Sweet Baked Life

my sweet journey through life…


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Peppermint Bark Blondies

Just in time for the holidays — these Peppermint Bark Blondies are festive and comforting!

Peppermint Bark Blondies

If you need a little nudge to get into the holiday spirit, now is the time to whip up a batch of these delightful Peppermint Bark Blondies. For me, these are the perfect treat to bake over the holidays. They smell divine, are super easy to make and the outcome is irresistible.

These blondies have a moist, buttery base with the unforgettably delicious flavors of peppermint and chocolate sprinkled throughout. Your traditional blondies will be elevated to a whole new level with this recipe! And not only that, but your home will smell divine as the wonderful aroma of freshly baked sweets creeps out of your oven and Christmastime memories will ooze from each and every bite.

Just the thought of rich, creamy chocolate and strong, zesty peppermint makes me tingle. This combination really gets me in the mood for Christmas. There is just something about these two flavors that makes me want to snuggle up next to the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and a plate of these Peppermint Bark Blondies.

Even better, leave these sweet morsels out for the jolly old guy and he will keep you on the “nice” list forever! All you have to do is believe! Well, that is what I keep telling my 13-year old!

Peppermint Bark Blondies

Peppermint Bark Blondies

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 package (7 oz) Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark Squares, chopped

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 13×9-inch pan with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, using a paddle attachment, add the butter and sugars and mix on medium speed for about 2 minutes, until well combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Then add the vanilla and mix thoroughly.

With the mixer on low-speed, slowly add the flour mixture until just combined.  Please note the dough will be thick.  Remove bowl from mixer and add the chopped Peppermint Bark. Stir with a spoon until combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly with a spatula.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.  Be careful not to over bake. Cool on a rack. Cut into squares and serve or room temperature. Yields about 20 blondies.

Peppermint Bark Blondies

Hey — be sure to make a double batch of these addicting Peppermint Bark Blondies so you’ll have enough for holiday visitors and especially for the guy in the red suit!

Sheila


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Easy Almond Roca

It’s true — I just can get enough of caramel and chocolate. This time however, I combined my two favorites with some almonds for this crunchy Almond Roca.

Almond Roca

No matter what you call this delightful confection — Almond Roca or English Toffee, it’s a winner!

I have loved chocolate covered toffee probably my entire life. It has always been my favorite when stopping by the See’s Candy shop or buying the delectable foil wrapped stuff in the pink can at the local grocer.

And when one of my childhood friends posted a recipe for this on Facebook — I knew I had to try it. Not only because I love the stuff, but because it sounded so easy to make. With only 4 ingredients it was right up my alley!

You start with a base of coarsely chopped almonds, covered with gooey caramel that sets up to perfectly hard toffee, topped with melted milk chocolate and dusted with a sprinkling of more coarsely chopped almonds.

And the outcome – a truly amazing candy treat! Or, as my friend and I would say back in the day — it’s “so fine.”

Almond Roca

Easy Almond Roca

1 lb (4 sticks) butter
1 box (16 oz) light brown sugar
2 cups raw almonds, coarsely chopped
2 packages (12 oz each) milk chocolate chips

In a large rimmed pan, such as a 18×13-inch sheet cake or jelly roll pan, sprinkle 1 cup of the coarsely chopped almonds and set aside.

Over medium heat, add the sugar and butter to a large sauce pan. Stir frequently until bubbling – this will take a few minutes. Then attach your candy thermometer and cook, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 290 degrees F. To prevent candy from burning, make sure that you do not go over 290 degrees.

Remove from heat and pour candy mixture evenly over the almonds in the pan. Let this set while you melt the chocolate.

Place chocolate chips in a double boiler over gently simmering (not boiling) water. If you do not have a double boiler, you can use a glass bowl over a pot. Stir chips until melted. Take care in not over heating the chocolate so you don’t scorch it. As well, you can also melt the chocolate chips in a microwave according to the package directions.

Pour the melted chocolate over the candy layer. Then sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of coarsely chopped almonds all over the top. Allow cool and set up completely. This will take a few hours. To speed up the process, place in freezer or refrigerator.

Once completely hardened, cut into pieces using a knife. Makes about 2 pounds of candy.

Almond Roca

Come on, get our your candy thermometer out and give this fine Almond Roca a try, you’ll be glad you did!

Oh yeah, makes a great gift too, that is if you don’t eat it all!

Sheila

{recipe adapted from Chef in Training}


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Homemade Amaretto

Hunker down during the winter storms with this warming and wonderful Homemade Amaretto!

Homemade Amaretto

Yep, we are preparing for the worst storm since 2008. In California we defiantly need the rain, however treacherous storms are another thing. Last week we had a “mild” storm. Freeways were overrun with water, streets flooded, and creeks reached the tipping level. And the commute, well, let’s just say it was a nightmare.

By tomorrow morning, the next big storm in 6 years will be upon us. Not something I am looking forward to. The winds will be high and shake and rattle our home, the rain will be heavy and probably non-stop, the power may be null (got our emergency preparedness kit ready) and the deluge will wreak havoc on all travelers.

We have been preparing by clearing out the gutters, putting away our outdoor furniture, securing our fences, and making sure we have plenty of firewood, batteries, water, non perishable food, and cash! And good thing we have a gas stove!!!

So, on a night like tonight the best thing to do is cozy up with your family and sip on this amazing Homemade Amaretto as you weather the storm!

Homemade Amaretto

You see, when I first told my husband I was going to make my own amaretto, he thought I was crazy. He stated, “Why would you want to go through all that trouble?”

Silly boy…he just does not get it. I usually only make things that are simple to prepare with hopefully a great outcome! And what he didn’t know was how simple this delectable drink is to make!

And the flavor…oh my! Absolutely divine!

Now, I have always loved amaretto. DeSorrano was my favorite. I remember my parents serving this at parties when I was a kid. I loved the bottle it came in and as I became of drinking age, the nutty flavored stuff was one of my go-to after dinner drinks.

The warmth of the aroma and flavor will immediately put you at ease. It’s great to serve straight-up, over ice or mixed hot chocolate to make even your toes tingle!

Ok, it can be a bit pricy to make due to the fact that you have to use a whole bottle of vodka. But you can always get some that is on sale, or even some stores (like Raley’s) give you 30% off when you buy 6 bottles of any type of liquor (you can mix your selection with wines and hard alcohol).

Let me tell you, once you make this Amaretto, you may not reach for that beautiful bottle in the store any more! I brought this as a hostess gift for Thanksgiving and was told it was better than that super pricey stuff; they were impressed and so was I.

Homemade Amaretto

Homemade Amaretto

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup water
1  bottle (750 ml.) your favorite vodka
4 oz. pure almond extract
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

In a large heavy bottom pot, add sugars and water and cook over medium heat until sugars are dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

When cool, add vodka and extracts and stir until combined.

Using a funnel, pour amaretto into bottles and seal. Note, this made enough to fill approximately two 28 oz. glass bottles.

Amaretto-3

Get yourself ready for the storm by preparing a bottle or two of this nutty Homemade Amaretto.

Hello Winter — hello rain!

Sheila

 

{recipe adapted from About Food}


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Soft Salted Caramels

If you are caramel crazed, these Soft Salted Caramels are the perfect treat to make — they’re absolutely addicting!

Soft Salted Caramels

And believe me, once you make these squishy little squares of sweetness they probably won’t leave your house. Instead, these caramel candies will invade your taste buds and force you and your family to eat all of them!

It’s true!

You see, me and my family love anything and everything made with caramel. The sweet, rich golden brown goodness is a flavor that we all adore. To that fact, I recently made some quick and easy Caramel Sauce — it was pure heaven. My family gobbled it up — pouring it over ice cream and topping other treats, and for me, well just eating it out of the jar was the way I liked it best!

So, naturally the next thing I wanted to attempt to make were my own Soft Salted Caramels. A challenge I was looking forward to.

And lucky for me, the perfect opportunity presented itself – my friend’s work anniversary. I thought it would be a great way to celebrate his milestone. The weekend I made these, I was busy in the kitchen baking several things at once as I normally do. My hubby and son were doing their own thing, so did not really notice what I was creating in my haven.

But, after these caramel colored gems were cooling in the pan, my husband walked by and asked, “What’s that in the pan?” I proceeded to explain that they were caramel candies which I had made for a co-worker. He just looked at me strange.

Soft Salted Caramels

When the Caramels were cool and I was in the process of cutting them, my hubby asked for a taste. Now, mind you, he normally does not like or want most of the things I make and blog about. I know it’s strange, but he is super (can we say super-duper) picky about what he eats. Again, if you follow me on a regular basis, you will know that he likes the simple and traditional recipes.

So, I guess asking for one of these Caramels was in line with the things he likes.

I reluctantly gave him a piece.

After popping it into his mouth, he looked at me and stated, “You are not brining these to the office!” And continued, “These are the best caramels I have ever tasted, you could make these and sell them they are so good.”

Wow, I was blown away. What a huge complement. I think my smile had never been larger and my heart pounded quickly!

I finally made something that he likes! And do you think I brought them to the office?

Nope. My friend got some tasty blondies instead. However, I did tell him the story about making the Caramels — we had a good chuckle and I promised to bring him some the next time I made them. That is, if I can make them in the cloak of darkness and sneak them out of the house without my family knowing about it!

But if you could get these Soft Salted Caramels out of the house, they would be great to give to friends and family as a holiday treat.

Soft Salted Caramels

Soft Salted Caramels

1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Extra salt for garnish

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper so that the edges hang over the sides, then lightly oil parchment (you can use non-stick spray, vegetable oil or unsalted butter).

In a small saucepan, warm the cream, butter, and salt over medium heat until the butter melts. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, add the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Stir until sugar is dissolved over medium-high heat. Clip on your candy thermometer and let boil, without stirring, until mixture is a light golden caramel. Your mixture should reach between 250 degrees F and 300 degrees F.

Take the pan off the heat and gently and carefully whisk in cream mixture. Be careful here, as the mixture will bubble up. Return mixture to medium heat and let simmer (lightly boiling), until the caramel registers 245 degrees F to 250 degrees F on the thermometer. Note, this will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the vanilla.

Pour into prepared pan and let cool — approximately  2 hours. When the caramels have set. Remove caramels and parchment paper and place on cutting board. To make the cutting easier, rub a little unsalted butter on both sides of the knife-edge. Cut into pieces (small or large – your choice), sprinkle with a little salt on top desired. You can keep these covered with plastic wrap or for gifts, wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close. Makes approximately 50 candies.

 

Soft Salted Caramels

And yes, you guessed it, my family devoured these Soft Salted Caramels in no time flat. Once you make this confection, you’ll never buy store-bought again! For me, I think it’s time to make another batch!

Sheila

 

{Recipe adapted from Epicurious and the Kitchn}

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