Category: caramel

Whiskey (or bourbon) caramel & a Guinness ice cream float.

Shamrocks on the windowsill.

God bless shamrocks that signal it’s spring. God bless Guinness. God bless whiskey. And… God bless the Irish.

I don’t believe in (a) God, per se. I’m more of an Agnostic myself. But if I did I’d ask him to bless the Irish- the people who make the best whiskey, make (some of) the best beer, have the best sense of humor, & who know how to have a good time. I mean… GUINNESS, PEOPLE. GUINNESS.

Oh what the hell. Hey, universe: bless the Irish.

And bless me, because I made this:

Guinness ice cream floats with vanilla ice cream & whiskey caramel.

Oh, what’s that, you ask? That’s just a Guinness ice cream float.

Just like it says. Yup. Oh and it’s topped with whiskey caramel. Mmm hmm. Yes. Ohhhh yes.

Guinness floats with whiskey caramel.

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This is me NOT screwing up caramel apple jam.

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If I do something, and I screw it up, it bothers me FOREVER. I’m one of those mildly-OCD perfectionist people. I can tell a drawing won’t go well if the first line doesn’t come out right, so I toss the entire sheet of paper (environmentalists avert thine eyes). If I throw on a random outfit & something about it isn’t working for me, I don’t care if all I’m doing is going to the fruit market… my entire day will be messed up. If I screw up a recipe- whether or not it still tastes good, I go over & over in my mind what I did wrong until I make it again & redeem myself.

I sound nuts, right?

Anyway. Moving on. Look- it’s ice cream.

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Last fall I made caramel apple syrup. It was supposed to be caramel apple jam, but it was kind of a fail in that aspect. Not a massive fail, mind you, because what resulted was a beautifully delicious concoction my father nicknamed “apple pie in a jar.” He ate it right out of the jar, as a matter of fact. Devoured it. It was a much beloved creation, mistake or not. But it still sort of bothered me. It was so stupid to me that I screwed up such a simple jam, especially because it was something so dumb like forgetting to add the pectin… that I wanted to try it again this fall. Because not only was what I made not jam but it no longer existed anyway. The jars were long gone; eaten, emptied, washed out & re-filled with who-knows-what. All that remained were the memories, and questions like “When are you making that apple syrup stuff again?” And I was debating it, actually, since it was such a hit.

Then I found this recipe. ERMAHGERDS.

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How was I supposed to turn away from that!? It’s apple season! There are apples everywhere I look. I’m bombarded with apples every day; on Pinterest, on blogs, in the supermarket, at the Farmer’s Market, at the fruit market… they’re just all over the place. I got momentarily distracted from my Halloween bacchanalia for apples, and when I went to the farm to pick pumpkins & get apple cider donuts, it just boosted my apple-ness even further. And so of course, I thought this jam sounded especially glorious. And the best part? No pectin! So I wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting to add it again.

The other jam I attempted was yummy, even if it ended up as syrup. But this one is different. The vanilla bean & rum elevate this to a whole ‘nother level. It’s not like your average jam. It’s like a dessert in and of itself.

CARAMEL APPLE JAM WITH VANILLA BEAN & RUM (halved & adapted very minimally from Hitchhiking to Heaven)

Makes about 2-3 half-pint (8 oz.) jars, maybe with some overflow

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups unsweetened homemade applesauce (store bought is okay, just get the highest quality organic one you can, making sure it’s unsweetened)
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (I used a little Himalayan pink)
  • 3 teaspoons dark rum (*optional)

Directions:

  1. If you don’t have applesauce on hand, make your sauce. Start by coring and slicing the apples; about 1 1/2 maybe 2 lbs of them- (don’t peel ‘em) and cooking them over low heat until they’re soft. I usually add about 1/2 cup of water to the pot so they don’t stick or burn. Cover the pot while the apples are cooking; they should be ready in about 20 minutes. Put the cooked apples through a food mill (use the medium screen if you have a choice) and, voilà, sauce!
  2. Prepare your jars and lids. Set them aside.
  3. In a clean, dry large saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar, the water, and the lemon juice. Pour the sugar into the pan evenly, rather than as a big lump to one side or something like that, because you don’t get to stir or shake the pan for the next step, which is caramelizing the sugar.
  4. Without disturbing the contents of the pan, bring the syrup to a boil and let it boil gently — adjusting the heat as needed — until it turns golden brown. Watch the mixture carefully and take it off the heat before it turns darker than you’d like. Mine was a nice light-brown color and smelled caramel-y.
  5. While the sugar is caramelizing, add the additional 3/4 cup sugar and the sea salt into a small bowl. Split your vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds from the bean into the sugar and salt. Combine well, then add the pod into the sugar, too. Set aside.
  6. When the caramel is ready, slowly add the applesauce and the rest of the sugar, vanilla bean and all, off the heat. Be careful- it WILL splatter! Turn the heat back up to medium-low and stir the mixture until the sugar and caramel completely dissolve. Then bring the jam to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, for 8-10 minutes. This is the part where you need to monitor the temperature — reducing it if necessary — and stir the jam steadily enough to keep it from attacking you. You will know the jam is done when it thickens up and your stirring spoon very briefly leaves a clear track at the bottom of the pan.
  7. Remove the jam from the heat, discard the vanilla bean, and stir in the rum. Ladle or pour the hot jam into your sterilized jars. Wipe the rims clean and add the lids. Process 10 minutes in a hot water-bath canner. Remove from canner, let cool and check seals after 12 hours. Any jars that aren’t sealed, pop in the fridge & use immediately.

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And this time it actually came out like jam, not syrup! Wonder of wonders, glory of glories. Hallelujah & all that jazz. It came out absolutely perfect.

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I know. Pancakes, ice cream, waffles, oat bran muffins, English muffins and yogurt will never be the same. Neither will oatmeal. I don’t even like oatmeal, but a little of this would upgrade that ish to something way more special. It even works with ham & pork chops (or so I’ve been told, I don’t eat pork chops); both as a glaze melted on top while cooking, or just on the side. It’s good on toast, too, but that seems so banal for a jam like this. This kind of a jam begs for something exciting; like fresh buttermilk pancakes. Or a golden vanilla pound cake. Or… over a homemade vanilla bean ice cream, like I did. Ohh, Rodelle vanilla beans, how I love thee.

HOMEMADE VANILLA BEAN ICE CREAM (courtesy of Epicurious)

Ingredients:

  • 2 vanilla beans
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs

Directions:

  1. With a knife halve vanilla beans lengthwise. Scrape seeds into a large heavy saucepan and stir in pods, cream, milk, and sugar. Bring mixture just to a boil, stirring occasionally, and remove pan from heat.
  2. In a large bowl lightly beat eggs. Add hot cream mixture to eggs in a slow stream, whisking, and pour into pan. Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until a thermometer registers 170°F. (Do not let boil.) Pour custard through a sieve into a clean bowl and cool. Chill custard, its surface covered with wax paper, at least 3 hours, or until cold, and up to 1 day.
  3. Freeze custard in an ice-cream maker, in 2 batches if necessary. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden. Ice cream may be made 1 week ahead.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, try this recipe for the ice cream. It takes a bit longer, but I’ve always had good results! I love me my KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment, though.

And as far as the jam goes… you can also eat it right out of the jar. Which I’m not supporting of course… *ahem*

¡Viva los Alfajores!

Well Happy New Year, everyone. It’s 2012, we’re all another year older & the winter has officially dug in its heels. Its quite cold & blustery & the wind whistles like a Dickens’ inspired movie. So yeah- I’d say it’s wintertime. Apparently, it’s not going anywhere until the spring, so we just have to deal. Life should be enjoyed, as much as possible, despite (and maybe even because of) the miserably cold weather. And what better way to enjoy life than with cookies? This is another cookie recipe from The Cookiepedia by Stacy Adimando. Remember that book? I did a giveaway for it back in November. Pretty much as soon as I got it, I knew there would be four recipes I’d have to make immediately: the frosted maple pecan cookies (made those babies already), the pistachio cookies (still on the list), the pignoli cookies (I keep forgetting to buy almond paste so these are still on the list) and of course, the alfajores with dulce de leche. And those, my friends, are what this post is about.

I admit, I had no freakin’ idea what the hell an ‘alfajor’ was before this. But I’m not one to turn down making a delicious looking cookie. I don’t know how anyone could deny a cookie, let alone a shortbread-like cookie, let alone a shortbread-like cookie made into a sandwich with dulce de leche filling.

While they have origins in Moorish Spain, alfajores are especially popular in South America. They are simple shortbread sandwich cookies with a sweet filling of dulce de leche. Different doughs are used for the cookies depending on the country. Some use normal flour dough, while others add cornstarch or even cassava flour for a more delicate crumb.

- courtesy of whats4eats.com

Literally translated, dulce de leche means “sweet from milk”. It is prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a product that derives its taste from caramelised sugar. It is a popular sweet in Latin America, where it is known under a variety of names. In Chile, Ecuador and Panama it is known as manjar. In Peru, Colombia and Venezuela it is referred to as manjar blanco or arequipe, depending on regional variations. In Mexico and Nicaragua is is commonly called cajeta. It is also found in Brazil, known by its Portuguese name doce de leite.

A French version, known as confiture de lait, is very similar to the spreadable forms of dulce de leche. A Norwegian version, Hamar-pålegg (“Hamar spread”), better known as HaPå, is a relatively thick and not so sweet commercial variant.

- Wikipedia

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Shortbread & caramel sandwiches. That’s basically what I said: “What the what?!” Insane. Insane goodness. They really are. And very easy to put together, especially since you can use store-bought dulce de leche with absolutely no problem. I however, used a clever little method that’s a personal favorite of mine to make a caramel-like filling using a boiled can of condensed milk. Mmm. This particular cookie recipe uses flour & cornstarch to create the perfect soft crumbly-ness that goes excellently with the thick caramel heavenly-ness in between it.

ALFAJORES WITH DULCE DE LECHE (from The Cookiepedia)

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • powdered sugar, for dusting
  • Dulce de leche, for filling

Directions:

  1. Cream the butter & sugar together for a minute or two, until they look light & fluffy.
  2. In the meantime, sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder & salt in a bowl & set aside.
  3. Add the egg & egg yolk one at a time to the butter mixture, mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix briefly. Add the flour mixture & mix until the dough just starts to come together.
  4. Working quickly, turn out the dough and use a little heat from your hands to make it a solid ball. Pull out a large piece of plastic wrap, then flatten the dough on top of it to make a disk. Double wrap it and refrigerate for 1 hour until firm.
  5. Preheat oven to 325° F. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpats®. Roll out the dough to ¼”-inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Rotate the dough between rolls to make sure it’s not sticking. Using a 2-inch fluted or round cutter, cut out cookies & carefully place them on the cookie sheets, placing them about 1 inch apart.
  6. Chill the sheets again for 15 to 20 minutes, until the dough is once again very firm. Then bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the tops of the cookies have just firmed & the bottoms are just starting to color slightly. Cool on wire racks before assembling the sandwiches.
  7. Drop, pipe, or spread a teaspoon of dulce de leche into the center of each cookie, then top with another. Sift powdered sugar over the assembled sandwiches.

These are perfect winter cookies. Filling, and sweet but not too sweet. Comforting. And like I said… easy. I know this time of year everyone is sort of taking a deep breath after the craziness of the holidays have ended. But these are definitely worth the little effort they require. Plus, who doesn’t like an excuse to have the oven on this time of year?

Okay so, on to the dulce de leche. The author recommends using an artisanal or high-end brand, herself. Like I said, I used a caramel-like substance made from boiling a can of condensed milk & it was amazing. Not everyone is as ballsy as I am, and that can be a dangerous method. So naturally use whatever your comfortable with, and whatever brand you like. Of course, you can also make your own dulce de leche (she gives a recipe- but you’ll have to buy the book for that one!). Let me also state that they’d work amazingly well with a jam or chocolate filling, as well as a chocolate coating.

And of course, the packaging has to match the spectacular nature of what it holds, right?

My new favorite way of packaging cookies to give away is in jars. I started doing it with the first cookie recipe I made from this book, and it got such rave reviews I kept doing it. For Christmas, I gave tons of cookies, brownies & pieces of homemade fudge as gifts & most were in either tins or jars like the one above. This time, I dressed up the jar with an authentic vintage Air Mail envelope & some soft twine. I thought the name of the cookies was exotic enough that the envelope would be an appropriate label. These jars can be found in a lot of places, especially in plastic… the glass version like mine is a bit more costly usually, however occasionally you can get them for a good price. But you don’t have to just use flip-top jars. Even using quart or pint Ball® jars is an excellent idea- fill it up with cookies, put the lid on, cover the lid in a square of pretty fabric (or cupcake liner!), screw the band on, then tie on a label with some string or some ribbon & you’re good to go. They’re also great for giving chocolate dipped pretzel sticks or candied citrus peel because those items can be delicate.

So there you have it. Alfajores. Who’da thunk it?

Bedknobs & broomsticks & caramel apples.

I loved the movie Bedknobs & Broomsticks when I was little. I remember watching it on VHS (some of you youngins might not remember such a device) as a wee little girl. Some would say it’s a Mary Poppins rip-off, and I can understand that, but I think it was pretty cute in its own right. Movies & books & stories about witches always intrigued & inspired me; I always had a thing for witches, ever since the first time I went to Salem, Massachusetts as a child. And I’m super crazy insanely excited about the new show on ABC called Once Upon A Time that’s premiering this weekend… supernatural events, modern-day fairy tales & evil queens? I’m totally there! I’m so inspired by all that kinda stuff.

I was also clearly beyond inspired by the Martha Stewart Halloween magazine this year, as evidenced by my post at the beginning of October, and this is another something I took directly from it. Caramel apples with witches & “broomsticks”! They made me think of both that movie & also the Wicked Witch of the West. How cool are they?!

First Martha’s…

And then mine.

I know. Crazy easy & very adorable. But more importantly- easy. It’s just a little more than a few days before Halloween and I know that there are still some people thinking about last minute ideas. Here’s one.

The other day, I told you about my sort of failed but happy accident caramel apple syrup that I messed up making (but ended up with something awesome anyway). That was a more complex recipe, though, by far. This time I promise- there is no way you could EVER mess this up. First of all, caramel apples are so easy a trained monkey could make them. Second, by just adding a little witch cut out from cardstock & a skewer, you make them into a snack worthy of being a centerpiece, instead of just a sticky, boring little old-fashioned treat. Perfect for kids at a Halloween party.

WICKED CANDY APPLES

Ingredients:

  • 6 small apples, stems removed
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup dark corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions:

  1. Thoroughly wash & rinse all apples. Dry and insert sturdy wooden craft stick or skewer in each. Prepare an ice water bath in a fairly large bowl, and line a baking sheet with waxed paper or parchment.
  2. Boil cream, sugar, corn syrup, and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan. Clip candy thermometer to the side of pan and continue to cook until mixture reaches 245 degrees, about 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately place pan in ice water bath to stop the cooking.
  3. Dip the bottom of each apple in the caramel rotating it and using a spoon to coat apple halfway to three-quarters of the way up the sides. Transfer to baking sheet, and refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes (or overnight) before serving.
  4. Print witches out on cardstock. Cut-out, and using a small hole punch, punch holes on either sides of hands. Slide sticks in and poke them into the top of apples, replacing skewers.


The apples I used were little ones called Ginger Gold. I thought they were the perfect size, and I got a ½ peck of them for about 5 bucks. I only made 6 of them into caramel apples, the rest were baked & eaten up in other ways. When pecks or ½ pecks are on sale, if you can’t go & pick your own, take advantage of it. Apples are crazy versatile & you’ll definitely use them up. Ginger Gold’s in particular are excellent for just about any use: snacking (they’re very slow to brown when cut), pie making (they hold their shape when cooked/baked), etc. However they don’t store well… so refrigerate ‘em & use ‘em ASAP.

Other apples that are good for this are Lady apples, or any small-sized apple, really.

I used wooden shish kebob sticks/skewers for mine. You can use whatever you like. Fancy twigs, etc. As far as the caramel goes, I’d personally stick with just caramel, or maybe with a swirl of chocolate. If you want to roll it in chopped walnuts or something that’s up to you- I’d just advise you not to go too crazy. Maybe it’s just me but those candy apples with 5 different kinds of chocolate/caramel/nuts never look appealing to me, just messy. But again, it’s a personal thing. And like I said last time I used a Martha idea, I can’t give you the actual witch template, like I said before it’s only available in the magazine & I don’t want to violate her copyrights. I mean, Martha’s been to prison; I don’t wanna fuck with her. But if you don’t want to buy the magazine, with a little creativity & internet saavy, you can do-it-yourself. The internet is chock full of awesome vintage Halloween clip-art.

So put on Hocus Pocus or Bedknobs & Broomsticks, maybe even watch Once Upon A Time this Sunday night & cast a spell of your own to make some witchy caramel apples.


Have you ever heard the Irish legend of “Carman”, the Celtic witch?

Carman is the Celtic goddess of evil magic. She is a destructive witch who roamed ireland with her three evil sons: Dub (“darkness” in Irish), Dother (“evil”) and Dain (“violence”), destroying anything or anyone in their path. Carman put a blight on Ireland’s crops and terrorized the Irish until the Tuatha De Danann, the “peoples of the goddess Danu,” used their magic to fight and defeat her, and drove her sons across the sea. Just another Irish folklore to worry about while “Trick or Treating” this Halloween.

-source: The Irish Jewelry Company

Caramel apple syrup that wasn’t supposed to be syrup.

A.K.A. a canning cautionary tale.

This post is not particularly Halloween-y, but it is very fall-related (the apples, the caramel, whatever & whatnot, etc). Not exactly horror movie stuff. It also does not contain a recipe, just a link to a recipe. Despite all that though, it does contain an important lesson. It’s also pretty funny, so I suggest you read it all; especially if you want a laugh (at my expense, admittedly).

Okay so, I’m far from perfect. Even though I say I am & act like I am most of the time, I’m aware that in reality I am not. I lack patience, I get frustrated easily if things aren’t going 100% smoothly, I can lose interest if it’s not going quickly enough for me and sometimes, just sometimes… I get distracted by pets/music/television/my iPhone/Jay/my reflection in the microwave/a mug of delicious coffee/shiny objects, etc. I admit this. But how could this sleeping cuteness not distract me, I ask you?

Also, I don’t know everything. I know that. Despite acting as if I am in fact the smartest person alive, I know there are things I don’t know. So yeah, I’m aware I’m not all-knowing and I am not perfect. And you should know that, too. If you’re coming here looking for perfection, or someone who’s all-knowing… keep on clicking, ’cause that person doesn’t blog here. The person who blogs here is a rebellious, at times indifferent, at times rushed, at times ill-prepared person who just so happens to love baking, cooking, canning, preserving, and all things culinary in terms of it being a “hobby”, or much-beloved stress reliever (although I will not deny the fact I’d love my own bakery, I’m aware of the difficulties & realities of it). I am not a chef, I was never trained at a Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, I have no excuse for why I think I should have a blog like this. I just know what I love to do, and as far as baking goes (and cooking, too, but that’s pretty easy)- I’m pretty fucking awesome. I rock hard at cupcakes, my ice creams are phenomenal, my stuffed shells/lasagna/macaroni & cheese dishes are legendary, my risotto is never gummy & my frosting skill cannot be beaten. I’ve made homemade pasta without a machine that was perfection. All that, I can do in my sleep.

Canning… I’m new at. Relatively. I only started in July, so I can hardly be called anything but a newbie. I knew that my first few amazing attempts at canning would be marred by an epic failure. I’ve made amazing pickles, awesome jams, fantastic preserves, much-requested marmalades, super jellies, etc. So I knew that nobody could have that much good luck when first beginning anything. The bottom had to fall out, the other shoe had to drop, all those cliches. I knew I’d probably end up with moldy pickles or a watery jelly at some point. Except I really did end up lucking out this time, even with my “failure”- turns out, caramel apple syrup that was supposed to be a caramel apple jam isn’t so bad after all.

Cute little mistake…

See this is what happened: I found a recipe I wanted to make, and obviously given this time of year, I had a bunch of apples; particularly some firm but soft-spot apples (two Granny Smith, two Gala, and one who’s sticker came off so I have no idea) that I wanted to use up and of course, there were a few sad, empty Ball® jars looking lonely. So I said, “Self, we’re going to make this nice, fall-like recipe known as caramel apple jam.” Apparently, myself and my “self” were not on the same page. I was doing about 300 other things at the same time- washing apples, peeling apples, coring apples, dicing apples, sterilizing jars & lids, measuring spices, finding the brown sugar, drinking coffee, talking on the phone, texting, watching Dr. Phil (okay that last one is a lie, I swear). And I ended up throwing these things in the pot and cooking ‘em up and then plopping them in the jars & sealing them, only to realize, as they were processing in a water bath… that I did not add the pectin.

I DID NOT ADD THE PECTIN.

Do you realize what I just wrote? Yes, I understand that sour apples that are not too ripe naturally have enough pectin to make jam. I know that, I’ve read the books & websites. And I know non-sour, not-ripe apples have decent amounts of pectin anyway. But I didn’t let them cook long enough to take advantage of that, because I cooked them as though I did add the pectin. Not only that, but I thought I’d like a chunkier jam, so I left the apples for the most part in chunks, which didn’t cook down much, leaving even less pectin in the mix.

See the dilemma? No? Okay, maybe this will explain it. Or maybe this post where I kinda went into detail about pectin. See now? Yeah. I messed up.

Anyway, after smacking my forehead with my palm, I decided to finish processing the two jars, since I figured even if they didn’t work out at all, it was only two jars, but maybe I could salvage it and use it as a syrup, not a jam. You know, an ice cream, pancake or pound cake topping as opposed to a scone or bread topping. And I believe it worked. They seemed very runny at first, almost watery… which made me a bit nervous. But after sitting & cooling in a dark place for a week or so, it seemed to thicken a little. Not quite a chocolate fudge or caramel consistency, but more a maple syrup consistency. The seals were fine, everything was good, so why not market it as a syrup?

All dressed up, labeled, & lookin’ gooood… as if I totally meant to do that!

Sure, I could have pretended this was all intentional when I wrote this blog post. But I’m going to be honest with you all because that’s how you learn- from mistakes, right? So anyway, they processed perfectly, were sealed, and they got a bit thicker each passing day (although not to jam thickness, obviously), not to mention it looked pretty awesome in the jars. I remembered the advice I gave in my marmalade post, about using it even if it doesn’t set, so I said screw it! I called them ‘caramel apple syrup’, I made some pretty labels, hyped them up a bit (“It’s fantastic on pancakes or waffles! Believe me!”) and I gave my dad one of the jars, using him as a guinea pig. Despite him balking at first (“I don’t know if I’ll ever eat this…” “Don’t waste it on me” “What am I going to have this with?”) he decided to crack it open not even two hours after getting it. And boy, did he rave about it. He had it with a hamsteak, but he agreed it’d be perfect on pancakes not to mention on ice cream or even biscuits. Like I said, he called it “Apple pie in a jar.” He never actually got the chance to have it in pancakes or waffles… because he started eating it right out of the jar! I swear. He then finished it & started harassing me about making more! MAKING MORE OF WHAT WAS A MISTAKE TO BEGIN WITH, MIND YOU.

And you want to know something? It thickened a lot more in his fridge, as these things are wont to do. So yet another serving option is to just throw it into some of those pre-made pie shells, et voilà. Little apple pies. Or… use Pillsbury croissants and fold ‘em up into little turnovers with this as the filling.

It does look pretty, too, I have to admit.

I have learned from this, believe me. No need for lectures or lessons. I know, I know. But the basic concept is that sometimes mistakes aren’t really all that bad. Yes, you should pay attention. Yes you should be careful. And if you’re preserving fruits or veggies that are low acid & you accidentally skip the lemon juice or “acid” when making a jam or jelly, the entire batch should not be eaten and it should be remade, this I know. But just like way back in the day, when my cupcakery was in it’s infancy… I learned to pay more attention when I put a batch of cupcakes in the oven without adding the eggs, this incident will make me doubly careful from now on. I reassured myself by saying “Before you know it, I’ll be canning blindfolded just like I can bake & frost cupcakes or make risotto or macaroni & cheese blindfolded.” Which I pretty much can do right about now. This was just a stupid mistake. But as far as mistakes go, this one was a really good mistake to make. Of all the canning horror stories out there, this certainly is not one of them. Caramel apple syrup, a mistake? Hell no.

Anyway, since October is National Apple Month, get yourself some apples & start making some caramel apple jam. Alternately, as you’ve learned here, make some amazing caramel apple syrup by taking this recipe & omitting the pectin. This (or it’s originally intended ‘jam’ form) would be an amazing Thanksgiving hostess gift, as well. You could also wait a few days & see my next (and much easier) apple-related recipe…

Or you could just eat the damn apple.

When the Romans conquered Britain they brought with them the apple tree. The apple was representative of the goddess Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees. She was known for her great beauty and fertility. Romans, although conquerors, were accepting of other cultures and soon accepted Celtic beliefs and the Samhain festival. The two were blended together and the apple became part of the harvest celebration that would become Halloween.

Because Pomona was a fertility goddess and because the Celts believed that the pentagram was a fertility symbol and when an apple is sliced in half the seeds form a pentagram it is natural that they believed the apple could be used to determine marriages during this magical time of year. From this belief comes the game bobbing for apples. During the annual celebration young unmarried people try to bite into an apple floating in water or hanging from a string. The first person to bite into the apple would be the next one to marry.

While the apple may or may not have had any ability to predict the future it brought people together from distant farms and villages who may otherwise have never had contact with others outside their own families. This was very important as most people did not live through their childhoods. Marriage and fertility were extremely important. Without children there would be nobody to carry on your genes. If you didn’t have a large supply of children there wouldn’t be enough labor to survive. In this respect bobbing for apples wasn’t just a game but a matter of life or death.

-source The Haunted Bay

 

“My family is bananas” Bananas Foster cupcakes.

My cousin Mike & his lovely wife Heather live in New Orleans, Louisiana, where Mike is a police officer. Mike’s dad Tom is my mom’s cousin, but they share the exact same DNA since they both have the same family on both sides; you see, my mom’s father Clarence’s (nicknamed Butch) sister Eleanor married my mom’s mother Agnes’ brother (Frank)! They’re doubly related, so me & Mike are doubly related as well. Got it? If you didn’t follow any of that, I apologize, here’s a picture that can hopefully help:

That photo is from Eleanor & Frank’s wedding in the late 1940′s. As you can see, my grandfather & Mike’s grandmother were siblings, and my grandmother & Mike’s grandfather were also siblings. So Eleanor & Frank are the grandparents of my aforementioned cousin Mike, and in turn are the parents of my mother’s cousin Tom. Agnes & Butch are my grandparents, a.k.a. the parents of my mother. Make sense now? I hope so, because I really don’t want to break out the pie charts & graphs. Either way, our family tree only has one branch on this particular side, haha.

Anyway, Mike & Heather sent a care package to me & my mom a few weeks back from a (seemingly) awesome store down there called Roux Royale. We each got a mug, a pair of adorable salt & pepper shakers and this awesome cake plate!

Can you tell I’m a bit in love with the photography apps on my iPhone?

Because I’m inspired by everything, this beautiful cake plate gave me the urge to bake something fantastic to put on it. Although I kept looking at it and rethinking what I was going to do. I’ve made King’s Cake cupcakes before, so I didn’t want to do that. Even though that’s where the natural progression of thoughts went, it’s taboo to bake it before Jan. 6th or after Mardi Gras. I’ve also made beignets, and as good as they are, I recently had a gigantic serving of them from the Grand Lux Cafe which satisfied my craving, plus I wasn’t sure they were really appropriate for display on this cake plate.

Mmm… Grand Lux beignets… *sigh* …. anyway back to reality…

And I could’ve done a Cherries Jubilee-type cupcake, especially since the plate mentions cherries, but I’ve done enough cherry stuff lately. So I kept on thinkin’…

Then I remembered that famous New Orleans dessert, Bananas Foster. Ahh, the lovely Bananas Foster. It originated down there in NOLA at a famous place called Brennan’s, so what better dessert to display on that New Orleans cake plate!?

Bananas Foster is a dessert made from bananas and vanilla ice cream, with the sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. The butter, sugar and bananas are cooked, and then the alcohol is added and ignited. The bananas and sauce are then served over the ice cream. Preparation of the dish is often made into a tableside performance as a flambé.

The dish was created in 1951 by Paul Blangé at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana.[2] It was named for Richard Foster, a friend of Owen Brennan‘s who was then New Orleans Crime Commission chairman. It is still served at a number of fine restaurants in New Orleans as well as in many restaurants around the world.

-Wikipedia

Brennan’s is really, really famous. It’s in the French Quarter. The head chef, Lazone Randolph, has been featured on more TV shows than Rachael Ray. Well not quite, but almost. Along with Cafe Du Monde, it’s seemingly one of those tourist places that screams New Orleans.

So yeah, I figured Bananas Foster was a perfect idea. Besides, my family is a bit bananas, so it’s even more appropriate! I love them, don’t get me wrong. I love them & they’re pretty much wonderful, but they’re mostly insane. Which helps to make them wonderful. If everyone was sane, wouldn’t the world be a boring place? I’m sure this concept has been done to death, but this is my version of Bananas Foster cupcakes. Easy, not a lot of drama, and no tableside fire action… but the end result does look & taste far more complicated. And it doesn’t melt, unlike the ice cream in the traditional, original version. I even had some cupcake liners left over from last year that were very similar to the cake plate’s design. How do you like them apples bananas?

To avoid the dense, heavy cupcakes that using real bananas cause, I used banana extract. I don’t care if Florian Bellanger would disapprove. They came out amazing, so he can suck an egg. I mean that in the most respectful way, of course. They’re moist, fluffy, but not dense & thick. I’m including a recipe for a gorgeous, thick, creamy caramel made from condensed milk as well. If you’d like to use that (I didn’t) you could spoon it over the frosting, over the caramelized bananas or even on the cupcakes before you frost them. I thought the flavor of the bananas themselves was enough… but if you want a really decadent over the top cupcake… go for it.

BANANAS FOSTER CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

  • Caramelized bananas (recipe below), cooled
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk caramel (optional, see here for recipe)
  • 1 cup cake flour, sifted
  • 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon pure banana extract
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • few drops yellow food coloring (if desired)

Directions:

  1. Set oven to 375° F to preheat. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  2. Sift together, into a deep mixing bowl, the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter, ¼ cup of the milk and flavorings. Beat on low until blended, then beat on high for another minute or two.
  3. Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the remaining ¼ cup milk, egg, and food coloring (if using) and beat ½ minute longer on high. Scoop into muffin tins to fill them about ¼ or ½ way because they rise a lot. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until toothpick/cake tester comes out almost totally clean. Cool completely.
  4. Frost with evaporated milk buttercream frosting (recipe below), then drizzle condensed milk caramel on top with the tines of a fork or a small teaspoon. Top each cupcake with one or two caramelized bananas, and if desired, a bit more caramel.

Confession time. Okay, my confession here is this: as you can see below, I did not use pure banana extract like I recommended. I used Watkins‘ imitation banana extract. However, unless you use Watkins, I’d go with pure. The Watkins flavor is really good & not overly fake or sweet, I know sometimes supermarket extracts can be a bit strong at times, in a bad way.


EVAPORATED MILK FROSTING

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 4 ¼ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 ½ ounces evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Cream together the butter, vanilla and 2 cups of the powdered sugar.
  2. Once well incorporated, add evaporated milk alternating with a cup of sugar at a time until all ingredients have been added. Beat on high for 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Spread or pipe on completely cooled cupcakes.
Gotta have some cafe au lait with them, of course…

CARAMELIZED BANANAS

Ingredients:

  • 2 bananas, sliced
  • 6 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Spray a non-stick frying pan and a ceramic plate with cooking spray (or waxed paper or parchment on the plate instead), and heat the pan up over medium heat.
  2. Mix sugar & cinnamon together in a shallow dish. Dip each banana slice in the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Make sure they’re completely coated.
  3. Using a fork or small tongs, place bananas in pan as they’re ready. Cook until golden-brown, then flip. The first side will take a few minutes, the second side a bit less. Do not let them burn! If you see them getting too dark, sticking to the pan or smell a burning smell- flip them immediately! Keep an eye on them.
  4. When finished, place on coated plate (bananas will be sticky). Let cool before topping cupcakes.

If you choose to use it, you may need to soften the condensed milk caramel a bit before drizzling it, depending how warm your kitchen is, etc. In that case, place the can, open side up (obviously) in a small saucepan of simmering water (only about one inch- don’t get the caramel wet!) for a few minutes, stirring fairly constantly, until it softens enough.  I didn’t feel as if I needed it, but it would make a lovely addition. You could even fill them with it- that would be divine.

Proper “Nu Awlins” cupcakes for a proper “Nu Awlins” cake platter. Thanks again, Mike & Heather, for my newest additions! They’ll be well used around here, as there’s always some kind of baked goods out for display.

Caramel-drenched vanilla-coconut cupcakes.

I’m getting pretty tired of all this damn snow. We’ve been hit with 8 storms since Christmas, and every one has been a substantial amount. As a matter of fact, yesterday (& the day before) I was digging out another 24″ of snow from the driveway. However, really, there’s not much to do about it except complain (which I loathe doing) … & bake. When the going gets tough, the tough get to bakin’! These are kind of an invention of my own. Sure there are probably other recipes out there for coconut caramel cupcakes, but I bet there are none like this!

I first found the boiling can method of making caramel with condensed milk on the internet by accident a while back. I was fascinated, and couldn’t wait to try it. Apparently, it’s an old fashioned yet popular method of making caramel. So obviously, my curiosity was piqued. But I wanted to make something really good to go with it. I also needed to plan it ahead of time, which is something I rarely do. I’m the kinda gal who bakes on a whim, sometimes even at 2 a.m. After much deliberating & searching, I decided to go back & alter a recipe from the April 2009 issue of Bon Appétit. The original recipe is for vanilla bean-coconut cupcakes, but I decided to make them using vanilla sugar & vanilla extract instead of vanilla beans.

Mmm… look at the caramel dripping…

….

Like I said this takes some planning. They’re a bit time consuming, and they involve quite a few steps, so it’s best to start the night before. First, boil your can of condensed milk. Make sure you keep an eye on it & keep the water level high over the top of the can- otherwise believe me it will explode. While it’s boiling, take a vanilla bean and put it in a tupperware filled with the amount of sugar needed in the recipe. Then once the 3-4 hours is up (I let it boil for about 5 minutes short of 4 hours), turn off the heat and let it cool overnight (longer is fine). The next day, remove it from the water and set it aside. Remove the vanilla bean from the sugar and set it aside, reduce the coconut milk, then let it cool. Make your cupcakes, using the sugar & reduced coconut milk. When they’re still hot but yet only when the can itself is cooled, open the can & spoon (or spread) the caramel over the tops. Easy peasy. Result?

Full cupcake recipe supposedly makes 18, according to them. I halved it & got 16. Either my cupcake tins are really small, or I live in a parallel universe.

VANILLA-COCONUT CUPCAKES (adapted from a Bon Appétit recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups vanilla sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup reduced coconut milk (see below), room temperature
  • ½ cup sweetened flake coconut (optional)

Directions:

  1. Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Line eighteen -cup muffin cups with paper liners. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth.
  2. Add vanilla sugar; beat on medium-high speed until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in remaining egg. Add half of flour mixture; mix on low speed just until blended.
  3. Add 1 cup reduced coconut milk; mix just until blended. Add remaining flour mixture; mix on low speed just until blended. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling them halfway to three-quarters full.
  4. Bake cupcakes until tops spring back when gently touched and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer cupcakes in pans to rack; cool 10 minutes. Carefully remove cupcakes from pans and cool completely on rack, unless you’re using the caramel.. then let them sit 5 minutes in the pans then carefully remove them to a rack or silpat & top with caramel. This way the caramel runs & spreads itself on the hot cupcakes.

VANILLA SUGAR

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2-3 vanilla beans (it’s okay if they’ve been opened & scraped out already, they still have vanilla flavor)

Directions:

  1. Place sugar in a tupperware with a well-sealing lid. Put the beans in. Shake container to “bury” beans.
  2. Keep overnight (or longer) in a cool, dry place. Use when needed, but be sure to remove the beans.

BOILED-CAN CONDENSED MILK METHOD CARAMEL

Ingredients:

  • 1 12-14 ounce can condensed milk
  • very deep, large pot

Directions:

  1. Fill pot with water. Remove the label from the can. Place can in pot, making sure it’s totally covered with water AT ALL TIMES. Check often to be sure the water level stays high.
  2. Boil for 3-4 hours. Allow to cool in water overnight. Open only when totally cool, and enjoy!

See? Easy. None of the steps are complicated, they’re all incredibly simple, they just take a while to “settle” so to speak. I’ve heard conflicting reports. Some say the caramel stays soft, it will not harden the longer you boil it. Once it reaches it’s caramel point, it’s done. Others say the longer you boil it the harder it gets. It looks like I’ll be trying this again to get to the bottom if that mystery. As I said, I let it boil for not quite 4 hours and it was soft, but it wasn’t drippy (not until I put it on the hot cupcakes, anyway). It won’t make caramel candies, but it would be a good filling for chocolate candies if you make that sort of thing. It’s excellent on these cupcakes, it would also be great as a filling inside the cupcakes, or as the middle frosting layer of a two-layer cake. I would honestly never make caramel another way again. This is the easiest most delicious method EVER.

The liners are from a set of assorted ones I bought from Bake It Pretty.

I don’t see why you can’t make the cakes using coconut milk right out of the can, but this is the method for reducing coconut milk, according to Bon Appétit:

Bring coconut milk to boil in large deep saucepan over medium-high heat (coconut milk will boil up high in pan). Reduce heat to medium-low; boil until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, stirring occasionally, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat; cool completely. Transfer to small bowl. Cover; chill (coconut milk will settle slightly as it cools). DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

As far as how they taste? All I can do is quote Stacy London & say SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.”