream. Microwave on high until the caramels are melted, stirring every 20 seconds. This will take about 2 minutes.
5. Press half of the cookie dough into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Pour the hot caramel over the dough cookie dough and spread into an even layer, leaving some empty space around the edges. Sprinkle the caramel with the sea salt. Drop the remaining cookie dough in spoonfuls over the caramel and gently spread the dough with a spatula until the caramel is covered. Sprinkle the bars with additional sea salt.
6. Bake the cookie bars for 30 minutes, or until the top of the bars are light golden brown and the edges start to pull away from the pan. Cool the bars on a wire rack to room temperature, then refrigerate for about 30 minutes to allow the caramel layer to set. Cut into squares and serve. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.

These are seriously some of the yummiest chocolate chip cookie bars I have ever tasted! What I'd like to try for next is to make these into individual chocolate chip cookies. :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Recipe Binders - by Summer

I love Lisa's gadget guide that she has been sharing these past few weeks and I can't wait for more.  I've been baking up a storm lately, but I'll admit this week I haven't been in the kitchen much.  I've decided to share what I've done when I find recipes that I want to try or have tried.  I created binders. I used to have 3, one for main dishes, one for desserts and breakfast and one for side dishes.  I went through and typed up some recipes that were on little sheets or cut out from somewhere.  Then I placed all the recipes in page protectors.  They stayed like that for a long time and then one day at Target they had binders on sale. I bought two bigger ones that matched and now I have main dishes and sides in one binder separated by a tab and then desserts and breakfast stuff still together.

When I first created my binders, I made these nice little cover sheets before each section and I have kept them.

The thing that I like about these new binders is that they have side pockets and an envelope for any loose stuff.  I will admit that right now they are a bit of the mess, but I do try to go through them every couple of years to clean them up.  I usually weed through the recipes and decide if it would really be something that I would ever make - especially since I've had it set aside for 7 years and haven't made it yet!  And sometimes, like recently I found a recipe that I can't believe I haven't made yet (they are these oatmeal chocolate bars and I plan on making them very soon for this blog).

The best part about the binders are the page protectors.  I am a messy baker and cook, and will often spill stuff on recipes or get them wet.  With the protectors you can wipe them off and they stay as good as new.

The binders are also a great place for recipes that I find on the internet.  I usually print them off and stick them in the binder when I am done. I don't have a lot of counter space in the kitchen, so it's a pain to have my laptop in there while baking. Lately I've been getting a ton of recipes online, so I am grateful to have a spot for them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gadget Guide: Mini Measuring Spoons - by Lisa

I've been pretty busy with the play, home projects and just general day to day stuff and the things I've been baking have actually been from the cookbook we baked our way through! Since I don't have any other fun recipes to report at the moment, I thought I'd add another gadget guide entry.

Ever come across a recipe that calls for a dash or a pinch or a smidgen of an ingredient (usually a spice)? Did you know there are actually real measurements tied to those amounts? There are! Yes, we bakers can be maybe a little too precise sometimes. :) Normally I just guesstimate those amounts, but every once in awhile I pull out these cute little spoons I got ages ago as a little bonus gift. I've seen similar ones in stores from time to time as well. Some of those even include "hint" and "tad." LOL!

Sorry for the crummy phone photo

But in case you were wondering, those actual measurements are as follows (source: Wikipedia):
Dash: 1/8 tsp
Pinch: 1/16 tsp
Smidgen: 1/32 tsp

So there you have it! Learn something new everyday, right? ;)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mini Pumpkin Muffins - By Summer

I love baking in the fall and I especially love baking with pumpkin. I was hosting some moms and their kids at  our house yesterday for a playdate. I knew we were finally going to have some cooler weather (this week we were up in the 90's again). I was excited to try some pumpkins muffins. I was thinking mini muffins would be easy for the kids to handle and what goes better with pumpkin than chocolate?  I added some mini chocolate chips to the recipe and yum!

Mini Pumpkin Muffins adapted from Cooking with My Kid

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 can 100% pure pumpkin
2 large eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
1/3 cup applesauce
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray mini muffin tins with cooking spray. Mix flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt in large bowl. In a separate bowl whisk together pumpkin, eggs, oil, and yogurt. Combine wet and dry ingredients until just blended. Stir in mini chocolates.  Spoon batter into muffin tins. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Transfer muffins to rack to cool.  Makes 48 mini muffins.

Just a couple of notes - the original recipe called for 30-35 muffins and I got 48 minis and 3 regular size ones.  I also used little paper cups instead of spraying the pan.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gadget Guide: Oven Thermometer - by Lisa

I love baking/cooking/kitchen gadgets. So much so that I am often teased by my sisters for having so many of them! It's been a challenge in my past couple of residences to store all of them, but what can I say? I'm a sucker for a good gadget. :)

I thought it would be fun to highlight some of the gadgets I love or use most frequently in a series of posts over the next several months. I'll post about them once or twice a month under the header "Gadget Guide."

The first one that came to mind is my oven thermometer. I never had much use for one until I moved into our rental we lived in during our last year in WA. I was having the worst time baking my go-to recipe, chocolate chip cookies! I used to always bake them on a baking stone and they always came out great. Suddenly, in the new oven they were browning on the top, but not at all baking on the bottom and the chips barely even melted! I was in a panic. First I thought something was wrong with the stone, so I tried a new pan. No luck. Then I checked my baking soda. It wasn't that either. I methodically checked my steps and nothing I was doing changed. Finally I decided to check the oven temps.

I went to the store and bought one of those oven thermometers. I recalled my MIL having used one in her oven because it wasn't always heating reliably. They are easy to find in your local grocery store or big box store and can be purchased for as little as $5. I decided to place it in the center of the oven since that is where my trays and pans usually sit. Next, I turned the oven on to 375 and checked the temp when the "pre-heat" ding went off about 10 minutes later. Wait, what?! 250 degrees?! No wonder my cookies were turning out so miserably! I quickly learned that letting it pre-heat for about 20 minutes finally got it set to the correct temperature.

Fast forward two years to our new home in IL. After baking a couple recipes from our baking project, I'd noticed things weren't coming out quite right; like the meringues coming out a little burned among other things. I once again turned to my trusty oven thermometer and discovered my (ancient) oven was running 50-75 degrees hot! Ah ha! So now I have to remember to set my temps to about 300-325 when making my cookies that technically need to be set to 375.

So you can probably see why I am such a fan of the oven thermometer. It has recused my baking endeavors more than once! If you have an old oven or find things just aren't turning out quite right, maybe give the old thermometer a whirl. You might learn something new about your oven!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Stencil Technique - by Lisa

The holiday weekend completely threw me off, and I'm also in the final week of rehearsals for my play. Sorry for the late post!

My brother passed away this summer, and at his memorial service we had a sweets table in the reception room. My sisters and I all got together and baked up a storm. I decided to make frosted sugar cookies with his monogram on them.

I made a simple sugar cookie with white royal icing. Originally I was going to pipe on his initials, but then I realized there was no way I could do it neatly and consistently for all the cookies. So I started looking for new ideas and came up with the plan to make a stencil.

I also recently became the owner of a Silhouette Cameo. It is a machine that cuts out any shape you want on a variety of materials. I had some issues with finding the right material to cut (yeah, stencil paper is way to thick for this machine), and finally figured out a suitable solution. The next hurdle was figuring out what medium to use. Royal icing? Spray icing? Gel food writer from a tube? Finally after some trial and error, I settled on food coloring pens which worked out beautifully!

Summer came out for the service, and she was a huge help in stenciling in the cookies. We were both quite pleased with the final result!

In the future, I will try and find some more lightweight material for the stencil. I've heard the dividers in notebooks work really well. It needs to be a firm material, and something that can be periodically wiped clean without falling apart. (My temporary solution was heavy card stock with freezer paper adhered to it.)

I look forward to trying this technique again (and under cheerier circumstances) with other cookies that would require a precise design such as a logo or something similar!

Keeping Things Figure Friendly

 When we first started this blog, eating all of the yummy treats didn't bother me - for about the first two years.  I was busy having babies and you need the extra calories . . . so I didn't worry about gaining weight.  But there definitely came a time when I  knew I had to slow down.  People often wanted to know how I kept from gaining lots of unwanted weight while doing this project.

The simple answer is actually planning.  I often planned to make desserts when we would have family or friends over for dinner.  Or if I had book club.  Or I would send things to my husband's work (I was really popular there!) Or I would give stuff the neighbors.  Surprisingly, we rarely had to devour anything all on our own, although there were times that we wished we didn't have to share!

Now that I don't have to bake as often, it's been somewhat of a relief on my waistline.  I'm not really a fan of baking "low-cal", "low fat", "healthy" things.  I'm somewhat of a purist - I like my butter and sugar.  It doesn't mean that the healthier versions aren't good, but I just don't always think they taste quite the same.  I would rather have a little bit of something that is full fat than a lot of something that doesn't taste great.  My other issue is that often times those recipes call for things that I don't tend to keep on hand.  Usually when I am in the mood to bake, I want to do it right then!  And running to the grocery store with two small children is never just a quick trip. So I often need to use what I have around.

I was excited when I stumbled across these cookies.  They aren't that bad for you, and you don't have to buy anything special for these either!  Try them - I think you'll be surprised how yummy they are!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies - recipe from Weight Watchers

  1 cup(s) all-purpose flour   
  1/4 tsp baking soda   
  1/8 tsp table salt   
  1/4 cup(s) salted butter, softened   
  1/2 cup(s) dark brown sugar, packed   
  1/2 cup(s) sugar, granulated   
  1/3 cup(s) unsweetened cocoa   
  2 large egg white(s)   
  1/3 cup(s) semi-sweet chocolate chips, miniature   

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Beat butter and brown sugar with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy; gradually add granulated sugar, beating well. Add cocoa and egg whites, beating well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until blended. Stir in chocolate minichips.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 11⁄2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes. Cool on pans 2 minutes or until firm. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks. Yield: 40 cookies (serving size: 1 cookie).