Club: Baked – Soft Candy Caramels

soft candy caramels

Our Club: Baked recipe this time around is something near and dear to my heart – caramels! Hosted by Teri at The Freshman Cook, I can’t think of a better treat to celebrate Valentine’s Day than caramels. Truthfully, I am not much of a chocolate girl, so these caramels were right up my alley!

soft candy caramels cooking with milk mixture
soft candy caramels cut

The process of cooking these was pretty easy. There are more steps and more ingredients than caramel recipes I’ve made in the past, however the instructions were simple enough to follow. I had a little bit of trouble cutting the caramels at the end. When my husband’s stepfather makes caramels, he lets them cool for a bit, but cuts them while they are still soft. In the future, I think I would try this as the caramels were a little hard to cut after they had set. In full disclosure, I let them set for closer to 18 hours before cutting, however they were still pretty set at the 8 hour mark. 

So did they live up to my expectations? Absolutely! Like many of the recipes in the book, we really enjoyed these. Mine start out a little harder than purchased caramels, but they soften quickly once in your mouth. Perfect texture for homemade caramels in my opinion. Enjoy! 

soft candy caramels wrapped

Be sure to stop by the Club: Baked page to check out the other caramels!

Club: Baked – Buckeyes

My mom called the other day mentioning that she saw a girl wearing a shirt saying, “Once a Husker, always a Husker.” She really wanted to get one for me since we have moved away from Nebraska, but the store had already sold out of them by the time she found it. Being a “true Husker girl” I have never made nor tried a Buckeye candy, but I decided to embrace my full B1G 10 spirit and give these a shot (j/k) 🙂

Named after an opposing mascot or not, these little candies crafted of peanut butter and chocolate are not something to pass up. Karen from Karen’s Cookies Cakes & More is hosting this week’s Club: Baked recipe, and as usual, I had a lot of fun making something that I otherwise wouldn’t have chosen. 

They were really simple to make. Mix together the peanut butter part. Melt the chocolate. Dip, set, and eat. As we were forewarned in the book, the peanut butter mixture was a little dry, but I was able to push it into a ball with my hands pretty easily. The hardest part about these for me proved to be waiting for the chocolate to set. I moved a few of them too soon, but it was nothing a quick set in the refrigerator couldn’t fix. I could see these being a great recipe for when you need something quickly but still want it to be a hit. Just proves it is hard to go wrong with that classic peanut butter-chocolate combination.

Be sure to stop by the Club: Baked page to see the results for the other bloggers. I am thinking this will be a delicious week for everyone involved!

Butterfinger Blondes

I swear these bars must have some kind of crack in them. I am only partially kidding. I made them, so I know all the ingredients that were included. Don’t worry, there really isn’t any crack listed in the ingredient list. Nonetheless, there was something in these bars that just kept me going back for “a little bit more.” 

I ran across these beauties on pinterest (love that website by the way). As far as I can tell, the original idea was from Shelly at Cookies and Cups. These bars are one of those recipes that have made the rounds around several blogs and for good reason. They are so good! Make them as soon as you can and send me one please! 

I think I’m off to convince the hubby that we need to hand out Butterfingers as Halloween candy this year… I know exactly what I am doing with extra 🙂 Enjoy! 

(Printable Recipes)

Butterfinger Blondes
Adapted slightly from Cookies and Cups

1 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. coarse salt
2 cups coarsely crushed Butterfinger bars (approximately 15 fun-sized bars)

Butterfinger Buttercream:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2-1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup coarsely crushed Butterfinger bars (approx 4 fun-sized bars)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs, one at a time and mix until incorporated. Mix in vanilla. On low add the dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in the crushed butterfingers. Spread in a 9×13-inch baking dish and bake for 25 minutes. The bars will still be a little “wiggly” when you take them out of the oven. That’s okay. You want them to be soft not crunchy. Set on a wire rack and allow to cool completely. 

For the buttercream, cream the butter and shortening together until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low. Once it begins to mix in, increase the speed to medium and mix until smooth. Spread on the cooled blondes. Sprinkle the remaining crushed Butterfingers on top.

SMS: Peanut Praline Sundaes

We’re nearing the end of the Sweet Melissa Baking Book. We only have 6 more recipes left with plans to finish up by the end of August. This week’s recipe was peanut praline hosted by Ruby of I Dream of Baking. The group has made Melissa’s brittle a couple of times now, but this was my first time along. The peanut praline in the book is basically the peanut brittle crumbled up and served over ice cream. I have never made brittle before from any recipe, so I thought it may serve me well to go back and read the posts from the other recipes. Thank goodness I did! It seems like many had problems with the recipe in the book – chewy and burned were many of the comments. Neither of these are good things for a brittle. 

I still wanted to participate, so I decided to look through the recipes that a couple of the ladies in the group had posted. It seems that the Sweet Melissa recipe has a lot more butter and no water compared to the other recipes? In the end, I choose to go with Margot’s version that she posted here on her blog in October. The brittle came out just the way a peanut brittle should be without any trouble. I didn’t measure my peanuts and think I may have added a few too many (user error on that one). The inclusion of the cayenne pepper gives the candy a bit of a kick as an aftertaste, and while some may prefer the sweet-spicy combo, I think I would leave it out next time. 

In her post, Margot added her brittle to ice cream. I had planned to make the brown-sugar vanilla ice cream in the Sweet Melissa book to pair with the peanut praline and thought about copying her idea. In the end, my husband talked me out of mixing it in because the ice cream is SO GOOD plain. This is the second time that we have made it, and I will never make another vanilla ice cream recipe. We served the ice cream and praline with caramel syrup (I like caramel much better than chocolate), and it was awesome! Definitely one to keep in mind for a “fancier” ice cream treat. Thanks Ruby for a great pick and for a recipe I may have never attempted on my own! Check out Ruby’s attempt and the other bloggers on the SMS blogroll page!

SMS: Honey Cream Caramels

Caramel… If there is one ingredient in a dessert that will immediately have me interested, caramel is it. Because I love caramel, there was no doubt that I would be in the mix with this next SMS recipe, honey cream caramels! This SMS was hosted by Carmen of Baking is my Zen, and it might be one of my favorite recipes yet.

Making the caramels was relatively simple. My husband’s step father has an old family recipe that he always makes around Christmas that is really similar, and although his has fewer ingredients, I knew the basic idea of how this process would go. He has made his so long that he doesn’t even need a candy thermometer anymore. We tried this one Christmas and ended up with more of a caramel syrup than caramel candies. Oops… =)

One thing I noticed was that 250 degrees F and the hard ball stage were not at the same point on my candy thermometer. I went ahead and took the sugar mixture off the stove at 250 degrees as directed, and my caramels ended up just a little bit chewy. In the end, this was fine because we like them better that way, but I definitely did not have the crumbly caramel that others indicated. Did anyone else notice this? 

After halving the recipe, I ended up with about 30 caramels. My only change was that I wrapped the caramels in aluminum foil rather than in waxed paper as that has always worked well for the family’s recipes. I “tested” one to make sure it would come off the foil, and so far, so good. Head over to the SMS page to check out the other bakers’ posts and enjoy your caramels!

Final Countdown to Christmas #4: Dad’s Milk Chocolate Fudge

This is another one of those recipes that has endured years and years of Christmases in our family, however this one has always been my Dad’s thing. I can remember having to stand on a step-stool in order to see over the edge of the stove so that I could help. 

In the years since my husband has been around (which is actually quite a few Christmases in itself!), it has become one of his favorite Christmas treats. I can’t blame him. Out of all the different kinds of fudge that I’ve tried, this one is definitely my favorite. We had some trouble finding marshmallow creme this year and actually drove around to three different grocery stores to find it. The fudge is worth it. 

The recipe that we use is based of the fantasy fudge recipe that is listed on the back of the container of Kraft marshmallow creme. Our main swap is that we always use milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet or dark chips, and that is exactly the reason that I love it so much. The other modification is in cooking time. We never use a candy thermometer, so we usually just cook it for 5-6 minutes instead of the 4 listed on the can. Enjoy!

(Printable Recipe)

Dad’s Milk Chocolate Fudge
Adapted from Kraft Fantasy Fudge

3/4 c. (1-1/2 sticks) butter
3 c. sugar
2/3 c. (5oz can) evaporated milk
1 (12oz) pkg. milk chocolate chips
1 (7oz) jar marshmallow creme
1 tsp. vanilla extract 

Grease a 9×13-inch pan with non-stick spray and set aside.

Combine butter, sugar, and evaporated milk in a 2-1/2 quart saucepan; bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 5-6 minutes while continuing to stir. Remove from the heat and stir in the marshmallow creme and chocolate chips. Mix in the vanilla.

Pour into the prepared pan. Cool and cut into squares.

Final Countdown to Christmas #2: Peppermint Marshmallows

I’m getting a little late in the day on this one, but it’s still technically Tuesday. Better late than never right? We had a marathon baking session today to almost finish out my baking list, so I should be set for the next few days. 

Marshmallows are something that have been on my “to make” list forever. I have wanted to make them for quite some time, but they seem like one of those things that need an “occasion” such as a camping trip or something along those lines. My “occasion” never came up, so there they sat on the list.

I saw this recipe on What Megan’s Making a couple weeks ago on her 12 Days of Christmas Countdown, and it was perfect. My occasion would be Christmas Eve and the destination for these little goodies was definitely going to be a steaming, hot cup of hot chocolate! 

Fast forward a couple weeks, and I’ve actually made these twice. The first time with only a hand-held mixer and the second time in Arizona with my kitchen aid. They worked well both times, but I could definitely see the mixture set up a little quicker using my stand mixer. It almost set up too much as it was really hard to get the pretty red swirls in the second batch. My only advice with this recipe would be to stop the last mixing process if you think they’re getting pretty thick. You want to be able to pour them very slowly not have to press a spatula on the goop to get it to spread out =) However, while my second batch wasn’t quite as pretty, they are still delicious. Try these out! I know that mug of hot chocolate is calling your name!

(Printable Recipe)

Peppermint Marshmallows
Adapted from Martha Stewart and What Megan’s Making

vegetable oil cooking spray
1-1/2 c. warm water, divided
2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
4 pkg (1/4 oz. each) unflavored gelatin
1 tsp. peppermint extract
2 large egg whites

liquid red food coloring 
Line the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan with parchment paper and coat the parchment with cooking spray. Set aside. Put sugar, corn syrup, and 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring and let the mixture come to a boil. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until mixture registers 260 degrees on a candy thermometer. 
Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over 3/4 cup water in a heatproof bowl; let stand 5 minutes to soften. Set the bowl with the gelatin mixture over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat, and stir in extract. Set aside.  
Beat egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Whisk gelatin mixture into sugar mixture. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar/gelatin to the egg whites. Mix on high speed until very thick, 12 to 15 minutes or until the mixture looks like it is really starting to thicken.
Pour mixture into lined pan. Working quickly, drop dots of red food coloring across surface of marshmallow. Using a toothpick, swirl the drops into the  marshmallows to create a marbleized effect. Let marshmallow stand, uncovered, at room temperature until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight. Cut into squares using a pair of kitchen scissors. Roll the cut marshmallows in powdered sugar to prevent sticking and store in a ziploc bag or airtight container.

Fruity Jello Popcorn

If you know my husband at all, you know that one of his favorite treats is candy-coated popcorn. He even asked for cinnamon popcorn as his “groom’s cake” at our wedding. While I have had great success making both cinnamon and caramel popcorn, I had been on the lookout for an easy recipe to make the fruity flavors of popcorn that you can get at the store. 

I actually found this recipe one night several months ago on accident. It was one of those cases where you finally find something when you stop looking 🙂  It was great timing since he was wanting me to make some for his graduation reception. 

It’s your standard candied-popcorn recipe where you cook the sugar mixture on the stove for awhile, coat the popcorn, and then bake it for a few minutes to help the mixture harden. The only difference is that you use a package of jello to add the flavor. I have also heard that you can use dry Kool-aid packets, but you have to add more sugar due to the lack of sugar in the drink packet. 

We tried cherry, tropical fruit, and blue raspberry with great success with all of them. The tropical fruit one may have been our favorite. The website talks about how some of the flavors of jello have more powder in the box than others. I definitely noticed this with the cherry flavor, so I baked it just a couple minutes longer to make sure the topping wasn’t still gummy. There were some darker patches noticeable on the blue raspberry flavor since the color was lighter, but it didn’t affect the overall flavor at all. 

Enjoy and let me know if you find a favorite flavor! 

(Printable Recipe)

Fruity Jello Popcorn
From Our Best Bites

8 c. popped popcorn (I use air-popped)
1/4 c. butter
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup (can also use honey)
1/2 c. sugar
1 (3.5oz) pkg. jello – any flavor

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a jelly-roll pan with foil or parchment paper. If using foil, spray lightly with a non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. Place popcorn in an extra large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Place butter and syrup in a saucepan on medium heat. Stir until butter is melted. Add the sugar and jello and stir to combine. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat until it just simmers and simmer for 5 minutes. The mixture may be thick at first but will become more liquidy as it cooks. After 5 minutes, pour half the mixture over the popcorn. Mix with two large spoons and repeat until the popcorn is well coated. This will be easier if you can work quickly.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, stirring a couple times in the middle. If the mixture appears to be a little bit gummy, you may have to bake it a minute or two longer. Remove the pan from the oven and let the popcorn cool. When it is cool enough to handle, break the popcorn into pieces.

SMS: Butterscotch Pralines

Recently, I’ve had the privilege of baking along with several members of a baking group called Sweet Melissa Sundays. Each week one of the members chooses a recipe from the The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, and the plan is to keep going until we’ve baked all the way though the book.  The recipes thus far have been great, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know several bloggers in the group a little bit better.

This week is was my week to pick a recipe out of the book. Since I’ve only been a member since March, I was both excited and a little nervous to pick a recipe knowing that 48 other bloggers would be scheduled to bake my pick. Out of the beautiful layers cakes and delicious sounding pies, I ended up choosing butterscotch pralines for 3 reasons:

1) It sounded like a pretty quick, simple recipe, and I knew that we’d be packing to move to Arizona over Memorial Day weekend.

2) I love butterscotch anything

3) Melissa describes that they are great crumbled over ice cream. 

SOLD! Both the hubby and I are suckers for anything that goes with ice cream 🙂 Having never actually eaten pralines before, I did a quick google search to check out the history of pralines. It sounds like the idea originated in France and was first made with almonds, but despite the French origins, the candies now consist of pecans and are most associated with New Orleans. I did wonder a little bit because it seems like most other recipes for pralines call for either butter, cream, or both, but I proceeded with Melissa’s recipe as written.

The recipe basically consists of cooking a sugar mixture to a soft ball temperature and then stirring in the butterscotch chips and the pecans. As I thought, it went pretty quickly.  I only made a half batch at first, but I was done with the first recipe start to clean up in about 30 minutes (my husband begged me to make more a couple days later). I’ll give you a short pictorial presentation below :

Don’t the butterscotch chips look yummy! I love butterscotch!

Cooking the sugar mixture and making sure I cooked it exactly to soft ball stage. See the word soft just above the metal piece of the thermometer below  🙂

The praline mixture in the bowl. Sorry, this one isn’t the greatest picture, but I was trying to work quick. They set up fast!

The verdict: we really enjoyed them! They are pretty sweet on their own, but as promised, are GREAT served over vanilla ice cream. I don’t have an ice cream freezer to make my own ice cream, but I can only imagine that it’d be that much better over homemade ice cream. I hope everyone enjoyed them as much as we did! Be sure to stop by the SMS page and check out everyone’s treats!

Butterscotch Pralines
From The Sweet Melissa Baking Book

2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 c. water
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. butterscotch morsels
1-1/4 c. pecan pieces

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, water, corn syrup, vinegar, vanilla, and salt. Bring to a boil, without further stirring, until the mixture reaches 238 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat.

Immediately transfer the hot mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat in the butterscotch morsels on medium speed until the morsels are melted and the mixture is smooth and creamy. Stir in the pecans.

Immediately drop by tablespoonfuls (or a 1-ounce (#40) cookie scoop) onto parchment paper or aluminum foil. (If the mixture gets to firm, you can put it back in the saucepan and melt it carefully while stirring over low heat.) Let the pralines stand at room temperature to set, 5-10 minutes. 

Pralines keep in an airtight container at room temperature, layered between sheets of wax paper, for up to 2 weeks. Makes 2 dozen.

Flavor of the Month: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

The Flavor of the Month for February was chocolate!  In a month containing a holiday celebrated with large, heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolate goodies, this seemed quite appropriate 🙂 

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I’m not a member of the chocolate worshipers. While the sheer idea of chocolate causes some to start salivating, I could really take it or leave it. I don’t really have any specific reasons for this as I like certain things – chocolate chip cookies, milk chocolate in most forms, but chocolate just doesn’t hold that desirability in my book.

Enter these chocolate chip cookie dough truffles.  Between the chocolate chips in the dough and the outer chocolate coating, they have enough chocolate to technically qualify as chocolate. And they definitely fit the bill of delicious! They also made the perfect post-exam treat. Especially when it’s one of those exams that you’d rather forget…

My younger brother actually came up with this recipe around Christmas and my family devoured them. I do have to warn you that they make a ton! When my brother made them, he got somewhere between 3-4 dozen. I apparently made mine smaller because I had closer to 5-6 dozen (it’s tough to get an exact count when you have to make sure they “taste okay”). The cookie dough has no eggs, so there’s no worry about eating raw eggs. Nevertheless, it’s probably better to keep these refrigerated. It also adds another step into sneaking one out of the container. I have to sneak into the fridge as well as the kitchen 🙂

You’ve got to try these out even if you don’t technically have anywhere to take them. We all need a little treat every once and awhile, and who doesn’t love cookie dough – with just a little bit of chocolate 🙂

(Printable Recipe) 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles
From Trent S. (my brother)

2-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 c. skim milk (or soy milk)
1 c. semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
chocolate and vanilla almond bark

Beat butter and sugars and in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add milk and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed (or by hand) until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips.
Cover and chill dough for 1 hour.
When dough is firm enough to handle (it may help to lightly flour your hands), form dough into 1″ balls and arrange on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. 
Melt chocolate candy coating in a double boiler or in microwave according to package directions. Using forks or a dipping tool, dip cookie balls into candy coating to cover. Tap fork on side of pan to remove any excess coating, and return to waxed paper-lined baking sheets. When firm, can decorate with more melted chocolate. Chill until set. Store, chilled, in an airtight container for up to 1 week (though good luck making them last that long). 
Craving more chocolate? Head over to the Flavor of the Month post at Bake at 350 to check out what others made!