One of the questions I get most often is, “How do you find time to bake?” I’ll admit, it can be a bit of a juggling act. Since starting this blog, we’ve gone from zero to three children, ages 4 and under. Baking projects that I used to finish in an evening are now slo-o-o-o-wly pieced together over the course of several days. I could write a book about it, but thankfully, I don’t have to — Michelle Lopez’s new cookbook, Weeknight Baking will teach you everything you need to know about baking to fit your schedule.
I received Michelle’s book as a literal birth day present — it arrived the same day our third child, Isabelle, did! Weeknight Baking was actually the perfect cookbook to help ease me into the new reality of baking with another tiny human around, because each recipe is either quick to make OR broken down into 15-to-30 minute tasks that you can piece together over a few days. And, as my family will attest, the recipes are delicious! So far, we’ve easily polished off a pan of her cheesecake bars and a batch of these oatmeal cookies.
I have always been partial to a good old fashioned oatmeal cookie, and I’m delighted to add this recipe to our rotation. These babies take about half an hour from start to finish — no chilling required! I made a couple small changes — first, I used sifted spelt flour instead of all purpose; and second, I popped a mini pretzel on each cookie (before baking) because I’m all about that salty-sweet combo. Feel free to go traditional with just raisins, or play around with the mix-ins — Michelle gives several fantastic sounding options. Whatever you do, make these cookies! And congrats, Michelle, on your new book!
1 recipe Oatmeal Cookie Mix-In of your choice (I used raisins and mini pretzels)
1 1/4 c (5.65 oz) all-purpose flour (I used sifted spelt)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2/3 c (5 oz) tightly packed dark brown sugar (I used light)
1/3 c (2.35 oz) granulated sugar
3/4 c (6 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 c (6.15 oz) old-fashioned rolled oats
Oatmeal cookie mix-ins
Classic oatmeal raisin: 1 c (5.5 oz) raisins
Oatmeal chocolate chip: 8 oz dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), from whole feves or a high-quality chocolate bar, chopped into 1/2-to-1-inch pieces
Oatmeal, Cranberry, and White Chocolate: 1 c (6 oz) dried cranberries and 3 oz white chocolate, from whole feves or a high-quality chocolate bar, chopped into 1/2-to-1-inch pieces
Oatmeal, cherry, and pistachio: 1 c (5 oz) dried cherries and 1/2 c (2.5 oz) shelled pistachios
Oatmeal and crystallized ginger: 1/2 c (3.5 oz) crystallized ginger, chopped into 1/4-to-1/2-inch pieces
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.
Place the mix-in of your choice in a shallow bowl and toss to combine.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugars and butter. Beat on medium-high until light, fluffy, and doubled in volume, 2-3 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the mixer to low, add the egg and vanilla, and beat until combined. Scrape down bottom and sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Add the oats all at once and beat on low until combined, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed to fully incorporate oats. Add the mix-in all at once and beat on medium-low until the mix-in is evenly distributed throughout, about 1 minute.
Use a 3-tablespoon cookie dough scoop to portion the cookie dough into 20 balls (about 45 g each, but may vary depending on mix-ins), placing them at least 3 inches apart on the prepared sheet pans. Bake one pan at a time for 15 minutes, or until the edges have set but the centers are still gooey. Cool the cookies on the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, or until the edges and bottoms of the cookies have set and feel firm to the touch. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough (or freeze it to bake later). Serve warm or at room temperature. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container or zip-top bag at room temperature for up to 3 days.
These little confections have been five years in the making. Pretzel salted caramels were part of the dessert menu at our wedding reception. We didn’t manage to eat them during the actual party, but some kind soul tucked some in a to-go box for us.
And and enjoy we did. And by “we” I mean “I.” Somehow within the next 12 hours I polished all of them off without giving poor David even a sniff of them. (One might say it was a sign of things to come — the running joke is that David has to take chocolate to work if he wants to have some, because I will gradually take care of at anything left at home.)
Anyways, ever since that first day of marriage I have been intending to reverse-engineer pretzel salted caramels so I could make David his own batch. It took me half a decade, but finally — just in time for our 5th anniversary — I did it!
Part of what kept me from making these sooner was, honestly, the fear of candy-making. It’s not something I do too often, so I’m always a little worried that my caramel will be the wrong consistency or my chocolate won’t temper correctly. I really shouldn’t have worked it up so much in my mind because honestly, it’s not that scary. Sure, there are things I could do better but overall, I am thrilled with how these pretzel salted caramels turned out! The caramel has the perfect amount of chew, and the buttery pretzel layer helps balance out the sweetness. A dip in dark chocolate and an extra sprinkle of flaky salt help pull everything together. Make a batch for your Valentine — or for yourself, I won’t tell.
A few notes:
The success of the caramel layer depends on an accurate thermometer (I have this one). Make sure the probe is submerged in the syrup but not touching the bottom of the pot to get an accurate reading.
Before starting the caramel layer, I recommend having all your ingredients measured out and all your tools in place. You don’t want to be rummaging around for your flaky salt or whisk with a hot pot of sugar bubbling on the stove.
The caramel recipe is adapted from David Lebovitz. I’ve used it once before and followed it to a T, and the caramel tasted great but was just slightly too chewy for my tastes. So this time I stopped dropped the final temp by 5 degrees and it was just right for me.
When cutting the caramel block into individual candies, I like to use a large chef’s knife. Between cuts I wipe it down with a hot towel and lightly grease it with a neutral vegetable oil.
If you’re pressed for time, you can skip the chocolate dip and just wrap the caramels with wax paper or cellophane. (Or do what I did and go half and half.)
About the chocolate dip: after tempering, I would recommend just working with about 1/3 of the chocolate at a time (keep the remainder in a warmish spot so it doesn’t set). You will inevitably get little pretzel bits in the chocolate as you dip, so it’s nice to switch to a fresh dish every so often so your candies stay nice and neat. Any leftover chocolate you can spread out and dry, then chop and add to your next batch of brownies or chocolate chunk cookies!
About tempering: I am not an expert. At all. I usually avoid it, but because I wanted to store these at room temp I decided to go for it. I used the sous vide method outline on Serious Eats which was fairly straightforward.
Pretzel Salted Caramels
Makes one 8×8 pan, about thirty-six 1 1/4″ candies
For the pretzel base:
200g mini salted pretzels (if using unsalted, add a generous 1/2 tsp kosher salt)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8×8 square pan with foil and lightly grease the foil.
In the bowl of a food processor, grind the pretzels (and the salt, if using) into a fine powder. Add the melted butter and pulse until combined. The mixture should hold together easily when squeezed, but shouldn’t feel overly greasy.
Press the pretzel mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan (I like to use the bottom of a measuring cup or shot glass to really press it down evenly).
Bake until firm and golden, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the caramel layer.
To make the caramel, heat the cream in a small saucepan with half of the butter (30g), vanilla and fine sea salt until the mixture just comes to the boil. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm while you continue.
In a medium heavy duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine the corn syrup with the sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently, to make sure the sugar melts smoothly. Once the mixture is melted together and the sugar is evenly moistened, only stir is as necessary to keep it from getting any hot spots. If you notice any sugar granules on the side of the pot, brush them with a pastry brush dipped in water.
Cook until the syrup reaches 310ºF (155ºC).
Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the warm cream mixture until smooth. (The mixture will bubble up furiously, so be very careful!)
Return to the heat and cook the mixture, without stirring, to 255-260F (124-127C — see notes above).
Remove the pan from the heat, lift out the thermometer, and whisk in the remaining 30g butter until it’s melted and the mixture smooth.
Pour the mixture over the pretzel layer. After ~5 minutes, sprinkle the surface with 1/4 tsp flaky salt. Allow to set at room temperature for at least 4 hours, or overnight. (Do not cover while the pan is still warm; once it has come to room temperature you can cover it with a piece of foil.)
Once the caramel is set, use a large, sharp knife to cut the slab into 6 long equal strips. Cut each strip into 6 equal pieces. If not coating with chocolate, wrap each caramel in a piece of wax paper.
To coat caramels with chocolate, temper the chocolate according to your preferred method (I prefer the sous vide method — see notes above). Place a caramel on a fork and submerge in the chocolate. Lift out the caramel and tap the fork several times to remove any excess chocolate, then scrape the bottom of the fork along the rim of the bowl and transfer the coated caramel to a piece of parchment paper. Allow to set for a minute, then sprinkle with flaky salt. Let chocolate cool and set completely at room temperature before transferring to an airtight container.
I have a soft spot for pretzels. I don’t know how it started; it’s not like we ate pretzels that often growing up. But every time I see pretzels on a menu there’s a good chance I’ll order them; and if I attend a baseball game I’m more likely to get a pretzel than a hot dog. What can I say? I have a weakness for warm, chewy carbs.
Making sourdough pretzels has been on my to-do list for awhile; and after quite a few batches I’ve finally come up with a version that I’m pretty pleased with. For awhile I was tinkering with an authentic pretzel recipe, which produces a more chewy and dense product. Call me inauthentic, but I like my pretzels a bit softer — so the recipe here reflects that. If you prefer a denser pretzel, you can use the ingredients below but skip the bulk rise — divide right after mixing, let the dough rest for 45 minutes, shape the pretzels, and refrigerate overnight. Then proceed with baking as directed below.
One final thing — I would love to try making lye-dipped pretzels because I hear it’s the bee’s knees, but I can’t find a reasonably priced source for food grade lye in Toronto (ordering online will cost me about $70). One day I’ll find a way to do it, but for now baked baking soda is my dip of choice. Just spread out a box of baking soda on a baking sheet at bake at 250F for an hour, then store in an airtight container to use whenever your pretzel cravings hit.
Combine the beer, starter, barley malt syrup, and lard in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the liquid mixture and stir to combine with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Knead, by hand or with the dough hook in a stand mixer, until the dough is smooth and the gluten is well developed (about 10 minutes with a mixer, longer if by hand). The dough is fairly stiff and should be slightly tacky, but not sticky.
Transfer the dough to an clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, folding once an hour. Refrigerate overnight (or for at least 8 hours).
Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a rack in the center and oil a large sheet pan.
On a clean work surface, divide and round the dough into 8 equal portions, about 85g each.
To shape, flatten a round into a rough rectangle about 3″ x 5″. Starting from a long edge, roll the rectangle up into a tight log and pinch to seal the seam. Roll the log out to about 12 inches and set aside to relax while you repeat the process with the remaining rounds.
Once all the rounds have been initially rolled out, return to the first log and continue rolling it out into a rope roughly 26 inches long, tapering the ends slightly. If you’re having trouble getting enough traction, lightly mist your work surface with water (you don’t want to use flour, which will actually make it harder to roll out the dough).
Form the rope into a “U” shape. Holding the ends, twist together twice about 3-inches from the ends, then fold the ends down and press them into the “U” at about 4 and 8 o’clock. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
When all the pretzels are formed, fill a large pot with 8 cups of water (I like to use the leftovers from the can of beer used to make the dough, plus enough water to equal 8 cups). Stir in the baked baking soda, then bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the baking soda is dissolved.
Once the liquid is simmering, turn the heat down to medium to maintain a gentle simmer. Use a slotted spoon to dip the pretzels in one or two at a time for about 20 seconds each. Remove the dipped pretzels from the liquid, drain, and return to the baking sheet, spacing at least an inch apart.
Brush the pretzels with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, make about a 1-inch long slash at the thickest part of each pretzel (the bottom of the “U”).
Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, or until pretzels are well browned. Transfer pretzels to a cooling rack for about 10 minutes before serving. Pretzels taste best within an hour of baking, but leftovers can be wrapped tightly with plastic and frozen for up to a month. Reheat for about 10 minutes in a 350F oven.