I'm reporting in covered with flour. Okay, not actually covered in it--I just have a light dusting on my feet and my shirt has suspicious looking handprint-ish smears of it around the hem. This week is the week I bake cookies and stuff, and today I'm going to share the recipe for one of my husband's favorites, Chocolate Caramel Squares. It's pretty simple--I think the hardest thing is pouring the batter (which weighs a lot--you'll see why in a minute) into the pan without gloping it everywhere.
Chocolate Caramel Squares
4 sticks butter* (aka one whole box)
3 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar (aka "regular" sugar)
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup oats (don't use the instant kind, look for "old-fashioned")
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (*if you're using salted butter, cut the salt down to 1/4 tsp--as you all know, normally I don't bother with this, but it makes a difference here)
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (you can get morsels, the kind that comes in the little blocks, whatever)
1 13 oz can dulce de leche**
Get out a big, microwave-safe mixing bowl. Then get out a smaller, microwave-safe mixing bowl. You'll also need a 13x9 inch baking pan and a cookie sheet.
Set the over to 350 degrees. (If you're using a glass pan, make it 325 degrees)
Put the 8 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate in the smaller bowl and melt in the microwave. (It usually takes about a minute) When it's done, take it out, stir it with a wooden spoon or something that won't melt (nobody wants melted plastic with their chocolate) and then set it aside.
Get your big bowl and put all four sticks of butter in it. Melt them in the microwave. Enjoy the sensation of knowing you're making something with a pound (yes, that's right, a POUND) of butter.
When the butter is melted, take it out of the microwave, and add in the brown sugar and granulated sugar. Mix. Then stir in the vanilla, eggs, and oats. Next add in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir. This will be hard, as the dough will now have the consistency of concrete, and your arm will feel like it's going to fall off. (If you want, you can use a mixer. I hate cleaning mine, so I just tell myself I'm building muscle.)
Once everything is just barely mixed together, add in the slightly cooled and melted chocolate.
Now you will have to stir like crazy to get the chocolate blended in. See the above comments about the dough and its consistency, and just tell yourself you'll be able to wrestle a python to the ground with the upper body strength you're building.
What you're looking for is a dough where everything is just blended together. When you get there, stop. Put the 13x9 inch pan on top of the cookie sheet. ***
Then get the dough and put it into the 13x9 inch pan. The dough will be heavy and will fall into the pan sounding like a lead weight. If there is anyone around you wish to impress and/or have do the dishes, now is the time to sigh dramatically.
Spread the dough out across the pan--I just use the back of the wooden spoon I've stirred everything with. If that doesn't work, get your hands wet, so the dough won't stick to them, and just smooth it out with your fingers.
Then you want to open your can of dulce de leche and get a regular spoon. Using the spoon, dump bits of the dulce de leche all over the dough. Once that's done, use a regular knife to swirl the dulce de leche into the batter, or, if you're like me and always end up just dragging the bits around with the knife, get your hands wet again, and just drag you fingers through the dulce de leche and the dough, using your fingertips to mush it all together.
Once the dulce de leche is mixed in, take the 13x9 inch pan, which will now weigh apprx 5,000 pounds, and put it on top of the cookie sheet. Slide the cookie sheet and the pan into the over and bake for about 35 minutes.
After 35 minutes, check on the dough. If the middle still wobbles when you jiggle the pan, drop the over temperature by 25 degrees, and then put the pan/cookie sheet combo back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. (Check after 10, and then give it another 5 if you have to) You don't want the middle to be firm, but you do want it to look like it won't all fall out if you tip the pan a bit. I aim for what I call "goo"--that is, the edges are browned, and the middle has turned from a liquidy state to a denser, more goo-like state.
Now comes the worst part. Take the pan out of the oven. Take it off the cookie sheet and let it cool for about half an hour, or until it's no longer hot to the touch, but lukewarm (this can actually take up to an hour or more, depending on how warm your kitchen is)
Then cover the pan and put it in the fridge for at least six hours. Twelve is better. I know! But trust me, if you cut into them right away, they will be all mushy--good, but mushy and you will think the recipe didn't work. But it does! It just needs a good dose of cold to set up.
Once you've waited six hours--and I really do suggest waiting twelve--take the pan out--it'll still be heavy, so if you this at 6 in the morning, don't try it one-handed--and cut into squares. I usually aim for 24-32, as this really, really rich.
I also have some links to share:
Tess Gerritsen on how being a writer is like "walking an endlessly scary cliffside trail."
-- There aren't many big name authors out there writing as honestly about the writing life as she does, and I can't recommend her blog enough.
The Rejecter looks at the infamous Kindle
, as well as publishing's reaction to the growing e-book business.
Marie Brennan talks about writing as work
**dulce de leche is usually on the specialty/ethnic food aisle, although sometimes it's found in the baking aisle. If you can't find it--my mother, for instance, drove over a hundred miles and visited four grocery stores with no luck at all--just use a jar of caramel sauce/topping, which is either on the baking aisle, or over by the ice cream. In other words, buy about 13 oz worth of some sort of thick caramel sauce.
***Normally, I skip putting things that I'm baking on top of/in other things, as I've never seen it make much of a difference. But it is absolutely necessary to do it here, as without a baking sheet, the edges of your Chocolate Caramel Squares will get all dried out while the middle is still gooey and then you sit around thinking "I strained my arms for this?!"