Friday, January 31, 2014

Recipe for Caramel 'N Chocolate Pecan Bars

I found this delicious sounding recipe on the inside of the butter box some time ago, and I finally tried it!


Caramel 'n Chocolate Pecan Bars (with my changes in bold and parentheses)

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 Cup salter butter, softened
1 Cup pecan halves (In an effort to not skimp on the health benefits of pecans--protein and so forth--I did not measure these; I spread a nice, solid layer over the entire crust.)

Caramel Layer (Caramel is one of my favorites and this didn't look like much, so I doubled it. GOOD CALL.)
2/3 C. salted butter
1/2 C. firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I was suspicious that the strong flavor of the semi-sweet chocolate chips would overpower the more delicate flavor of the caramel, so I sprinkled the full amount on half of the pan.)

>Heat oven to 350*. Combine all crust ingredients except pecans in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Press onto bottom of ungreased 13x9-inch baking pan. Place pecans evenly over unbaked crust.
>Combine 2/3 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar in 1-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until entire surface of mixture begins to boil. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, 1 minutes. Pour mixture evenly over pecans and crust. (I really don't think this would have adequately covered the pecans and crust if I hadn't doubled it.)
>Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until entire caramel layer is bubbly. DO NOT OVERBAKE. (I checked at 15 minutes and there were bubbles around the edges; when I checked a few minutes later, the entire caramel layer was bubbly.) Remove from oven. Immediately sprinkle with chips; allow to melt slightly. Swirl melted chips over bars leaving some whole for marbled effect. Cool completely. (This is a great way to take advantage of the unusually cold temperatures and a nice, chilly garage!) Cut into bars.

Right out of the oven

TIP: You can use a combination of your favorite nuts or flavored baking chips for variety in these bars. (I am SORELY TEMPTED to try them with butterscotch chips...but that might be too sweet.)

With chocolate chips on the left, without chocolate chips on the right

Mmmmm. I was right: the chocolate does overpower the caramel flavor, but maybe it wouldn't have if I had only used half of the called-for amount. SOMEONE SHOULD TRY IT AND REPORT BACK =)! With the chocolate chips, I think it tastes like a delicious chocolaty treat. Without the chocolate chips, it reminds me of Butterscotch Squares or the delicious, gooey part of Swistle's Mom's Pecan Rolls.

So! You try it and come back and report on any changes you made and how they turned out!

PSA: What Happens When You Go To the Doctor Because of a Smashed Toe (or Finger) (Updated)

WARNING: This post contains pictures of a purple toenail and swollen toe.
On Monday afternoon, I was walking past Jeffrey with my arms full of things to put away, when I noticed he was messing around with a bar stool, tipping it back and forth. I paused on my way and said, "Please don't do that; you're going to get..." *WHAM* Bar stool to the toe.

Not even 5 minutes later
His toenail immediately turned purple, and he cried for quite a while and didn't walk around much for the rest of the day. I asked around, and the consensus was that the way to treat this sort of injury was to have a little hole drilled in the nail to release the pressure. Given the amount of screaming that occurred at Jeffrey's last shots, I knew I did not want to try this at home. Also, I wasn't sure if this was one of those things that, if I took him to the doctor immediately, they would just roll their eyes at me and say we needed to watch it for a couple days, so I decided to skip that experience and just watch it for a couple days. I did give him some ibuprofen for the pain.

EDITED TO ADD: If he had broken the skin/nail, I would have taken him in right away because foot wounds like that are notorious for getting infected.

I tried to go to bed early that night but, a couple hours later, I got out of bed when I heard heartbroken, frantic sobs of, "I don't want to die! I don't want to die!" coming from the hallway. It seems Joseph a helpful brother had matter-of-factly commented how sad it would be if Jeffrey died from his toe injury 2 days before his birthday. It took an hour or so to calm him down. It took me a LONG TIME to get to sleep.

Thank you, helpful brother.

The next day, the purple had spread, the toe was definitely looking a little puffy, and he said it hurt to wear a sock.

The third day, his toe was so swollen that I expected his toe nail to pop off at any moment from the pressure.
The picture doesn't do it justice; it was really bad.

But it was his birthday, and I didn't want to ruin his birthday with an unpleasant trip to the doctor, so we went in the next day.

While we drove, I told him a little bit about what would happen when we got to the medical clinic. I tried to explain things to him a little ahead of time so he would know, generally, what to expect. I presented a calm and unworried face so he wouldn't become alarmed. (I truly wasn't worried; by boy #4, I'm pretty resigned about these things.)

When we checked in, a couple people made comments about this having happened DAYS ago and what did I expect them to do about a broken toe AT THIS POINT. I told them I was worried about the swelling, not the possible break.

While we were waiting for the doctor, I told Jeffrey that the doctor was going to need to look at his toe, and that he was probably going to do something to it to make it feel better. He asked me what the doctor was going to do, and I told him I didn't know, which was true! I didn't know...exactly...what he was going to do. As soon as the doctor came in the room, I told him it would be best if he did NOT tell or show Jeffrey what was going on. (At his shot appointment, Jeffrey was so terrified about the shots that there was no reasoning with or bribing him, so I knew it would not go well if he had a specific idea of what was coming.) The doctor looked a little puzzled but he followed my lead. He went to get some back-up and whatever the tool was that was going to burn a small hole in Jeffrey's toenail.

When he came back, I laid Jeffrey on the bed and leaned over him, pinning his top half down and blocking his view. He asked what was going to happen, and I told him that the doctor was going to do something to his toe to make it feel better. He asked what they were going to do, and I told him I would tell him that after the doctor was done. The other guys held his legs while the doctor did his thing. Of course, the first tool broke, so the doctor had to go get another one. Jeffrey looked a little apprehensive, but stayed pretty still and did not scream! When the doctor used the 2nd tool to make the little hole, Jeffrey didn't know exactly what was happening but laughed nervously and said it tickled. It hurt a little bit when someone pressed on his toe gently to help the fluid come out, but it was quick, and then it was finished!

The doctor had made a tiny hole in his toenail, about the size of a pin head. Since Jeffrey wasn't screaming or flailing around, it was VERY FAST. His toe IMMEDIATELY looked and felt a lot better! 24 hours later it isn't draining and still looks good.
4 months later, the toenail fell off to reveal a new, bumpy toenail that had grown in about halfway; I assume it will keep growing until it covers his toe again.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Chocolate Cakes Report

IMPORTANT: Make sure you have a decent quantity of unsweetened cocoa powder and other baking supplies BEFORE you read this post.
A while ago, I had a reason to make chocolate cake, so I tried out LOTS of chocolate cake recipes in an effort to find the BEST one. I used A LOT of cocoa powder and parchment paper that week. Here are my results.

Items of Note
Although I did attempt to follow each recipe exactly, it is highly likely possible that there was some degree of overcooking user error involved in the results of these recipes, so keep that in mind as you are evaluating my results. (In my defense, the ovens in my new house are not heating up to the correct temperature, so that complicates delicate cooking projects.)

The newly shrunken, yet same price, chocolate squares are just as irritating as people have been saying!

"Easy Break" indeed!

Parchment paper is magical stuff! The cakes came right out of the pans and barely stuck to the parchment paper!

I kept these cakes, covered, in the garage when it was just warmer than refrigerator temperature out there. Apparently, chocolate cake needs to be at room temperature; when it is chilled it seems dry...which is especially unfortunate if you accidentally overcooked the cake in the first place.

I made this Chocolate Cake and this Chocolate Frosting.

Note: I made this one in a stoneware bar pan and baked it for 25 minutes.

Verdict: This cake was frosted and uncut for about 24 hours with no ill effects. The cake itself had a nice chocolate flavor without being too sweet. The frosting was very smooth and buttery, not overly sweet, and very much reminded me of the filling in a chocolate truffle. My frosting didn't look like the picture in the post; once cooled, my frosting was solid enough that the kids could separate it from the cake in one piece.

Fudgy Chocolate Layer Cake

Thanks to this picture, I have LONG wanted to try this cake. This recipe came from a Great American Home Baking card that I received many years ago. (I like quite a few recipes from that collection, by the way.)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup less 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Frosting and Garnish
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 ounces (3 squares) unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Chocolate shavings (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350* F. Line bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with waxed paper (the recipe says "waxed" paper, but I was told to use PARCHMENT paper instead). Grease paper and sides of pans. Dust with flour.
2. Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each additions. Add vanilla.
3. At low speed, alternately beat flour mixture and buttermilk into butter mixture just until blended. Divide batter equally between prepared pans.
4. Bake cakes until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Turn out onto racks. Remove paper. Turn layers topside up and cool completely.
5. To prepare frosting, beat butter and confectioners' sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add melted chocolate and vanilla; continue beating until shiny and smooth.
6. Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate; spread with frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread frosting on top and sides of cake. Let cake stand for at least 30 minutes before sprinkling with chocolate shavings and slicing.

Notes: I doubled this recipe because I wanted 4 layers. Luckily, I made a batch of frosting from this recipe for the frosting in between the layers because the amount of frosting given in the recipe, even doubled to go with the doubled cakes, just BARELY covered the top and sides; if I make this again, I will make twice as much frosting called for for the top and sides. I did not use chocolate shavings.

Verdict: This cake looked really impressive. It was WAY too dry when it was chilled but decently moist when it warmed up. I'm nearly certain that I overcooked it. The truffle frosting in between the layers had a definite "semi sweet" flavor while the cake was more of a sweet chocolate, so I think I'll try milk chocolate chips in that frosting if I try this recipe again.


Chocolate Mousse Cake

This was another recipe that came from the Great American Home Baking cards.

1 cup chopped walnuts (4 ounces)
1 cup chopped hazelnuts or almonds (4 ounces)
1/4 cup butter, softened

1 pound (16 ounces) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (Genius that I am, I realized in time that I could use chocolate chips instead of buying a bar of semisweet chocolate and chopping it!)
1 cup heavy cream
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 cup whipped cream
1 cup fresh raspberries

1. Preheat oven to 325* F.

2. To prepare crust, mix together nuts and butter. Press evenly over bottom and up sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

3. To prepare filling, in a medium saucepan, heat chocolate and cream over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Cool to room temperature, 10 minutes.

4. Beat together eggs and vanilla at low speed until foamy. At high speed, gradually beat in flour and sugar until thick, 8 to 10 minutes.

5. Fold one-third of egg mixture into melted chocolate mixture. Fold chocolate mixture, one-quarter at a time, into remaining egg mixture. Spread batter in prepared pan; smooth top.

6. Bake cake until puffed around outer edges, 45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Remove sides of pan.

7. Chill cake for 4 hours or overnight. Garnish with whipped cream and fresh raspberries before serving.

Notes: I used all almonds for the crust. I used a deep dish pie pan because I don't have a springform pan. I did make whipped cream but did not garnish with raspberries.

Verdict: Oh my.

*fans self*

Even though this cake was definitely overcooked, it was rich and dense; it reminded me of the richness and density of cheesecake. A small slice was enough to satisfy a sweet/chocolate craving. Again, this cake wasn't overly sweet; definitely semi-sweet as opposed to milk chocolate. WILL MAKE AGAIN. Ahem.

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cream Cake
I have long wanted to make this Chocolate Cream Cake from the Lion House Desserts cookbook (which I don't see anymore but maybe this set which appears to be on clearance has the same recipes?)

and the recipe called for two round layers of chocolate cake made from a Devil's Food Cake mix, but I wanted to try the famous chocolate cake made with mayonnaise, and a Lovely Twitter Lady gave me this recipe.

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup water
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix everything together in one bowl. Make 1-10 1/2" round cake. Bake at 325* F for 30-40 minutes. Do not overbake.

Notes: I doubled this recipe because I wanted 2 layers so I could try out the cream cake recipe. The batter for this cake did not smell good to me but that may be because I don't like mayonnaise.

Chocolate Frosting
4 tablespoons cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons softened butter or margarine
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix cocoa and powdered sugar in mixing bowl. Add softened butter, milk, and vanilla. Beat until smooth.

Notes: Again, I needed more frosting so I will double it next time.

Stabilized Whipping Cream
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
3 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine gelatin with water in a small saucepan. Let stand until thick. Over low heat, stir constantly until just dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. (It should still be liquid.) Whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla until slightly thick in a large mixing bowl. Turn mixer on low and gradually add the gelatin, then beat on high until the cream is thick.

Stabilized Whipping Cream will hold up for 4 to 5 days without separating. It can also be used to garnish cheesecakes or in any recipe that calls for whipped cream or nondairy whipped topping.

Notes: STABILIZED WHIPPING CREAM! OH, THE POSSIBILITIES! Ahem. This amount of Stabilized Whipping Cream was perfect for a thick layer between the two cakes with a little left over. Also, I didn't dare try to split my cake layers, but I think I would like this cake even better if I did split the cakes to make more layers.

To assemble the cake: Place one layer of cake on a serving plate. Put the Stabilized Whipping Cream on top of the layer of cake. Spread evenly, being careful to leave about 1/2 inch border around the edge of the cake with no cream. Then put another layer of cake on top of the cream. (Er, they use more layers than I did, so I'm going to leave those instructions out.) Gently push down on the cake to set the layers together. Frost entire cake with Chocolate Frosting.

Verdict: The cake itself was nice and moist, but I noticed a slight, unpleasant aftertaste. The frosting was definitely a sweet chocolate frosting, which I liked, but the Stabilized Whipping Cream was not very sweet and the difference between the two bothered me, so I would increase the sugar in the Whipping Cream if I made this again.

That Chocolate Cake

Notes: I didn't have 5 ounces of the called-for 99% Unsweetened Chocolate for the frosting, so I used 5 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder instead. Probably Possibly related: my frosting stayed runny.

Verdict: I...didn't write any notes down for that recipe, so you'll have to try it and tell me what YOUR verdict is!

Texas Sheetcake
This recipe is in my recipe box, and I do not remember from whence it came.

2 Cups Flour
2 Cups Sugar
1/2 Cup Butter
1/2 Cup Shortening or oil
1 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
2 Eggs
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Vanilla

In large bowl combine flour and sugar. In saucepan, combine butter, shortening or oil, water, and cocoa. Stir and heat to boiling. Pour boiling mixture over flour mixture and stir. Add buttermilk, eggs, salt, baking soda, and vanilla. Mix well. Pour into an 11x17 pan. Bake at 400* F for 20 minutes.

1/2 Cup Butter
2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Milk
3 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla

In saucepan, combine butter, cocoa, and milk. Heat to boiling, stirring. Mix in powdered sugar and vanilla. Pour warm frosting over cake that has cooled just a bit.

Notes: This frosting is so delicious that I often make it to use for dipping strawberries!

Verdict: This cake was also nice and moist, and I LOVE the frosting, but the flavor of the cake was pretty blah. I used to have a recipe for this cake that called for cinnamon in the cake batter; I need to see if I can find it so I can make it and see if the cinnamon makes a big difference.