If you can have breakfast for dinner, then surely dessert for dinner is also allowed? Is that in our fine print as part of this challenge? I can't exactly remember what I signed up for but I definitely think that once in a while, it's okay to skip the meat and potatoes, or pasta and sauce, or whatever, and go straight to the good stuff. Especially on Oscar night.
As Carole noted in her post yesterday, Sunday night was our annual Academy Award party. We had a buffet dinner for 25 of our nearest and dearest, but since we simply grilled some meat and fish and threw together some side dishes, there wasn't anything particularly noteworthy to write about here. And because I was busy in the kitchen, I didn't end up eating any of the hot stuff but did manage to lick my fingers as I served up all the desserts. So it turned into dessert for dinner for me as I watched all the celebs on the red carpet.
In addition to Carole's scotch (or was that butterscotch) cupcakes, I made trifle and two bar recipes from Alice Medrich's amazing baking cookbook that Carole had given for Christmas, Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy: Caramel Cheesecake Bars and Gooey Turtle Bars. I realized afterwards that I must have been drawn to them because they both contained caramel as one of their main ingredients. Oops... but our guests didn't seem to mind.
I decided to substitute dulce de leche (fyi... easily bought and consumed from a jar from Costco, although I realized afterwards that I basically made some from scratch for the turtle bars that follow) for the caramel called for in the Caramel Cheesecake Bars because I'm trying to make up for lost time in only discovering this sweet nectar of god (or more likely goddess) so late in life. My only question is, "Dulce de leche: where have you been all these years?" I could have been a nicer, happier mommy and wife if only I'd known about you earlier... I swear it's not only smooth and mouth-wateringly delicious but it even makes my skin glow, my hair shine and my teeth whiter. Well, maybe those benefits are just in my imagination but all I know is that I try to add it wherever and whenever possible lately because it somehow just makes everything all right.
After tasting a tiny spoonful, I get the same look on my face that my tiny babies did when they had a little tummyful of warm sweet milk, all distended and relaxed to the world, softly drifting off to sleep in the crook of my arm like satisfied wee kittens. In fact, if I had to choose one taste to symbolize life, dulce de leche would be it. And somebody should make a note to make sure they serve it at the huge dessert buffet at my funeral. I'm just saying.
So.... this recipe provided a beautifully creamy and rich cheesecake backdrop to the main star of the dessert.
Caramel (aka Dulce de Leche) Cheesecake BarsMakes 36 bars
1 recipe Shortbread Crust (see below)
1/2 cup caramel sauce or dulce de leche
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 lbs cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
Prepare the shortbread crust. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Stir the caramel together with the salt and set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, with an electric mixers, beat the cream cheese just until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl and beaters. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat just until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 egg and beat just until incorporated. Scrape the bowl and beaters. Beat in the second egg. Stir 2 tbsp of the batter into the caramel sauce. Pour the remaining batter over the prepared crust and smooth the top.
Spoon pools of the caramel mixture over the filling, leaving plenty of plain filling showing. If the caramel doesn't settle into the batter, jiggle the pan gently until the surface is level. Marble the caramel with a toothpick by stirring gently--being careful not to scrape the crust--in small loopy circles until the colours are marbled but not blended. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is puffed at the edges but still jiggles like Jell-O when the pan is nudged.
Set the pan on a cooling rack. When cool, cover and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours or overnight, before serving.
Gooey Turtle BarsMakes 35 bars
1 recipe Shortbread Crust (recipe below)
1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey or light corn syrup
3/8 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon for coarse or flaky sea salt)
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups whole pecan halves, toasted
6 ounces milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 1 cup milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips
Prepare the shortbread crust as directed.
In a heavy 2- to 3-quart saucepan (about 8 inches in diameter), combine the brown sugar, honey, salt, and water. Set on medium heat and drop in the chunk of butter. Stir constantly with a heatproof spatula, scraping the corners and bottom of the pan as the butter melts. From time to time, scrape the mixture off the spatula against the top edge of the pan and scrape the sides of the pan clean. Bring the mixture to a medium boil and continue stirring and scraping the pan for about 3 minutes, dissolving the sugar.
Stir in the condensed milk and return to a boil, stirring constantly, scraping the sides, corners, and bottom of the pan. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils actively but not too furiously. Continue stirring and cooking until the mixture registers 235°F. Total cooking time will be close to 15 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Scrape the hot caramel over the warm crust. Tilt the pan to level the caramel. Scatter the toasted pecans and chopped chocolate over the surface and set aside until the caramel is cool and the chocolate is set. Cut into bars.
Tender, buttery, crunchy; this is a great base for cheesecake bars, pudding bars, and more.
Makes one 9-by-13-inch or 8-by-12-inch crust
Makes one 9-by-13-inch or 8-by-12-inch crust
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/8 tsp salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line the pan with foil.
In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter with the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated. Don’t worry if the dough seems too soft or oily. Press and smooth the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is a rich golden brown with well-browned darker edges. Let cool on a rack before proceeding as directed in the recipe.
Rest of the week
Feb 25 Nothing! Kids were all out and I skipped dinner. Woohoo!
Feb 26 Pasta with pesto and tossed salad
Feb 27 Grilled salmon, chicken and pork; quinoa with broccoli and mushrooms; salad with goat cheese, dried cranberries and almonds; roasted carrots, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and asparagus; trifle, dulce de leche cheesecake and turtle bars.