Toffee Bars

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The Christmas baking season has started for us. We were busy baking last weekend and already have gingersnaps, almond shortbreads and chocolate chip doodles in the freezer. When we were planning what to bake this year, we thought we would add a few different recipes to the mix, in addition to our old standbys.

Toffee bars are an old favorite that we haven’t made for a few years. I first made them when I was in high school and then somehow lost the recipe. Rich and I later found a similar recipe on the back of a condensed milk can. Since then we have tweaked the recipe and directions a bit.

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The bars start with saltine crackers as the base. I love how the crackers’ layers separate a bit as they soak up the butter from the bottom and the toffee from the top. Butter and sugar elevate most anything, even plain Jane saltine crackers.

The toffee bars really play up the contrast between salty and sweet. I prefer to use salted butter and ordinary saltines in these bars, to offset the sweetness of the toffee and the chocolate. If you really don’t like the salty-sweet thing, you could use unsalted crackers and unsalted butter, but the bars might taste a little flat.

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As we have made these over the years we have reduced the baking time again and again. The shorter baking time helps the toffee layer to stay soft instead of chewy and overly sticky. We like the texture contrast between the crispy cracker, the soft toffee and the harder chocolate layer.

These go together in minutes and are pretty much foolproof. They are different than the usual Christmas cookie offering and they just plain taste great. You can’t go wrong with buttery, sweet toffee and chocolate.

Print the recipe here.

Toffee Bars
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 50-60 small bars

Don’t be tempted to try these with anything but butter. You need it for both the flavor and the texture.

1¼ cups butter (2½ sticks), NO substitutions
45-50 saltine crackers
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1½ cups semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt ¼ cup (½ stick) butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Pour into 12 by 17 inch baking sheet, or two 9 by 13 inch pans. Tilt pan to cover evenly with butter. Arrange crackers over butter in one layer, breaking crackers if necessary to fit.

In the same saucepan, melt remaining 1 cup (2 sticks) butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add condensed milk, stirring until combined.

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Pour toffee mixture slowly over crackers and spread evenly. Bake for 5-10 minutes. Keep a close eye on them after 5 minutes. When the bars are done the entire top will be bubbly and the edges will just be starting to darken slightly. Don’t cook longer, or the toffee will have a burned taste and be too chewy at the edges.

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Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top of the hot toffee. Let stand 5 minutes, until chips are glossy and soft.

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Spread melted chips evenly over the bars. Let cool at room temperature for several hours until chocolate is set. Refrigerate or freeze to set chocolate faster.

Cut into small squares once the chocolate is set. Store bars in an airtight container, with parchment or waxed paper between layers. These keep at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

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Saturday Breakfast Inspirations

Saturday mornings are our only day of the week to sleep in. And they are usually the only day of the week that we indulge at breakfast. The other days of the week breakfast is something quick and healthy.

When I am really on the ball, I bake something on Friday so breakfast is ready and waiting whenever we want it on Saturday morning. The dishes are a distant dream and the morning can be family relaxation with a warm cuppa, a plate of deliciousness and the newspaper.

I was flipping through recipes on the blog (yes, it turns into my own recipe reference sometimes) for inspiration and a couple of baked treats caught my eye. I guarantee one of them is going to find its way onto the table tomorrow morning.  Which would you bake?

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Brown Sugar Cinnamon Doughnut Bites

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Sugar-Topped Cranberry Orange Muffins

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Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

Butterscotch Brownies

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Rich and I are usually on the same page when it comes to desserts. These brownies are one of the few exceptions. I think they are the epitome of a non-chocolate dessert – soft, with a slight crust on top, redolent of brown sugar and vanilla. Rich thinks they are kind of bland. I am a lover of all things brown sugar, which could influence my feelings just a bit. And the recipe is my mom’s, so they are a taste of childhood for me.

I am not the only one who likes these, though. I always come home with an empty pan when I take them to any party. I made them for a church function once and I didn’t think I was going to get out the door without giving out the recipe to a friend. She made me promise I would send her the recipe as soon as I got home – no waiting until the next day. They are that good.

I have no idea where my mother got the recipe. It is another one of those that was always in the recipe box, ready for us to whip up a batch. I like them with pecans occasionally, but usually I like to keep them plain. You can make them a little lower in fat by substituting yogurt for half of the oil, if you like. They will be a little cakier, though still just as tasty. You can also substitute ½ cup of white whole wheat flour for the same amount of all-purpose flour to add a subtle nuttiness. Sometimes I do both variations, sometimes one or the other, and sometimes neither. They are always irresistible, at least to me. I am going to try them with butter sometime, to see if that would make me like them more. I am almost afraid to, since I always eat way too many when I make them as they are.

They are easy to mix up – requiring no more than a bowl and a spoon; and they use ingredients you probably already have on hand. You can have them baked and ready to eat in less than an hour. Mix some up soon and let me know if you are in my camp, or Rich’s.

Download or print recipe here.

Butterscotch Brownies
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 24 brownies

2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil (or ¼ cup oil and ¼ cup fat free, plain yogurt)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose flour and ½ cup white whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

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

Stir brown sugar and oil together until combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, salt and pecans (if using). Mix thoroughly, batter will be very thick.

Spread in pan, making as smooth as possible.

Bake 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs.

Place pan on cooling rack. Let cool about 10 minutes and then cut into squares. Let cool in pan until room temperature.

These freeze well. Easy to double.

Fried Apples

Over the last few weeks I have been longing for fall weather. I need long no more – today’s weather is all fall, though not brisk, sunny fall weather. It is dreary, damp and chilly – just the day for fried apples.

My parents made variations of fried apples when I was growing up. There was never a recipe, just a technique – apple slices cooked in a little butter, sometimes with white or brown sugar and cinnamon, and sometimes not. Depending on the apples, they were sometimes soft and saucy, other times browned and caramelized, with very little sauce.

My grandmother (Mom’s mother) made cinnamon fried apples for an accompaniment to Sunday dinner sometimes. I loved them because she made them with a handful of Red Hots to give them color and flavor. I was always amazed how red they got and how quickly those hard little candies melted into the mix.

I am skipping the fire engine red candy to bring you a recipe that you probably can make without a trip to the store. Apples with a touch of brown sugar, butter and cinnamon – the apples are the true star of the show here. If you go apple picking this fall, make sure you make some fried apples out of your bounty; preferably on the day you pick them. I don’t usually consider fruit a dessert, but if you make fried apples out of apples that were on the tree just hours before, they are good enough to (almost) push apple pie out of the way for a day.

Try these as topping for biscuits, toast or pancakes or as a side dish with dinner. I like them warm, but they are pretty good right out of the fridge, if you have any leftovers.

Fried Apples
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

Adjust amounts to suit your tastes, but be careful with the sugar – it is easy to add too much and make them too sweet.

4 medium apples, any variety
2 teaspoons butter
1-4 tablespoons water, if necessary
1-3 tablespoons brown sugar, to taste
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Peel, core and quarter the apples. Slice each quarter into approximately ¼-inch slices. Heat the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until melted. Add the apples and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, 15-30 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low if the apples start to get too brown. Time will vary depending on the apple variety. If apples start to stick to the pan, add a tablespoon of water. If want a saucier consistency, or your apples aren’t juicy enough, add up to 4 tablespoons of water to the pan as you cook the apples.

Taste one piece and decide if you want to add a little brown sugar, a lot, or none. Add cinnamon, if desired. Cook, stirring constantly, about 5 more minutes. Serve hot, or at room temperature.

These reheat well in the microwave or in a pan on low heat. Add a little water if apples start to stick when reheating on the stovetop.

Download the recipe here.