Gluten-Free Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I’ve said it before – I live a gluten-FULL or omnivorous lifestyle. However, the last couple of weeks as I deplete what is in my fridge and freezer, as well as not restock the pantry, I’m getting creative with my baking.

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The main stars of these cookies – not pictures, the Lindt Chocolate

I had a bag of King Arthur Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour. I like this, it’s a cup-for-cup or measure-for-measure product, meaning any regular recipe, you swap whatever quantity of flour that is advised with the gluten-free product. I was eager to make another batch of cookies, and I found a great recipe for Gluten-Free Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies from this other blog, Delicious Little Bites.

I followed the recipe for the most part, but made some small substitutes as again, I was cleaning out my pantry. Instead of chocolate chips, I chopped up 1 and a half bars of Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate. I like the pools of chocolate you get from chopping chocolate by hand versus using chips. Also, I used more salt than the recipe called for, particularly on top. I didn’t take the time to get the same lovely aesthetic as the recipe author, but I was pleased with the results nonetheless.

What was great about this cookie is it had a nice crinkly outside and a great chew inside, particularly enhanced by the Kraft caramels. The other thing that was nice, is it gave new life to caramels that had hardened too much to snack on or melt. Every time I play around with gluten-free flours, I am impressed. Again, check out the cookie recipe here.

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Ask Anna – Baker’s Block Breakthrough – Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

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My good friend Danielle reached out last night. “I want to bake a treat (something sweet) but I have very minimal ingredients.” She was suffering from a bit of Baker’s Block – think Writer’s Block, but with butter and sugar.

I said, “Hit me!”

She had the following on hand:

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Baking Soda
  • Baking Powder
  • Vanilla
  • Eggs
  • Peanut Butter
  • Two sticks of Butter
  • Unsweetened Bakers Chocolate
  • Godiva Hot Cocoa Mix
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Crisco

She felt she did not have much, but she had enough ingredients for just about any classic drop cookie (Chocolate Chip, Sugar, Snickerdoodle (assuming she had cinnamon), etc.) She also could do classic Peanut Butter Cookies and even Peanut Butter Blossoms (the yummy ones with Hershey Kisses). One suggestion I had was Peanut Butter Blossoms, but done like thumbprints (melt baker’s chocolate and mix with vanilla, powdered sugar, and a pinch of salt) and fill the thumbprint with the chocolate mixture. The other would be to take that same mixture and drizzle over classic peanut butter cookies. I also felt the hot cocoa mix blended into baker’s chocolate would be fun.

Inspired by wanting to use the hot cocoa mix, she settled on a classic peanut butter cookie with hot cocoa mix in the dough. The result was a semi-soft, slightly chewy and slightly sandy cookie – a bit sweet but balanced from the salty peanut butter – a great combo all around!

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Danielle’s delicious pantry creation 🙂

 

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

We can’t take credit for this delightful recipe! Follow this Classic Peanut Butter Cookie recipe from All Recipes, sifting one packet of Hot Cocoa Mix with the dry ingredients, and follow the rest as directed.

 

 

Gluten-Free Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

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One thing I like to do as I am utilizing what is in my pantry is use up items I do not particularly care for, or I can’t quite remember why I bought it. I found a box of live Gfree gluten-free baking mix. Live Gfree is Aldi’s line of gluten-free grocery products. While I joke that enjoy a gluten-FULL diet, I particularly enjoy gluten-free pretzels – they have a nicer, lighter crunch than regular pretzels.

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Main Ingredients – all things on hand – previously frozen, thawed bananas, gluten-free baking mix, and a mix of chocolate and butterscotch chips

For the baking mix, I wasn’t sure what to do. Reading the recipes on the back, it was like Bisquick. With the pandemic looming I’m either by myself or with my boyfriend, so I didn’t want to make something like pancakes or waffles, it felt wasteful.

Rummaging through my supplies, I opted for a banana bread. Banana bread is one of those foods that is really the kitchen sink of breakfast or coffee pastries. You can throw in just about anything and it will still be good.

In my cabinet I had some loose chocolate chips and butterscotch chips mixed in zipper baggie together – a combination I often use in blondies. In my freezer I had about 3 frozen bananas – something I usually save for smoothies, but they looked like they were on their way out. Using up these ingredients, even if this didn’t work, I would not have felt bad trashing the banana bread.

GLUTEN-FREE BUTTERSCOTCH CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA BREAD

  • 1 package live Gfree gluten-free baking mix (1 pound)
  • 3-4 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan, set aside. Mix mashed bananas with the baking mix, add remaining wet ingredients one-by one, forming a thick, but smooth batter. Stir in chips and salt. Pour batter into loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake. Remove from oven, allow to cool about 2 hours before serving.

Tips:

  • “Mix-ins” – can be flavored chips, nuts, dried fruit, etc., instead of the chocolate and butterscotch
  • I used a glass pan only because of what I had on hand. Any loaf pan will do, just double check baking times
  • For storage, the first night I wrapped in tea towels to keep loaf from drying out, but also to retain some crispiness on the edges. After the first night I wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge
  • When serving, warm a slice of the bread in oven or toaster oven – heat at 200 degrees for about 10-15 minutes. This tastes best when the chocolate is melty and gooey

The verdict? This banana bread was amazing! Gluten-free baking flours and mixes have come such a long way the last few years. I was also impressed with the ingredients in the package – all things I could pronounce and all natural – rice flour, sugar, baking powder, potato starch, salt, and xanthan gum. Also, if I followed a true gluten-free lifestyle, I could probably replicate this baking mix and make it in bulk. However, for its price point (less than $6), I think it’s fine getting the box mix.

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Gobs of melty chocolate had me drooling!

Other than a subtle grittiness from the rice flour, I could not detect a big difference in taste or texture from traditional banana bread. My boyfriend also said he only knew it was gluten free because I told him.

So, my apologies for referring to the mix as “this garbage” on my Instagram story before I actually used it. I was VERY wrong.

Cake Mix Brownies…an experiment

  
I’m prepping for Sunday’s dinner party. Menu is set (don’t want to share it all as it’s a surprise for my guests), groceries have been purchased, and I decided to start on the dessert tonight. I want to make ice cream cake because not only is it summer, I probably haven’t made one in about 2 years. Looking back on my own recipe, I swore it was Oreo-bottomed, but turns out it is brownie-bottomed. 

Thinking I had all the ingredients for brownies, I sought out to make it, but alas, I’m out of sugar. Since I don’t feel like bugging any of my neighbors (I don’t really know them), I figured surely I have a mix somewhere in my pantry. I was stoked when I saw a box of No Pudge!, but alas, it was open as I was making a serving at a time.

I saw a box of chocolate cake mix and looked to see if there was a recipe for brownies. Alas, there was not. So I googled….I prefer chewy brownies so I did a search and settled on a recipe that sounded super easy – just an egg, some oil, and water.

I put the mix together and the texture was super thick and gooey – almost like peanut or almond butter. It also tasted a bit off, so I added a tinge more oil, some salt, and some vanilla extract.

  
I had some trouble spreading it in my springform pan. It is baking as I write this….wish me luck! 

Update – it came out looking right, but rose more than regular brownies. I hope it shrinks down a bit because I want a thinner base. Worst case, I’ll saw some off the top.

  

Have Potatoes, Will Focaccia

 
I have this tendency to buy potatoes and not use them before they get gross.

Even though we’ve been experiencing 80+ degree days here in New Jersey, I was feeling the urge to bake.

  
One of my go-tos that I don’t do often enough is focaccia. It’s a pretty easy pantry staple because all you really need is flour, oil, salt, sugar, and yeast. It’s a quick bread to make – about two hours to do, and about 90 minutes of that is just hanging out and waiting.

For a moister, fluffier center and chewy-crunch crust, potatoes are also used. My inspiration for this focaccia came from a Bon Appetit recipe from a few years ago. I modified it this time around, omitting the seasonings/toppings. I opted for a Rosemary-rich Italian seasoning blend and Parmesan cheese. 

Focaccia also makes a great Accidental Pantry Project Recipe – you do not need potatoes, but they do make a better bread. The rest is pretty much stuff you have around – flour, yeast packets, sugar or honey, oil, and water. 

Follow the rest of the recipe accordingly.

Late Night Snack – Pretzels and Cheese Sauce

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While I work on my on-hand food inventory and cost, I’m also doing the fun part of this project, which is getting creative with what I have to make some yummy food!

The latest experiment was making Auntie Anne’s Pretzels from a kit I bought at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. For years, an Auntie Anne’s pretzel has been my favorite mall fare – a quick snack to refuel on shopping excursions. Plus with cheese being my favorite food, I would also get a packet of cheese sauce to go with the pretzel. Granted, that cheese sauce was more of a chemically processed cheese food that could survive nuclear holocaust and will probably be sitting in my system years after I am dead, but it really was a satisfying snack.

On my own, I make a good cheese sauce because I love Bechamel, cheese, mac and cheese, etc. Depending on my needs I am not as diligent in the classic mother sauce preparation as I was in my youth. I still love the whole pomp and circumstance of an onion cloute and straining the milk mixture before blending it with the roux. But tonight was about snack time and pantry depletion, so shortcuts happened and the results (in my opinion) were still quite scrumptious.

I followed the instructions that came with the baking mix. It was pretty easy to follow, but the process was definitely time consuming, as is any sort of bread baking. From when I started to when I was snacking was probably about an hour and a half to two hours, and it yields a hefty number of pretzels. Much of that time is active time, too. Other than the half hour you allow the dough to rest so the yeast can do its thing, you are working a lot and quickly. I made the mistake of wanting to make my cheese sauce while the pretzels were baking, but the baking time was short and active, and I do not have the counter space to work around that.

Overall lesson learned – making the pretzels at home was fun and cost saving, but DEFINITELY not convenient and time saving.

Here’s my adventure, followed by the cheese sauce recipe

CHEESE SAUCE

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk (can use any milk, nonfat is what I had on hand), ideally warmed to room temperature
3 cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash each of nutmeg, white pepper, onion powder, Worchestershire sauce
1 teaspoon maple sugar (any natural sweetener works, again, what I had on hand and I love maple)
1 cup shredded cheese (I used Clothbound Cheddar and Landaff that were going to go bad if I didn’t use them)

  1. Over low heat, whisk the flour and butter together, cooking about 5 minutes until roux is blonde in color – do not overcook
  2. Slowly whisk in milk, continue to cook over low flame, whisking constantly. Mixture will thicken within a couple of minutes
  3. Add seasonings, cook about three more minutes to incorporate flavor. The sugar is used to balance out the saltiness of the cheeses
  4. Whisk in cheese and continue to stir until fully melted and incorporated. Sauce should be smooth and creamy, not stringy
  5. Serve immediately, but be sure to pick out the cloves so not to choke or get an intense hit of spice. Sauce can be cooled and reheated, but best to reheat over slow heat and mix in extra milk to prevent curdling
  6. Recipe yields about 2 cups of sauce, about 4 servings

RECIPE COST (for me based off my pantry items):
$9.85 for 10 pretzel servings and 4 sauce servings
$8, pretzel mix
$.40, butter
$.75, seasonings, sugar, flour
$.70, milk
$0, cheese (was from a gift basket)

Vegan Chocolate Caramel Truffles

Leave it to post-Easter to continue on the meat free and dairy free crusade. I was asked to do a coffee tasting for a work meeting and I cannot do a coffee tasting without epic treats. It’s just my MO.

While I made Chocolate Chip Caramel Cheesecake Bars for the rest of the crew, one of my fellow managers is vegan, so I wanted to prepare a treat that he could eat as well. The coffee we were tasting, Starbucks Caffe Verona, goes great with chocolate and caramelized sugar. Most caramel recipes contain dairy, so I went on a hunt to find a caramel flavoring that was vegan. I could have just purchased Starbucks caramel syrup, but I was not thinking when I was at the grocery store. Instead, I found this product, Walden Farms Caramel Syrup. It was fat free, sugar free, calorie free, gluten free, etc….and more importantly for my purpose, dairy-free and vegan.

I wasn’t sure what to do with my caramel sauce, all I knew is that I had to come up with something vegan which included chocolate and caramel.

Racking my brains for a little while, it hit me. Modify an Oreo truffle recipe. Oreo truffles were a huge hit with my staff back at Christmas time, and they are super easy to make – oreos mixed with cream cheese and dipped in chocolate. At my disposal, I had vegan dark chocolate for melting, Nabisco Famous Wafer Cookies (which are essentially oreo cookies without the filling), and the caramel syrup. I decided to mix the cookies, sauce, and some margarine to create my truffle filling. The margarine and caramel sauce became my cream cheese substitute. Caramel was used for flavor and the margarine was used as a creamy fat which would solidify at room temperature.

So…here’s my on the fly recipe:

  • 20 Nabisco Famous Wafer Cookies
  • 1/4 cup Walden Farms Caramel Syrup
  • 1/4 cup Margarine, melted
  • 4 ounces Vegan Dark Chocolate (more or less may be needed), for dipping
  • 1 tablespoon Vegetable Shortening, for dipping mixture
  1. In a food processor, process cookies, syrup, and margarine until mixture is smooth. Transfer truffle filling to a bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours, but preferably overnight.
  2. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator. Using a teaspoon or tablespoon (your preference depending on what size you’d like the truffles), scoop out filling and roll into balls and place on waxed paper. Place the balls back in the refrigerator while you work on the next step, or until you’re ready to dip.
  3. When you’re ready to dip, melt chocolate and shortening over a double boiler until smooth. The addition of the shortening is a short cut so you don’t have to spend the time tempering the chocolate. Remove from heat.
  4. Dip the cookie balls into the chocolate, roll around using two forks or two spoons. As each ball is coated, transfer to waxed paper. When all the balls have been dipped, you can move the truffles to the refrigerator to cool and harden.
  5. Truffles can be served immediately after the chocolate is hardened. To store, keep refrigerated in an air tight container.

Mold Baking Part 2 – Lamby Boy becomes a Cake

The Lamby Boy saga continued….

For the cake itself, I used this recipe from All Recipes. I chose this particular recipe because it called out going well with cream cheese frosting. Since that was the type of frosting I wanted to make for my cake, I was sold. I omitted the orange juice mainly because I do not like citrus flavored pound cakes. I added a little more vanilla extract for flavor. The cake was definitely dense and a little dry; I think it would make an amazing strawberry shortcake base if I was to use the recipe in another facet (in other words, not for cake decorating). That being said, it was still quite tasty.

More importantly, it held up! I made the cream cheese frosting using cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. This time I did not need my food processor, I had a hand held mixer.

I chilled the frosting overnight, for no other reason than I wanted to decorate the next day from my mom’s house so I wouldn’t have to transport the decorated cake and risk ruining it. Since I am no longer employed as a professional caterer, I do not have the appropriate vehicle or materials necessary for transport the way I would when I would transport wedding cakes.

As for decorating itself…I took about a half cup of icing and dyed it with green food coloring for grass. I used a rubber spatula to spread a layer of green icing on my oval platter. This also worked as “glue” to keep the lamb from tipping over. I piped some extra green icing to give the illusion of textured grass. For the lamb, I spread one layer of white frosting to act as base – he needs a lot of frosting! I started out this first layer on a cutting board and then transferred him onto the “grass.” For the second layer, I piped the frosting row by row to give the illusion of a curly fleece. Some other recipes call for shredded coconut flakes. I love coconut but did not want that flavor and texture for this particular cake, so I stuck to hand decorating with the piping bag. I piped extra frosting on the top of his head and on his rear to make a tail. For his eyes, I cut a little bit of chocolate. His nose I used a tiny speck of frosting that I had dyed red. Finally, to complete the look, I put some spring colored M&Ms down on the plate to represent flowers, and I tied a colorful spring bow around his neck. Voila!

Sadly or not, no one cut into him on Easter. He was too pretty to mutilate.

Mold Baking


Baking cakes has never been my forte. It is essentially my Achilles heel in the culinary world. Add a mold, decorating, and shapes, and well, I should maybe talk to HBO or Food Network for a comedy pilot. This week, however, I was put up to the challenge by one of my employees to create “Lamby Boy,” also known as an Easter Lamb Cake. Most recipes call for a pound cake recipe because of its density and ability to hold the shape, and my beloved favorite, cream cheese frosting.

What’s the worst that could happen, right? More to follow soon…

Feeble attempt at baking. Note the kitchen covered in powdered sugar and flour...

Here goes nothing!