Salted Chocolate Caramel Bars

salted chocolate caramel brownies

This is my favorite post I will share this year. It’s not the prettiest or the wordiest or all that loveliness in between, but it’s worth $100. And that $100 funds pediatric cancer research.

OXO has been gracious enough to include me in their Cookies for Kids’ Cancer campaign — where they donate up to $100,000 to through efforts like this blog post — for the past few years now. I’m happy to bake in general, but if I can bake for a good cause, then all the better.

I’ve never mentioned why this campaign means so much to me, because it’s really not my story to tell. I’m not a parent who has had to care for a child with cancer, like the two OXO employees who founded Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, but I once worked with a child who fought cancer when I was a hospice social worker. Her battle was not my story, but it was a story I played a part in and that has stuck with me.

salted chocolate caramel brownies

This year, we baked from genius baking goddess Dorie Greenspan’s new cookbook Dorie’s Cookies. I made her salted chocolate-caramel bars, which she describes as “the kind of cookie that makes you think you should stop everything, throw over your regular life and open a fancy pastry shop just so you can have a legit excuse to bake — and eat — these every day.”

I agree with that assessment. A simple chocolate shortbread base is topped with a caramel spiked with dark chocolate and a hint of salt. Toasted pecans top the bars for a little extra flavor and crunch.

salted chocolate caramel brownies

OXO improved my baking experience by providing a fantastic set of OXO Good Grips Glass Bakeware. The Glass 3 Qt Baking Dish with Lid and Glass 2 Qt Baking Dish with Lid (pictured) are made from BPA-free borosilicate glass and can withstand extreme temperature changes like those needed for baking delicious brownies. Generous handles and sloshproof lids make moving full dishes easier, and the clean, elegant design means you can take them from the oven directly to the family table.

Another great tool is OXO’s Illuminating Digital Hand Mixer. The mixer includes a light to guide you and intuitive digital controls to steadily increase or decrease speed. When finished, the on-board beater clip, wrap-and-secure cord, and flat, stable base allow for compact, upright storage. Last but not least, the Brownie Spatula (pictured) is perfect for serving up these brownies. Trust me, they won’t last long. Enjoy!

Salted Chocolate-Caramel Bars
 
Author:
Serves: 21
Ingredients
  • For the Shortbread Base
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons; 4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • For the Caramel Topping
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • ½ cup heavy cream, at room temperature (or slightly warmed in a microwave)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces and very soft
  • ¼ teaspoon fleur de sel or a good-size pinch of fine sea salt
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • About ½ cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
Instructions
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Generously butter (or spray) an 8-inch square pan.
  2. Start the shortbread base by whisking together the flour and cocoa powder and then set aside.
  3. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar and salt together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the dry ingredients that you set aside to the mixing bowl and beat on low until the dough comes together. This might take a little longer than you expect, so keep at it.
  5. Pour the dough out into a greased 8-inch square baking dish and, using your fingertips, pat the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Press down and make sure to get the dough into the corners.
  6. Bake the shortbread for 21 to 23 minutes, rotating the pan after 10 minutes, until it is slightly darker around the edges and just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan; it will not feel completely firm if poked gently. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the shortbread to cool completely.
  7. When the shortbread has cooled, make the caramel topping by putting the sugar, water and corn syrup in a small saucepan and bringing to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow the ingredients to boil, brushing down the sides of the pan with cold water and a pastry brush if there are spatters.
  8. Swirl the pan a couple of times once you start seeing some color, until the caramel turns a pale to medium amber. (Don’t let it get as dark as mahogany.)
  9. Lower the heat and stand away from the pan as you add the cream, followed by the butter and salt (these ingredients that might cause the caramel to boil up, hence the need to take a step back and avoid any splatters onto yourself).
  10. Remove the pan from the heat, drop in the chocolate, and stir to blend.
  11. Pour the hot caramel over the shortbread and sprinkle with the nuts. Allow to set at room temperature.
  12. When the caramel is firm, run a table knife around the sides of the pan, carefully unmold the cookie onto a rack and turn it over onto a cutting board. Using a long thin knife, cut into 3 strips and then cut each strip into 7 bars for 21 bars. Or just leave the cookie whole and cut individual bars as needed.

Bourbon with Basil & Lemonade Granita

lemon-basil-bourbon-cocktail-4

I rang in the porch drinks season with a strawberry bourbon lemonade, so it seems fitting to spend the last few weeks of summer sipping on another bourbon lemonade combination.

This time around, I poured straight bourbon over a scoop of basil lemonade granita to enjoy what is essentially a grown-up slushie.

Did you know September is National Bourbon Heritage Month? It seems like enjoying a bourbon cocktail over the next few weeks would practically be considered a good deed then.

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A bottle of Four Roses bourbon can typically be found on my bar cart. Which, let me be honest, is really just a kitchen cart with a few other bottles of liquor clustered together on its top shelf.

I’ve cooked, baked, and imbibed with Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon. Which again, in all honesty, was completely disrespectful to the bourbon. The Single Barrel is for sipping, while the smooth, mellow Four Roses Yellow is much more suited to cocktails.

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You see, people like me need Bourbon heritage month to learn about and appreciate this uniquely American spirit!

If it’s for you too, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a great source of information into bourbon’s history and how to plan your trip along the trail, including a visit to the Four Roses distillery. Cheers!

In exchange for this blog post, I was provided with a bottle of Four Roses Yellow bourbon and a gift card to offset the cost of ingredients. The text, photography, and of course, the opinions, are all mine.

lemon-basil-bourbon-cocktail

Bourbon with Basil & Lemonade Granita
 
Author:
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • ¼ cup honey
  • juice of 6 lemons (about 1 cup of juice)
  • 7½ ounces bourbon
Instructions
  1. Bring the water, sugar, basil leaves, and honey to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Allow the mixture to boil for 5 minutes, then cool to room temperature.
  3. Once the mixture has cooled, strain out the basil leaves and stir in the lemon juice.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a 9 x 13 pan (you can use a baking dish or a rimmed baking sheet) and freeze for 30 minutes.
  5. After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the freezer, rake the mixture with a fork, and then return the pan to the freezer.
  6. Repeat this freeze for 30 minutes, rake, and refreeze cycle for about 3 hours until the granita is frozen into flaky crystals.
  7. Place a scoop of the granita into a cocktail glass, then add 1¼ ounces of bourbon. Sip and enjoy.
 

Here are some other great recipes to enjoy during National Bourbon Heritage Month:
Autumn Sangria
Bourbon Chocolate Chip Cookies
Bourbon Squash Soup
Spiced Bourbon Apricot Truffles
Bourbon Peach Bread Pudding

lemon-basil-bourbon-cocktail-5

Easy Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart

I did not know what I was going to write when I sat down tonight. Usually, I have some nonsense in mind that I can start to type out until a thread of coherent or interesting thought appears. Tonight I was just like, well, I could start tapping out letters and see if they make a word?

The irony of this is I listened to a podcast this morning about the debate among writers if writer’s block exists. I was firmly in the “does not exist” camp. I think there are stretches of time when you are more creative than others, just like there are days when you barely break a sweat on your badass run. Other days, it’s a struggle to get through a mile. But I never think it’s impossible to write. Writing well, however, might be another story.

Tomato Tart

So I started pecking out tidbits of my day onto the screen, and I discovered the thoughts on my mind were of change. How people change. How people stay the same as they always were but the way we see them changes.

Like how when you were a kid and you saw your elementary teacher shopping for produce in the grocery store. What do you mean teachers have a life outside of my classroom? And then you get to the age your parents once were when you were that kid, and you realize they really had no idea and were figuring it out just like you are.

How these changes are often so disappointing because they seem so selfish and make you feel sad. Like when your hero casts off commitments so many times that you can no longer overlook the tarnish on what you thought was a sparkling personality.

How it’s so seemingly easy for some people to let you down, and how angry I get at those people when I’m really just angry at myself for never even considering letting someone down in such a way. How looking back at changes over the past 18 months – changes so little they did not register at the time – can make you say to yourself, “Holy smokes, you’ve been through a lot of change!”

Tomato Tart

Hell, I’ve changed. For the first time in my life, I spent the last seven weeks wishing summer would end instead of anticipating the dread I usually get when June becomes a distant memory. Although I will say, I took a quick nap last night, and when I opened my eyes at 8 p.m. to a pitch black room, I had second thoughts on the change of seasons.

I may have daydreamed about cooler fall temperatures since mid-July, but I was not kidding about savoring the last bits of summer, tomatoes being one of those precious gems. I usually prefer to eat my tomatoes raw, with a splash of olive oil and dash of salt and pepper, but by this time of year, tomatoes have lost enough of their initial appeal that I’m okay with cooking them down to something fine. An easy tomato tart with ricotta, goat cheese and basil gave me one last excuse to justify puff pastry for dinner… before I changed my mind. Enjoy!

Easy Tomato Tart
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for sprinkling
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus extra for sprinkling
  • ¾ pound assorted tomatoes, sliced and halved
Instructions
  1. Roll out the puff pastry to approximately a 9 x 13 rectangle. I suggest rolling out the pastry directly onto a lightly-floured piece of parchment paper or silicone baking mat layered on top of a baking sheet.
  2. Prick the interior of the puff pastry with a fork, leaving a 1-inch border, then brush the interior with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.Place the rolled out puff pastry sheet in the refrigerator to rest and chill for 30 minutes.
  3. While the crust chills, mash and stir together the ricotta cheese, goat cheese, eggs, basil, salt, and pepper.
  4. Top the chilled puff pastry with the cheese mixture, then layer the tomatoes over the cheese.
  5. Brush the tomatoes with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper.
  6. Bake at 425 degrees F for 25-30 minutes until the filling is set and the pastry is cooked through and golden brown.
 

Tomato Tart