Archive for ◊ December, 2010 ◊

03 Dec 2010 Caramel Bars (Millionaire Bars)

When I was a kid growing up in the north of England, Caramel Bars were my very favorite tea time treat.  My Dad taught me to lick the top of the bar–and announce it loudly–so no one else would select the Caramel Bar before the plate got passed to me! It worked like a charm. Don’t laugh! You’ll be licking your own Caramel Bars shortly.  Look at that picture I posted! Shortbread on the bottom, soft caramel in the middle, creamy milk chocolate on top; how can you resist?

Years after emigrating from England, I found Caramel Bars in the US packaged as “Twix Bars”.  Twix Bars aren’t nearly as good as the homemade real thing, but they’ll do in a pinch. When I returned to England last spring, caramel bars seemed to be enjoying a resurgence.  They were everywhere, but they had a new name, “Millionaire Bars”.   I don’t know where that name came from. Nevertheless, these are still my favorite bar cookie.  I’ve been making them since 1981 based on a recipe I got from a Marks and Spencer’s cookbook on a visit to England on my honeymoon.  The cookbook is long gone, the marriage is long over, but the recipe remains.

My friends have been getting these in their Christmas cookie tins for years!

Caramel Bars (aka Millionaire Bars)

For the Shortbread Base

¾ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups flour

With an electric mixer, beat the butter for about 30 seconds.  Add the sugar and beat together until creamy, about 3 minutes,  scraping the sides often.  Stir in the vanilla, salt and flour. Mixture will be very crumbly.  Do not panic! Press crumbs into the bottom of a prepared 13×9 inch pan (and I do mean PRESS).  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until shortbread is a nice golden color.  Remove from oven and let cool in pan.

For the Caramel Filling

½ cup butter
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey or Lyle’s Golden Syrup
1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk

Place all ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan and heat gently until sugar is dissolved.  Increase heat and boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Color will darken slightly, and you may get a few darker bits which should dissolve into mixture with some vigorous stirring.  Remove from heat, stir well, and let cool for 1 minute.  Pour caramel over cooled shortbread base.  Let cool.

For the Topping

1 large (5 oz.) Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate Bar (or other favorite chocolate bar)

Melt chocolate in the microwave on 50% for 2 or 3 minutes.  Pour melted chocolate over cooled caramel layer, smoothing  top with an offset spatula. Let cool.  Cut into squares of desired size.  Think fudge!  I cut my Caramel Bars into 1 inch squares.  Mmmmmmm 🙂

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen today. You’re leaving with a great recipe!  Come back again tomorrow!

02 Dec 2010 Jam Pinwheels

I firmly believe every cookie tray needs an old fashioned jam cookie.  Those coconut, chocolate, peanut butter, peppermint, gingerbread, sugared pecan concoctions have their place but, in the midst of such chaos, a straightforward old fashioned cookie is just the thing.   So, for day two of my 2010 “Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies” special, I offer you, a delicious Jam Pinwheel.

I won’t lie to you. This recipe is a bit of a bother to make–but the end result is a delicious jam cookie.  First, make the dough and then refrigerate it for an hour or so.  Then, roll out the dough (always a mess), spread it with jam (not too thick, not too thin, not too close to the edges), and roll back up (messy) and then refrigerate for another many hours.  THEN, unroll, slice and bake.  THEN, take the cookies off the cookie sheet after they firm up but before they begin to stick.  It’s one of those cookie recipes you have to make in bits and pieces (with plenty time for washing the dishes and addressing Christmas cards in between steps)!

This recipe is from the 2010 Better Homes and Gardens “Christmas Cookies” Special Interest Publication (page 59).

Jam Pinwheels

1 cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 ¼ cups all purpose flour
2/3 cups seedless raspberry preserves

  1. With an electric mixer beat the butter for about 30 seconds.  Add sugar, making powder, and salt and beat until well combined.
  2. Beat in eggs, one at a time and then lemon peel.
  3. Beat in flour.
  4. Divide dough in half, cover and refrigerate for an hour or so or until dough is firm enough to roll out.
  5. Roll each half of dough into a square approximately 10 x 10 inches.
  6. Spread each rolled dough square with 1/3 of a cup of raspberry preserves.
  7. Roll up dough.  Refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours, or until firm enough to slice.
  8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  9. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  10. Cut rolls into 1/4 inch thick slices (discard end slices), place on parchment lined cookie sheet,  and bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until edges are firm and bottoms are lightly browned.
  11. Cool cookies on tray for a minute or so then transfer to a rack to cool. (Don’t dilly-dally on this step)
  12. Makes about 60 cookies.
  13. Store in refrigerator for 2 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen today. It’s always nice to talk to you!

01 Dec 2010 Gingerbread Cookies (with Royal Icing)

It’s December first, time to start the Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies posting.  I should be excited!  I should be baking!  My house should be filled with the smell of molasses, peppermint, gingerbread, chocolate, butterscotch, and so on!  My counters should have piles of freshly baked cookies on them!  My freezer should be ready to received tins of stacked cookies!  But, I’m, afraid, this is not the case…

On Sunday a pipe burst under my kitchen.  On Monday the fence guy noticed it.  On Tuesday the plumber said, “It’s bad. Call an excavation company.”  The excavation company and the insurance company will be here this afternoon.  I can’t use the sink.  The wall between my kitchen and garage is going to have to be knocked down.  The money I was going to spend on butter, sugar, vanilla and flour is now going to have to multiply and pay for pumps and plumbers and pipes, oh, MY. Not sure how many cookies I am going to get baked in the next twelve days, not sure how happy I am going to be over the next twelve days. This is SO not a good thing…

BUT! I did make a head start on my Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies special.  So…, with fingers crossed, let’s get started! And let’s hope we can finish 🙂  Ready, set, BAKE!

EVERY Christmas cookie plate needs an old fashioned Gingerbread cookie.  I have been using this recipe for years.  The cookie is sturdy, bakes flat and although it has a pronounced gingerbread taste, it’s not overwhelming; kids can decorate it without it breaking, and kids will eat it without complaining! I found this recipe in a small spiral bound Christmas Cookie cookbook back in the 1980s or 1990s.  My daughter just baked 12 dozen of these cookies for two Christmas parties she’s catering.  She’s making the cookies, and the kids will decorate with royal icing and assorted candies and then take them home to their families.

If you don’t have memories of decorating and eating Gingerbread cookies from your childhood, perhaps you’d like to create that memory for the children in your life.  Start with this recipe.  It’s a good one.  If you do have memories of decorating and eating gingerbread cookies, then do the happy dance! I’m sure you are going to start, or already have started, creating the same memories for the children in your life. Use this recipe, use the recipe that your grandmother used…, just get started!  It is, after all, the beginning of the Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies!

Save this recipe; it’s not just for Christmas.  Cut the dough into pumpkins, bats, ghosts and witches… It’s perfect for Halloween!  The same pumpkin cutter, along with leaves, pilgrims and turkeys, make it a good cookie for Thanksgiving, too.  And hearts, cupids, X’s and O’s, along with pink, red and white Royal Icing, make it a very good cookie for Valentine’s day <3

Gingerbread Cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1 cup light molasses
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
4 ½ cups flour

  1. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy–at least 5 minutes.
  2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stir in molasses and vinegar.
  3. In another bowl stir ginger, cinnamon, baking soda and salt into flour.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture.  (Dough will be very soft)
  4. Divide dough into fourths, and place into a large Ziploc bag and place in freezer for an hour.  (I prefer to let the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator, because the dough is VERY firm, and difficult to roll when out of the freezer.) Dough can be made up to two days ahead.  When ready to bake proceed as below.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Gently roll dough to ¼ inch thickness.  Cut into shapes. Re-roll scraps. This recipe will make a lot of cookies, but the number depends on the size of the cookie cutters used.  I think you’ll get at least 4 dozen 3 inch cookies out of this recipe.
  7. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for ten to twelve minutes.  Remove to racks to cool.
  8. Store baked cookies in an airtight container.

Royal Icing

3 Tablespoons meringue powder (available at Michael’s, specialty baking stores and many upscale grocery stores)
1/3 cup warm water (or more, add additional water 1 Tablespoon at a time)
4 ½ cups (1 pound) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

  1. Beat ingredients together with an electric mixer.
  2. When combined increase speed to high and beat for seven to ten minutes.  Place in decorator bag with a decorator tip.
  3. Decorate cookies!
  4. There will be a lot of Royal Icing for this cookie recipe. (Almost double the amount you’ll need).  Gingerbread cookies look good with plain white Royal Icing, but icing can also be colored with paste food coloring.

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen today! Hopefully we’ll be able to meet back here SOON for some more baking!