Coco-caramels

I have an affinity for all things caramel. It can be in a candy bar (Caramello, I miss you!), a simply-wrapped chunk of chewy goodness, or the all-time-bestest-ever candy: Milkfuls. Oh how I miss Milkfuls.

Even my Grandma’s sticky buns were drenched in an incredibly gooey and cavity-inducing sweet caramel sauce, making them completely irresistible to me. As difficult as giving up cheese proved to be, the caramel torture was a much heavier burden to bear.

What is a caramelholic to do??!?

It involves superheated sugar and coconut milk. And a few burns. And some lessons learned about the differences between wax paper and parchment paper. And in the end? Worth. It.

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You’ll want a candy thermometer for this. Don’t use a digital unless it really is instant-read. The response time on those is usually just wayyyyy too slow. (I’m looking at you, Martha Stewart. You liar.) Even the nice heavy-duty ones don’t necessarily work well with the way I make these caramels. I have a Wilton model, with a little lip that prevents the bottom of the thermometer from resting on the pan. Sorry. Now it’s above the syrup, even. Oi. The best one I ever used was a super-cheap one like this, and I accidentally put it through the dishwasher. Oopsie.

I like to use a deep, wide-bottomed pot. The larger surface area makes for quicker heating, and the depth gives you a little leeway during the second stage of the process, when the caramel mixture becomes really bubbly and foamy.

As a safety note, you’re going to be working with some really hot stuff here. Wear long sleeves and have some oven mitts handy for handling hot stuff.

Are you ready to get gooey? (Sorry I didn’t take step-by-step photos. Maybe next time.)

For starters, prepare an 8×8 or 9×9 pan by lining it with either parchment paper or non-stick aluminum. Wax paper doesn’t work. I repeat. Wax paper doesn’t work. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Brush the bottom and sides of the lined pan with some melted coconut oil, or use some baking spray on it.

  • 1 pint (16 oz) coconut milk or creamer — I like to use So Delicious creamer
  • 3/4 C light corn syrup

Combine in a large pot. If you’d like, add up to 1 tsp of your favorite sea salt. Heat this while stirring over medium heat until the corn syrup and creamer are a homogenous mixture. Remove from heat and set aside.

  • 1 3/4 C evaporated cane juice
  • 3/4 C water

In a separate pot, combine sugar and water. Stir until sugar is all moistened. Clip candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Heat on medium-high heat without stirring until the thermometer reads 310F/155C (hard crack). If you’re nervous about not stirring the pot, you can lift it from time to time and give it a gentle swirl.

Here’s where it gets a little hairy. Pour the superheated sugar mixture into the milk mixture. Do it quickly. It’ll bubble and splash. The sugar will cool quickly and form a lump. Don’t worry. Take the opportunity to swap your candy thermometer to this pot.

Your caramel mixture will require nearly continuous stirring. Stir it on medium-low heat until that lump of sugar melts, then turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir stir stir until your thermometer reads 240F/115C (soft ball). This seems to take forever, but once your caramel starts to rise above the boiling point, the temperature will shoot up fairly quickly. Be diligent. You’ll have to stir vigorously to keep the foaming to a controllable level as well. Once the foam dies down a little, you’ll be pretty close to finishing.

Once you’ve reached soft ball stage, grab a spatula, remove the pot from the heat, and quickly pour the caramel into your prepared pan, scraping the sides almost immediately. If you wait to scrape the sides, the caramel will cook past the soft ball stage and you’ll have some awkwardly crunchy bits in your chewy caramels from the scraped bits.

PRO-TIP
Immediately sprinkle the caramel with some coarse sea salt before it gets a chance to do much cooling. Yummy!

Allow to cool completely before cutting. Use a hot knife coated in a little coconut oil to slice this sweet gooeyness into squares. Or, top with some melted chocolate before cutting.

Recipe from Saveur

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Peanut Butter Belly-Bombs

I have a little bit of a reputation in our church as The Cupcake Lady. At least, it often seems that way to me. I get inquiries about “Those cupcakes you were going to bring to {event} that ending up getting canceled due to {weather event}?” Yeah. Not kidding.

There are a few big events of the “church year”, the first of which is “Homecoming”. It essentially coincides with the beginning of the region’s school year, so our various and sundry members are usually back from their summer travels and ready to catch up with everyone else. The kids go and bomb each other with water balloons outside while the adults sit through service, and then everyone eats and plays games. This year, those games included a cupcake walk. And these peanut-butter cupcakes were gone lickity-split.

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Have you ever seen an un-photogenic cupcake? Me neither. And when you walk in with a tray of these babies, you’ll be hailed as the Cupcake God and all shall bow down and worship you.

Okay, maybe not quite that drastic. But you’ll get some gushing compliments and maybe some fangirl squeals. It’s funny to watch faces if they don’t realize there’s a giant cookie hiding in waiting, ready to explode in their mouths.

In all seriousness, though:

These require a little assembly, but they’re WORTH IT. I usually measure out the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and espresso powder) for the cupcakes in a quart-sized jar for easy sifting. And that way, I have sort of an “instant” cupcake mix.

You’ll have a little leftover batter and leftover cookie dough. I usually just press some cookie dough into the bottom of a 4″ springform and let it bake for 10 minutes, then add the leftover cupcake batter to the top and bake until that is set. You can frost it with any leftover icing for an inside-out Reese’s cup!

When I say “beat” in this recipe. I really mean “whisk vigorously by hand”. I never use electric beaters when working with flour for a product that should be tender and fluffy. Maybe it’s just my electric beaters that are super-juiced, but even beating something at the lowest setting with them will make the finished product really gross. I have yet to experiment with the hand-cranked “egg”-beaters, but that might be a viable option.

The peanut butter frosting has a great depth of flavor to it, thanks to the blackstrap molasses. You can use regular molasses, but I feel that it’s not as yummy as the blackstrap! Really go for some good peanut butter. If you have access to a high-speed blender, make your own. Whole Foods and Fresh Market have nut-butter grinders in their stores as well, so that would be a great indulgence.

I wish I could claim total credit for the insanity, but the cupcake batter and frosting recipes are adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

PB Cookie Center

  • 1C peanut butter
  • 1C firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 flaxseed egg (1T ground flax + 3T warm water)

Mix “egg” and set aside. Mix together the peanut butter and sugar, then stir in the “egg”. Cover and refrigerate.

Chocolate Cupcake Batter

  • 1 C full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4C sugar
  • 1/3C canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1C AP flour
  • 1/3C extra-dark cocoa
  • 2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350F and line a 12-ct cupcake tin. Whisk together milk and vinegar and set aside. In a large bowl, beat sugar, oil, and vanilla until combined. Add the milk mixture and beat until foamy.

Sift together flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in two batches, beating so no large lumps remain.

Fill liners 2/3 full (I use a 3T scoop). Drop a small (1T) ball of cookie dough in the center of each cup. Bake 18-22 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

PB Frosting

  • 1/4 C margarine, softened
  • 2 T shortening
  • 1/3 C creamy natural peanut butter
  • 1 T blackstrap molasses
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 – 2 C powdered sugar
  • 1-2 T coconut milk
  • Cream together margarine, shortening, and vanilla until fluffy. Add PB and molasses and beat until very smooth. Beat in sugar 1/2 C at a time. The mixture will be quite stiff, so thin it with coconut milk to reach the desired consistency.

    For frosting these, you can simply slather your sugary goodness on top. If you’re a little more motivated, mound on the frosting by piping it on in a swirl. My favorite tips for these are the Wilton 1M, 2D, or Ateco 805. I then usually dust them with a little cocoa powder and top with a vegan chip.

    If you’re feeling super fancy and motivated, make peanut butter “blossoms”. I piped these on with an Ateco 127.

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    There are some great tutorials on YouTube about how to use decorating tips or even a Ziploc bag to pipe frosting.

    Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to wear either serious-pants OR fancy-pants to make and decorate these. I did it all in pajama-pants. Because that’s how I roll.