Posts Tagged ‘caramel’

You already know that my pants don’t fit.  I don’t know about you, but I find it nearly impossible to diet around this time of year.  It is so cold out that the last thing I want to eat is salad.  What really appeals to me are dishes like chili, lasagna, fresh baked cookies… comfort food.  Add on holiday celebrations, office treats, and Christmas candy sales; I am hopeless.  Well, it is fair to say that I won’t lose any weight in the last week or so of December, but I will do anything I can not to gain more weight.  As a result, I am making an effort to lighten up some of the desserts I am making over the next few hours weeks.

cheesecake 2

Honestly, I don’t do well “giving up” anything. I don’t do well with portion control either.  The first step in trying to combat that is pre-portioning desserts.  The other thing I like to do is take out some of the fat and calories where it won’t be missed.  Previously I’ve made ice cream desserts that taste delicious but are made with lots of low-guilt ingredients.  Well, I decided to make Individual Peanut Butter Cheesecakes using lower fat cream cheese with a few more decadent ingredients to balance them out.

cheesecake 5

These cheesecakes are made with a crunchy pretzel crust, a creamy peanut butter filling and chocolate chips snuck in as a layer above the crust and throughout batter.  By the way, you’d be so proud of me.  I only ate two of them!  That may or may not be because I gave some to friends and left the rest in my parents fridge.  Sorry, Mom:-)

cheesecake 4

This recipe is actually very easy and revolves mostly around a food processor.  I figured if I needed to take out the appliance for making a crust, I might as well use it for the cheesecake batter too!

To begin, fill up your food processor with salted pretzels


Run them through until they are mostly fine crumbs


In a small bowl, pour melted butter over the pretzel crumbs

adding butter

Add sugar

adding sugar

Stir until all of the crumbs are moist

Mixing crust

Press a couple tablespoons of crust ingredients into two muffin tins sprayed with non-stick cooking spray; bake for about 6 minutes

crust pre-baking

When crust comes out of oven, layer with several milk chocolate and caramel chips

chips on crust 1

Regular chocolate chips would also work, but I really like the combination of caramel, chocolate and peanut butter; set pan aside

chocolate caramel chips

Meanwhile, prepare cheesecake batter; you can shake out the crumbs from the food processor, no need to wash it

cream cheese 1

Cream 2 blocks of cream cheese in the food processor

cream cheese 2

Add sugar, flour, vanilla and salt

adding sugar flour and vanilla

Combine well

sugar flour vanilla mixed

Add your eggs

add eggs

Measure 1 cup of peanut butter chips

peanut butter chips

Microwave about 45 seconds and stir; microwave in additional 20 second increments until chips are melted; note this will be very thick

melted pb chips

Add peanut butter to cheesecake batter

add peanut butter

Process until smooth and creamy

pb mixed in

Pour cheesecake batter into a separate bowl and fold in chocolate chips

fold in chips

Use a small ladle or large spoon to put about 1/3 of a cup of batter in muffin tins

badder in pan 1

Bake cheesecakes for about 15 minutes or until mostly firm

baked 2

Serve drizzled with chocolate and caramel or sprinkled with pretzel crumbs

cheesecake 12

Individual Peanut Butter Cheesecakes, lightened up

Makes 24 mini-cheesecakes


1 1/2 cups finely ground pretzel crumbs

4 tablespoons melted butter

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, separated

1 8-ounce block fat free cream cheese, softened

1 8-ounce block reduced fat cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup peanut butter chips*, melted

1/2 cup milk chocolate and caramel chips

1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

To begin, fill up your food processor with salted pretzels and run them through until finely ground

In a small bowl, pour melted butter over the pretzel crumbs

Add 2 tablespoons sugar and stir until all of the crumbs are moist

Press mixture into two sets of muffin tins sprayed with non-stick cooking spray; bake for 6 minutes

When crust comes out of oven, sprinkle a few milk chocolate and caramel chips into each cup; set aside

Shake crumbs out of food processor and use it to prepare cheesecake batter

Cream 2 blocks of cream cheese in the food processor

Add sugar, flour, vanilla and salt; cream until well combined

Add eggs and mix well

Add melted peanut butter chips to cheesecake batter and process until smooth and creamy

Pour cheesecake batter into a separate bowl; fold in chocolate chips

Use a small ladle or large spoon to put about 1/3 of a cup of batter into each cup

Bake cheesecakes for about 15 minutes or until tops are mostly firm


*You can replace these with regular peanut butter (not natural)

The peanut butter flavor isn’t really strong; some people may prefer this but I may try increasing the amount of peanut butter chips next time (using regular peanut butter could also help)

cheesecake 7

cheesecake 11

Are you worried about weight gain during the holidays?

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dinner 2

Lots of desserts

dessert table 4


bar 2

More meat

dinner 3

Delicious side dishes


Too many desserts

dessert table 2


guests guests 2 lauren sara

guests newlyweds



decor 2

decor 3

room 1

Much too many desserts

dessert table after

More food than one could imagine out of a NYC kitchen


More people than you’d usually fit in a 1-bedroom apartment

getting food

5 Years of Thanksgiving with Friends

Five years ago, in what started out as a “dinner club” with two other couples, Matt and I hosted our first mock Thanksgiving dinner with friends.  Four friends came to Matt’s apartment at the time for a turkey, sweet potato casserole, and some other dishes that aren’t memorable enough to stand out in my mind.  It was a fun night and such a success that in the years that followed, our intimate dinner party of six has turned into an annual event with almost twenty friends.  It gives us an opportunity to be in the kitchen together, share an evening with many of our closest friends, and show them how thankful we are for them through delicious food.

matt lauren cooking

This year’s dinner was so much fun and full of many tasty traditional and non-traditional Thanksgiving dishes: Turkey, Brisket, Turkey Meatloaf, Salad, String Bean Casserole, Sweet Potato Casserole, Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Parmesan, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Pumpkin Bread/Muffins

dinner 1

And of course, as you surely already know, lots of desserts

dessert table 5

Cookie sandwiches: Red Velvet Cookie Sandwiches with White Chocolate Buttercream, Chocolate Chip Cookies with Mocha Ganache and Chewy Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Filling

sandwich cookies 2

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake bars

bars on plate 1

Cookie Dough Topped Brownies

cooke dough brownies

Gooey Caramel Butter Bars

caramel bars

Chocolate Chunk Almond Butter Bars

Brownies with White Chocolate Buttercream and Mocha Ganache

I am excited about the recipes I have to share from the dinner party over the next few weeks!  There are definitely some new desserts that I know I’ll be making again

What is your favorite Thanksgiving-related tradition?

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done 2

I am a chocolate lover.  It is rare that I’d pick a dessert on a menu that doesn’t have chocolate (it would have to be an extremely appealing warm fruit dessert option with ice cream).  However, I have to acknowledge that there are some people out there who don’t feel the same way, especially when I entertain.  The husband and I are planning a dinner party and I have a long list of desserts to include.  That list has been edited down from an even longer list, but it will probably be slightly overboard:-)  That is just how I do it.  Anyway, since I will be baking more than enough desserts for our friends, I realize I need to make sure that each dessert should serve its purpose with a unique set of flavors, textures and appearance.  When I flipped to the Gooey Caramel Butter Bars in my Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey cookbook, I knew I had to make them.  Layers of shortbread cookie dough and creamy decadent caramel?  What else could a non-chocolate lover want?


Luckily I found this recipe online so you can bake these at home.  It is always tough when I decide to bake from a cookbook because I know that I can’t reprint the recipe as is.  Luckily, someone else had it posted so you can refer there for measurement details.  I’ll point out the small changes I made to the original below.

These Gooey Caramel Butter Bars have several steps but are not difficult to make.  Just make sure you have a couple of hours because you need your crust to cool before layering on the caramel and topping.

For the shortbread you will need an entire pound of butter, granulated and confectioners’ sugars, vanilla, salt and all-purpose flour

shortbread ingred

You will need a sifter for your confectioners’ sugar


I used my make-shift version from last time powdered sugar in sift sifted powdered sugar

Then you will beat together all of the butter, granulated sugar and sifted confectioners’ sugar

butter and sugars

Beat well until it is creamy and a little fluffy

mixture of butter and sugars

Beat in your vanilla and salt and then set aside

adding vanilla

Sift your flour as well

dry ingred

And then slowly add to the dough while mixer is on low

adding dry ingred 2

Combine just until a thick dough forms

dough 1

Now you will set aside 2/3 of your dough

dough on seran 1

Flatten it out on seran wrap

dough on seran 2

Wrap it up and refrigerate until you need it as a topping

dough on seran 3

Your other third of the shortbread dough will go into a 9×13 pan sprayed with cooking spray

dough in pan 1

Use your hands to flatten out the dough

dough in pan 2

Then bake at 325 for about 25 minutes, or until lightly golden brown around the edges; allow to cool on a rack prior to adding additional layers

baked crust

While the crust cools, it is time to make your caramel; you will need 1 bag of caramel candies, heavy whipping cream, vanilla, salt and the optional kick of dark rum (I used just a tablespoon and didn’t notice much effect on flavor)

caramel ingred

Put all of the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl

making caramel 1

And microwave the mixture for a minute, then small 30 second increments

making caramel 2

Stir in-between microwave sessions

making caramel 3

Your caramel will start to look like this

making caramel 4

And then more like this

making caramel 5

and this

making caramel 6

then this

making caramel 7

And then finally it will be smooth and creamy like this

making caramel 8

When the shortbread crust is cooled to room temperature and the caramel is ready, spread it onto the crust

caramel on crust

If you keep the caramel away from the edges, clean-up will be a lot easier

caramel on crust 2

My “secret” ingredient

sea salt

Sprinkle the sea salt lightly over caramel (next time I’ll use a little more than in the picture below)

salt on caramel

Now get the rest of the dough out of the refrigerator to top your bars

dough for top

Break it up into small pieces and pile them evenly on top of the caramel

dough on top

Then bake again for about 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the caramel is bubbling


Cut and serve!


Notice that you can see the grease marks on the cutting board, these really are buttery but as a result, they melt in your mouth in a very delicious way.

Are you a chocolate lover? What is your favorite non-chocolate dessert?

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