Shortbread Carmelitas

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Have you ever had a Carmelita?  Typically, a Carmelita is a soft oatmeal cookie stuffed with caramel and chocolate.  While that is pretty darn tasty… shortbread takes the cake, oops – I mean the cookie bar, here. It’s a brown sugar pecan shortbread, giving the Carmelita a nutty little update.  I also can’t resist adding a little salt to the caramel sauce in the middle of the bar.  I tend to think salted caramel is the stuff dreams are made of, though.

I hope you enjoy my take on Carmelitas!  What’s your favorite cookie bar?


Shortbread Carmelitas

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 sticks/1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 40 caramel squares unwrapped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt (for salted caramel sauce)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Extra chocolate chips for topping

Preheat the oven to 350.

Line an 8×8 pan with foil, coming up the sides of the pan so you can grab and lift the bars out of the pan after cooling.  Spray the foil with nonstick spray.

In a food processor, grind together the toasted pecans and flour. Add the sugar, salt and cold cubes of butter and pulse to fine crumbs.

Keep pulsing until the dough starts to come together.  Don’t process so long that the butter starts to warm up too much and the dough is overworked – you want a soft, crumbly dough.  If you don’t have a food processor handy, or just enjoy the workout, you can also mix the dough in a bowl using two knives or a pastry cutter.

Press about two-thirds of the dough in an even layer in prepared pan and use a fork to prick little holes all over the top of the dough.

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Bake until lightly golden brown and not completely set, about 12-15 minutes.

While the dough bakes, starting mixing up the carmel sauce. In a microwavable bowl, combine the unwrapped caramels and cream. Microwave for 4 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds, until the sauce is smooth and easy to stir.  Add 1/2 tsp salt and stir.

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle 1 cup chocolate chips over the shortbread. Carefully pour the caramel sauce over the chocolate.

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Crumble the remaining shortbread mixture over the top.

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Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned and center is set. After taking the bars out of the oven, sprinkle the reserved chocolate chips over the top and let it sit for a couple minutes. Once the chocolate chips are softened a bit, gently take a knife and streak the chocolate across the top of the bars.  

I’m not so fancy with the chocolate on top of my Carmelitas.  Fancier people might melt down the reserved chocolate chips and then drizzle the melted chocolate across the top in a nice design.  You do you 😉

Let bars cool completely in the pan before slicing so the caramel and chocolate will set.

Pro tip:  these Shortbread Carmelitas can also be placed in the fridge to cool quickly.  They are also delicious cold!

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Full Recipe

Shortbread Carmelitas

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 sticks/1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 40 caramel squares unwrapped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt (for salted caramel sauce)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Extra chocolate chips for topping

Preheat oven to 350.

Line an 8×8″ pan with nonstick aluminum foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.

In a food processor, grind together the toasted pecans and flour.

Add the sugar, salt and butter and pulse to fine crumbs.

Pulse a few more times until some of the crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess; the dough should be somewhat crumbly.

Press about two-thirds of the dough in an even layer in prepared pan.

Prick dough all over with a fork.

Bake until lightly golden brown and not completely set, about 12-15 minutes.

While it bakes, make the caramel sauce.

In a microwavable bowl, combine the unwrapped caramels and cream.

Microwave for 4 minutes, stirring every 60 seconds, until the sauce is smooth and easy to stir.

Add 1/2 tsp salt and stir.

Remove pan from the oven and sprinkle 1 cup chocolate chips over the shortbread.

Carefully pour the caramel sauce over the chocolate.

Crumble remaining shortbread mixture over the top.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned and center is set.

Sprinkle reserved chocolate chips over the top and let sit for a couple minutes.

Gently take a knife and streak the melted chocolate across the top of the bars.

Let bars cool completely in the pan before slicing so the hot caramel and chocolate will set.

Blackberry Buttermilk Pie

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It’s officially Spring!  Which means it’s officially time for blackberries.  They have been harder to find lately (thanks again Harvey and winter ice days) but Will and I love to find a good berry spot, pick a bucket-full and then find tasty ways to use them.  Many of mine go towards jelly-making and Will tends to choose cobblers for his stash.  However, this time we wanted something different from the usual and this pie completely satisfied.

This recipe stemmed from two key factors – we had a small amount of blackberries to use and some buttermilk leftover from another cooking venture.  The results were delicious! It looks a lot more complicated that it really is and I love the homemade crust here to play into the rustic, homey look of the pie.  This pie is so tasty warm from the oven as well as ice cold the next day.  I think we came up with a keeper!

So… anyone have any berry patches that need picking???


Blackberry Buttermilk Pie

For the pie crust (this recipe makes 2 pie crusts):

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) cold butter
  • 1 egg
  • 5 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

For the filling:

  • 6 oz blackberries
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ c sugar
  • ½ c butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 T flour
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
  • pinch of salt

Rinse and dry the blackberries. Place the berries in a large bowl and cover with ¼ cup sugar. Toss them up a little then press and mash the blackberries with a fork or small masher so they begin to release the juices.  You are macerating the berries to  bring out their full sweetness.  You can also add a shot of liquor here in the macerating process – rum or whiskey would probably be nice here – I won’t tell if you add it in!

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Let the berries sit, stirring and mashing them occasionally, until the berries are to your desired consistency and sweetness.  This will take typically 45 minutes up to an hour.

Preheat oven to 400.

It’s time to mix up the pie dough!  You can absolutely slide in a premade refrigerated crust here, this is just an opportunity to be a little fancy in our pie-making with a simple homemade pie crust.  The only big trick is to use ice-cold butter when you are mixing up the dough.  The “pebbles” of butter then melt when baking and make for a flaky pie crust. This recipe makes two pie crusts – freeze one, or bake two pies!

Combine the flour and salt in a food processor.  I like using the food processor here, it works the flour and butter together nicely without softening the butter.

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Gradually pulse in the butter until the mixture resembles tiny pebbles.

Move the dough to a large bowl.  Lightly beat one egg with a fork, and then add it to the mixture. Add in the cold water and vinegar. Mix the mixture together until it’s just combined, and then remove half the dough from the bowl.  Again, you want to keep the butter cold so work it at little as possible so that the heat from your hands doesn’t melt the butter.

To freeze half the pie dough, place one half of the dough in a large plastic bag (do not seal it) and slightly flatten the dough with a rolling pin. This makes it much easier to thaw and roll out the crust later.  After flattening, seal the bag tightly and freeze.

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To bake one pie crust, place half the dough on a lightly floured surface. With a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough from the center, outward.

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Place in a lightly-sprayed pie pan and pinch or crimp the edges.  I kinda like a rustic-looking pie crust.  That may be that I lack the patience to perfectly roll out, trim and crimp the edges but I heartily accept that about me.  So, you do you on the crust here 🙂

Lightly cover the dough with foil so the edges don’t burn while baking. Press the foil gently down into the pan and fill with pie weights, or dried beans. This holds the pie crust down a bit as it bakes so that it doesn’t form air pockets that bubble up then shrink back down as baking.

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Bake until golden, about 10-12 minutes.

Remove pie weights, or dried beans, and the foil from the pie crust.  Let the crust sit while you mix up the filling. (Save those beans – they will still make a great pot!)

Decrease oven temperature to 350.

In a large bowl, whisk together three eggs and 1 ½ cups sugar until the mix is a pale yellow color. Whisk in the butter, buttermilk, lemon juice and vanilla.

Whisk in the flour, ground nutmeg and salt until smooth.

Pour the macerated blackberries into the cooked pie crust.

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Pour the buttermilk filling on top of the blackberries.  Some of the berries or juice may mix or float up to the top a little and that’s okay!  It’s nice to see a few berries at the top after it bakes.

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Bake for 45-50 minutes. The center of the pie will still be a little jiggly, but it should hold it’s crust on top as you transfer it out of the oven.  Let the pie cool on the counter for a few minutes before serving to set up all the way.

This pie is delicious warm from the oven with whipped cream or ice cream.  It’s equally lovely the next day cold from the fridge.  So basically, this pie is a win-win!

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Full Recipe

Blackberry  Buttermilk Pie

For the pie crust (this recipe makes 2 pie crusts):

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) cold butter
  • 1 egg
  • 5 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

For the filling:

  • 6 oz blackberries
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ c sugar
  • ½ c butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 T flour
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
  • pinch of salt

Place blackberries in a large bowl and cover with ¼ cup sugar.

Press and mash the blackberries with a fork or small masher so they begin to release the juices.

Let sit, stirring and mashing now and then, until berries are to desired consistency and sweetness, 45 minutes to an hour.

Preheat oven to 400.

Make the pie crust:

Combine the flour and salt in a food processor.

Gradually pulse in the butter until the mixture resembles tiny pebbles.

Move the dough to a large bowl.

Lightly beat one egg with a fork, and then add it to the mixture.

Next, add in the cold water and vinegar.

Mix the mixture together until it’s just combined, and then remove half the dough from the bowl.

To freeze half the dough:

Place one half of the dough in a large plastic bag (do not seal) and slightly flatten with a rolling pin. This makes it much easier to roll out the crust later.

After flattening, seal the bag tightly.

To bake half the dough:

Place half the dough on a lightly floured surface.

With a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough from the center, outward.

Place in a lightly-sprayed pie pan and pinch the edges.

Cover the dough with foil.

Fill with pie weights, or dried beans,and bake until golden, about 10-12 minutes. 

Remove crust from the oven and remove pie weights, or dried beans, and the foil from the crust.

Decrease oven temperature to 350.

Make the filling:

In a large bowl, whisk together three eggs and 1 ½ cups sugar until a light yellow color.

Whisk in the butter, buttermilk, lemon juice and vanilla.

Whisk in the flour, ground nutmeg and salt until smooth.

Pour macerated blackberries into cooked pie crust.

Pour buttermilk filling on top of blackberries.

Bake for 45-50 minutes.

Center will still be a little jiggly, let cool on counter for a few minutes before serving.

Crème Brûlée

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Do you have a favorite dessert?  I do.  It’s this one.

There is just something about Crème Brûlée that satisfies my sweet tooth.  The hard, sugary top you have to crack into, the creamy custard underneath… it is just so good.  If it is on a menu, I’m ordering it. This is also the perfect dessert for that Valentine’s Dinner we just talked about.  Forget the chocolate, everyone does that, and go for the vanilla!

While this dessert may look complicated, it requires just a few everyday ingredients and a little time for the custard to set up.  And what a way to impress your Valentine by torching up some sugar!

What’s your favorite dessert?


Crème Brûlée

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 T vanilla
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar, more for topping

Heat your oven to 325.

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream and salt.  Cook over low heat just until hot – you don’t want to scorch the cream.

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Remove the pan from the heat.  Add the vanilla, whisk and let it sit to cool for a few minutes.

If you are feeling super fancy you can definitely use vanilla bean in this recipe.  To use a whole bean, carefully slice all the way down one side of the bean.  Drop it in the cream/salt mixture and let it heat up in the liquid.  When you pull the pan from the heat, take the bean out of the mixture and, using the back of a knife or a spoon, scrape all the seeds out of the bean pod.  Drop the scrapings back into the mixture and whisk it all together to see those lovely black bits in your custard.

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Separate five eggs, you will use the yolks in this recipe. Hang on to those egg whites – you can make an egg white omelet, save them for the next pie topping… but in our house saving the eggs whites means that Sadie gets a nice treat with her dinner.

In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until they are a pale yellow color.  You can break out the electric mixers but I find that a classic whisk will do the job just fine here.

Whisk about 1/4 cup of the cream into the egg mixture, beating constantly so that the cream is incorporated but you don’t cook or scramble the egg yolks.  This is called tempering the eggs – if you dump hot liquid on eggs without tempering you’ll end up with scrambled egg lumps in your custard, which is probably not the romantic note you are looking for this your dessert!

Pour the sugar-egg mixture into the rest of the cream and whisk until combined.

Place four 6-ounce ramekins into a baking dish and divide the custard evenly between the ramekins.

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Bring a couple cups of water to a boil, I like to use my teapot here, and then carefully pour the boiling water into the baking dish so that the water comes up the ramekins about halfway.  This is a water bath – it allows the custard to cook evenly in the oven and prevent a crust from forming around the top.  It is MUCH easier to accomplish this without spills and splashes if you place the waterless baking dish in the oven and then fill before shutting it in.

Bonus: the leftover water lends itself nicely to a warm cup of tea 🙂

Bake the custards for 30-40 minutes, or until the centers are barely set.

Cool the custards completely on a wire rack.  Once cooled, refrigerate for several hours and up to a couple of days.  If the custards will be chilling for more than a couple of hours, place a sheet of plastic wrap over the top of the ramekin and very lightly set it over the custard to prevent a film from forming.  Do not top with sugar until you are ready to serve the completed dessert.

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You can see that mine aren’t perfect, there are little bubbles and such… Who cares?  It’s about to be sugar coated anyway!

Now, gather your Valentine for the show!

When you are ready to serve your desserts, pull the custards from the refrigerator and top each custard you are serving with a thin layer of sugar.  Many Crème Brûlée recipes call for a fine sugar on top of the custard.  That may be ideal, but not necessary.  Regular table sugar will work, you just may not get as neat and smooth of a sugar crust on top.  To solve this issue, I simply put the table sugar into a small blender or food processor and zap it a few seconds.  Bingo! Fine sugar that looks like something between table sugar and powdered sugar. The crucial part is:  keep the sugar in one thin layer.  The thicker the sugar, the more heat it takes to get that candy coating and the more likely you are to burn rather than crystalize.

Time to torch!

Using a cooking torch, slowly run the flame over the sugar until it melts and browns.  A little black is okay – just try to keep the flame running smoothly over the top to get that crust that a Crème Brûlée screams for.

Don’t have a torch?  No problem!  Place the ramekins under a broiler about 2-3 inches from the heat source.  Keep a watch on them and cook until sugar melts and browns, about 5 minutes.

Top the dessert with a dab of whipped cream and a few berries.  Because everything is better with whipped cream and berries.

I mean… look at that crust!

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Let me hear ya:  who are you making this tasty, sugary dessert for this Valentines?


Full Recipe

Crème Brûlée

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 T vanilla
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar, more for topping

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a saucepan, combine cream and salt and cook over low heat just until hot.

Add vanilla, stir and let sit for a few minutes.

In a bowl, beat yolks and sugar together until light.

Whisk about ¼ cup of the cream into this mixture, then pour sugar-egg mixture into cream and whisk.

Pour into four 6-ounce ramekins and place ramekins in a baking dish; fill dish with boiling water halfway up the sides of the dishes.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until centers are barely set.

Cool completely on a rack.

Refrigerate for several hours and up to a couple of days.

When ready to serve, top each custard with about a teaspoon of sugar in a thin layer.

Using a cooking torch, slowly run the flame over the sugar until it melts and browns.

*If you do not have a torch:

Place ramekins in a broiler 2 to 3 inches from heat source and  turn on broiler.

Cook until sugar melts and browns or even blackens a bit, about 5 minutes.

Top with a dab of whipped cream and a few berries.

Serve within two hours.

Black Forest Pudding

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Ready for something sweet?

This recipe comes from my mom.  I’m not really sure why we call it Black Forest Pudding, since historically anything labeled “Black Forest” includes cherries and this one is most definitely cherry-free.

Grandpa McGee hates cherries.  As a result of this, my sister, Laura, and I would love to sit next to him at dinner.  Grandma McGee often made a fruit salad with dinner and, of course, fruit salad has cherries.  Grandpa would start the meal by picking up his medicine Grandma had thoughtfully put on his dinner plate, swallow it with a gulp of tea, make a big face of disgust to make us girls giggle, then slyly start picking all the cherries out of this fruit salad and slip them on our plates.  It was the highlight of every meal, followed only by Grandma’s fabulous cooking itself.  I’m going to guess that this recipe was developed to ease some of Grandpa McGee’s cherry pains.

After cooking the crust, this dessert is chilled and can be easily made ahead of time and stored in the fridge.  I’ve often made this as a housewarming or potluck dish as it travels well.

If you like cherries, you could easily add a cherry pie filling between the cream cheese and chocolate pudding layers.  Go ahead… I won’t tell Grandpa.


Black Forest Pudding

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup pecans, finely chopped
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 3 cups whipped cream (or one small package of prepared whipped cream)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 small package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 small package instant chocolate pudding
  • 3 cups milk
  • Pecans, chocolate chips for topping

Mix together the pecans, flour and melted butter.

Spray a baking dish with cooking spray.  If you like a thicker crust, use an 8×8 pan – for a thinner crust, go with a 9×13 pan.  Press the dough onto the bottom of the pan. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, then cool the crust completely.

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Blend together the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, 1 cup whipped cream and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix together the puddings and milk.

Now, it’s all about the layering.  Top the cooled crust with the cream cheese mixture.  Spread the pudding mixture on top of that.  Cover with the remaining whipped cream.  When spreading the whipped cream, be careful not to push the cream too hard into the pudding or it will start to streak a bit.

I always like to decorate the tops of desserts like this with a hint as to what is inside – it’ll save you from having to warn eaters about nuts, chocolate, or other potential allergy items.  I sprinkle the top of the Black Forest Pudding with mini chocolate chips and a few pecan pieces.

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Refrigerate until ready to serve!

Try it out – cherries or no, this is an easy dessert for family, friends and Grandpas all over.

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Full Recipe

Black Forest Pudding

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup pecans, finely chopped
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 3 cups whipped cream (or one small package of prepared whipped cream)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 small package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 small package instant chocolate pudding
  • 3 cups milk
  • Pecans, chocolate chips for topping

 

Mix together the pecans, flour and melted butter.

Spray baking dish (8×8 for thick crust, 9×13 for thinner crust) with cooking spray.

Press into baking dish and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Cool completely.

Blend together the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar and 1 cup whipped cream.

Spread on top of cooled crust.

Mix together the puddings and milk.

Spread on top of cream cheese mixture.

Top with remaining whipped cream.

Sprinkle pecans, chocolate chips on top of dessert.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.