Monday, December 10, 2012

Keep Calm: Chocolate & Maple Caramel Squares

Well guys, I'm in the thick of it.  While everyone looks forward to the yuletide season, I heed it with great amounts of hesitation and dread.  I think only if you have ever worked in the food industry, and maybe retail, will you get where I'm coming from.  I loved the Christmas season a lot more before I became a chef.  And that's the truth.  December kicks my ass to the North Pole, and frankly I would rather be there than here.  The hours are long and incredibly busy - catering parties; cooking hundreds of pounds of turkey; up to my armpits in stuffing; and don't even ask me how many pounds of potatoes need to be mashed.  Most days when I get home I'm too tired to do much but stare at the wall for a few minutes, gather the gumption to shower and re-heat something for dinner.  There are no parties or festive functions to attend; no going out for drinks with friends and right now there is a stack of Christmas cards awaiting my message and I don't know when I'll find the time to do it.  Today is my only day off and the week ahead is a real doozy, with at least 50 hours of work ahead of me, and a turkey dinner for 1200 people that will need cooking - by me.  I might be a total grumpasaurus right now, but trust me, come December 21 at 5:00 pm (the last day of work for 11 days!!!!!) there will be lots and lots of merry going around here.  Right now it's that date and that time that is keeping me going.  Well, that and this. Jimmy Fallon + Tracy Morgan = Best bad mood killer ever.  Plus a hot-toddy-a-day doesn't hurt, either.

While time is ever so precious right now, I will not sacrifice my Christmas baking.  Every year instead of buying gifts for friends, I do up pretty boxes of my baking and send them all over Canada, or I drive around in my car and pop in on friends and gift them with goodies.  So yes, I'm incredible tired and sure the couch and a cozy curl up with a book sounds quite lovely, but this is important to me.  This is my tradition.  I put on a little holiday music and don't think about work, but about my friends.  I picture them opening up the ribbon-tied box, and biting into one of these chocolate caramel squares.  I'm hoping they know how much they mean to me; how much I value their friendship.  They are the caramel to my chocolate.  

So let's talk about chocolate and caramel.  I spied a recipe on the Kitchn a while back and knew I had to make it.  Chocolate, caramel, shortbread.  Yummers.  Remember back when I made a cookie dough that wouldn't cooperate?  Well, considering it had a pound of butter and sugar in it, a Plan B had to be found.  Instead of using it as a cookie, I decided to take that dough from my freezer and use it as the base for this square.  It's not quite shortbread, due to the egg and baking soda in it - but still delicious.  It holds its own against the maple caramel and chocolate, creating quite an addictive little square, little being the operative word.  These are rich and tasty, and a small nibble will suffice even the sweetest tooth.

Press the dough into a foil-lined 9 x 13 pan.  Bake it for 20 minutes or golden.  Meanwhile combine butter, sugar, condensed milk and maple syrup and boil it into sweet caramel submission.  Much stirring is required - your arm will get a workout, which is good considering who has time to go to the gym?  My mom got a taste of these squares today and she figured the caramel was almost fudge-like and she's correct (as always).   Not gooey like some caramel squares can be - these get extra bonus points for that. 

Pour the caramel onto the cooled crust, let it set up over night while you dream of sugar plums, then the next day pour over a little melted dark chocolate.  Spread it to all corners, give it a swirly whirly action and once it's set, cut into squares.  These freeze like a dream, so go ahead and gift some goodies to your own loved ones.  Speaking of loved ones, I want to thank mine ever so much for listening to my pity party; for sending me funny You Tube links; for telling me to keep calm, remember to breathe; for whispering in my ear let your heart be light.  They are right.

Chocolate & Maple Caramel Squares

1 cup butter (I used salted)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda

1 cup butter (I used salted)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
10 oz good quality dark chocolate (bittersweet is best)

Preheat oven to 350*F.  For the base, beat butter with sugar until fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla until well combined.  In a separate bowl stir flour with salt and baking soda; beat into butter mixture on low speed, just until combined.  Knead gently on a lightly floured surface and take pieces to press into a foil-lined 9x13 inch pan.  Bake for 18 minutes until light golden brown.  Set aside to cool.
For the caramel:  combine butter, sugar, condensed milk and maple syrup in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and stir constantly until thick and golden brown, but not burned.  This took me about 20 minutes, and mine only ever got a light golden brown and turned out fine.  Pour the caramel over the cooled crust and allow to set for at least an hour or overnight.
Melt the chocolate over very low heat, stirring constantly.  When smooth, pour over the caramel and smooth out or give it some whirls and swirls.  Cool completely before cutting into it.  Adapted from the Kitchn.   


  1. Beautiful save on the cookie dough. These squares look marvelous.

  2. I know a little about your pain, vicariously through my husband. He's in the thick of it as well. Here's hoping you both make it through the season with your sanity intact. Eat lots of those caramel squares- they look very therapeutic. And delicious!

  3. They look decadent Renee, your friends are very lucky.

  4. Renee - your posts always bring a smile to my face. lots of love to you... Katey

  5. Paula, thank you! I had made a double batch of the dough (of course) so now there is a double batch of these beauties in the freezer :)
    Shelley - thanks lady. Wish your husband luck for me too :)
    Val, thank you :) I'm the lucky one, really :)
    Katey - love you too :)

  6. Chocolate and maple caramel. This why you my girl.

  7. I hear ya. I did work retail for 10 years. You get exactly 2 months off from Christmas: Feb and March. I have worked Decembers where the only day I got off in the entire month was Christmas Day (boxing day sales start early the next morning and management doesn't get time off). January is clearance and analysis. And then in April, you start purchasing for the next Christmas. It took me years to get my love of Christmas back. And now I make it as simple and non-commercial as I possibly can and I avoid shopping at all costs! It's much much better! But these squares look so delicious - you have very lucky recipients!

  8. "I'm hoping they know how much they mean to me; how much I value their friendship. They are the caramel to my chocolate."
    That is the perfect way to describe close friendships.
    Hang in there Reneé!

  9. I can't wait to try these! The bars look both beautiful and intriguing. What's not to like about caramel and chocolate?!

  10. Your caramel squares look amazing. Hope the busy season is treating you kindly!


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