Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Peanut Toffee

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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday. Ours was pretty quiet, which was good because all three of us got sick, one after the other – always a great way to spend one’s vacation. We have this week left to try to get as many things crossed off our to-do list as possible. We’re not holding our breath that they’ll all get done, but we’ll do our best.

In the meantime, here’s a quick little toffee recipe to help you combat those mid-winter blahs. I doubled the recipe, which I would not recommend, because the toffee sets so quickly it’s hard to get both batches flattened out on the pans fast enough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put it aside for a bit.

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In a heavy saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water.

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Attach a candy thermometer to the side and heat that over medium until it reads 300°F. Try to avoid stirring as much as possible, and if you do, don’t use a metal spoon – wood or silicone will prevent premature crystallization.

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Next to the pot, place a little container of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and another of 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. You’ll need to have those handy at short notice later on.

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While you’re keeping an eye on the sugar, crush up about 1 1/2 cups pretzel twists.I also had some salted peanuts on hand so I crushed and dumped those in as well – probably about 3/4 cup salted peanuts.

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And gather up 1 cup chocolate chips. I mixed mine with some dark chocolate for flavour.

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When your sugar has caramelized and gotten to the hard crack stage (that’s 300°F), remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Try to resist screaming as it fizzes up and gets all terrifying. I promise that will pass.

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EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Toss in the pretzels and peanuts and stir the toffee quickly.

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Then tip it out onto your parchment sheet and flatten it down as much as you can before it starts to set.

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Sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the top of the toffee and let it stand for a few minutes while the chocolate melts.

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Then smooth out the melted chocolate with a spatula.

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Sprinkle the top of the chocolate with fleur de sel and let harden in the refrigerator for about an hour.

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Once it’s hardened, break it up into chunks and eat it all by yourself! share it with your friends and family.

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Strawberry Macaroons

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I made these yesterday, but you know I’m not one to plan ahead and, like, blog these in advance so you could maybe make them yourself on that special day. They’re still a cute thing to make though, even if it’s not Valentine’s Day.

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My big brother Krystopf came over to help me paint what’s going to be the baby’s room (which hopefully I’ll get finished within the next week or so), and we fed him dinner for Valentine’s Day as his family is currently away on the other side of the country.

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These are based on my original macaroon recipe, which is always a crowd-pleaser. Start by bringing some stuff to room temperature: here I have 3 large eggs sitting in a bowl of warm water, and about 12 frozen strawberries, defrosting in the morning sun.

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While you’re waiting, preheat your oven to 325°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

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Blend up the thawed strawberries into a glorious red purée.

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Separate the eggs, and save the yolks for something else (for me they’re going in a meatloaf later on).

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Tip the whites into a bowl together with a teaspoon or two coconut extract.

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Give them a whirl until they’re foamy and then add in 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Whiz that up until it’s white and thick-looking.

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Tip in 5 cups shredded coconut (I used unsweetened, but you can use sweetened) and your strawberry goo.

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Fold that together until fully combined.

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I decided to try to mould the cookies, which I’ve never done before, so I grabbed a heart-shaped cookie cutter and used a teaspoon to fill and pack the coconut down.

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Some careful wiggling and pressing down with the spoon freed up each one quite nicely.

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I kept going until I had 21 coconut cookies and an empty bowl.

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Shove those cookies into the oven for about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the bottoms are browned and the cookies are solid. Let cool completely.

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While they’re cooling, grab some dark chocolate and huck it into a double-boiler to melt. Let that cool as well.

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Then tip the cooled chocolate into a bag with the corner nipped off and squeeze it out on your cooled cookies. Let that set.

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Serve to your attendant gentlemen!

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Age of Decadence Birthday Cupcakes

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Yesterday was my brand new  minion’s respected co-worker’s birthday, and I wanted to celebrate her first month on the job (and a milestone birthday she wasn’t really looking forward to) with her favourite treat: a dark, rich chocolate cake. Cake’s a bit hard to transport around the office, however, so I went with the cupcake version instead, and I made someone else do all the hard work for me in choosing the best recipe. I picked Sally’s Baking Addiction’s tried and tested Death by Chocolate Cupcakes and doubled the recipe (as I am wont to do). An entire bar of this lovely dark chocolate went into the process and I think it was entirely worth it.

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Like all good cupcakes, you start with butter and chocolate, and melting things. In the bowl of a double boiler (or in your microwave, but I no longer own one of those), melt together 1 cup unsalted butter and 4 ounces chocolate (the recipe calls for semi-sweet but I say use whatever is your favourite).

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Once that’s all smooth and sassy, set it aside to cool a little bit. Line two muffin tins with cupcake liners and preheat your oven to 350°F.

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In a smallish bowl, whisk together 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Leave that alone and do the next thing.

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In a largish bowl, crack 4 large room temperature eggs,  then tip in 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Whisk-y, whisk-y, whisk-y.

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I kind of miss whiskey …

Pour the melted butter and chocolate into the egg/sugar stuff and mix until smooth.

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Grab yourself 1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, tip 2 teaspoons white vinegar or lemon juice into a cup and top it up with milk. Give it a stir and leave it about five minutes until it’s curdled and thick. It’s not *quite* the same, though, and the Pie likes having buttermilk for pancakes, so I am using the real deal).  Alternate pouring some buttermilk into the chocolatey goo with adding the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. You don’t want to overmix this or the batter will bake up flat.

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And this batter is going to be THICK. Sally says it’s thick like pudding. I think it’s even thicker than that.

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Thick, like dog poo thick. But in a delicious way.

Spoon the batter into your cupcake cups and bake for 18 minutes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the centre cupcake comes out clean.

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Set those aside to cool completely and get started on your icing. Actually, before you do that, break up another couple ounces of that lovely dark chocolate and set them to melt in your double boiler. Once it’s all liquid, set it aside to cool almost to room temperature.

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Beat up about 1 cup room temperature unsalted butter in the bowl of your mixer until it’s pale and fluffy. Sift together (to avoid lumps) 5 1/2 cups icing sugar and 1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder in a separate bowl.

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Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract to the fluffy butter and then tip in some of your icing sugar mix. Drizzle in, alternating with the icing sugar mix, 1 cup heavy cream.  Because I don’t remember where I put my mixer shield, this happened of course.

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This one’s for you, Eli.

And because none of my aprons fit me anymore, this happened as well. Baby bellies are cooking hazards, it seems.

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The Pie thought it necessary to remind me that I don’t own very many maternity clothes and should probably take better care of the ones I’ve got. I may have said a few bad words to him in reply.

But when you’re done you’ll get this lovely soft icing that’s pretty much exactly halfway between a ganâche and a buttercream. It’s very delightful. Use that and a wide tip to ice your cooled cupcakes.

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Age of Decadence Cupcakes 20And because age is just a number, I made little number signs out of that melted chocolate (poured on waxed paper and allowed to cool) and shoved them in the top.

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As I was making these, I remarked to the Pie that my youngest teammate, who is 23, was going to ask why there were “hashtags” all over the cupcakes, and he laughed. Then the next morning, the first thing she did when she walked into the room was go, “what’s with all the hashtags?” I so called it. Kids these days … 🙂

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A Better Hot Chocolate

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The Pie found this recipe from Jamie Oliver and he thought it was worth a try. I think it will also make a great wintry gift.

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The interesting thing about the original recipe is it involves Horlick’s, a malted beverage very popular at the beginning of the 20th century and through the 1950s. Horlick’s is hard to find in Canada, but a close equivalent is Ovaltine.

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Ovaltine on its own is definitely an acquired taste (I personally find it revolting), but it will add a richness to the hot chocolate that improves everything. You will need 2 tablespoons Ovaltine or Horlick’s.

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You will also need 100g chocolate (pretty much a large-sized chocolate bar), your choice.

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I made some with dark chocolate, but the Pie and I both prefer it with milk chocolate, seeing as there’s also a decent amount of unsweetened cocoa powder in this, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, in fact. Make sure you choose a cocoa that you like – don’t go cheap on this!

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You will also need 2 tablespoons cornstarch (corn flour in the UK) to make this a nice thick beverage.

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Here is 3 tablespoons icing (confectioner’s) sugar. You can adjust this according to your taste.

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This is also a pinch or two of sea salt and a pinch of ground cinnamon, which, again, you can adjust to what suits you.

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To put it all together, take your chocolate and pop it in your food processor. The original recipe calls for you to finely grate the chocolate but who wants to sit there and grate that much chocolate? Not me, and I made six batches of this.

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So I just pulsed it in the food processor until it formed little crumbs.

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Then you simply add in the rest of the ingredients.

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Pulse it until the colour is uniform, kind of a grayish brown. The crumbs of chocolate will mix in and get smaller while you do this, too.

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To prepare the hot chocolate for two people, dump about 3 heaping tablespoons of the mix into a small saucepan.

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Dribble in about 1/4 cup milk.

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Whisk that until you get a nice paste. This will prevent the finished hot chocolate from being lumpy.

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Then pour in another 1 1/4 cup milk.

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Stir that until smooth and start heating the milk until it’s a temperature you like.

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Serve hot!

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To give the chocolate as gifts, you can pack the mix into these cute jars.

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Or you can put it in a wee bag.

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And then pop it in a customized mug.

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Or whatever floats your boat!

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The Molly Cake

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Mrs. Nice’s birthday was back in November and the Pie and I wanted to make her birthday cake a little more personal this year. Papa John and Mrs. Nice now live next to a farm and so their backyard faces a huge field full of very curious cows. At a craft fair recently, Mrs. Nice picked up this gorgeous painting of a cow named Molly, and so the Pie and I tried to re-create at least the sentiment of it as best we could, considering our utter lack of artistic skill.

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My frame of reference. NAILED IT.

Start at the beginning first. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Bring 3 egg whites to room temperature in a decent-sized bowl. You can drop in 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar too, while you’re at it. Leave that alone for a while.

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Grab yourself some frozen strawberries. This is from a 1kg package frozen strawberries, which is about 5 cups’ worth.

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Plop those in a pot with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and stew them over medium heat until they’re all melted and gooey and lovely.

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You can purée them at this point if you wish but I wanted some strawberry chunks in the cake batter so I mashed the goo with a potato masher instead.

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Now you can turn your oven on to 350°F and butter and parchment up your cake pan(s). I used my trusty 17″ round cake pan but there is enough batter here if you wanted to use 3-8″ round pans instead and create a layer cake.

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Sift together 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 2 teaspoons baking soda and set that aside for a minute.

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In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening until fluffy and amazing.

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Next, beat in 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar until it’s also fluffy and amazing. Then you can add in 2 teaspoons vanilla (I used vanilla bean paste, my new favourite thing).

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Now scrape down the sides of the bowl and plop in 1 egg. Just one. It looks so lonely. Beat it up. Show it who’s boss.

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Okay now we put all this jazz together. Take your strawberry goo. And your flour.

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Starting with the flour, add about a third of it to your mix and stir to combine.

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Add half the strawberries, then another third of the flour (mixing it all in), then the final half of the strawberries, and the last of the flour.

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I decided to disobey my normal rules about colouring food and added a bit of red gel paste colouring to the batter to make the strawberries pop.

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Then stir in 1 cup sour cream.

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Look at that gorgeousness.

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Beat your room temperature egg whites until stiff peaks form. Yay, meringue!

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Ever so gently fold those fluffy whites into your batter. This batter is pretty dense and produces a pretty thin cake so you need all the fluff you can get.

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Smooth the batter into your cake pan(s) and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the pan comes out clean.

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Set the whole shebang on a wire rack to cool completely.

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Now, if you’re not making a giant cow out of your cake, you can skip this whole segment. If you are making a giant cow out of your cake, then I hope yours turns out better than mine because you are less terrible at art.

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So with the giant cake laid out on a board, I cut out the shape of the cow’s head, and then from what was left I cut out the horns and the ears. It’s all symmetrical.

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Then I laid it out.

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I had to move everything around on the board to get it to fit, and the cake was so sticky it was a hard job to do it without disaster. And now it looks like the Chicago Bulls logo (GREAT GIFT IDEA FOR BULLS FANS FOLKS!).

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The Pie thought we should add a bit of extra cake at the snout. Now we need some frosting.

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I needed two colours of icing, so in two double boilers I melted 4 oz dark chocolate and 4 oz white chocolate, respectively. If you’re just doing one colour then obviously just use one double boiler and 8 oz chocolate. When that’s all melty and smooth, set it aside to become less horribly hot.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 2-250g packages plain cream cheese (room temperature) until they’re silky smooth. Remember, the warmer your cream cheese is, the less lumpy the frosting will be.

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Beat in as well 1 tablespoon vanilla (again I used the paste because I love it), 3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream, and 3/4 cup icing sugar.

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Then I split the frosting between two bowls. Hello, beautiful. Look at those little flecks of vanilla seeds.

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Then I poured the now-cooler white chocolate into one bowl, and the now-cooler dark chocolate into the other and stirred them up.

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Ready to decorate!

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I started with the white, because … well, I just did.

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Then I filled it in with the dark chocolate. The nostrils are wonky because I dropped a huge gob of icing accidentally and so that’s just how it had to be. TADA! Not fine art, but highly tasty, and Mrs. Nice loved it.

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Chocolate Toffee Matzo Crunch

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I needed something easy to make for a family shindig the night before Krystopf’s birthday party.  Having spent all day making his cake, the last thing I wanted to do was put in extra time on some other baked good.  This recipe is so easy that it’s a bit stupid.  I’ve had it before, usually at office parties and the like, and people always seem to refer to it as “crack” because of its addictive properties.  But I didn’t make the connection until I took my first bite of this chocolate-y, toffee-y, matzo-y crunchy goodness.

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Preheat your oven to 375°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper (this will make cleanup easier later).  Lay down a single layer of matzo (you can find this in the kosher section of your grocery store) on each baking sheet.  The original recipe calls for 4 1/2 sheets of matzo but I found I used 6 sheets to fill my pans.  You’ll likely need to break a few sheets to get them to fit.

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Finely chop up 7oz dark chocolate and set that aside.

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In a small saucepan, chuck 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup butter.

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Heat on medium, stirring constantly, until the mixture has fully dissolved and begins to boil.  Keep stirring until it thickens and just starts to pull away from the sides of the pot, about 3 minutes.

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Spread the newly-minted toffee all over the matzo and shove it in the oven.  Immediately reduce the temperature to 350°F.

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Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the toffee starts to turn brown and the bubbles start to look like they’re getting trapped in a solid layer of caramel.  If the toffee browns too fast at the edges and starts to burn, reduce your oven temperature to about 325°F instead.

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Remove the toffee matzo from the oven and sprinkle your chopped chocolate over top.  Leave it be for a few minutes to let it melt.

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Then just spread it with a spatula.

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I loved how ridiculously simple this was — no melting chocolate separately and then spilling it everywhere in an attempt to pour — it’s already there, it’s already evenly distributed.

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Then you can lick the spatula.  I won’t tell.

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Let the chocolate cool a bit before sprinkling the whole thing with about 1 tablespoon fleur de sel (or some other coarse sea salt).

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Allow the chocolate to fully harden for about 20-30 minutes.  I shoved mine in the fridge because it was about 30°C outside and nothing was going to harden any time soon.

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Use your hands or a large knife to break the matzo into smaller chunks.

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This fed a family of twelve as an addition to another dessert.  And I don’t know how well it keeps because it was all gone in seconds.

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Chewy Caramel Brownies

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Some day, I intend to do this recipe right, the way that Smitten Kitchen actually did it, with DIY caramel and unsweetened chocolate.  But this is not that day.

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I had a bag of caramels I’d purchased with the intention to do something else, and I felt obligated to use them.  Plus I doubled the recipe and thus ran out of  unsweetened chocolate.  So basically this recipe is all wrong.  But it’s still edible (read: extremely tasty) so whatever.

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First you’re going to need to unwrap and cut your caramels.  Start with about 10oz wrapped caramel candies.

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Unwrap them and cut them in half.

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When you double the recipe there are a million to do.

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But finally they were finished.  I recommend keeping this bowl cold because the caramels like to stick together otherwise. I discovered this by accident. There was swearing involved in solving this issue.

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Now you can preheat your oven to 350°F and butter an 8″ x 8″ baking dish.  Line it with parchment paper and butter that again.

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Take 3oz unsweetened chocolate and roughly chop that up.

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Because I doubled the recipe I ran out of unsweetened chocolate, so I chucked in this Cadbury hazelnut bar as well.

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Throw your chocolate into a heatproof bowl with 1/2 cup butter.

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Set the heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water and melt it until it’s almost all melted away.

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When you just have little bits left solid, remove it from the heat and stir it until it’s smooth.

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Whisk in 1 cup granulated sugar.  Then whisk in 2 eggs, one at a time.

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Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon sea salt over top and stir that in, too.

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Then slowly stir in 2/3 cup flour.

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Finally, add in MOST of your caramels (like 4/5 of them).

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Spread your batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining caramels on top.

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Bake that for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  In the meantime, feel free to lick the spoon.  I won’t tell your mother.  Just don’t tell my mother.  She’s always paranoid about salmonella.

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When your brownie is cooked, put it on a wire rack to cool completely.  Mine didn’t look anything like Smitten’s, alas.

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When it’s completely cool you can cut it into bits.  It’s easier if you wait until the caramel isn’t running around everywhere.

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Seal whatever you don’t eat in an airtight container.  Who am I kidding?  You’ll eat them all.

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