Han Solo Trapped In Caramel Shortcake, or Girls Already Like Legos

20 Dec

Fraser and I worked together to make another of his granny’s specialties for a small gathering of friends: caramel shortcake. This is also known as Millionaire’s Shortbread, and commercially as the Twix bar. While I made the shortbread base, Fraser made homemade caramel and poured melted chocolate into the Han Solo and Lego ice trays. Normally, you would just spread the caramel over the shortbread, then pour melted chocolate over that and hope you remember to cut it before it’s totally set, otherwise the chocolate will crack like crazy. By using the rectangular molded chocolates, that made it very easy to cut into uniform, perfectly-portioned pieces.

Ignore the little crumbs. I forgot to photograph until the end of the party.

The recipe we used is adapted from the Joy of Cooking. When I made it before, I thought the caramel was too stingy, so we doubled the amount for ours. For the chocolate, we used Scharffenberger’s 72% dark chocolate for the Han Solos and Trader Joe’s Pound Plus dark chocolate for the Legos. Both were delicious.

It’s also worth noting that this shortbread base is great on its own. I’ve used it in a variety of forms – molded, frozen and sliced, rolled out and cut into rounds for plain shortbread cookies, empire biscuits, and with mini chocolate chips mixed in. It’s just an awesome basic shortbread recipe.


For the shortbread base:

  • 3/4 cup (aka 1.5 sticks or 170g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups (210g) all purpose flour
  • dash of salt

For the rest:

  • 2 14 oz cans of sweetened condensed milk (this is after I doubled it to make a nice, thick caramel layer. If you don’t LOVE caramel, one can will make enough to just barely give the whole pan a thin layer.)
  • 6 oz good-quality dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips (I’ve used Trader Joe’s, Scharffenberger, and Ghirardelli all with good results)
  • 1 tsp unsalted butter ONLY if you’re NOT molding the chocolate. If you are molding the chocolate, omit this butter.


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F (170 C) and spray a 9″x9″ pan with either Baker’s Joy or Pam with Flour.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the vanilla and beat until it’s fully combined. The stand mixer is your friend. Toss in the salt, then add the flour and mix it in JUST until its all combined. It won’t form a perfect ball of dough and will be somewhat crumbly.
  3. Press the dough into the prepared pan, making it as even as possible.
  4. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to turn golden.
  5. While the shortbread is baking, make the caramel. Pour the condensed milk into a large, microwave-safe bowl and microwave on half-power for 4 minutes. Stir and microwave for another 4 minutes. Stir again and reduce the power to low. Continue to microwave in 2 minute bursts, stirring between bursts until the milk has thickened and turned a golden caramel color. It will be sticky around the edges. Using a pot holder to protect your hands, beat the caramel with a wooden spoon, until it’s completely smooth. (That said, don’t worry too much if there are tiny flecks of solid caramel anywhere in there. They’re sort of nice.)
  6. Spread the caramel over the shortbread and leave on a wire rack to cool COMPLETELY.
  7. While it’s cooling either mold your chocolate (melt it in a double boiler and pour into molds only about 1/8″ deep. Much thicker than that and it won’t so much be a topping as a slab of chocolate that’ll make it impossible to bite through the cookie. Put the molds in the freezer to speed up the process, but store the molded chocolate in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.) or go read a book for an hour.
  8. If you aren’t molding your chocolate, melt the chocolate with the butter in a double boiler, then pour over the caramel. Use a spatula to spread it out and smooth it. Leave it to set, but check it after 15 minutes or so. Once it’s no longer liquid but not totally set, cut it into 16 squares (or more or less depending on how big you want them, really). You really don’t want to wait until it’s all the way hardened, unless you honestly don’t care if the chocolate cracks and looks all messy. It’ll still taste good.
  9. If you did mold your chocolate, lay the chocolates on top of the FULLY cooled caramel (otherwise, they’ll start to melt and negate all the work you did molding them) and use them as a guide to cut the shortcake into individual cookies.



Me vs. Tablet

19 Dec


It only took 4 batches, but I finally got a perfect tray of sugary goodness. Maybe I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Lots of people who have put up with my griping about tablet have asked me what it is. As far as lots of people are concerned, a tablet is something you write on, not something you eat, so let me enlighten you! Tablet is a traditional Scottish confection that, when done right, looks something like fudge, but is more firm and melts in your mouth with a buttery caramel flavor. When done wrong, well… it might be a grainy slab of sugar that makes you gag, it might not set and just sit there in the pan, all sludgy like the Swamp of Sadness, or it might set while you’re still pouring it into the pan and be tasty, but really lopsided and ugly.

I think I kind of got cocky after I made a perfect batch of tablet for my wedding. Seriously, it was months ago and people are still leaving random Facebook comments and sending me emails about how good it was. My over-confidence was my undoing this week as I tried to make another batch for Christmas presents. The first batch was delicious, but of the lopsided and ugly persuasion. Batch 2? Swamp of Sadness. Batch 3? Undercooked. Batch 4, though? Lovely.

I’m mostly including all of this preamble before the recipe to hit home the concept that this is not the kind of thing you should expect to master immediately. Even if it makes you scream and cry and feel like you’re obviously the worst cook ever to dump 4 and a half cups of sugar into a big ol’ pot, try, try again. It will be worth it, I promise.

Now, with now further ado, here’s the best recipe you’ll ever find. Fraser’s granny clipped it from a newspaper (probably the Citizen, a now-defunct Glasgow paper) 50 or so years ago, and while the paper has yellowed and creased, the recipe is as good as ever. Note: I have converted the measurements to be American-friendly and the instructions, which are very bare-bones in the original are expanded to share things I’ve learned along the way.


  • 4.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 small can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 Tablespoon Lyle’s Golden Syrup*
  • A few drops vanilla extract
  • Mug of very cold water


  1. Liberally butter a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet (as long as it has sides). If you don’t have either of those, you could probably use 2 lasagna pans. Set it/them on a level surface, with a towel under the pan to protect the surface from the heat.
  2. Put the sugar, butter, and milk in a large pot. Stir it over medium heat on the stove until the butter has melted and the sugar has completely dissolved. Stir it the whole time.
  3. Add the condensed milk and bring to the boil, stirring all the while.
  4. Once it’s boiling, add the syrup and boil for another 5 minutes. Keep stirring.
  5. At this point, you check to see if it’s done. Do this by carefully taking a spoonful of the BOILING SUGAR (in other words, please be careful and don’t burn yourself, okay?) and plunging it into the cold water mug. If it doesn’t disintegrate and stays stuck together when you roll it around on the spoon, it’s done. The stuff in the pot should also be a golden caramel color and no longer a creamy off-white. If it’s not quite done (mine is never quite done at this point), keep stirring and check it again with a clean spoon every 2 minutes or so.
  6. Once it’s done, take it off the heat and drizzle in a very little vanilla extract. Stand back once you’ve poured it, because it will sizzle and spit. Stir the pot vigorously for 2-4 minutes, and here’s where it becomes hard to explain without just letting you take a turn stirring so you can feel what happens. Basically, you want to stir and stir until it thickens and you notice that you need to work harder to scrape the bottom of the pot because it’s JUST BARELY beginning to solidify. The instant you feel that thickening, pour it into the buttered pan. It helps to have a second person to scrape out the pot while you hold it so you don’t have to juggle the hot pot and spoon at the same time.

It should begin to set up very quickly, and you might see snowflake-looking patterns appearing on top – that’s normal and a good sign. Once it’s cool to the touch, the best way I’ve found to cut it is to score it with a sharp knife into 2 inch squares, then carefully lift up one side and break it along the scored lines. I’ve tried just cutting it with a knife. I’ve tried a pizza cutter. Breaking it by hand really does produce the cleanest lines.

*Now, about the Golden Syrup. It is worth it to go out of your way to find it, and it can be found in import aisles of better-stocked grocery stores, British import stores, and online. It has an amazing toffee flavor and turns French toast into something really sinful. If you can’t or won’t find it, you can substitute light corn syrup, honey, or maple syrup, but the flavor will be substantially altered and I’m not really sure you’ll get away with calling it tablet if you present it to any Scots.



Mince & Tassies

11 Dec

I felt like baking something that wouldn’t require a whole lot of effort tonight. I figured that since there was some vegetarian mincemeat left, but not enough left to make a whole pie, I should probably use that up. In my pondering, I remembered having pecan tassies, which were basically little pecan pies, made in mini-muffin tins. Sure enough, there are about a bajillion recipes for those, along with lots of variations that led me to believe that the mince pie filling would work in that crust.

Despite seeing the same ingredients listed over and over, I was skeptical because all it called for was 1 stick of butter, 3 oz of cream cheese, and 1 cup of flour. The result is rather crumbly and a bit on the bland side, but since it’s just a vehicle for the filling, I’m okay with it, especially since it was wonderfully low-effort. I also like that this is a good example of British-American fusion, as the tassies seem to be an especially Southern cookie, and there’s the staple British holiday dessert of mincemeat pies! So here we have this, somewhere between a cookie and a pie:



  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Vegetarian Mincemeat (see previous post)


  1. Mix first 3 ingredients together until a dough forms.
  2. Refrigerate dough 1 hour or until firm enough to work with
  3. Preheat oven to 325
  4. Pinch off balls of dough and plop into the cups of an ungreased mini-muffin tin (it just filled my 18-cup tin).
  5. Push the dough down so that it lines the inside of each cup.
  6. Fill (but don’t overfill) each cup with the mincemeat.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or until the crusts are golden.
  8. Cool in the tin, then carefully lift each one out with the tip of a knife (they will be crumbly!).



Vegetarian Mincemeat Pie

24 Nov

…but mincemeat pie isn’t really meat, so it’s already vegetarian, you might say. You would be wrong. Traditional mincemeat is made with beef suet, which is the fat from specific areas of the cow, as it apparently has a certain desirable texture. Are you grossed out yet? Yeah, me too. That’s why I decided there had to be a better way to make the stuff without adding a meat product to a fruit pie. In the UK and in some British import shops, it’s possible to find vegetarian suet, but after a thorough search of my area, I couldn’t find any. To the Internet!

I looked up what suet is and what properties it has that are needed to fulfill its duty and ultimately decided that the refined coconut oil I already had in my cabinet would be perfect. It is solid at room temperature, with a waxy, somewhat crumbly texture, which is exactly how the suet was described. Also, unlike UNrefined coconut oil, the refined stuff has absolutely no scent or taste of coconut (or any scent or taste of anything) whatsoever, so unless you have an allergy, this pie is totally fine even for people who don’t like coconut. Inserted into (a well-modified version of) Gordon Ramsay’s Cranberry Mincemeat Pie recipe, it produced a wonderful result. These things are seriously delicious!

Another thing that’s hard to find stateside are mince pie pans, which are sort of like a shallower cupcake pan. I plan to order one online, but since I wanted mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving tomorrow, we ended up with one full-sized 9″ pie, 5 little mincemeat raviolis made from the pie crust trimmings, and about another pie worth of filling leftover. I’m thinking I might try making mincemeat tassies or something with that, but we’ll see.

With no further ado, here’s the recipe I ended up making, which is adapted from the Cranberry Mincemeat Pie recipe in the Christmas With Gordon cookbook. If you can get your hands on that book, I highly recommend it.


  • 2 medium honeycrisp apples
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 100g (about 1/4 package from Trader Joe’s) dried apricots, diced fairly small
  • 1 10 oz box of golden currants
  • About 10 oz of dried cranberries (give or take a little, depending on the size of the package you find)
  • 1.25 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 8 TBSP unrefined coconut oil
  • 100 ml spiced rum
  • 2 uncooked pie crusts (the original recipe included a crust, with more grated orange zest, but I just used frozen pie crust from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp water
  • Sugar, for sprinkling


  1. Peel the apples, then grate them into a large bowl (one that’ll fit in your fridge though)
  2. Dump in the orange zest, lemon zest, orange juice, and lemon juice. Stir.
  3. Add the currants and cranberries. Stir.
  4. Add the brown sugar and spices. Guess what? Stir.
  5. Mix in the coconut oil. It’ll melt a little and leave some clumps, but that’s okay. You don’t have to make it disappear.
  6. Pour in the rum and stir it all together.
  7. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour, but preferably overnight. According to Ramsay, it gets better the longer it matures, but if you’re not going to use it in the next day or so, store it in sterilized, sealed glass jars in the fridge for up to 6 months.
  8. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350.
  9. Put the bottom crust into a pie dish (I recommend using one sturdier than aluminum foil, as it’s going to be a heavy pie and a foil pan will make it an exercise in frustration to get the thing out of the oven without destroying the edges of the crust – not that I know this from personal experience or anything.), trimming off any overhang. Don’t bother fluting the edges or doing anything fancy at this point.
  10. Scoop the filling into the unbaked crust until the filling is just about level with the top of the pan (a little bit higher is okay).
  11. Lay the second crust on top of the filled pie, again trimming off any overhang. Now is when you can flute the edges or just press them really well into the bottom crust. Make a few slashes in the top to vent.
  12. Mix the egg yolk and water together and paint this mixture over the entire top crust with a pastry brush, then sprinkle sugar over the whole affair.
  13. Bake for about 35 minutes or until it’s golden brown and the crust isn’t doughy anymore. If the edges get really brown before the middle is done, fold strips of foil over the edges to stop them from burning.

If you want to use the leftover dough to make the little raviolis like we did, just roll the dough into an even number of same-sized balls, flatten them, and put half of them on a cookie sheet. Place a dollop of filling in the center of each round, then top them with the remaining rounds. Be sure to seal the edges, then egg wash and sugar the tops. Those will bake in about 15 minutes.

Lots of Bundts!

7 Nov

Inspired by The Food Librarian’s “I Like Big Bundts” annual blog series, I have been a bundt-making whiz these past couple of weeks:

Recipe: Culinary in the Desert: Peanut Butter and Chocolate Bundt Cake.

I made this for a friend’s birthday today, and I’m a bit disappointed with it. The peanut butter filling tasted amazing, just like a Reese’s Pieces, before it was baked, but seemed to lose something after it was done. Maybe it’s just that it was overpowered by the chocolate part, which just didn’t taste sweet enough. I might try it again and either add a frosting or more sugar in the batter, since it did have a very nice, moist texture.

I added a small amount of a simple powdered sugar & milk glaze – just enough to stick some M&M’s to it, since that’s one of the preferred snacks of the friend group, and the bites with the glaze were definitely tastier than those without.

UPDATE: It turns out that this is really just one of those cakes that’s better the next day. I had some a little while ago and it was delicious! Now I know to just make it in advance.

I’ve also made 2 rum cakes – one for my brother’s birthday and one for a Halloween party, a sweet potato/chocolate marble bundt (a cross between two recipes that produced a just-okay result), a Mayan chocolate bundt, and the Burnt Sugar Bundt from the Baked Explorations cookbook! I’ve been having a lot of fun with it and doubt I’m done. The boss at my part-time job has a birthday coming up, and then there’s Thanksgiving…


Rock Buns : The Recipe Corner

26 Jan

Link: Rock Buns : The Recipe Corner

Today’s recipe was very like this one, except my cookbook called for 1/4 less butter, no candied peel, and currants instead of mixed dried fruits. Mine also called for an egg wash on top, but I think I’ll leave that off next time I make them. Fraser declares that they’re just like the ones he enjoyed as a kid.

They have a nice consistency – like a cupcake inside and slightly crisp outside.

Oh, and to save you doing the math or searching, that’s 1.5 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of sugar. To make self-raising flour, measure 1.5 tsp baking powder & 1/2 tsp salt for every cup of flour. Put those in the measuring cup before adding the flour.


Smoked paprika chicken stroganoff recipe – Channel4 – 4Food

7 Jan

Link: Smoked paprika chicken stroganoff recipe – Channel4 – 4Food

Holy cow, that was GOOD!

We made the following changes to suit what we had on-hand:

No sugar-snap peas

Sliced parsnip instead of mushroom

Yellow pepper instead of green

Fresh basil instead of parsley

As for the spätzle, we just dropped it into a pot to make tiny dumplings, instead of the noodle shapes you’d get if you followed Ramsay’s instructions to force it through the holes of a colander.

It was absolutely delicious!

We were thinking, because we have lots of vegetarian and gluten-free friends, if we wanted to make this vegetarian, we’d just use tofu or Quorn grilled chick’n cutlets instead of the chicken, or possibly sweet potato. To make it gluten-free, I think rice flour would be the way to go for the spätzle.

At any rate, I highly recommend it! It was really easy, and one of the reasons we so love using Ramsay’s recipes is that he gives time-management advice in with the steps.


Buffalo Sweet Potato Pizza

14 Dec

Buffalo Sweet Potato Pizza

We found this recipe and liked the idea of it, but weren’t crazy about all of the ingredients and changed it to appeal to us. Try the original recipe if you want, but here’s how we did it, to make 2 pizzas:


– 3 cups all-purpose flour

– 8 oz warm water

– 1 teaspoon of sugar

– 1 packet of fast-acting yeast

– 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

– About a teaspoon of celery seeds

– 1 teaspoon salt

– 2 large sweet potatoes

-1 1/2 cups Buffalo sauce

– 200g feta

-1/2 yellow bell pepper

-1/2 a medium onion

1. Mix the sugar and water, then sprinkle the yeast on top and put it aside until it’s foamy

2. Mix the flour, salt, and celery seeds, then add the yeast mixture and the oil. Mix it with your hands until it all sticks together, adding more oil if needed.

3. Set it in a warm space (I set it inside the oven after turning it on low for a few minutes, then turning it back off before setting the bowl in) for half an hour or until it has about doubled in size.

4. While the dough is rising, peel, chop, and boil the sweet potatoes until they’re just soft enough to mash.

5. Drain the potatoes, mash them (but not too well. Leave them kind of chunky.) and let them cool to room-temperature.

6. While the potatoes cool, take the dough out. Punch it down, divide it into 2 balls, then knead each for a few minutes, or until they’re smooth and uniform in appearance. Put the dough balls back in the mixing bowl and let it rise again.

7. Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C.

8. Flatten each dough ball onto a pan that has been sprayed with a little cooking spray, or on to a pre-heated pizza stone. Spread the dough out as thin as you can without tearing it.

9. Spread a thin coating of Buffalo sauce on to each.

10. Spread a layer of sweet potato, then another layer of Buffalo sauce. Use the back of a spoon to spread it around.

11. Top each with some grated feta, but don’t go overboard with it.

12. We topped one pie with sliced bell pepper and onion, but left the other as it was.

13. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is melted.


The Best of 100 Ways to Cook a Sweet Potato

10 Dec

Sweet potatoes have been a great comfort to me, in the land of no pumpkin, and if anything, now I actually prefer them!

I made sweet potato pie yesterday, and we have been having them more often than not on top of our favorite shepherd’s pie, instead of regular potatoes.

Today, I came across this list of 100 Ways to Cook a Sweet Potato, and am bookmarking the ones I like and want to make. The first item on the list was almost a recipe for sweet potato pancakes, but since it just tells you add store-bought sweet potato puree to premade pancake mix, I turned my nose up at it and decided I could find a better one if I want to make them.

I thought I’d share my picks here, and since some friends can’t have gluten, I’ll make a note of which are already gluten-free, without having to modify the recipe. Most of these are vegetarian-friendly as-is.

1. Sweet Potato Flan (gluten free!)

2. Sweet Potato Doughnuts

3. Sweet Potato Pizza Dough

4. Sweet Potato Whoopie Pies with Maple Marshmallow Creme

5. Sweet Potato Stuffed Apples (gluten free!)

6. Beni Imo Dorayaki (Japanese pancakes stuffed with sweet potato. Calls for purple sweet potato, which I love, but is hard to find, so I may try it with the more common variety.)

7. Sweet Potato Pierogies (Vegan)

8. Sweet Potato Fritters (but probably without the beans, since we’re not crazy about them)

9. Sweet Potato Muffins with Cinnamon-Sugar Coating

10. Sweet Potato and Chipotle Goat Cheese Ravioli

11. Sweet Potato Biscuits

12. Roasted Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Maple Cream

13. Sweet Potato Cream Cheese Wheat Bread

14. New Mexican Sweet Potato Latkes

15. Purple Sweet Potato Cheesecake

16. Sweet Potato-Coconut Pudding with Toasted Coconut

17. Ranga Alur Puli (Bengali sweet potato dessert)

18. Buffalo Sweet Potato Pizza (but with some other kind of cheese than bleu, because neither of us likes it)

19. Autumnal Sweet Potato Soup

Honorable mention:

Sweet Potato Gnocci – I do not want to make it, but I have bookmarked it to remember that when we eventually go to visit friends in Seattle, I want to go and try it at the restaurant which pioneered the recipe.

There were a bunch that involved using mashed sweet potato instead of refried beans in enchiladas, quesadillas, and burritos. I like the idea, but wouldn’t necessarily use any of the specific recipes mentioned.


Fraser’s First Sweet Potato Pie

9 Dec

He approves! The pie was based on a recipe from Epicurious, but which I adjusted and substituted as I felt like it. The consistency is similar to a pumpkin pie, but fluffier, and tastes nothing like a pumpkin pie. It puffed up quite a bit as it baked, but then it deflated and was even with the rim of the crust.


5 small sweet potatoes

1/4 cup of butter

1 can of sweetened condensed milk (used instead of the milk & sugar in the original recipe)

3 eggs

Several dashes of pumpkin pie spice (I like it fairly spicy)

Dash of salt

Splash of milk (I didn’t measure – just enough to thin it out some)

1 premade shortcrust pie shell


Bake the sweet potatoes at 350 F/180 C for about an hour, or until they’re soft but not too mushy. Prick the potatoes with a fork a bunch of times before placing them on a baking sheet.

Let the potatoes cool until they’re safe to handle, then peel off the skins and mash the potatoes.

Raise the oven temperature to 400 F/200 C.

Melt the butter, then mix it and the rest of the ingredients together.

Press the pie crust into a deep pie or flan dish.

Pour the filling into the dish, then sprinkle some cinnamon on top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean when inserted in the middle. (40 minutes put mine just a trifle too dark on top.)