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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Salted Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread

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Banana bread freezes really well, and so it’s a great thing to make in advance for something like my upcoming shindig. Because it’s a fancy shindig, I wanted to make it with a bit of a twist on my traditional recipe. And while I’m on the bourbon caramel theme this week, I figured I might as well make me some fancy banana bread! I used my original recipe (see link above), but instead of using very ripe (pre-frozen) bananas I used yellow ones, because I wanted a few chunks in my banana bread. And of course I made up a bourbon caramel sauce, which I borrowed from the Minimalist Baker. So first we’ll make up the sauce, and then we’ll re-make our old classic banana bread.

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This caramel sauce! I’m definitely of the Keep It Simple, Stupid school of thought, so I love the 4-ingredient easiness of this recipe. And now I want to drink the stuff. It’s amazing. I doubled the original recipe because I anticipated loving it and wanting to drink it, but it makes a decent amount for a generous swirl of caramel throughout the banana bread (if you leave like half a cup leftover for yourself to eat with a spoon).

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 19Start with 2 cups granulated sugar and plop that in a medium saucepan together with 1/2 cup water (in this 4-ingredient recipe, water does not count as an ingredient. It evaporates so technically it doesn’t exist!). Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 1

Heat that on medium high for about 15-20 minutes. Don’t stir: just swirl the pot occasionally.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 5You’ll get bored, but you can’t leave. So enjoy a glass of bourbon while you’re waiting. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 4

The sugar will begin to boil, and then, as the water evaporates, the bubbles will get smaller and smaller.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 12Eventually the mixture will turn a lovely amber colour and will only be kind of fizzy. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 13

At this point, remove it from the heat (turn off the burner) and, whisking the whole time, drizzle in 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream. Don’t freak out as it fizzes and foams up around you. Just keep whisking. I usually sing a song to a volcano god while I do this. I always feel like I’m summoning a creature from the depths when I do science-y things like make caramel.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 14When you’ve got the cream all whisked in and the whole thing has calmed down, put the pot back on the still-warm burner and tip in 2 tablespoons bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark). This time it will only fizz a little bit. Add in as well a few pinches of salt – I used fleur de sel. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 15

Pour into a heat-safe container and let cool before storing in the fridge. If you want to use this for other things then just warm it up a bit and then it will become pour-able again. I kind of like the finger-scoop-y texture of it when it’s cold though.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 17I’m having a hard time giving up even a little bit of this for banana bread. But I gotta do what I gotta do. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 18

So. Let’s do some banana bread. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two loaf pans with parchment paper.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 25Grab 5 bananas. You can use overripe or frozen bananas but this time I decided to use ones with a bit more substance to them – of course I waited too long to do the recipe and they’re a little spotty but whatever. Nobody ever said I was the proactive blogger. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 22

Mush, mush, mush ’em into a small bowl together with 1 tablespoon baking soda that has been “dissolved” in 3 tablespoons hot water. Put that bowl to one side for a minute.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 23Grab another, medium bowl and plop in 1 cup room temperature butter. Beat that silly with 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar until you get a serious case of the fluffy butters. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 24

Then crack in 2 eggs and beat that until it’s a coagulated mess. Mmmm … Line this bowl up with the banana bowl and leave those for a few minutes.

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In ANOTHER bowl (this time a decent-sized one), sift together 3 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 29Now we put it all together. Beat the banana mixture into the egg mixture and then tip it into the flour mixture. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 31

Fold the flour mixture into the banana mixture until it’s all combined.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 33NOW, glop a bunch of your caramel sauce into the batter and kind of swirl it through gently. Don’t let it get too mixed in – you want streaks. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 34

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 35Tip the batter between the two loaf pans and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the loaves are cooked through and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 36

Use the parchment paper to lift the loaves out of the pans and let them cool completely on a cooling rack.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 39Freeze or cut and serve with butter. MMMMMMM!

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Salted Butter Caramels

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I had planned to include some form of caramels as part of my holiday baking this past season, and when I saw this one posted on A Beautiful Mess I knew that this was the version I would try out this time round. I quadrupled the amounts below because I have a lot of people clamouring for my candies, but this recipe will give you about 20 or so caramels, depending on how you cut them. My four batches yielded about 102 whole pieces and a handful of broken ones or end bits.

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As with most candy, it’s handy to have all your ingredients at the ready before you begin, because you often have to act fast. So gather together 3/4 cup granulated sugar (divided), 7 tablespoons heavy cream, 2 tablespoons honey, 3 tablespoons butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

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You may also want to have some more salt or fleur de sel on hand for topping the caramels when they’re done. Now that your ingredients are ready, you should line a loaf pan with parchment paper.

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Now, take half of the sugar (3/8 cup sugar) and plop it in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons water.

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With the burner on medium, heat the sugar and water until they start to bubble and turn a deep amber brown.

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Then remove the pot temporarily from the heat and add in the rest of the ingredients – they will fizz up on you. Return the pot to the heat and stir to melt and combine all the remaining ingredients.

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Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot and let the mix bubble away. Stir it occasionally so it doesn’t burn. You want the temperature to reach 260°F, which is the “hard ball” stage. It won’t take very long, so pay attention.

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Pour the finished caramel into the prepared loaf pan and sprinkle the surface with salt. Let that cool for at least an hour, but probably not much longer than that.

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Cut it into little pieces (it’s easier if you don’t let it sit much longer than an hour).

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Then you can wrap the little pieces in twists of waxed paper and either hoard them to yourself or give them all away! Or both.

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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.

Chocolate Toffee Crunch 1

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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Treats Week: Salted Toffee

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I know: after overindulging during the holidays, the last thing you want to think about is highly caloric treats.   January is time for moderation and abstinence.

HA.

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We all of us know that this is complete hooey.

Even Gren knows it’s bull pucky.  And he’s a DOG.

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January, and its evil-yet-slightly-shorter twin, February, are both miserable.  Have you looked outside recently?  Blech.  Don’t come to Canada in January or February.  If you do I don’t think you’ll stay long.

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How do we survive this gray misery?  SUGAR.  And lots of it.  Personally, I need the calories to wade through waist-deep snow while my dolphin-corgi hybrid takes his evening constitutional.

So this week I will be featuring three easy treats that are each decadent in their own ways.  These will help you get through the worst of the winter.  And if you have the fortitude to resist them, then keep the recipes on hand for the next time the indulgences of the holidays roll around.

Today we’re going to make ourselves some glorious salted toffee.

Start by buttering a 10″ x 15″ rimmed baking sheet. Set that aside.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and plop 2 cups pecan halves (or pecan pieces) on a baking sheet. Not the buttered one. You’ll notice here I am using hazelnuts. I was out of pecans. But pretend they’re pecans. Stick those in the oven and toast them, stirring once or twice, for about 8-10 minutes.

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Allow them to cool completely and then chop them roughly (saves you effort if you use pecan pieces instead).  Chop half of those up to fine little pieces, and set both the roughly chopped and finely chopped pecans aside.

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In a large saucepan (because remember, sugar expands quite a bit when it boils), mix together 3 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cup water.

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Heat on medium until the butter is all melted, then increase the heat to medium-high and, stirring occasionally, let that mixture come up to 310°F on a candy thermometer.

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Should take about 20 minutes or so.

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Remove from the heat and carefully stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (be careful, this is where it gets fizzy) and the finely chopped half of your pecans.

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Carefully pour your hot toffee into a rimmed baking sheet and let it cool until it’s fully set, about 30 minutes.

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If you want your toffee pieces to come out even, you can score the toffee with a sharp knife after about 10 minutes of setting.  Make sure to wipe off your knife with warm water after each slice for easier cutting.

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While that’s cooling, chop up 12 ounces of chocolate (the darker the better) and melt it over a double boiler or heat safe bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water.

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Remove that from the heat and allow to cool a little bit (so it’s not molten) before pouring it over your set toffee. Smooth the chocolate down with a knife or offset spatula (honestly, it’s a handy item you won’t use often but when you use it, it will rock your cooking experience). Sprinkle the chocolate with your roughly chopped pecans and let it sit for about 20 minutes, until the chocolate has cooled but is still in a squishy state.

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Then sprinkle THAT with about 2 teaspoons fleur de sel (or coarse sea salt, if that’s what you’ve got).

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Chill the pan for about an hour, until it’s all set and lovely, then twist the pan to release the toffee and cut or break into pieces.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks or in the fridge for about a month.

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Baked’s Sweet and Salty Cake

Sweet & Salty Cake
Not only do the Pie and il Principe share a birthday, but I’ll have you know that Cait’s birthday is only four days later.  And then Jiss’ birthday is only a scant five days after that.  Because we were heading back to Ottawa for a visit at the beginning of the month, we decided to postpone our birthday celebrations until we got there so that Cait  and Jiss could share in the fun.

So, for my husband on his birthday and my best friend on her birthday, and my husband’s friend’s spouse on HER birthday, I made them this fantastic confection, which comes out of our favourite cookbook of all time, Baked.
Sweet & Salty Cake
You can read the recipe online here, here, or here.  But you should really buy the book.  The pictures are glorious and the authors explain everything so well.

This recipe involves caramel, chocolate, and salt.  Yes, SALT.  I rarely use salt in baking but this one made it all worth it.  If you can get your hands on fleur de sel, all the better, but you can use sea salt as a substitute if necessary.  It’s also worth noting that this cake takes many steps, and you can save time by making things like the caramel the day before and putting it in the fridge.
Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Caramel:
Pour 1/4 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup into a medium saucepan and stir it around.

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Plop a candy thermometer in the pot (making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom) and bring the mixture to a boil, cooking until the temperature reaches 350°F, which will take about 10 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Keep a close eye on it.  If you cook it any higher than the specified temperature it can burn super quickly.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel.  Bring that to a boil as well and cook until the salt is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Remove that from the heat and set aside.

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When the sugar has reached 350°F, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for one minute.  See how it’s browned a little bit? That’s the caramelization of the sugar, but you don’t want it to get too dark.

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Carefully (very carefully) add the hot cream to the sugar mixture.  It foams and fizzes quite a bit, so you don’t want that in your face.   Whisk that all up until it’s smooth.

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Whisk in 1/4 cup sour cream and let the caramel cool.

Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Cake:
Preheat your oven to 325°F and butter three 8″ round cake pans.  Cut a circle out of parchment paper for the bottom of each one, butter it as well, and dust them all with flour.

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You need two decent-sized bowls and the bowl of a mixer for this next part.  In one bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and 2/3 cup sour cream.  Set that aside and let it cool while you do the other things.

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In the other non-mixer bowl, sift together 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and set that aside.

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Now, in the mixer bowl, beat together 3/4 cup softened butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening.  Beat them until they are smooth and kind of stringy when the paddle is spinning around, about 7 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Beat in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1 cup dark brown sugar until light and fluffy.

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Add in 3 eggs, one at a time.

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Add in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat for a further 30 seconds or so.

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Carefully add in a third of the flour mixture, then half your chocolate mixture, then a third of the flour, the rest of the chocolate, and the rest of the flour.

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Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans and bake for 18-24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.

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Allow to cool completely before removing from the pans and peeling off the parchment paper.

Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Caramel Ganache:
First, finely chop 1lb dark chocolate.

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Also, cut up 1lb butter into tablespoon-sized pieces.  Make sure they’re soft but still cool.

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Now we’re going to make some more caramel, but this time without the salt or the sour cream.
So, in one pot, combine 1/4 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup and stir it around.  Bring it to a boil over high heat until a candy thermometer reads 350°F, which will take about ten minutes.  Remember to watch closely.

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In the other pot bring 1 1/2 cups heavy cream to a boil, then remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel has reached 350°F, remove it from the heat and allow it to rest for a minute.

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Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel and stir to combine, then let it cool for 5 minutes.

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Plop your chopped chocolate in the bowl of a mixer and pour the caramel over the chocolate.  Let that sit for a minute, then stir the chocolate to dissolve it.

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Shove your bowl into your mixer with a paddle attachment and mix the chocolate goo on low until the outside of the bowl feels cool to the touch.

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Dump in your cut-up butter bits and mix on medium-high until it’s all well-combined and smooth and a little bit whipped, another 2 minutes or so.

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To Put It All Together:
Now I followed the instructions up to this point to the letter, and ended up with a slippy-slide-y cake that ended up looking a bit like a giant pile of poop.  When I put my cake layers together, they kept sliding off on the caramel and the weight of the cake pushed all the lovely caramel goo out of its insides and it was altogether rather a disaster.  So I recommend cooling your ganache and your caramel slightly before you do this, just so they’re slightly colder than room temperature and a little easier to handle.

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Slice the tops off your cakes to make them level and place one on your cake plate.

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If you are concerned about making a mess with your icing (though considering how goopy mine was it didn’t matter anyway) you can place four strips of parchment paper on your cake plate under the cake to catch the excess, and then pull them away later, leaving a nice clean plate.

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Take about 1/4 cup of the caramel and spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing it to soak into the cake a bit (which will only happen if your cake or your caramel is warm, and will just make everything quite slippery).

Sweet & Salty Cake

Layer on top of that about 1 cup of the caramel ganache (also, at room temperature, incredibly slippery).

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Add another layer of cake.  See what I mean about gravity really being annoying here?

Sweet & Salty Cake

Repeat your caramel and ganache steps and top with your final cake layer.  This is where I tried to remove some of the excess and failed.

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Use the remaining ganache (easy to do if it’s cold, if it’s room temperature you’ll use wayyy less) to cover the surface of the cake.  At this point the whole thing started to slide slowly and rather unnervingly to one side.  It was like watching a mudslide in slow motion.  There was much yelling.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Sprinkle the top with fleur de sel and chill for an hour or so before serving, to set the ganache.

Sweet & Salty Cake
At least it tasted good.
Sweet & Salty Cake