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Within minutes of cracking my eyes open and my feet hitting the chilly carpet, the morning sunshine was overshadowed by gloomy sadness—it’s the same tinge of grief that creeps in every September 18, the anniversary of my best friend’s unspeakable death.

Since 22 years of heartbreak can’t be mended with a bottle of Patrón and Duct tape, the next best thing for me is baking. So after I got off the phone with Darya’s dad, Darryl, I wiped my tears with a lotion-y Kleenex and cranked the oven to 350°.

6 and a half layer bars

I recalled a story her mom, Carmen, told me recently. One time, Carmen put a pan of 7-layer bars in the oven and had to leave the house so she asked Darya to turn the oven off when the timer was done. Well, Darya did just that. She turned the oven off but she didn’t take the bars out of the oven. The bars continued to bake and caramelize and as Carmen puts it, “…best bars we ever had and we can’t seem to duplicate that.”

In sweet memory of my friend, I tried to recreate what she had done so many years ago. I changed up the recipe a little because I thought adding caramel, milk chocolate toffee bits, and salty pretzel crumbs could only make the bars better. I was right.

Just remember to turn the oven off and let them sit in there for a while.

6 and a half layer bars

What makes these eight-and-a-half layer bars? I swapped (pretzels for nuts) and added a few ingredients (caramel and toffee bits) from traditional 7-layer bars and, because I’m not a raging fan of coconut, I only use half the coconut most recipes call for. A sprinkling really.

Eight-and-a-half layer bars

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup pretzel crumbs

11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) butter, melted

1 cup butterscotch chips

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1 cup milk chocolate toffee bits

1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping (such as Mrs. Richardson’s butterscotch caramel)

1/2 cup (or your desired amount) shredded coconut

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9×13 pan with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.
  2. Stir together cracker and pretzel crumbs with melted butter. (I use a blender to make the crumbs and then add the butter.)
  3. Dump and firmly press the crumb mix into pan.
  4. Evenly scatter butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, and toffee bits onto crust.
  5. Drizzle on about 1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping.
  6. Sprinkle with coconut, reserving a tablespoon or two.
  7. Pour condensed milk over coconut. Sprinkle with last bit of coconut.
  8. Bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn off oven. Leave bars in oven for about 15 minutes before transferring pan to a cooling rack.
  9. Cool completely before cutting into bars. Store in airtight container.

With sweet memories of my BFF,

Staci

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If my best friend Darya hadn’t been killed by her husband when she was 22, we would have celebrated her 44th birthday last month. She was Lutheran. My Grandpa Elroy died quite a few years ago. He was Baptist. My sisters and I grew up with the teachings and influence of a Protestant church. They both belong to different churches now.

monster cookie bars

 

I’ve spent the past 14 years attending Mass and holy celebrations with Jason and his family. Last fall I decided to convert. This Easter I will be baptized into the Catholic Christian church. As I’ve been attending Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes, I’ve been thinking about what happens to us when we die. Of course, I want to spend my eternal life in heaven with my family and friends, no matter their Christian religion. I want to be in the presence of Darya’s spirit again. I want to eat hard butterscotch candy with my grandpa. I want to hang out with my kids and my sisters. If we get to kiss in heaven, I want to kiss Jason each heavenly morning. So however we need to live our lives on earth to get to heaven, let’s be there together.

monster cookie bars

What does that have to do with a big batch of monster cookie bars? It was my turn for treat night at RCIA the week of Darya’s birthday. People loved these, especially Father Andrew. I gave him an extra one to take home. It was a compliment that people came back for seconds.

Cookie dough balls ready for freezer

Read about how I got this recipe and how I freeze cookie dough balls in Your IT guy knows how to make monster cookie bars and strips.

Monster cookies and bars

2 sticks softened butter

2-1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

2 cups white sugar

2 cups brown sugar

4 teaspoons baking soda

6 eggs

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla

9 cups quick-cooking oats

2-1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

3 cups plain M&M’s

Heat oven to 350°. Prepare pans. If you want to use all your cookie dough at once, you can make one 13×9 pan of bars (baking time takes about 20-25 minutes) and at least two dozen large cookies (baking time takes about 12-16 minutes). Or, you can make two 13×9 pans of bars. Or if you only want cookies, you can make at least six dozen enormous cookies, a few more dozen if you make smaller cookies.

  1. In large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, cream softened butter and peanut butter together.
  2. Add white sugar and brown sugar, beating until well combined.
  3. Add baking soda.
  4. Add eggs and beat well.
  5. Pour in corn syrup and vanilla. Continue mixing until everything is incorporated well.
  6. At this point, you should be able to add at least a few cups of the oats and still use your mixer. But once the dough gets too heavy, stop using the mixer and continue adding oats stirring the batter with a wooden spoon. Use your sexy arm muscles.
  7. Stir in the M&M’s and chocolate chips.

If you are making bars, spread half of the dough into a 13×9-inch pan. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until nice and golden brown. If you take the pan out before they turn golden brown, the middle will not be done.

For cookies, baking time depends on how large you make them. Place on cookie sheet. Using the back of a spoon, gently push down the dough a little bit so that they spread out instead of baking in one mound. Bake at 350° for 12-16 minutes, or until golden brown. I like to sprinkle just a tiny bit of pink Himalayan salt or sea salt on mine when they come out of the oven.

Sweet heavenly wishes,

Staci

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It’s not like anything needed to be improved upon with the original marshmallow creme crunch brownies. In addition to being a favorite treat around these parts, the recipe has been one of my most viewed on Random Sweetness — more than forty thousand people in the past few years. I hope at least half of them baked and shared the sticky squares.

But just like Golden Grahams cereal makes sweet no-bake s’mores bars, I had the feeling that using it instead of Rice Krispies would make marshmallow creme crunch brownies even harder to resist.

marshmallow creme crunchy graham brownies

Did it? Well, there are a few globs of marshmallow creme stuck on my camera and there are definitely a few brownies missing from this picture.

marshmallow creme crunchy graham brownies square

Marshmallow creme crunchy graham brownies

For Brownie Layer:

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

6 Tablespoons cocoa

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 cup flour

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7 ounce jar marshmallow creme (Sometimes I use most of a 13-ounce jar but they get pretty sticky.)

1 cup creamy peanut butter

12 ounce bag chocolate chips

4 cups Golden Grahams cereal

  1. Beat softened butter on medium for 2 minutes. Add sugar and beat 4 minutes. Beat in cocoa, vanilla, and salt. Add eggs and beat until well combined. Stir in flour just until combined.
  2. Pour brownie batter into a well-greased 13×9 pan (or lined with parchment paper). Bake at 350˚ for 25-30 minutes or until done. Cool completely.
  3. Spread marshmallow creme on cooled brownies.
  4. Melt the peanut butter and chocolate chips together over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in cereal. Spread over marshmallow creme layer.
  5. Chill before serving.
  6. Store in refrigerator.

Sweet marshmallowy wishes,

Staci

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Since you continued reading even after seeing the title, I appreciate your sense of humor. Last week my sister and I decided we need a puking emoji (we suppose there’s one out there but it didn’t come loaded on our iPhones) and we would also like to see a new Facebook relationship status titled “married but he’s cheating on me.” We are confident it would be a commonly used selection. To be fair, if Facebook would like to make a “married but she’s cheating on me” status, we don’t discriminate.

On the sweeter side of the week, I made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies in a pan and Paula Deen’s Georgia toffee.

Georgia Toffee

Georgia Toffee

(from my all-time favorite Paula Deen’s Chocolate Celebration special 2008 issue)

13 graham cracker sheets

1 cup butter

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I like to use the mini chips)

1 cup chopped pecans (I use pecan cookie pieces)

Preheat oven to 425˚. Line a 10×15-inch jelly-roll pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Place graham cracker sheets evenly over foil, breaking crackers apart as necessary to cover bottom of pan; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; boil for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat; stir in condensed milk. Immediately pour evenly over crackers. Sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips and pecans. Bake for 12 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting.

pumpkin chocolate chip cookie bars

The pumpkin bars are made using my son’s favorite soft pumpkin chocolate chip cookies recipe.

Pumpkin Chip Cookie Bars

1 1/2 cups butter, softened (3 sticks)

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup sugar

1 can (15 oz) solid-pack pumpkin

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups quick-cooking oats

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (this is my own addition)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups (12 oz) chocolate chips

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars. Beat in the egg, pumpkin and vanilla. Combine the flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spread batter in a greased 15×10-inch jelly roll/bar pan. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before cutting into bars.

These cookies are also quite fabulous as sandwiches with marshmallow maple cream.

I’ve got a classier post for you next time.

Sweet & sarcastic wishes,
Staci

 

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You wouldn’t think there could be too much caramel in a slab of marshmallows and cereal but unless you want to eat rice krispy bars with a fork, resist the temptation to toss in extra chunks of caramel. See exhibit A below.

rice krispie caramel bars | Random Sweetness

Exhibit A – added too many caramels

The recipe card handed down to me reads “1 pkg caramels.” I assumed bags of caramels, like bangs, were bigger back in the 80s. So I added extra and I was oozingly wrong.

Rice Krispy Caramel Bars

11-ounce package caramels, unwrapped

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

2 sticks butter or margarine

2 (10-ounces each) packages marshmallows

14 cups krispy rice cereal

Get in the kitchen:

Line 9×13 pan with parchment paper and butter generously. Or skip the paper and butter the pan itself.

In the microwave or on the stove top, melt together caramels, condensed milk, and 1 stick of butter over low heat. Stir, stir, stir. Keep your eyes on it or it will burn.

In a large bowl or saucepan, melt together marshmallows and 1 stick of butter. Stir in cereal.

Grab the buttered pan and drop big spoonfuls of the marshmallow cereal mixture into the bottom – only use half of the mix. Spray the back of a large spoon with cooking spray and use it to press the cereal into an even layer.

Pour the caramel over the layer. Drop spoonfuls of the remaining cereal on top of the caramel. Use the greased spoon again to press the cereal into an even layer.

Let set at least four hours before cutting into squares. Eat within a day or two.

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You may be as surprised as I was to learn that there are people who don’t have a gooey caramel brownie recipe. Shocking, I know. But if you are one of them, let me share my Yes! Yes! brownie recipe with you. In under 45 minutes, you’ll have a hot pan of gooey, caramel-stringy, could there be more chocolate, brownies on your kitchen counter.

gooey caramel double chocolate brownies

The summer of 1990, I was just out of high school and I worked at 3M as a plant manager. Literally. Besides sorting smocks for laundry, I cleaned bathrooms, refilled vending machines in the cafeteria, and watered the plants around the offices and lobby areas. So they jokingly called me the plant manager. It was during this stint that a co-worker, Judy B., shared these brownies and I’m pretty sure I begged for the recipe.

Years, and years, oh my gosh, 23 years and 50 extra pounds later, my recipe card is bent and crinkled and the plastic protector is melted on the entire left side. When I bring these bars to work now, they disappear. But I never really thought there are people who don’t have their own recipe for caramel brownies. So I never blogged it. I assumed people would be like, “What?! As if I don’t already have a recipe like that.” Boring.

Then one morning I almost fell off my couch when I was watching my favorite T.V. show and Ree from Food Network’s Pioneer Woman showed the world how to make Knock You Naked Brownies. And I was like, “What?! I’ve been making those for years!” Not boring. And then I felt like there was no place for me in the blogging world anymore because anything I had to offer had already been done.

A few months later at work, my friend Mary said she was still waiting for me to blog my caramel brownie recipe. I told her I hadn’t blogged it because I figured everyone had a similar recipe and didn’t need mine. Mary didn’t. She needed my recipe. And for you chocolate lovers out there, you know I really mean needed.

So now, I share it with you. And when you bake them for your friends and they beg you for the recipe, you will say, Yes! Yes!.

{Yes! Yes! Caramel Brownies}

50 caramels (I buy a bag of Kraft caramels and use them all, minus the few my kids run away with.)

1 package chocolate cake mix (Any flavor will do – milk chocolate, chocolate fudge, german chocolate, etc.)

3/4 cup butter, melted

1 small can evaporated milk, divided into two portions, 1/3 cup each

1 cup chopped nuts, optional

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I cover the pan of brownies so who really knows how much that is.)

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, mix melted butter, cake mix, 1/3 cup evaporated milk and nuts. This can be done by hand. Spread three-fourths of this mixture into a lightly greased 9×9-inch or 13×9-inch cake pan. Bake for 6 minutes. Take out of the oven.

Melt caramels with 1/3 cup evaporated milk. Stir until creamy.

Cover the hot crust with the chocolate chips, then pour the caramel mixture over the chips. Top with the remaining batter and bake the 9×9 pan for 20-25 minutes and for the 13×9 pan, bake 15-18 minutes.

Cool completely before cutting. Store in an airtight container. Share with everyone you know.

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Before I tell you the conversation that led me to the discovery of nutmeats, let me give you the background on our Orange Chewins. Straight up, these brown-sugared, orange slice candy-filled, coconut, crackly crusted bars are not my favorite. But they are one of my sister Heidi’s favorite Christmas treats that my mom makes.

Orange Chewins Bars | Random Sweetness Baking

My sister travels a lot in her corporate trainer job and doesn’t get much time to spend at home, this means no time to bake and a lot of time being exposed to candy bars with a 7-year gas station shelf life. So, being the (sorta) nice sister that I am, I wanted to bake Orange Chewins for Heidi one weekend when she was coming home.

But I didn’t.

Then during our family Christmas, my mom asked me if I had made them for Heidi that one time a couple of months back.

With my sisters, mom, and step-mom sitting around the tables, I said, “No, I didn’t make them because there was an ingredient in the recipe that I didn’t know what it was.”

My mom asked me what it was and I said I couldn’t remember – just that it was something that I wasn’t familiar with.

Perplexed, my mom said, “There’s not anything unusual in them – brown sugar, eggs, orange slices, coconut…”

But I knew that there was something on that recipe card that stopped me from baking Orange Chewins for Heidi that weekend. So I dug into my cupboard and pulled the card from my wooden recipe roll-top file.

“Nutmeats!” I exclaimed. “There are nutmeats in there and I don’t know what that is.”

“Those are nuts. Just the insides of nuts,” my mom said.

“Oh, THAT’S what they are. You can tell it’s an old recipe because they are just called nuts now,” I said trying to recover an ounce of scratch-baking pride.

pecan nutmeats

Pecan Pieces (a.k.a. pecan nutmeats)

A few weeks later, I baked Orange Chewins for the first time. But by that time, the coconut I had was gone. So I substituted oatmeal and sent them off to Heidi’s. She liked them that way so much that she said she’ll bake them that way from now on. I liked them this way too because I don’t like coconut, which is probably why I never really like these. Either way, coconut or oatmeal or a little of both, these could become a favorite at your house.

I thought it would be nice to share a family recipe that isn’t as widely recognized as grandma’s chocolate chip cookies.

But secretly, I’m hoping there’s at least one person out there who reads this and says, “Ha, I wouldn’t have known what nutmeats are either.”

Orange Chewins Bars

3 eggs well beaten

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups orange slices (Heidi uses floured kitchen scissors to cut them easily into bite sized pieces. I toss the pieces with sugar to keep them from sticking to each other.)

1/2 cup chopped nutmeats (pecan pieces, chopped walnuts, etc.)

1/2 cup coconut OR 1/2 cup quick-cooking oatmeal

2 cups flour

  1. Beat eggs until foamy with the water.
  2. Add vanilla, gradually add brown sugar  and salt. Beat well and then add orange slice candy pieces, coconut, nuts & flour. Mix well.
  3. Pour into greased 15 x 10 x 1 pan. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes.
  4. Cut before completely cooled.

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