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Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars
18

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Anyone will tell you that the process of creating your own baking recipes is a difficult one.  There’s this “science” to baking that we bakers know about and live by…how just the right amount of yeast, baking powder, or egg whites will make sandwich bread, fluffy biscuits, or a soufflé rise perfectly…how flour packed into the measuring cup is actually a different amount than flour fluffed into the cup…even how soft the butter is affects how the water and fat molecules in butter react in a recipe.  The science of baking is often the reason so many of us home bakers leave the recipe creation and testing up to the pros – let them figure out the nuances and tell us how to overcome them.  I’m totally fine with that!

So when I came across the idea for these chocolate chip toffee bars, a) I knew I would need extra time at the gym this week, and b) I knew the America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe was the only recipe that I would want for these bars.  It is by far my go-t0, most beloved chocolate chip cookie recipe and if I were to combine toffee (uh yes please!) with any chocolate chip recipe, there was no question which one it would be.  And when I tell you that the toffee bits melt into the cookie dough and that the two blend into a rich caramel-milk chocolate cookie bar, I’m not lying.  I swear, this cookie bar was heaven.  Soft centers with a little crunch on top and the occasional nibble of a toffee bit that survived the oven temperature.  Seriously, go make these now and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that the ATK/CI recipe is anything but perfection (both for cookies and bars like this one).  And, I can’t stress this enough – when you’re looking for a fabulous recipe, be sure you know who really created it – it makes all the difference in the world to have a truly credible recipe to work with.

Halloween Candy Bark
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I know at least a few of you are in the same predicament as me: “What the heck do I do with all this leftover candy?”  It happens every year, doesn’t it?  I overbuy Halloween candy with the anticipation of at least 100 more kids showing up at my door than actually do.   Well this year, we actually had NO KIDS show up since my town, like many in CT, postponed Halloween due to downed power lines and trees as a result of the freak snow storm we had last weekend (P.S. – We’re still without power and cable – thank God for our generator! – and don’t expect to have either fully restored until Sunday).  So instead of that leftover candy sitting around tempting you until Thanksgiving, why not repurpose it by making your own Halloween candy bark?

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The concept is simple:  spread melted chocolate on a baking sheet then sprinkle your favorite chopped up candy over the chocolate.  You can also add some salty fun too with peanuts or pretzels like I did.  And after 30 minutes in the fridge, you have personalized candy bark.  It’s a fun way to essentially make your own candy bars so if you only want to use up the leftover Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and some pretzels, go for it!  Or if you want to add some Whoppers and Butterfingers, all the better!  The only thing I do suggest is that you have a plan to get it out of your house because this post-Halloween treat is even more addictive than the actual candy itself.

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Caramel Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes
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Cupcake Camp New Haven has come and gone and I’m so happy to have participated!  It was a nerve-wracking couple of weeks leading up to the event for a couple of reasons.  First, I was questioning my sanity about putting myself “out there”; I am just a home baker after all and I knew the event would be filled with area professional bakeries. And second, I couldn’t decide on a final flavor to make.

But once I had that final flavor chosen, made, and tasted, all of my worries were washed away in a sea of caramel frosting.  This cupcake boosted my confidence and sent me on a sugar high for the rest of the weekend.  I should note here that I’d never made any sort of pumpkin cupcake before this weekend and went solely on the recommendation of Elly from Elly Says Opa! about it’s greatness. And the caramel frosting was a new recipe for me too – talk about taking a chance!

I’m a lover of all things pumpkin but to tell you the truth, I could take or leave pumpkin pie.  That’s why this cupcake is so great.  It’s got all of the fabulous flavor of a pumpkin pie without the so-so texture.  The caramel frosting is really what pulls the whole experience together though.  You’ve got the spicy (not heat spicy) cupcake balanced with this deliciously sweet caramel frosting…top it with a few Heath bar pieces and you’ve got yourself an out of body experience.  So…I didn’t win any contests at Cupcake Camp New Haven (not sure what the judges were thinking!) but I’ve got an outrageous new cupcake in my repertoire!

Caramel Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

Yield: About 27 cupcakes and enough frosting to liberally frost all of them

I'm not a proponent of using vegetable shortening but I feel that it is needed in some frosting recipes. This is one of them. Due to the caramel in the recipe, this frosting needs a little extra stability which the shortening adds. Alternatively, add 3-4 tbsp butter in place of the shortening. The butter will yield a frosting that gets soft quickly and doesn't hold up well in warm temperatures.

Ingredients

    For the cupcakes:
  • 1 ½ sticks (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup plus 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • ¾ tsp table salt
  • ¼ tsp plus 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1 ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 can (15oz) pumpkin pureé (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • For the caramel frosting:
  • 3 ½ sticks unsalted butter; room temperature
  • 3 tbsp vegetable shortening
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ¼ lbs confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • ½ cup caramel sauce - slightly colder than room temperature
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt

Instructions

  1. To make the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Prepare two standard-size muffin/cupcake tins with cupcake papers.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl; set aside. Measure out the buttermilk and stir in the vanilla.
  3. Add the eggs 1 at a time to the mixer mix for 30 seconds each, scraping down the sides after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Using a large ice cream scoop, fill muffin papers.
  4. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the pans on racks for 5 minutes and remove the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. To make the caramel frosting: Cream the butter and shortening in the bowl of an electric or stand mixer. Add the vanilla extract, salt and caramel sauce and combine well.
  6. Gradually add the sugar and mix thoroughly after each addition. After all of the sugar has been added and mixed thoroughly, give it a taste and decide if you want to add in more caramel sauce. For thicker frosting you can gradually add in a little more sugar.

Source

cupcakes adapted from Leite's Culinaria via Elly Says Opa | caramel frosting adapted from My Baking Addiction

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