Oatmeal Carmelitas

FullSizeRenderOats and caramel and chocolate—oh my! This recipe was entered in the Pillsbury Bake-Off by Minnesotan Erlyce Larson in 1967, and won hands down. One bite of these gooey taste treats, and you’ll agree whole-heartedly with the judges decision. My friend Lois brought these to a gathering at our house, and they were the hit of the dessert table. (I consumed more than my fair share, so that’s why there are so few left on the plate in the photo. Sadly, this image doesn’t do them justice.) My mother makes a similar Caramel Candy Bar (posted a few weeks ago). Mom’s recipe is to die for, but her recipe requires laboriously unwrapping dozens of caramel candies to make the luscious middle layer, while this recipe uses a short-cut—a jar of caramel ice cream topping. Next time you’re planning a party, invite Lois. And ask her to bring these heavenly bars. Mmmmmm.

Crust

2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups margarine or butter, softened

Filling

1 (12.5 ounce) jar (1 cup) caramel ice cream topping
3 tablespoons all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 13″ x 9″ pan. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.

Squirrel Bars

IMG_0896Don’t worry—no squirrels were harmed in making these scrumptious chocolate and pecan bars. Originally called “Chocolate Nut Toffee Bars,” this recipe came from a magazine insert promoting Eagle® Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk and Hershey’s products. And of course there’s a story behind our re-naming… The first time I made these, I set them out on our porch to cool. When I went out to get the bars an hour later, all the nuts had been stealthily removed, and there were tiny little claw marks marring the top chocolate layer. It looked like a miniature version of Wolverine had attacked the pan. Henceforth, the bars have been called “Squirrel Bars” at our house. We have often wondered if some poor little squirrel needed a few cavities filled after digging into our treats…

The bottom layer is similar to shortbread, only cocoa powder has been added to give the crust a chocolate twist. As simmered sweetened condensed milk makes up the middle layer, and just chocolate chips and nuts top them off, they whip up rather quickly. The hardest thing about this recipe is waiting for them to cool so you can eat them. But if you happen to be a squirrel, no need to wait. Feel free to dive right in.

Makes 24-36 bars

1 cup butter, softened (divided)
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
1 (14-ounce) can Eagle® Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (NOT evaporated milk)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips*
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the softened butter for use later. In large mixer bowl, beat remaining butter and sugar until fluffy. Add flour and cocoa, mix well. With floured hands, press cocoa mixture into bottom of prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in medium sauce pan, combine reserved butter and sweetened condensed milk. Cook on medium to low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Pour over baked crust. Bake 10 minutes longer, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately top with chocolate chips. Let stand 1 minutes, then smooth out melted chips with back of large spoon while still warm. Top with nuts. Cool. Cut into bars. Store covered at room temperature.

*I’m a fan of Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips myself, but I have to be true to the originators of the recipe here.

Caramel Candy Bars

IMG_0884Some foods are good because of the warm memories attached to them as much as the ingredients. These gooey caramel and chocolate bars fall into that category. My mother always made these for trips to my cousin Dale’s lake property, and my sisters and I couldn’t wait to get to Swan Lake—of course we were pumped to go water skiing, but digging into these decadent bars was a top priority, too. Mom would make a couple batches, cut and stack them in a Folger’s coffee can with wax paper between each layer, and stash ’em in the freezer. (Unlike most baked goods, these suffer no ill-consequences from being frozen!) Once these were pulled from their secret hiding place, the frozen squares would thaw in about 15 minutes, and were the consistency of a chewy candy bar. With mouths full of chocolate-caramel goodness, we could forget about itching our mosquito bites for a while. (And how deathly afraid we were to go to the latrine alone.)

A couple nights ago, we took a trip down memory lane when my Mom brought over a pan of bars. They were even better than I remembered—partly because this time we weren’t covered in mosquito bites, and dreading trips through the dark woods to the outhouse.

These are very similar to the Pillsbury Bake-off Carmelita Oat Bars (to be posted later), except this recipe uses caramel candies, more butter, and has double the amount of chocolate chips and nuts. More butter, chocolate, and nuts? Can’t go wrong there.

Makes 45-48 bars

Crust

2 cups All-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups margarine or butter, softened

Filling

64 Kraft caramels, unwrapped*
1/2 cup half and half, or milk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease large baking sheet (10″ x 15″). In large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and butter; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine caramels and milk in glass bowl or large glass measuring cup, and heat on high in microwave for about 3 minutes, or until mixture can be stirred smooth.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with melted caramels; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes to 1 hour, then cut into bars. Store bars in airtight container with wax paper between layers. They can be left at room temp once completely cooled, or frozen to be served at a later time.

*This is a bit of a chore. If unwrapping these candies is too tedious for you, call my Dad. He has the patience of a saint and happily performs the task, knowing the end result will be some sinfully delicious treats.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_0760When you need a chocolate fix bad, these double-chocolate cookies will definitely do the trick. I got this recipe years ago from a B&B that placed one warm, delicious cookie on the pillow of each guest in their rooms. (Don’t recall the name of the inn…) Our cookies never make it past the kitchen, as they get gobbled up lickety split. At first glance these look just like the Devil’s Delight Chocolate Cookie recipe I posted for Cinco de Mayo, but those have heat and spice, and these are just gooey goodness. They’re also a little easier to throw together than the Devil’s Delight.

This is another recipe to make when you only have one egg in the frig—but you still have cocoa, chocolate chips, and nuts, that is. You can certainly use Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder, but I prefer the Dutch process cocoa from Penzy’s, which is processed for a “milder, smoother flavor” (quote from their website). You can also get this cocoa through King Arthur’s Flour, or at higher-end grocery stores. Now, unless you’ve got the princess-and-the-pea living with you, your cookie devourees may not notice the difference between the two right away. But I do find the Dutch process cocoa makes rich, smooth baked goods. It’s especially awesome in chocolate buttercream frosting, but that’s for another blog post…

Makes 2 dozen

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/12 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans*
1 cup Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine cocoa, milk, and vanilla in a measuring cup, and stir. (It will take a bit for the cocoa powder to break down the surface tension** in the milk and actually allow you to combine the powder and liquid. Stir, let it sit, then come back to it and stir again until you have a dark paste. Use the back of the spoon to press the powder to edge of cup.) Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, cream butter. Add granulated sugar and cream again. Add brown sugar and continue to cream ingredients. Add egg and cream once more. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add to creamed butter and sugar mixture until combined. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips by hand. Drop by tablespoons onto baking sheet and press down slightly on top of dough so cookies bake up flat instead of in mounds. Bake for 12-13 minutes, or just until cookies are no longer glossy in center.

*NOTE: To make these extra delicious, toast the chopped pecans in the preheated oven for 5-10 minutes. Let cool to room temp before adding to dough, or they will melt the butter and make the batter runny.

**My father, the chemist, happened to answer several of our youthful queries with “it’s the surface tension.” This happened so often that we assumed every question we asked could be explained away by “surface tension,” and it became a running family joke.

Devil’s Delight Chocolate Cookies

Devil's Delight Cookies IMG_0650A fun surprise for Cinco de Mayo—or any time you’re feeling a little adventurous—chocolate cookies with a little heat! The Vosges Red Fire chocolate bar doesn’t seem to be sold at the upscale grocery stores that used to carry it (like Kowalski’s, or Lunds and Byerly’s). If you can’t find the rather spendy Vosges bar ($10!), try the Lindt Excellence Dark Chili bar instead. I’ve used the Lindt bar several times. It’s a third of the price of the Vosges bar, and it tastes the same once baked in the cookies. I’ve also found the chili chocolate bar isn’t completely necessary to the success of the cookies. Lindt bar IMG_0657With the cocoa powder and cayenne, you get the sweet-heat combo anyway. If you’ve not tried Mexican vanilla, it’s clear, not amber in color, and has a woodsy or nutty flavor. It isn’t essential if you can’t find it, but it adds an interesting subtle twist.

I heard about these from a friend who found the recipe in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Michelle Clark of St. Paul, Minnesota entered it in a contest sponsored by the paper, and won. (A similar recipe is sometimes called Spicy Mexican Chocolate Cookies by others posting it online.) If the thought of a sweet-and-spicy mix scares you, don’t be afraid! I’m a total wimp about heat in my food, and I love these sweet treats. In fact, my sons tease that I might say, “Oooh boy, that mayonnaise sure has some KICK!” Just for the record, I have never said that.

Makes 2 dozen cookies

10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup flour
3 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile or cayenne pepper powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons Mexican vanilla extract (or regular vanilla)
1 (3.3 ounce) Vosges Red Fire chocolate bar, or 1 (3.5 ounce) Lindt Excellence Dark Chili bar, chopped
1/2 cup (3 ounce) cinnamon chips, such as Hershey Cinnamon Chips

For dusting:

4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon chipotle chile powder or cayenne

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Optional: line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a double boiler over simmering water OR in glass measuring cup in microwave (on high 2 minutes), melt bittersweet chocolate until smooth. Remove from heat and cool melted chocolate for 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, cayenne powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until crumbly.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until mixture is pale, light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add lukewarm melted chocolate and vanilla, and beat until just combined. Fold in flour mixture, then fold in chopped chocolate bar and cinnamon chips. In a small bowl, stir together sugar, cinnamon, and chili pepper or cayenne.

Drop batter by tablespoon onto baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Sprinkle a pinch of dusting mixture over each cookie and bake 15-17 minutes, or until tops are evenly cracked but cookies are not yet firm to the touch. Remove from oven and cool cookies completely on baking sheets. Store in airtight container.