Carmelitas

Carmelitas: I’ve wanted to bake them forever. And I am astonished at how easy they were to make. This recipe came from Six Sisters’ Stuff and uses pretty basic ingredients, most of which you likely have in your pantry. While the Six Sisters recommended baking this in a glass dish, I baked mine in a ceramic dish lined with foil and sprayed with baking spray for easier clean-up.

Next time, I think I’ll try this with semisweet chocolate chips to see how it turns out, and I might even add a small dash of cinnamon into the crust/topping mixture. I also recommend pressing the top crust bits into the caramel layer (using a spatula or the back of a spoon so you don’t burn your fingers) to make it stick just a bit better.

Ingredients

  • 11-ounce bag caramel bits (or 32 unwrapped caramel squares)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup flour
  • 12-ounce package milk chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 ceramic or glass baking dish with foil, extending the foil over the sides. Spray lightly with baking spray.

Combine caramel bits and heavy cream in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until caramel bits are melted and mixture is smooth; keep warm while your crust bakes. I got my caramel started and kept an eye on it while I made my crust.

To make the crust, combine melted butter, brown sugar, oats, and flour; I mixed mine with my hands to make sure it incorporated well. Press half the mixture in the baking dish and level it out; bake for 10 minutes.

Remove crust from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips, then pour on the caramel. Sprinkle the remaining crust dough over the caramel and return to the oven, baking for about 15 minutes, until the top begins to just turn golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool completely at room temperature, or place in the fridge to speed the cooling process. You can’t cut these bars until they’re completely cool, so don’t even try – you’ll end up with a mess, from what I read in other recipes. Lift out of the pan and peel off foil; place on a cutting board and cut into 16 bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Gingerbread Bars

gingerbread barsHappy winter solstice, friends! This is one of my favorite days of the year. And it’s just a few more days until Christmas, so seasonal flavors – like these gingerbread bars – are definitely in order.

Most bars I found online had a cream cheese frosting, but because Mike took them to work today I wanted to have a more stable, room-temperature-friendly frosting on them. Enter molasses buttercream, a tasty topping I’ve used on gingerbread cake before. You could also frost these with a tangy lemon buttercream, as gingerbread and lemon are good flavor friends. These bars taste absolutely amazing, but they’re just a bit more dry than I’d like. I suspect I baked them a few minutes too long, but I’m sure I’ll make them again, and can safely shorten my baking time to about 16-18 minutes, rather than 18-20. 

Ingredients

For the bars

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons molasses

For the frosting

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 9 baking tin with foil, extending the foil over the sides.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and molasses and beat to combine, then scrape down the sides of your bowl and add the flour mixture. Beat to combine completely.

Press mixture into the baking tin; you can use your palm to flatten it or the bottom of a measuring cup. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat butter for about 1 minute, then add all the powdered sugar at once and beat on low, then medium speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add molasses and ginger and beat to fully combine, scraping the sides of the bowl at least a few times.

Remove bars from pan and discard the foil; frost with molasses buttercream. Cut into squares; I made small squares, so my batch yielded about 24 bars, but I think a more ideal quantity would be 16.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars

Mike’s coworkers have gone crazy for my pumpkin bars, especially this most recent iteration: the pumpkin chocolate chip bar. So far this fall I’ve made a few different varieties, and these seem to be the favorite. And strictly speaking, these bars are more cake-like than bar-like, with an excellent springy texture. 

Anyway…pumpkin and chocolate, you ask? I know, there was a time when I doubted it, too. But there’s something about the blend of pumpkin and chocolate, especially semisweet or dark chocolate, that just works. Who decided to put these flavors together, I don’t have any idea. But I’m incredibly glad that they did. Miniature chocolate chips work well in these bars, but you could use regular-sized ones if you prefer. 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 15 ounces pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and cloves until completely combined.

Add eggs, pumpkin puree, and vegetable oil, stirring well to completely combine, with no dry streaks or lumps remaining. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into an ungreased 15 x 10 x 1 pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool for 2 hours before cutting.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 32.

Chocolate Chip Bars

Whenever I had to contribute some baked good to a school function as a child, my mom’s go-to treat was a pan of chocolate chip bars. She’d whip out a box store-bought cookie dough, stir in the necessary eggs, melted butter, and water, press it into a pan, and about 25 minutes later, voila: delicious cookie bars, perfect for school picnics and parties.

I’d not made chocolate chip bars until yesterday, and I’m delighted to say they turned out really well. They’re delicious, not unlike the bars of my childhood, with an almost fudgy middle. I’ve begun working chocolate back into my diet after four years of living a migraine-induced chocolate-free life, but so far, so good. I highly recommend this simple recipe if you’re craving a chocolate chip cookie, but short on time.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12-ounce package milk chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 10 x 15 x 1 pan with baking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, and vanilla and stir until smooth. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then stir in eggs, one at a time, and add flour mixture, stirring to combine completely. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread batter into the baking tin and bake for 24-25 minutes, until the top is shiny and edges are light golden brown. The center will look set, but a cake tester will come out with some moist crumbs; this is totally fine. Be careful not to over-bake your bars; you want the center to be a little bit gooey.

Remove from oven and cool completely before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Makes 35.

Nut Bars

Read any article about healthy eating habits and it’ll tell you to keep healthy snacks like almonds not just in your pantry, but with you when you’re on the go or at your desk at work. I aspire to be a healthy snacker, but truth be told most of the nuts I buy for snacks end up in baked goods.

These nut bars, adapted from a recipe I found at Taste of Home, are definitely not in the healthy snack category. I adapted mine to include pecans instead of pistachios, but I suspect any nutty combination would work for these treats. The bar base is far more crumbly than I expected it to be, so I think I need to mix my dough better next time. In any case, they’re delicious. Next time, I might sneak a bit of maple flavoring into the honey/sugar mixture.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 12 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten

For the topping

  • 1 cup toasted hazelnuts, cooled and chopped
  • 1 cup lightly salted cashews
  • 1 cup lightly salted almonds
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking tin with foil and grease it with butter.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, then stir in egg. Press into the bottom of the baking tin and bake for 18-20 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool crust completely.

In a medium saucepan, combine honey, brown sugar, and salt over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil without stirring for 2 minutes; remove from heat and stir in butter and heavy cream, then return to the heat for about 1 minute, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes smooth. Stir in nuts.

Pour over cooled crust and bake for 15-18 minutes, until topping bubbles at the edges. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack completely; lift out of pan and cut into squares; I made small, approximately 1 x 1 squares for more bite-sized treats, but you could cut larger squares if you like. My batch yielded 48 squares.

Cappuccino Bars

We’re going to file these in the “looks ridiculous, tastes amazing” category of Amy Bakes in the ‘Burgh. Because holy cow, they look ridiculous. I mean, total amateur, what-was-she-thinking ridiculous. Fortunately they taste absolutely amazing. Almost like a tiramisu and a cappuccino got together and decided to make a whole new dessert.

Here’s what happened with this recipe, adapted from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: my first layer wasn’t exactly even. So my second layer turned out wonky, and instead of covering it with glaze as recommended, I covered it with a thicker icing and tried to make a sort of fancy feathering thing happen, kind of like those patterns you see on actual cappuccinos. Oh, boy, what a disaster. I was almost too embarrassed to have Mike take them to work, but I figured something that tasted this delicious should absolutely get its chance to be enjoyed. I already have several ideas for next time, because you can bet I’ll make these again…and they won’t look like a train wreck.

Ingredients

First Layer

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup instant coffee crystals

Second Layer

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Icing Layers

  • 3 cups powdered sugar, divided into one 2-cup portion and one 1-cup portion
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup heavy cream

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9 x 13 baking tin with baking spray.

In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then add eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl well after each. Beat in the vanilla and coffee crystals, then add flour mixture and stir to completely combine.

Drop dollops of batter into the prepared baking tin and use a small offset spatula to spread it into an even layer; batter will be fairly thick. Bake for 15 minutes, until top is set; this means the sides have just started to pull away from the pan, and if you touch the center gently, your fingerprint will remain but will not break the surface of the crust.

Cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling. In a large measuring cup, combine sugar and flour; in a separate measuring cup, combine eggs, heavy cream, and vanilla. Add heavy cream mixture to sugar mixture and stir to combine completely, until smooth. Pour over crust and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center is set.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 1 hour, then chill until completely set. Once set, make your first layer of icing; in a medium bowl, combine 2 cups powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add heavy cream 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach a spreadable consistency that’s still slightly firm. Spread on bars, smoothing as much as possible.

In another bowl, place remaining 1 cup powdered sugar and add heavy cream, 1 teaspoon at a time, to reach a firm pipable consistency (mine needed about 2 1/2 teaspoons). Place in a piping bag and pipe lines across the bars; gently drag a toothpick through the lines to create feathering. Allow feathered icing to set before cutting, then cut into 30 squares.

Note: these bars cut easily, but my icing layer pulled away from my second layer a bit (contributing to the “looks ridiculous” situation). Next time, I might chill them for just a short time before cutting.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Peach Pie Crumb Bars

What can you do with overripe peaches? Since I haven’t learned to make jam (yet), I decided to bake these fun peach pie crumb bars. I found this recipe at Just So Tasty and adapted it just slightly, omitting the icing on the top and using a combination of yellow and white peaches.

Since I don’t like cooked fruit, I actually didn’t try them, but Mike assured me that they were delicious. I suspect that these bars would be delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or perhaps some fresh whipped cream. Next time, I think I’ll cut back on a few of the peaches and stir some raspberries or blackberries into the filling.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the filling

  • 6 small (or 4 large) peaches, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water

For the crumb topping

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with parchment paper, extending the paper over the sides.

In a large bowl, combine flour, powdered sugar, and salt. Add melted butter and mix well to form a soft dough. Press into the bottom of the pan and bake for 15 minutes, until edges are golden.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling and crumb topping. In a large bowl, combine peaches, sugar, cornstarch, and water, tossing to coat completely. In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter; stir until the mixture looks like wet sand.

Remove crust from oven and pour filling over top, then top with crumb mixture. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely before cutting. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Makes 12 bars.

Mochaccino Bars

People sometimes ask me whether I still bake with things I can’t eat because of migraine life, like chocolate or coffee. Of course I do! I wouldn’t want to deprive others of these amazing flavors just because I avoid them.

These mochaccino bars are adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe, and they’re very easy to make. You could leave them plain, without the chocolate, for simpler cappuccino bars, or drizzle them with a melted chocolate icing if you prefer.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan or spray with baking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt; set aside.

Measure out heavy cream into a glass measuring cup and stir in espresso powder; set aside.

In your mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat eggs until light-colored and thick. Add the sugar and beat until glossy and thickened; this takes about 4-5 minutes. Add the vanilla and melted butter and beat to combine. Stir in the flour and salt.

Set aside 1 1/2 cups of batter; pour espresso cream into remaining batter and beat to combine. Pour espresso batter into the baking pan, then top with spoonfuls of plain batter. Use a knife to marble the batter.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges pull away from the pan slightly and the center is set. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips; let them melt slightly for a few minutes, then spread with an offset spatula to cover the top of the bars completely. Note: if you just sprinkle the top of the bars with the chips, they don’t melt completely and once they harden again, they’ll fall off when the bars are cut.

Allow bars to cool completely; cut into squares. Store, covered, at room temperature.

Makes 24 bars.

Coconut Bars (Version One)

I’ve had many a coconut bar over the years, but never made them until yesterday. This version from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion is billed as a less-sweet version of a more classic coconut bar, and it offers delicious flavor and great texture.

I’ve listed these as “version one” because there are several other recipes that I’d like to try, and I imagine some are much sweeter than this one. The subtle flavor profile of the topping – a delightful blend of toasted pecans, coconut, and dark brown sugar – is a nice balance to the shortbread-like crust. It’s definitely a good option if you’re looking for something with great flavor that’s not too sweet.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

For the topping

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Make the crust: in a mixing bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, and salt; cream together until light and fluffy. Add flour and beat until just combined; the texture will look like coarse crumbs. Press into the bottom of the baking pan; bake for 15 minutes, until edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly while you make the topping.

To make the topping, in a medium bowl, whisk flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer, beat eggs until they’re light and lemon-colored. Add brown sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture, coconut, and pecans; stir to combine.

Pour topping onto crust and spread evenly with a small offset spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan before cutting.

Makes 24 bars.

Coconut Caramel Chocolate Bars

Back when I could eat chocolate, this was exactly the kind of treat I would have loved. Reminiscent of the Samoa Girl Scout cookie, it combines toasted coconut, chocolate, and caramel – a wonderful flavor and texture combination.

I adapted this recipe slightly from the original, titled Coconut-Caramel Candy Bars, in the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. I used caramel baking bits, rather than chopped up caramel candies, and a slightly higher quantity of bittersweet chocolate chips to cover the tops of my bars completely with chocolate. The end result is a beautiful (and according to Mike, delicious) creation.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking poader
  • 3 cups shredded sweetened coconut, toasted*

For the topping

  • 1 cup caramel baking bits
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

*To toast coconut, place it in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees, stirring every 3-5 minutes, until browned. My coconut took about 15 minutes to toast; keep a close eye on your coconut, as it can burn quickly. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and 2 1/2 cups toasted coconut; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and egg. Stir in flour/coconut mixture until well blended.

Press crust mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and top with caramel bits; return to oven and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until caramels are melted and slightly bubbly (mine didn’t bubble much, so that’s okay). Remove from oven and sprinkle with bittersweet chocolate chips; allow to sit for 5 minutes, then spread chocolate evenly over the bars. Sprinkle with remaining toasted coconut. Allow bars to cool completely; cut into 24 squares.