In my opinion, the best part of dinner is always dessert. I would eat dessert first, if it was socially acceptable. I am essentially addicted to sugar. I’m the type of person who will go to the convenience store at night in my pajamas for a package of Oreos or some gummy worms. Even though I love sweets, I can barely make brownies from the box. It is quite unfortunate. But, to my delight, my younger sister will soon be studying baking and pastries at culinary school. So, I bake vicariously through my little sis.
In Seton Rossini’s new cookbook Sweet Envy: Deceptively Easy Desserts, Designed to Steal the Show (The Countryman Press; October 5, 2015) she offers recipes that seem quite complicated but that can be done at any level. Sure, my sister’s “Bubbly Pop Shots” are going to be a little less lopsided than mine, but, as Seton says in her book, “If your cake looks like it got run over by an 18-wheeler, that’s OK.” I took that as, “if your Jell-O, cookies, candy bars, or tarts look like they were run over by an 18-wheeler, that’s OK,” too. Seton’s voice is lighthearted, clear and humorous—which made the experience of baking one of her recipes with my sister even more fun (and hilarious).
So there we were: a baking genius and her sugar-crazed sister, her sous chef for the night. We were going to make Seton’s “Take-a-Break Bars,” a scrumptious candy bar with caramel, peanuts, chocolate and pretzels. We didn’t change the recipe at all apart from substituting the chocolate chips with vegan chocolate chips (it was all we had, sadly). Most of what I did was observe, help clean up along the way and occasionally measure some ingredients. At the end of the process, my sister’s first comment was, “that was pretty easy!” And it was, for the most part. “The hardest part was making the caramel, because it crystallizes fast” my sister told me. “You have to whisk it quickly—as soon as the air gets to it and it stops heating, it begins to crystallize.”
After they were out of the oven, we needed to allow them to reach room temperature and then put them into the refrigerator for a few hours. The bars were delicious and tasted somewhat like a Butterfingers. They are perfect if you are craving a sweet and salty, chocolatey snack. Even better, these bars would be great treats to bring to a Halloween party!
Here is the recipe from Sweet Envy, so you can make your own Take-A-Break Bars:
Makes 12 bars
3 heaping cups mini pretzels
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
3 tablespoons water
½ cup heavy cream, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 heaping cup of high-quality semisweet chocolate chips
Sea salt flakes (such as Maldon), for topping
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.
In food processor, pulse the pretzels, peanut butter and 2 tablespoons of sugar until the pretzels are crushed and the mixture clumps together.
Press mixture firmly into the pan and bake for 10 minutes. Keep the oven preheated.
In a saucepan over medium heat, stir remaining cup of sugar and water until sugar dissolves.
Increase heat to high and boil sugar for about 5 minutes, or until the color begins to darken. Carefully pick up the saucepan and tilt to swirl caramelized sugar to mix and continue to cook for another minute, or until it’s a medium-amber color.
Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the heavy cream and vanilla. (It will bubble violently, so stir carefully!) Whisk until it stops bubbling then set aside to cool.
Pour caramel over the pretzel crust then evenly top with chopped peanuts. Cover the peanuts with chocolate chips and bake for 10 min.
Remove the bars from the oven and use an offset spatula or knife to smooth out the chocolate while it’s still warm.
Sprinkle sea salt flakes on top of the chocolate and let cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate for a couple hours, or until chocolate hardens. Slice into bars and serve!”
Recipe from Sweet Envy: Deceptively Easy Desserts, Designed to Impress, by Seton Rossini, The Countryman Press 2015.