the simplest and most amazing toffee you’ll ever eat

I first had a version of this toffee at a friend’s Passover dinner a few years back and I shamelessly ate more than my fair share at the end of the long meal.  I couldn’t help myself it was so good!

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My friend told me then how easy it was to make but I decided not to attempt it on my own because this is exactly the sort of thing you don’t want sitting around your house or you will eat it all in a very short amount of time and then feel guilty for having done so.  However, it is a great thing to make when you need to bring a sweet treat to a party or event on short notice because it is super quick and simple to make.  There are only five ingredients: matzo crackers, butter, brown sugar, chocolate chips, and whatever you choose to top it with– shredded coconut, crushed peppermint candies, toasted sesame seeds, dried cranberries, or in this case, sea salt.

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After laying out matzo crackers on a foil-lined baking sheet you make caramel in a saucepan by heating up butter and brown sugar over medium-high heat until it gets all thick and gooey.

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Then you spread the caramel over the matzo crackers and bake it in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes until it gets bubbly.

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Scatter semi-sweet (it would be good with dark chocolate too!) chocolate chips over the hot caramel and let sit for 5 minutes so that the chocolate melts.

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Then spread the chocolate around with a spatula and finally sprinkle with sea salt (or topping of choice) and let cool and harden.

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The final step is to break up the toffee into pieces to serve and watch it disappear.  Hopefully not all into your mouth but I totally wouldn’t judge if it did…

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Matzo Toffee (adapted from recipe by Zoe Bakes found at www.lhj.com)

  • 6  unsalted matzo crackers cup
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  •  Sea salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with greased foil and arrange crackers in an even layer.

In a saucepan, make caramel by heating the butter and sugar over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until sugar dissolved and mixture has thickened, 3 to 5 min. Pour caramel over crackers, using a spatula to spread in an even layer. Bake until caramel is bubbly, 15 min. Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top; let chocolate sit for 5 min, then spread evenly over crackers. Sprinkle surface with sea salt and chill to set chocolate.

Transfer to a cutting board and peel away foil before cutting into strips. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

ten suggestions for your Thanksgiving menu

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and while I’m sure you all have had your menus planned for a month like I have, I thought I would offer up some suggestions in case you need a little last-minute inspiration.

For starters, how about Butternut Squash Soup with Sage and Parmesan Croutons?  It brings a couple of my favorite Thanksgiving flavors together (sage + butternut squash) in a velvety soup that would make a great prelude to the big meal.

Rather than rolls, why not serve slices of Pumpkin, Sage, and Browned Butter Quick Bread?  As its’ name suggests, it doesn’t take long to make which will be very handy if you’ve got lots of other cooking/baking to do.  Better yet, these could be made this weekend and frozen until Thanksgiving day.

Brussels sprouts have become a staple with my family on Thanksgiving.  I’ve made them a variety of ways and one of my favorites is Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts Gratin.  I first had a version of this at a restaurant in NYC and couldn’t stop thinking about them so sought out a recipe so that I could recreate them at home.

Macaroni-and-cheese was a staple of my childhood (mostly of the Kraft boxed variety) but it never made an appearance on T-day.  A friend I used to work with in Detroit whose family was from the south told me they always had it as part of their meal so I  have since incorporated it on occasion, when I felt we could stand a few more carbs.  DuMac and Cheese is the best mac and cheese ever.  And if you wanted to add some bacon/pancetta/salt pork to it I would whole-heartedly support that decision.  And if you also wanted to stick it under the broiler for a few seconds to get a nice browned top on it I would say you and I should be friends.

In case we haven’t used enough cheese yet I would also like to recommend Gratineed Acorn Squash.  It’s simple to make which will free up your time to work on more high-maintenance side dishes.  Also, its delicious.

Another great side dish is Sauteed Parsnips and Carrots with Honey and Rosemary.  Parsnips and carrots go together like peas and, well, carrots.  Actually they go together better than that, especially when partnered with honey and rosemary.  Mmm.  Starting to regret not including this one in my meal this year…

And now for everyone’s favorite side dish… Chestnut, Prune, and Pancetta Stuffing.  This stuffing has something for everyone: a little sweet with the prunes, salty pancetta, tart sourdough bread, hearty chestnuts, and then all of the usual stuffing ingredients that add lots of flavor– celery, onion, sage, chicken stock.

Moving on to desserts, one that will be part of my meal this year is Cranberry Apple Crisp with Oatmeal Streusel Topping.  I love this crisp because it is on the light side which is welcome after a heavy meal and also it is not overly sweet.  This is going to be great with the mascarpone gelato I’m making tomorrow.

This Chess Tart will blow your guests’ minds.  Chess pies are another southern gem and are full of butter and sugary goodness and the vanilla wafer crust on this one is out-of-this-world.  A real charmer.

Finally, what would Thanksgiving be without apple pie?  In Wisconsin they put a slice of cheddar cheese on top of slices of apple pie which I’m not super into, however, Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust is something I can totally get behind because it is crazy delicious.  Trust.

Whatever you decide to make for the big day (aka my most favorite holiday since I stopped receiving toys for Christmas) I hope it is a great one filled with lots of friends and family and tasty food.

rosemary bourbon pecan sweet potato pie

This pie is full of all kinds of things I like: sweet potatoes, rosemary, pecans, bourbon.  What’s not to like in there?

I must warn you that this pie is not for the low maintenance baker wanting to whip up something quick.  There are multiple steps and they take some time.  But the end result is well worth it, and as with the other pies I have posted in recent weeks, this would be great for Thanksgiving.  Especially if it’s the only thing you are responsible for bringing to the meal!

The early steps involve roasting sweet potatoes until they are tender enough to puree.  You also have to candy up some pecans and let those cool while you work on the rest of the pie.  (Try to resist the urge to eat them all or you’ll regret that when it comes time to place them decoratively on top of the pie in a few minutes.)  You have to roll out a crust and fit it into a pie pan and then put that in the fridge until you are ready to fill it.  The one kind of high-maintenance step that is never my favorite to do involves separating the eggs and beating the egg whites until foamy and then folding them in with the rest of the batter.  I don’t know why it’s not my favorite thing to do because it’s really not that difficult but it does add a little extra time to the process.

As I said above though, all the extra steps are well worth it.  The resulting pie is light (which is not an easy feat for a sweet potato pie) and the rosemary adds a hint of savory, while the candied pecans add a nice sweet crunch, and the bourbon and maple syrup add a certain depth to the flavor.  And if you artfully arrange the candied pecans (which I didn’t so much do) it’s also a very impressive-looking pie.  Wow your guests this Thanksgiving!

Rosemary Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie (from “A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” by Ashley English)

  • ½ recipe Basic Pie Dough (see below)

Pecan Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Filling:

  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
  • ½ cup bourbon
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup (packed) light brown sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and fit it into a 9-inch pie pan.  Trim the crust overhang to 1 inch and crimp the edges decoratively.  Place the crust in the refrigerator while you prepare the topping and filling.

Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat.  Add the pecans, maple syrup, bourbon, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick and gooey.

Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Prick the potatoes 3 or 4 times apiece with the tines of a kitchen fork.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place the potatoes on the baking sheet and bake for 1 hour.

Remove the potatoes from the oven, leaving the oven on and reducing the temperature to 350 degrees F.

Let the potatoes stand 10 to 15 minutes, until cool enough to handle.  Peel off the skins and put the flesh in a large bowl.  Mash with a potato masher until softened and smooth.

Using an electric mixer or a whisk, beat the egg whites in a medium-sized bowl until billowy peaks form.  Set aside.

Add the heavy cream and butter to the bowl containing the mashed sweet potatoes.  Whisk until the butter melts and the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the egg yolks until fully combined.

Place the bourbon in a medium-size saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat and boil vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes, then stir in the maple syrup and brown sugar.  Boil 2 to 3 minutes longer, until the brown sugar melts.

Remove from the heat and pour into the potato mixture.  Whisk until well combined.  Add the rosemary, salt, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg and whisk to blend thoroughly.

Add the beaten egg whites to the potato mixture.  Fold in gently with a spatula until the whites are fully incorporated.

Pour the filling into the chilled crust, using a spatula to distribute it evenly.  Arrange the candied pecans decoratively over the filling in a pattern that you like.

Bake in the 350 F oven for 1 hour, until the filling is set and doesn’t jiggle when the pie pan is gently shaken.

Cool at least 50 to 60 minutes before serving, so the pie has time to set up and firm throughout.

Basic Pie Dough (from “A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” by Ashley English)

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • ¾ vegetable shortening, chilled and cubed
  • ¾ cup ice water

Mix the flour and salt together in a medium-large bowl.

Using a pastry blender or two forks, cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal (you should still have some rather large bits of butter and shortening when you’re done.)

Slowly drizzle in the ice water and stir with a large spoon until the dough begins to clump.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and, using your hands, fold it into itself until the flour is fully incorporated into the fats.  The dough should come together easily but should not feel overly sticky.

Divide the dough in half, shape it into two balls, and pat each ball into a ½-inch thick disk.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

lemon pie bars

One of the awesome things about having a cooking/baking blog is that people start giving you things like fancy dishes and cookbooks as gifts.  My birthday happened to be a few weeks ago and I got both of plenty in spades which I’m super excited about.  One of the cookbooks I was given was by the people behind Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia.

I’ve never been to Savannah, much less this bakery, but I know that southerners know good food and the cookbook received rave reviews so I added it to my amazon wishlist.  And boy, am I glad I did!

Last Sunday I was feeling a little l-a-z-y but wanted to bake a few things to share with you fine people so I looked for a simple recipe and this is it.  There are few ingredients and the steps involved were low maintenance, but the results?  Delicious.  People who aren’t normally into lemon-flavored baked goods even enjoyed these bars.

Lemon Pie Bars (from “Bake in the Day Bakery Cookbook” by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day)

For the crust:

  • 3 cups graham cracker crumbs (approximately 24 crackers)
  • 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

For the filling:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Two 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 large egg yolks

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan and line with parchment, allowing the ends of the paper to hang over two opposite edges of the pan.

To make the crust: in a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar and blend with a fork until the crumbs are evenly moistened.  Press the graham cracker mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Use a piece of parchment to press on the crust with the palm of your hands to make sure it is completely level.

Bake the crust for about 8 minutes, until lightly golden.  Let cool completely before adding the filling.  Turn the oven temperature down to 325 degrees F.

To make the filling: in a large bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolks.  Pour the filling over the cooled crust.

Place the baking pan inside a larger baking pan and pour enough hot water into the larger pan to come halfway up the sides of the smaller pan.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is puffed at the edges and no longer jiggles in the center when the pan is tapped.  Remove the pan from the water bath and set it on a rack to cool for 1 hour, then refrigerate until cold.

Cut into squares and serve chilled, with whipped cream.  The bars will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

gold medal dessert: rhubarb crunch

Aren’t the Olympics inspiring? I’ve found myself transfixed over the past week and I rarely watch TV so that is really saying something. I was so happy to see the women’s gymnastics team take the gold last night and especially proud to see Jordyn Wieber shake off not qualifying for the all-around competition yet pull it together to lead her team to victory. Inspirational. She’s from a small-town near my small hometown so that somehow makes it more special, like she probably used to shop at the same mall I used to shop at. I’m just saying. On the other hand my heart broke a little bit watching the men’s US gymnastics team lose. I wanted to reach into the TV to give John Orozco a big hug and tell him to shake off what happened on the pommel horse. Half of this country couldn’t even get themselves up on the pommel horse much less maneuver around on it so he should hold his head high knowing he is one of the top athletes in the world. Yes, I have been watching other sports too but to be honest I’m starting to get tired of swimming, and beach volleyball just makes me feel bad about myself. (They’re so tall! And slim!) Very much looking forward to track and field and hope that NBC gives more coverage to some of the less popular sports. Again, getting tired of swimming. Yes Michael Phelps it’s amazing that you are the most decorated Olympian ever. Totally awesome. But I’m tired of watching your sport.

I can’t exactly draw a close connection between the Olympics and rhubarb crunch, but something tells me 95% of Olympians would totally enjoy this dish. (There are always a few who don’t like rhubarb. I don’t understand those people.) This dish is so easy to make and simple and delicious. My aunt made it last weekend with blueberries (amazing!) so that shows that it is also versatile. Go forth and bake! Gold medal to you for efforts.

Rhubarb Crunch

Crumb Topping:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup melted butter

Fruit Mixture:

  • 6 cups rhubarb, cleaned and chopped into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca flour or cornstarch
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix together crumb topping ingredients until crumbly. Press half the mixture into a greased 9″ x 13″ pan. Cover with rhubarb.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining four ingredients (sugar, tapioca flour, water, and vanilla.) Cook over medium heat until thick and clear. Pour over the rhubarb.

Top with remaining crumbs. Bake for an hour. Serve warm.

clips version of a blog post

Do you remember the special episodes of Golden Girls where Blanche and Dorothy and Rose would sit around the kitchen table and reminisce about the good old times while clips of old episodes would play?  They were the networks way of stalling I think, and they were always kind of a cheat because what you got was maybe 4 minutes of new material and 20 minutes of bits of episodes you’d already seen.  This post is my version of that.  It’s been so hot lately that I haven’t been doing much cooking or baking and the one thing I did make last weekend turned out just okay, not great, and I only share the really great stuff with you.  I wouldn’t lead you astray with something merely good.  So here are some suggestions for things from posts of the past that might be a good idea for you to try now that we are full-on in summer.

How about an olive oil basil cornmeal cake with balsamic strawberry sauce?  I promise it’s easier to make than the length of its name makes it seem.

It’s totally blueberry season now, so how about blueberry cobbler?  This version is quite possibly the best cobbler I’ve ever had in my entire life.  That good.

Remember when I made those blueberry and cherry hand pies?  I sure do.  The finished product wasn’t the most beautiful looking thing I’d ever laid eyes on, but man did they taste good.  And what’s not to love about a pie that you can hold in your hand?  Cute!

Iced tea is always refreshing in the summer, but Thai iced tea is even better.

Espresso chocolate chip ice cream might also be a good idea right now.  A really good idea.

I’ll be back soon with a proper new “episode,” I promise.

the best part about chocolate chip cookies

I have a friend, let’s call her Cheri* (*not her real name), who has a serious cookie dough problem.  The kind of problem where she buys cookie dough from the freezer section in the grocery store just to munch on.  Raw.  I understand the appeal, I mean, who doesn’t like to lick the beaters clean while baking?  But they always warn you about that raw egg thing… and no one wants to risk salmonella.  So when I found a recipe on one of my favorite blogs for cookie dough that is made without eggs and is meant to be eaten raw I knew just who to make it for.

The original recipe went one step further than I have here and dipped the cookie dough balls in melted chocolate for a Buckeye effect but my cookie-dough-eating-friend is a bit of a purist and prefers them sans melted chocolate.  It’s very good that way but if you’re more into the salty-sweet thing than overly sweet stuff, this is the way forward.  Trust me on this.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls (adapted from recipe from www.joythebaker.com)

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about three minutes in the machine.  Beat in yogurt along with the vanilla extract and stir to combine.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add all at once to the butter and sugar mixture and stir until incorporated.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Scoop large spoonfuls or ice cream scoops onto a  waxed paper lined cookie sheet.  Place in the freezer overnight or until frozen, at least three hours.  Serve cold from the freezer.