Salted Cashew Caramel Bars

I’m going to make this post short and sweet (and maybe a little salty?).

Once again I’ve been inspired to bake by the Boston Public Market.  While picking up some produce at Siena Farms the other week, I couldn’t help but be lured by their sesame cashew bites made by Sofra, a Middle Eastern cafe and bakery established by Ana Sortun.  These little treats were layered with shortbread, caramel, sesame seeds and salted cashews and were every bit as addicting as they sound! Luckily they freeze well if you want to try to keep yourself from eating the entire package in one sitting!

While still dreaming/drooling over these delectable squares, I was asked to bring a dessert to a work potluck.  After a quick google search for “caramel cashew squares” I found a recipe on serious eats that fit the bill.  Even better, they could be made ahead of time and refrigerated which was perfect for my busy schedule.

While they weren’t quite as good as the Sofra version, I left home with an empty tupperware container…always a good sign!  I have a feeling there might be a request for them at next year’s potluck!

Salted Cashew Caramel Bars (from serious eats)

For Base:

2 cups (about 10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (about 7 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Topping:

1 1/2 cups (about 10 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, roughly cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups salted roasted cashews

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 13- by-9 inch baking pan with foil. Grease foil with butter. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color, about 4-5 minutes. Beat in egg, then vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture in two additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl each time.

Place dough in prepared pan. Using either floured hands or a piece of plastic wrap, press dough evenly into the bottom of the greased baking pan. Let chill in refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Bake crust until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove crust, but keep oven on. Let crust cool completely. While crust is cooling, make filling.

Place sugar in a nonstick saucepan over medium high heat. Let stand until bottom layer of sugar begins to melt, then start stirring, continuing to stir until sugar has turned light brown in color and smooth in texture. Pour in heavy cream, being careful of it splattering. Stir constantly until mixture is smooth again, about 5 minutes. Turn down heat and stir in butter, vanilla, and salt. Take mixture off heat and stir in cashews. Pour mixture into pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

Let mixture cool for at least two hours or until set. When firm to the touch, cut into bars. Bars can be kept in the refrigerator for easier cutting.

Advertisements

Brown Butter Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Salted Caramel Frosting

Fall is finally here!  After a weird week of 90 degree September weather earlier this month, temperatures have finally dropped to more fall-like temperatures and the leaves look like they are just about to start turning colors.  And with the temperature change comes a whole new season of produce: apples, squashes, and of course pumpkin!  In celebration of my favorite time of year, I decided to make a pumpkin dessert. 

In browsing online for recipes, the first that caught my eye was brown butter pumpkin cupcakes with salted caramel frosting.  However, given that I make a lot of cupcakes, I decided to switch things up a little and make a similar flavored whoopie pie.  I had made these pumpkin whoopie pies with maple cream cheese frosting in the past, but decided to substiture salted caramel frosting for the maple cream cheese frosting.  In addition, after the success of my brown butter nutella cookies last post, I substitured 1 cup of brown butter for the canola oil in the original recipe which I felt really made a difference. 

I will admit that these did not quite go as smoothly as I had planned.  Note to self: Do not attempt to take pictures while making caramel (regardless of how badly you want photos for your blog).  The caramel requires a lot of attention and may develop a slightly burnt flavor, as mine did, if you attempt this.  I was a little worried that I had ruined it but luckily the extra sugar added in making the frosting mellows out the burnt flavor.  I then almost ruined the whoopie pies again when I realized last second that I had bought canned pumpkin pie mix (with sugar and spices already mixed in) instead of regular canned pumpkin.  Luckily a speedy trip to my local Whole Foods to buy overly priced organic pumpkin puree (is it me of do they always seem to run out of the regular product but never the more expensive organic version?) remedied this.  Despite the near failure and the extra trip to Whole Foods, the end result was delicious!

Brown Butter Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Salted Caramel Frosting

For the Pumpkin Cookies (adapated from Brown Eyed Baker):

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup brown butter (see Nutella Stuffed Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies for instructions to make brown butter)
3 cups chilled pumpkin puree (canned pumpkin)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Salted Caramel Frosting (from two peas & their pod):

Salted Caramel Sauce:
2 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt flakes

Frosting:
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup salted caramel sauce
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the granulated sugar, the dark brown sugar, and the brown butter together. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until combined.  Gradually add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and whisk until completely combined.

Use a small cookie scoop or a large spoon to drop a rounded, heaping tablespoon of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, making sure that the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. The cookies should be firm when touched. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on a cooling rack.

While the cookies are cooling, make the salted caramel frosting. First, make the salted caramel sauce. Make sure you have all of the ingredients ready. Once you start the caramel sauce you have to pay close attention so you don’t burn it. To begin, heat the sugar over medium high-heat in the bottom of a heavy 2-3 quart saucepan. When the sugar starts to melt, start whisking the sugar. The sugar will clump up, but keep whisking. It will continue to melt. When the sugar is melted, stop whisking. You can swirl the pan to move the sugar around.

Continue cooking the sugar until it reaches a deep amber color. Make sure you watch the pan very closely. This is where it is easy to burn the caramel. You want the caramel to reach 350 degrees F. If you are new to making caramel, I suggest using a thermometer.


 As soon as the sugar reaches the dark amber color, carefully add the butter. Whisk until butter is melted.  Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the heavy cream. Whisk until cream is incorporated and caramel is smooth. Whisk in the fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt flakes.  Let the caramel sauce cool for about 10 minutes in the pan. Pour the caramel into a large mason jar and cool to room temperature.  Note: makes about 2 cups of caramel so you;ll have leftovers!

 To make the frosting: beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add powdered sugar and salt, and mix until completely incorporated. Turn off the mixer, and then add the salted caramel sauce. Beat frosting on low to combine, and then increase to medium-high and beat until airy and thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes.

Once pumpkin cookies are cooled, turn half of the cookies upside down. Pipe or spoon the filling (about a tablespoon) onto that half. Place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the filling. Press down slightly so that the filling spread to the edges of the cookie. Repeat until all the cookies are used. Put the whoopie pies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm before serving.