Salted Caramel Rice Krispie Treats

Over the past year or so, Artie and I attended a couple dozen potluck events – Supper Clubs, work events, parties, etc. And pretty much every single time, I brought Rice Krispie Treats. It is my go-to potluck item. Easy to prepare, easy to transport, sort-of homemade, relatively low-cost, enjoyed by all. All the wins.

Recently I was wondering how I became the Rice Krispie Treat lady at every function, and I remembered that while I was writing my dissertation, I had to make a dessert for a fundraiser bake-off at work. What could be easier than Rice Krispies? Nothing. And so the obsession began dessert niche was formed.

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Rice Krispie Treats are made with cereal, so they are a part of a balanced breakfast, right?

Given how many Rice Krispies I’ve made, I’ve taken to experimenting with flavors and mix-ins. Some were winners (sprinkles!) while others were not so good (candy corn). But one recipe that consistently receives rave reviews is Salted Caramel Rice Krispie Treats. So by popular request, I give you the recipe (it is so easy, I almost hesitate to call it a recipe!).

Salted Caramel Rice Krispie Treats – adapted from the recipe on the Rice Krispies cereal box + many Pinterest finds

Ingredients:

  • Stick of unsalted butter
  • Large box of Rice Krispies (generic cereal works just fine)
  • 10-ounce bag of marshmallows (Publix brand are my favorite)
  • 2/3 bag of caramel candies (I prefer the Kraft caramels pictured below)
  • Salt (sea salt or fancy salt is great, but regular salt works, too)

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Directions:

  • Rice Krispie Treats come together quickly, so start by getting all the ingredients and dishes prepped.
  • Remove the caramel candies from the bag and their individual wrappers. Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut the candies into quarters. Do NOT put these in a bowl – they will end up stuck together (#learnedthehardway). Instead, lay the chopped up candies on a piece of parchment paper or wax paper.
  • Use one tablespoon of butter to grease a 9×13 baking dish. Hold onto the rest of that little pat of butter for later.
  • In a large pot, melt 7 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat.
  • When the butter is melted, add the entire bag of marshmallows. Stir until the marshmallows are completely melted.
  • Add about 10 cups of Rice Krispies cereal and a pinch of salt.
  • Stir until everything is combined.
  • Pour about half the mixture into the 9×13 pan, pushing into an even layer with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle evenly with the chopped caramel candies. Top with the remaining Rice Krispies mixture.
  • Use the little pat of butter left over from earlier to grease a sheet of wax paper. With the greased side down, use the wax paper to gently press the Rice Krispies into the pan.
  • Sprinkle the top with just a little bit of salt. Press down to make sure the salt adheres.
  • Then comes the hardest part- allow the mixture to cool for at least an hour. The Rice Krispies will be much easier to cut if you let them sit for a while, but let’s be clear that I usually dig in right away.
  • Cut into squares with a sharp knife. Enjoy!
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Salted caramel Rice Krispie treats x 2 minus quality control bites.

This “recipe” is pretty flexible – you can experiment with less or more butter, marshmallows, or cereal to get the flavor and texture you like best. You can also experiment with other mix-ins like chocolate chips, crushed cookies, sprinkles, etc.

I have found these will keep in an airtight container on the counter for a few days (if they last that long!). I’ve also been known to freeze individually wrapped leftovers for a sweet weeknight treat. Enjoy!

Cream Cheese Frosting 101

When it comes to cupcakes, Artie and I pack a one-two punch: he makes a delicious cupcake and I make a mean frosting. To be honest, my real favorite part is the frosting. I could probably (okay, I have!) eat frosting with a spoon.

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There are lots of great types of frosting you can make, but cream cheese frosting is one of my favorites and also one of the easiest to prepare. And it tastes delicious.

The ingredients include:

  • 8-ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 8-ounces butter, softened
  • 16-ounces powdered sugar, sifted
  • Flavorings, as desired

In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream together butter and cream cheese. Add powdered sugar and beat slowly until incorporated. Once incorporated, increase the speed of the mixer and beat frosting until smooth and fluffy. Add any flavorings you desire and mix until fully incorporated.

For Artie’s cardamom and orange cupcakes, I used the zest of an orange, a splash of cointreau, and a splash of vanilla. For my pumpkin whoopie pies, I used a healthy shake of cinnamon. Experiment with your favorite flavors and have fun coming up with tasty new combinations.

IMG_0005Frost cupcakes with a pastry bag or a spatula. Store leftover frosting (if there is any!) in a container in the refrigerator.

This is a great go-to frosting that requires relatively few ingredients and is very versatile. Enjoy!

Banana Pudding

Banana pudding has always been one of my favorites. Sweet, creamy and delicious, this is one of the ultimate comfort foods. There are lots of variations on this dessert – some with custard made from scratch and others that use pudding from a box mix, some with cream cheese and others with heavy cream. My banana pudding recipe combines the convenience of boxed pudding mix with the homemade touch of fresh whipped cream. It gets a slight tang from the addition of sour cream. I also dress it up by swapping out vanilla wafers for Chessman shortbread cookies. This pudding recipe is easy to make and is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

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Banana Pudding (adapted from the recipe on the Publix vanilla wafers box)

Ingredients

  • 2 small boxes of instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 3 – 1/2 cups cold milk (I used 1% but whatever you have on hand will work)
  • 16-ounces heavy whipping cream
  • 8-ounces sour cream
  • 4 – 6 bananas
  • 2 packages of Chessman cookies (I use the mini cookies when I can find them)

In a large bowl, combine instant pudding mix with cold milk. Whisk until combined. I use slightly less milk than the package directions call for in order to get a thicker pudding. The trick to get smooth pudding is to add a small amount of milk to the pudding (about a 1/2 cup) and stir until combined (it will be very thick). Add another half cup of milk and still until smooth. Continue in this manner until all the milk is added and the pudding is smooth. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

After the pudding sets, stir in 8-ounces of sour cream and refrigerate.

In another large bowl, whisk heavy whipping cream until it forms stiff peaks. Be careful not to let it go too far or it will turn into butter!

Gently fold the whipped cream into the pudding/sour cream mixture.

Peel and slice a few bananas.

In a 9×13 pan or a large bowl, start with a layer of Chessman cookies. Top with a layer of bananas and half the pudding mixture. Add another layer of Chessman cookies and bananas then the other half of the pudding. Finally, top with a layer of Chessman cookies.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

IMG_2378Cold, creamy and oh so delicious. This is a great dessert (and breakfast, too, if there are any leftovers) for a potluck, picnic, or weeknight treat. Enjoy!

Deconstructed Shortcake

Alternate title for this post: Red, White, and Blueberry Shortcake

A few weeks ago, we celebrated a life milestone for one of the people in my office. I signed up to bring a dessert. I was looking for something low-maintenance that I could easily transport to work and would capitalize on the delicious fresh berries that are currently in season.

Behold the deconstructed shortcake!

photo(5)This dessert could not have been easier to prepare. The secret – one store bought ingredient for convenience, one fresh/high-quality ingredient, and fresh/seasonal produce. And a pretty platter for serving.

The store bought ingredient was the Sara Lee pound cake. It was on sale at Publix – buy one, get one free. I defrosted the pound cake for about 10 minutes and then cut it into cubes.

The fresh/high-quality ingredient was the whipped cream. Using the whisk attachment on my mixer, I whisked a medium-sized carton of heavy whipping cream until soft peaks formed (careful not to let it go too long or you’ve have butter). I added a few teaspoons of sugar and a splash of vanilla at the very end to give the whipped cream a little bit of sweetness. Cool Whip and the artificial stuff in the cans have nothing on freshly whipped cream.

The fresh/seasonal produce was a carton of strawberries (rinsed, dried, and cut in quarters) and a pint of blueberries (rinsed and dried). Easy peasy. Blackberries would work well, too.

photo(4)Another option for this dessert would be to get small plastic cups and layer the ingredients to create individual parfaits – start with a layer of cake cubes, then berries, and then a few spoons of whipped cream. One more layer of each and top with a berry or two.

A berry delicious seasonal dessert that is easy to make, easy to transport, affordable, and a huge hit.

Apple Pie | Pear Pie

Traveling for work the entire month of October, I was beginning to miss my kitchen and home cooked meals. In an almost binge-like fashion, I jumped back into cooking by making six pies in less than a week. Not wanting to get too adventurous at first, I decided to bake a simple apple pie to take to the office and a pie to eat at home. The pie was so well received that I decided to not only make another apple pie but to also make a ginger pear variation of the pie for the office Thanksgiving lunch. While I was making pies for my office, I went ahead and made pies for Jill’s class too.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, here is the recipe I adapted from my mom to make a delicious apple pie.

For each pie, you will need:

  • 3  large Granny Smith apples
  • 1  large Braeburn apple
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 T. flour
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 tsp. apple pie spice or cinnamon
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 refrigerated roll-out pie crusts

The combination of the Granny Smith Apples, which are known for their tartness, and the Braeburn apple, which is a slightly sweeter relative of the Granny Smith apple,  provides a nice balance for a pie that is neither mouth-puckering tart nor tooth-achingly sweet.

Apples for Pie
Granny Smith and Braeburn Apples

Preheat an over to 450 degrees. Peel, core, and slice the apples into about 1/8 inch slices.

Peeled, Cored, and Sliced Apples
Peeled, Cored, and Sliced Apples

In a bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, spice, and flour. I used Penzey’s Apple Pie Spice, but plain cinnamon would be fine.

Sugar, Flour, Salt, and Spice
Sugar, Flour, Salt, and Spice

Place one of the roll-out crusts in a pie plate. Cover the bottom of the pie crust with a layer of sliced apples. Sprinkle the apples with the sugar mixture.

Pie Crust with Apples and sugar mixture
Pie Crust with Apples

Continue adding layers of apples, sprinkling each layer with the sugar mixture. It may seem like a lot of sugar, flour, salt, and spice for the pie, but use all of the mixture. The juices that cook out of the apples will mix with the sugar and flour to make a cohesive apple filling. Once the crust is full of apples, top the pie mixture with pats of butter.

Pie Crust with Apples, Sugar, and Butter
Top the Pie Mixture with Butter

Place another roll-out pie crust on top of the pie, fold the top layer under the edges of the bottom layer, and crimp to seal the crusts together. Use a sharp knife to cut a few slits in the top pie crust.

Apple Pie Ready to Go Into the Oven
Ready for the Oven

Bake the pie at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Then, lower the temperature to 375 degrees and bake the pie for 30 more minutes or until the pie crust is a light golden brown. Let the pie cool slightly before serving, otherwise the filling may be too liquid.

Cooked Apple Pie
Ready for a Fork… and Maybe Some Vanilla Ice Cream

This apple pie recipe is relatively simple. You could make your own pie crust, but using the refrigerated roll-out crust saves time that you can spend making other Thanksgiving Day dishes. The mixture of Granny Smith and Braeburn apples provides a tartness that keeps the pie from being too sweet after the sugar mixture is added.

This recipe also lends itself to more adventurous variations. For examples, I replaced with apples with Forelle, Comine, and Bartlett Pears (I did not peel the pears) and replaced the cinnamon with ground ginger and kept everything else in the recipe the same to make a Ginger Pear Pie. The ground ginger really comes through in the pie and complements the sweetness of the pears well.

Forelle, Comine, and Bartlett Pears
Forelle, Comine, and Bartlett Pears

If you are invited over to share Thanksgiving with family or friends this year, volunteer to bring dessert. Don’t pick up a pre-made pie from the grocery store, use this recipe to make an apple pie, a ginger pear pie, or both. You will probably get invited back for Thanksgiving dinner next year.

Apple Pies and Pear Pies
Apple Pies and Pear Pies

Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes – Batch #1

With Autumn just around the corner and pumpkin ales starting to show up in grocery stores and at my local Coop, I decided to preview the season and experiment with making pumpkin ale cupcakes. I took notes as I made the cupcakes to keep track of the recipe. For Batch #1, I used Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Although these cupcakes were quite tasty, I have a few tweaks in mind for the next experimental batch.

Recipe notes
Recipe notes

For batch #1, the ingredients I used were:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 and 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 1 bottle Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale
  • 3 eggs
  • 7oz container 2% Fage Greek yogurt

To replicate this recipe (for anyone who can’t wait for a revised Batch #2 recipe), preheat the oven to 350 degrees and mix together the sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt.

The Dry Ingredients

In a separate mixing bowl, add the melted butter and let it cool to room temperature. Pour the pumpkin ale into the butter. Mix in the three eggs, one at a time. After mixing in the eggs, add the Greek yogurt and mix until well blended.

Butter and Beer
Melted butter and Pumpkin Ale

Slowly blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until a smooth, slightly liquid batter forms.

Pumpkin Ale Cupcake Batter #1
Pumpkin Ale Cupcake Batter

Pour the batter into lined muffin tins, filling each about 3/4 full. I had enough batter to make about 28 cupcakes.

Uncooked Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes
Uncooked Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes

Bake the cupcakes at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Test the cupcakes by inserting a toothpick into the center of one. If the cupcakes are done, the toothpick will come out clean.

Cooked Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes
Cooked Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes

Let the cupcakes cool to room temperature before topping them with frosting. For Batch #1, Jill make a frosting by mixing a softened 8 oz block of Neufchâtel cheese (reduced fat cream cheese), 1 stick of butter (softened), and a 1lb box of confectioners sugar. As the frosting mixed, she add a couple of shakes of cake spice (a combination of cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cloves).

Pumpkin Ale Cupcake with Spiced Frosting
Pumpkin Ale Cupcake with Spiced Frosting

Although I am posting this recipe on the blog, the recipe is not perfect. The cupcakes were good, but there are a few things I will do differently in Batch #2. To help elevate the flavor of the cupcake, I will probably add a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice to the batter. Jill also recommended that I add some canned pumpkin to the mix. For the frosting, I will probably go with a buttercream frosting with some added cinnamon instead of the cream cheese frosting with cake spice. The cake spice was a little too spicy for the cupcake. I opted for Neufchâtel cheese instead of cream cheese, hoping that it would not be as rich. Unfortunately, the texture of the frosting was too gluey, probably because Neufchâtel cheese has a higher moisture content than cream cheese. With some of these modifications, I hope to improve this recipe and share it on the blog soon.

Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

After playing second tier to other bacon-like foods (such as prosciutto, serrano, and capocollo), bacon is currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Bacon is the new bacon. One of the current bacon trends is to pair it with chocolate. I’ve even heard of Peterbrooke Chocolatier selling chocolate coated strips of bacon. Although I haven’t tried the chocolate coated bacon, the concept served as the inspiration for me to make bacon chocolate chip cookies for my office cookie exchange.

The ingredients for the cookies are:

  • 1 and 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose four
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 strips of bacon
Strips of bacon
The best cookies start with bacon

Like many of the best things in life, these cookies start with bacon. To make sure the bacon pieces are crispy and the cookies do not end up oily, sandwich the bacon strips between sheets of paper towel and cook in the microwave until crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Let the bacon slices cool before crumbling into pieces.

In a bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, and salt. In a mixing bowl, cream the sugars and butter. Mix the eggs into the creamed butter, one egg at a time. Add the vanilla extract to the mixture. Gradually add the flour mixture. Beat the ingredients together until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and bacon crumbles.

Cookie dough with chocolate chips and bacon
Fold in the chocolate chips and bacon crumbles

Once the chocolate chips and bacon crumbles are incorporated, spread the cookie dough out onto a non-stick jelly-roll pan.

Preparing the pan cookies
Spread the cookie dough out onto a jelly-roll pan

Bake the cookie dough at 375 degrees until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let the pan cookie cool slightly before cutting into square cookies.

Bacon chocolate chip pan cookies
Bacon chocolate chip pan cookies

Jill and I both took the cookies to our respective offices. With the exception of a few vegetarians, everyone gave the cookies great reviews. One of Jill’s co-workers expressed the desire to marry one of the cookies. A few of my co-workers wanted more bacon in the cookies, but most of them thought they were perfect the way I made them. If you make a batch of the cookies, let me know how they are received and if you end up making any changes to the recipe.