Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fun with Condensed Milk: Easy Microwave Caramels & Easy Microwave Fudge

I was going to tell you all about the thing for which I am (relatively) (mildly) famous. There were going to be pictures and everything, and I had several pithy comments planned. Then I started eating caramels, and all my plans fell to the wayside.
Not the thing for which I am famous.
First I was eating caramels.
Then I was eating fudge.
Then caramels.
Then fudge.
Then caramels and fudge smashed together, which seems like it would be a Taste Sensation™, but was actually rather disappointing as the chocolate flavor completely took over. I know it appears obvious in retrospect, but I had to try. If I hadn't, you all would have been asking me why not.

So tonight was Fun with Condensed Milk night, and I'm going to share the recipes with you, because they're soooooooo easy, and sooooooooo good, and if you make these then everyone will think you are a Candy Wizard, even after your previous attempts looked like they belonged on the Island of Misfit Baked Goods

This is likely to be a long post since we're making 2 recipes; we're doing two recipes because each recipe uses half a can of condensed milk, and each recipe is very fast and small, (like a sugary Feegle!) so you may as well make both. Furthermore, please be advised, be very advised, that I am nowhere near clever enough to think of these things on my own. You can thank Averie Sunshine for both.

This is what you'll need:
1) a can of sweetened condensed milk
2) a stick of butter
3) white sugar & brown sugar
4) corn syrup
5) vanilla
6) chocolate chips or semi-sweet baking chocolate
7) peanut butter
8) a microwave, a big ol' bowl, and a functional water facet

See? Very easy. I'd be willing to bet that if you do any type of cooking on a regular basis, you already have most (if not all) of these ingredients. (Side note: First I typed "I'd be willing to bed". I think my fingers want a nap. There should be a law against getting up at 6am to work overtime on your day off.)

First up, the caramels. This stuff is going to get really hot, so you might want to lay out all your ingredients ahead of time, and have your oven mitts & trivet ready.

1/2 can of sweetened condensed milk (15oz can)
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter (salted is better than unsalted)
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar (dark brown gives the caramel color we're more used to)
1/2 cup of light corn syrup (light as in color, not calories)
1/2 tablespoon of vanilla

1) Line an 8x8 square pan with aluminum foil & spray with PAM*. Make sure you cover everything completely with the spray, because this stuff is going to stick.
2) Get out a large microwave safe bowl (I have a huge stoneware mixing bowl which was perfect for the job & just barely fit in the nuker) and melt your butter in 30 second increments in the microwave. It was about a minute and a half with my butter.
3) Add in everything except the vanilla and stir until well mixed.
4) Microwave for 3 and a half minutes (3:30).
5) Remove from the microwave using your oven mitts (hint: the bottom of the bowl will be the hottest part) and scrape down the sides completely with a rubber spatula. You want to be absolutely sure that you don't leave sugar crystals sitting up unmixed. Stir it well with your spatula or wooden spoon or magic wand of wonder, whatever your preferred mixing implement may be.
6) Return to the microwave for another 3 and a half minutes (3:30). Warning: will get very bubbly & boiley; this is why you're using a large bowl.
7) Carefully remove from the microwave & set it down on your trivet. Or wooden cutting board. You know, whatever you use so you don't wreck your countertops. Slowly & carefully add in the vanilla. This will make the mixture bubble & froth like the swamps of Dagobah so really guys, be careful not to get any of this stuff on you, it will burn you at this stage.
8) Make sure the vanilla's mixed in, and then pour it into your prepared 8x8 pan and put it in the fridge for a few hours.
9) Proceed to lick the stirring spoon/spatula/magic wand of wonder.
10) Allow the mixing bowl to cool. Lick the mixing bowl too. Man, I love caramel.

Now, the peanut butter fudge.

1/2 can of sweetened condensed milk (15oz can)
1 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, or 6 blocks of semi-sweet baking chocolate (chopped)
1/4 cup of peanut butter
1/2 tablespoon of water
1/2 tablespoon of vanilla

1) Line a small baking dish with aluminum foil.  I ended up using a 6x2 glass Snapware container and it was perfect. An 8x8 is too large.
2) Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl. You can use the same one from the caramels if you like. That's what I did.
3) Microwave for 30 seconds, then remove and stir. Continue doing this in 30 second, remove-and-stir increments until the mix is completely smooth with no lumps. (Took 2 minutes total for me.)
4) Pour into your wee little dish/container and put it in the fridge for at least a half hour before cutting into it.
5) Lick the mixing bowl & spoon again. A good friend once told me that mixing bowl calories don't count, and life tastes good when the mixing bowl calories don't count.

A few tips:
Handy Dandy Cake Lifter
  • Lay out a sheet of waxed paper on your counter, pick up the candy "bar" by the aluminum foil and flip it down into the waxed paper. You can then peel off the foil at your leisure. Hope you sprayed the caramel's foil well!
  • The best way by far to cut these is with a bench scraper, cake lifter, metal spatula, or some other wide straight edge that you can get a good grip on. You don't need an actual knife, and in my opinion, something that can make one straight line across is just easier than trying to draw straight lines yourself.
  • You might want to cut the caramel first, and then the fudge. 'Cause, you know, your cutter & your wax paper will get all chocolatey and then the chocolatey will get onto the caramels. Do the caramels first, and then you can just reuse the same stuff for the fudge.
  • Don't leave the caramels sitting out on the counter. They get a bit melty & soft and will start to stick to everything. Leave them in the fridge. You can also wrap up and freeze leftovers. Both candies 'keep' very well in the freezer for months.
So, honestly, I'm not quite sure which is my favorite here. I mean, I'm all about caramel anything, so I eat that and oh yeah, that's my favorite, definitely. Then I pop a fudge bite in my mouth and no, wait, that's my favorite, mm hmmm. I can't decide. What do you think?

*I always capitalize "PAM" because that's how it's written on the spray can. BAM! PAM!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chocolate Cupcake Balls

When Hostess announced its bankruptcy there was a huge breakout of wailing and gnashing of teeth on the ol' Facey-books. I found it rather silly, because most people my age (and older) rarely even bought Hostess products. All those HFCSs and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils... *shudder*  Especially 'cause--I mean--c'mon guys, you're reading this blog, you know the joy of making your own treats with your own high-quality ingredients!

I have always held a fondness for Devil Dogs, however.  Something about that dense, almost dry cake combined with the light fluffy creme in the middle; it was the combination of textures that really did it, even more than the flavors themselves. I've been bound and determined to try to make 'em myself one day.

And this... well actually this was a great big fail. First I used the wrong chocolate cake recipe, and then the stupid cake layers refused to come out of the pans; they crashed & burned like Axl Rose backstage after a reunion tour concert, but with less wheezing.

And yet if 1980's television taught us anything, it's that you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.
The facts of life.
There's a time you've got to go and show you're growing now you know about how to salvage a baking semi-disaster.  Thanks to Bakerella what we're doing here is salvaging.

Chocolate melts in a bowl, on a candle warmer
I'm going to start you all with a basic chocolate cake recipe. It's very sweet and moist, and it's not something you get out of a box. Y'all know I  don't rock those. It's something you get out of Southern Living's Big Book of Cupcakes, which is highly recommended by the way. So first you make unsweetened hot chocolate by mixing cocoa powder with boiling hot water. Then you cream your butter & sugar until it looks like mashed potatoes. Then you're gonna turn it into eggy mashed potatoes. Next whisk your dries together, then alternate beating your dries & your hot chocolate into your sugar butter. Then bake.  If you don't want to go through all this trouble, go ahead and make a boxed mix.

Then you make your filling, which is related to a standard buttercream frosting and, just like standard buttercream frosting, really easy to make. Honestly, you should always make your own vanilla or chocolate frosting, because it's so easy and there's no partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil or sodium acid pyrophosphate.  In this case we're mixing it with marshmallow fluff, which has the added bonus of turning into fluffernutter sammiches when you're done.

Then you smush your cake into pieces, then you smush like 2 cups of frosting into your cake, then you roll up the smushed mess into balls and put it on a baking sheet lined with wax paper in the freezer for about a half hour. Then (no we're not done yet) then you put your filling into a piping bag with a small tip, then you poke the tip into your balls (heh) and pipe a little dot of filling in, then you put them back in the freezer for about another 15 minutes. Then melt your chocolate melts, and dip. Then you cover them with sprinkles because really, we've gone this far, you may as well. I mean, at this point, I was covered with chocolate and pretty pooped, why not sprinkles?


1 cup unsweetened cocoa (the powder kind), preferably dark or Dutch process
2 cups boiling water
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temp
2 cups sugar
See how good this cake looks? It's totally faking it.
4 eggs, room temp
2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 stick of butter butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cups marshmallow fluff
1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream

Candy melts, candy bark, chocolate melts. These are preferable to chocolate chips, since they were made to melt and then harden almost immediately, whereas chocolate chips won't really harden for you. 

-The cake
1) Grease & flour your two round cake pans & put them in the fridge.*
2) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
3) In a medium sized bowl, combine 2 cups of very hot water with the cocoa powder, stirring until blended. Put this in the fridge or freezer (preferably the freezer) to cool.
4) Beat the butter with a mixer until creamy, then add sugar and keep on beating it until it looks like mashed potatoes.
5) Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.
6) In a separate bowl, combine remaining dry cake ingredients. Use a whisk or a fork to fluff them together.
7) Slowly add your "dries" into your sugar/butter mix, alternating with cooled-off-hot-cocoa that you pulled out of your freezer. A little flour, a little cocoa, a little flour, a little cocoa. Keep blending on low the whole time.
8) Now take your cake pans out of the refrigerator and load them up.
9) Bake at 350 for approximately 25-30 minutes. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out moistened or with a couple crumbs, but not brown with chocolate batter.

-The filling
10) Using a mixer, beat together the butter, powdered sugar, and marshmallow fluff.
11) Slowly mix in the heavy whipping cream and keep mixing until you get a light & fluffy consistency. I was making a double recipe, and ended up using about a third of the pint of cream.
12)  After you have made your cake balls, but before you dip them, fit a pastry bag with a small nozzle, insert into each ball, and pipe a lil filling into them. Helps if the balls are rather on the large size, and rather on the cold side. Also, hold them firmly in your hand so they don't break apart in a shower of marshmallow frosting.  Yup, I just said all of that. Go ahead and snicker, we'll wait. And if you don't feel like filling them, they're still yummy.

Now, I'm not going to tell you how to make the cake balls. Frankly, it seems insulting to Bakerella. This is all she does, and she does it so well, and she's famous for it.... I don't know, I just can't steal her thunder. Especially since her desserts are SO beautifully made, and mine belong on the Island of Misfit Baked Goods. So here's the link to the actual crumbling & dipping & decorating part.

Mine still taste good, mind you. Makes a nice little treat to bring to the in-laws.

 *Pro-tip: This is where I failed. Generously grease & flour the pans & leave them in the fridge until you're ready to load them with cake batter.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Easy Peasy Banana Oatmeal Cookies

 Can I just say, I love my apron collection.   They're like grown-folks bibs. I wear one while I'm eating dinner if I'm absolutely positive that I'm going to spill dinner on myself. Which is most nights. I have seen food roll uphill up a perfectly still fork just to fall down on my lap.

No, really, my food has a life of its own. I made a turkey burger for lunch one day, put the plate on my desk, and walked away to get a drink. I was about 2 feet away when I saw the turkey burger take the long jump off the plate and onto the carpet. Naturally it was the part of the carpet where the long-haired cat likes to hide because it's way back in the corner behind the computers and very difficult to vacuum.

So aprons are cool when your food just wants to end all its troubles. And cookies are cool when you have bananas that are about to turn, but don't feel like going to all the trouble of making banana bread. (I am famous for my segues.)

An old friend posted a recipe by The Burlap Bag, and I'm posting it now for you. It's very difficult. Oh, so so difficult. No, I'm lying. That's why this is a mini-post. (Mini-posts mean I'm lying? No, mini-posts mean it's easy.)

3 bananas
1 1/2 cup of quick oats (regular oats may be undercooked)
Pinch of salt
Recommended: butter, vanilla, cinnamon, walnuts, raisins, peanut butter, chocolate chips if you don't have a chocolate-hating husband

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Mash up your bananas in a medium bowl.
3) Mush in the oatmeal & a pinch of salt.
4) Mush in whatever else you want. I went with a splash of vanilla and a swoosh of cinnamon, and about 1/ 3 cup of walnuts.
5) Drop onto your parchment-paper'd cookie sheet. (I fit 15 cookies onto one sheet.)
6) Bake for 15 to 17 minutes.
7) (Recommended but optional) Immediately upon removing from the oven, spray cookies with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray. Or pat some butter on top. They need some buttery flavor.

So there you go!  Easy peasy, and so healthy for you that you can't even feel bad about it. I mean, you eat 5 cookies and you've just had a banana and 2/3c of oatmeal. Oh no. How terrible. It's like breakfast finger foods but without the bacon grease. (Oooh, someone put bacon in this and tell us if it works.)

I call this Banana Oatmeal Cookie in Morning Sun

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Nutella PB&J Bars

I know it’s been a long time, and I do apologize for that. First it was Christmas; have you ever noticed how at the end of the year suddenly your job is all “oh snap, we’ve got to finish everything by the end of the year, everyone work overtime!” and you’re like “but I have to make pie!”  Yeah. Or cookies. Or linzer tarts, kolaches, whatever, I don’t judge.  So yeah, Christmas happened. And then for New Year my good friend was like “we’re gonna work out and lose weight!” and I was like “nyaaaaah, I don’t waaaant tooooo” but she made me do it anyway and you guys know me. I’m not going to bother baking something if I can’t make it with real butter and brown sugar. I mean, I promised you!

So it’s been a while. However, I’m back, and I have something for you to try, courtesy of Averie Cooks!

But first, here's a video of Waylon Jennings singing "Luckenbach, Texas". It's been stuck in my head for 2 days.


I’m gonna admit something right now that may come as a bit of a shock. Please don’t give up on me. I’m still a good person. It’s just that I… I’ve never really gotten aboard the Nutella train.

It’s just… meh. It’s not bad, certainly. But as my friends say, I wouldn’t kick a baby for it. Not that I’m in the habit of going around kicking babies for foodstuffs. Let’s just say that if some random guy came up to me while I was shopping the Williamsburg Outlet Mall for Naturalizer sandals and said “Hey, if you kick this infant I’ll give you 2 tablespoons of Nutella on one slice of whole grain toast with a piece of fruit and a glass of orange juice, a healthy part of this balanced breakfast” I’d be all “Put that baby away, mister!  I’m having chia seed oatmeal!”

So now I’ve got this jar of Nutella to use up* and it means that I see recipes and I think, hmm, I wonder if I can make that with Nutella. 

Voila. Nutella PB & J Bars.  Doesn’t take a lot of ingredients, but oh man…  Definitely worth the time it takes to put them together. 

To start you melt your “wets” (without the jelly). Then you add in your “dries” and mix it all up. This smush smelled incredible. I couldn’t resist and popped a little teaspoon-sized nugget in my mouth and you know what? You can eat this stuff raw. I just did. It was good. (Cookies? Cookies!) 

Then you mush about 2/3 into a pan, spread out a layer of jelly, and then crumble up and sprinkle the rest on top like streusel. I had a LOT to put on the top because I only measured about half instead of 2/3 to 3/4, so I panicked about the top layer being too thick and dotted on more jelly. Then just for funzies I slowly nuked a jar of peanut butter until it was runny and splattered that on top. Then just for more funzies I sprinkled on a small handful of Heath toffee bits because reasons that’s why.

I’ll give you the recipe because I love you so, but first a couple tips:
  1. Line your baking dish with parchment paper so you can just pull the whole thing out to cut after it’s cooled.
  2. Spray your measuring cup with PAM before filling it with Nutella, PB, or anything else sticky. It’ll pop right out. 
Okay, here’s the recipe. Love!

8x8 square pan, or another small casserole dish
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup of Nutella
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups of oats (I had quick oats on hand)
12oz jar of jelly/jam/marmalade (this was the smallest jar my grocery store sold)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a large microwave-safe bowl, microwave the butter until it melts. I did mine in 30 second increments, so that I could make sure it didn’t burn.
  3. Add the Nutella and microwave again another 60 seconds or so. Should stir into a runny liquid.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients except your jam, and mix it up. This will be a dry, crumby mixture. Try not to eat too much of this now. It’s ok to taste test it though. All the best cooks taste test their food.
  5. Press 2/3 to 3/4 of the mix into an 8x8 pan. You’re making a base here, make it nice and firm.
  6. Spread out your layer of jelly, being careful not to pull up the base too much. Pull out a little bit of jelly at a time and spread it in a small area before moving on. You’ll use most of the small jar.
  7. Crumble the remaining dry mess in your hands like streusel topping—just a little bit of pressure so you have light crumbles—and scatter it on top.
  8. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. If you’re lucky, some of the jelly will be peeking out from the side and you can see it bubbling. If that doesn’t work, go by the smell test.**
  9.  Let cool completely before cutting in. Listen people, boiling strawberry jelly can cause some serious burns; you don’t want to mess around with that. I put my pan in the fridge overnight.

So, to close… It’s delicious. It’s very sweet. You want some. And a glass of milk. ‘Cause that’s how we roll.

*No babies were harmed in the procuring of this jar.
**Most baked goods are done baking after you smell it in the house. You know how when you bake a pie, the whole house will suddenly smell like pie? Or cookies; you’ll be sitting on your couch wondering when your cookies will be done when BAM, your nose is punched by the scent of cinnamon & nutmeg. And then just as suddenly the smell will fade, and that’s when your little bakey friend of happiness is done cooking. So when you smell it, it’s almost there. And when you stop smelling it, it’s done.