Chocolate Caramel Cookies

As you may have noticed, I really like the combination of chocolate and caramel, especially with pecans. So it’s a no-brainer that I would like these cookies.

This cookie recipe is another Pillsbury Bake-Off recipe, and it won a $2000 prize in 1990! It appears in several different Pillsbury cookbooks, which is just a sign that Pillsbury knows a good recipe to sell cookbooks. I made these for the men’s retreat, but I made a double batch and saved some for us. In fact, these cookies are so good that I think you should always make a double batch. They freeze well if you don’t put the white candy coating on first so you can have a good supply in the freezer for those sudden cravings and surprise guests and, if you make these cookies, you’ll find that you have more friends who drop by unexpectedly! ;-) They are especially good while still warm from the oven, when the caramel is softer.

Caramel-Filled Chocolate Cookies (from the 34th Pillsbury Bake-Off)

2 1/2 c. flour
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa
1 t. baking soda

1 c. sugar
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 c. margarine or butter, softened
2 t. vanilla
2 eggs

1/2 c. chopped pecans
48 Rolo Chewy Caramels in Milk Chocolate, unwrapped
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1 Tbsp. sugar
4 oz. vanilla-flavored candy coating, if desired

Lightly spoon flour into measure cup; level off. In medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa and baking soda; mix well.

In large bowl, combine sugars and butter; beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs; beat well. Add flour mixture; blend well. Stir in 1/2 c. of the pecans. If necessary; cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 30 minutes for easier handling.

Heat oven to 375 F. For each cookie, with floured hands, shape about 1 Tbsp dough around 1 caramel candy, covering completely.

In small bowl, combine remaining 1/2 c. pecans and 1 Tbsp. sugar. Press one side of each ball into pecan mixture. Place, nut side up, 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 375 F for 7-10 minutes or until set and slightly cracked. Cool 2 minutes; removed from cookie sheets. Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes or until completely cooled.

Melt candy coating in small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Drizzle over cookies.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Shakin’ It Up

Last Friday morning we were awoken by a rattling sound and a shaking sensation. Concerned that the kid in the room next to us had fallen out of bed, we checked on her — sleeping soundly. Next The Husband checked for an intruder or things falling in the garage. Nothing. I remember groggily saying, ‘Husband, it felt like the whole house shook. What could do that?’ Well, an earthquake could. A few hours later as I sat at my computer, the hair on my arms stood up and my fingers tingled and suddenly my seat and computer desk were shaking. Thing 2 screamed, certain we were all going to die. Seconds after the shaking stopped, the tingling stopped in my fingers. It was really weird. Having no experience with earthquakes, it was a little unsettling.

I’ll blame that unsettled feeling on why I couldn’t follow a recipe and instead created my own after I had dumped a few things in the mixing bowl. It’s probably not the Earth’s fault at all, since I seem to have little capacity for following a recipe normally, but it sounds better than I’m just ‘knot-headed’, as my grandparents would say. ;-) I had a bag of Andes’ Candies Bits on hand and wanted to make a chocolaty cookie for them. I started out with something like the Tollhouse recipe in front of me for the base and my failure to follow instructions resulted in this:

Chocolate Mint Chip Cookies

1 c. butter (2 sticks)
1 c. packed brown sugar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla
3 eggs
3 Tbsp. cocoa
2 1/3 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 pkg Andes Candies Bits

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cream together butter and sugars. Add vanilla and eggs and beat well. Beat in cocoa. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat well. Stir in mint chips.

Drop by teaspoons onto ungreased sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake about 8 minutes or until edges are set and center is still slightly soft. Remove cookies to rack to cool.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Happy Spring!

I’m busy with schooling and getting ready for Easter dinner, which will be similar to last year’s meal but with different desserts and maybe a few changes in the veggies. This week is Spring Break for most of this town, but we’re taking our school break later, when the Grandparents come for Tartlet 1′s birthday. Last week Tartlets 3 & 4 had spring parties in their art preschool classes, so I made sugar cookies for the snacks. I used lemon in both the cookies and the frosting.

This batch isn’t my neatest as I was scrambling to have them finished the morning of the class, but my tip for good frosting results is to use a zip baggie with the corner snipped off to pipe icing around the edge and let it sit for a few minutes before you fill the rest. It will keep the frosting from running off the edge and give a sharper result.  These sat a little too long waiting for their filling so they have a more pronounced outline.  The kids especially love to decorate their own cookies.

Sugar Cookie Frosting
3 Tbsp. melted butter
4 c. powdered sugar
1/2 t. lemon extract
milk to reach desired consistency

Mix together until smooth. Dye as desired.

Awesome. Spectacular. Meh.

We hosted a student lunch yesterday and I made a couple of desserts for it. This one came from a cookbook my mom gave me for Christmas: The Taste of Home Baking Book and I have to tell you, that I don’t really think it deserves to be on the shelf next to Dorie’s Baking book. I know, many people are huge fans of Taste of Home, but I find most of the recipes are old Pillsbury Bake-Off repeats, nothing new, and what I generally refer to as ‘fake foods’. Not that they are somehow plastic and inedible; this dessert certainly is edible and sweet, but the main ingredients are pudding mix and Cool Whip. And it’s not that I’m so snobby that I would never eat those things, because I’ve clearly posted food with pudding mix and Cool Whip before. And I do think there is a place for a super quick crowd pleaser, but I have to tell you that I really prefer ‘real food’. That’s why, in the future, I’m more likely to make my cream puffs like this again than as a ‘Midwest dessert casserole’.

But this was extremely popular and wins for ‘ooey, gooey, super sweet’ dessert. It was also easy to make it in stages. I made the cream puff crust Friday night and then mixed the pudding on Saturday and topped with the Cool Whip and then refrigerated it until Sunday afternoon when I added the caramel and chocolate toppings and hazelnuts. None of the steps took more than a few minutes and it was called alternately ‘Awesome’ and ‘Spectacular’ by the guests. I actually thought about using pistachio pudding and pistachios on top for a green dessert. :-P So, for Mat, here’s the recipe. I hope you still fit in the tux! ;-)

Cream Puff Dessert (from The Taste of Home Baking Book)

Base:
1 c. water
1/2 c. butter
1 c. flour
4 eggs

Filling:
1 pkg (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 c. cold milk
2 pkgs (3.9 oz each) instant chocolate pudding

Topping:
1 carton (8 oz) frozen whipped topping, thawed
1/4 c. chocolate ice cream topping
1/4 c. caramel ice cream topping
1/3 c. chopped nuts (recipe calls for almonds, I used hazelnuts)

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a large saucepan, bring the water and butter to a boil over medium heat. Add flour all at once; stir until a smooth ball forms. Remove from the heat; let stand for 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until mixture is smooth and shiny.

Spread into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Bake at 400 F for 30-35 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

For filling, beat the cream cheese, milk and pudding mix in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Spread over puff; refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Spread with whipped topping; refrigerate until serving. Drizzle with the chocolate and caramel toppings; sprinkle with nuts. Refrigerate leftovers.

As for me, I preferred Dorie’s Chewy, Chunky Blondies (p. 109), full of coconut, chocolate, butterscotch chips, Heath toffee bits, pecans, and lots of butter and sugar!

Shortbread Bars

When I have someone over for dinner in the middle of the week, I often pick some quick and easy dessert so I don’t derail schooling in favor of entertaining. I’d much rather bake something fancy than be the taskmaster for school, but I don’t want our schooling to drag on to ‘infinity and beyond’, so I usually force myself to be reasonable. Last night Crystal joined us for a very homey dinner of ham and split pea soup (or split ham & pea soup) with roast beef hash & frozen veggies for those who prefer not to eat soup. You can tell she’s becoming ‘family’ rather than ‘guest’ when I’m serving such plain fare!

For dessert we had shortbread bars. This is a basic recipe that I use over and over. Some of my favorite variations are to leave out the mini chocolate chips and put lemon or orange zest and/or extract in the crust and my all-time favorite filling is raspberry seedless jam, but I also like blackberry, boysenberry, cherry, or huckleberry. Strawberry is what I had in the cabinet yesterday. Sometimes I add nuts (1/2 c. chopped pecans), especially to the top layer. It’s really fast to threw together and it’s usually pretty popular. I frequently double the recipe for a 9 x 13 pan when I’m serving a crowd.

Shortbread Bars

2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
3/4 c. butter (or margarine)
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla

1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

10 oz jar berry preserves

Heat oven to 350 F. In large mixer bowl, combine flour, sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla. Beat at low speed until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (or cut in butter by hand). Stir in chocolate chips. Reserve 1/2 – 3/4 c. crumb mixture.

Press remaining mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan. Spread preserves over crumb mixture. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture over the top and, if desired, 1/2 c. chopped pecans.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned and preserves are bubbly. Cool completely; cut into bars.