Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Cookies, Just For Fun

I once read a magazine article about a huge annual cookie exchange that featured prizes and fiercely competitive baking. That is my nightmare. What I have, that makes me smile every year, is a small group of friends who use our cookie exchange as an excuse to get together, hang out, eat cookies, and maybe, if we're feeling especially energized and organized, we'll work on addressing our Christmas cards.

This year, as the exchange was approaching, my wonderful husband picked up the Cookies edition of Fine Cooking magazine for me. Oh, drool! I wanted to cancel everything and just bake my way through the magazine. It all looked so good! It was tough picking which to make for our low-stress, non-competitive event. So many delectable choices! But with the help of a friend, I settled on the Caramel Turtle Bars. It was a good choice. Caramel is always good, but you throw in pecans, shortbread, and a hint of chocolate, and it's out of this world.

I'd recommend making these for gifting, exchanging, or just for treating your family if they've been really good this year. If you have someone special who deserves a care package, be sure to read the shipping tips that follow the recipe.


This is also my submission for Eat Christmas Cookies 2, the showcase of Christmas cookies from around the world. Check out the round-up to get inspiration for your cookie exchange!

Caramel Turtle Bars

- adapted from Cookies - Fine Cooking

Shortbread Crust:
7 oz (14 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to just warm
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
9 oz (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

Caramel Topping:
2 cups pecan halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 lb (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Ganache:
2 oz good-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
6 Tbsp heavy cream

1- Line a 9 x 13-inch metal pan with foil. To do this easily, form the foil over the bottom of the pan, then turn the pan right side up and press the foil in place. Be sure the ends hang over the edges to make handles for easy removal. Lightly coat the sides, but not the bottom, of the foil with cooking spray or melted butter to prevent the caramel from sticking.

2- In a medium bowl, stir the butter, brown sugar, and salt. Stir in the flour to make a stiff dough. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes, or if you're rushed for time, pop it in the freezer for 5 to 7 minutes, until the dough is firm.

3- Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325 deg. F.

4- Bake the dough for 20 minutes, decrease the oven temp to 300 deg. F, and bake until the crust is golden all over and completely set, about another 15 minutes.

5- Sprinkle the pecans evenly over the crust.

6- In a heavy medium saucepan, bring the brown sugar, cream, butter, corn syrup, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until all the ingredients are melted and smooth. Let the mixture continue to boil, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 240 deg. F, about 6 more minutes. Turn off the heat and immediately (and carefully) pour the caramel evenly over the prepared crust. Let the bars cool completely, about 2 hours before garnishing with the ganache.

7- When the bars are cooled, put the chopped chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let sit for 3 minutes. Stir gently with a rubber spatula until combined and smooth.

8- Fill a zip-lock plastic bag with the ganache, snip a tiny piece off a corner, and drizzle the ganache decoratively over the caramel bars. You don't have to use all the ganache and can store the extra in the fridge for up to five days.

9- Let the ganache set for 30 minutes to an hour. Carefully lift the bars from the pan using the foil sidea and transfer them to a cutting board. Separate the foil from the bars by sliding a spatula between them. Cut the bars into 1-1/2-inch squares. They will keep at room temperature for 1 week, if they're not devoured right away.



Shipping tips from FedEx:

Directions for a Crumble-Free Sweet Treat
  • Place the baked goods in a sturdy container and layer wax paper between the baked goods, using crumpled paper to fill in any void spaces
  • Secure the lid of the container to the body with tape, to keep it from accidentally popping off
  • Place the container in a sturdy corrugated cardboard box and use newspaper or plastic grocery bags to cushion the container tightly in place
  • Shake the box – if you can feel or hear any movement, add more cushioning!
  • Ship before Dec. 16, 2008 and use FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery Services for the most cost effective delivery in time for Christmas
  • For a last-minute gift idea, you can send your homemade treats as late as Dec. 23, 2008 for overnight delivery in time for Christmas

34 comments:

VeggieGirl said...

As a caramel-fanatic, I NEEEEEED those bars!!! Delish.

Peabody said...

Oh, I think I might make these for my cookie exchange! They look that good. Printing out the recipe now.

Renee said...

These would be a great addition for my holiday baking! They look yummy!

pattio said...

Very good choice. I can almost taste them they look so good.

RecipeGirl said...

I bought that mag. this year too! These look droooool worthy!

elizabeth said...

Oh these look so good! I haven't started the Christmas baking, quite yet, but I think tomorrow's the day! What great inspiration.

CookiePie said...

GORGEOUS cookies!!!

Jackie said...

YUM!!!!!

Sean said...

Christmas cookies, just for fun. Christmas cookies for everyone!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Love the cookies Lynn.
How I wish I seen this before I mailed some of my cookies I should have used waxed paper of course!
Your group sounds like fun!

Heather said...

mmm, anything with chocolate and caramel gets my attention!!

Brilynn said...

I love Fine Cooking! I have to get that issue... Those bars look great!

Bellini Valli said...

Feel free in the vein of Christmas spirit to FedEx some of these turtle bars my way!!!

Debbie said...

They look delicious. Cookie exchanges are so much fun!

Jodie said...

These look fantastic! I think they'll make it into my gifts this year!

Maria said...

These look like the perfect holiday cookie!! Thanks for the recipe!

Deborah said...

OOohh, with these bars, I'd love to be invited to your cookie exchange!!

LyB said...

Oh, yes, caramel is always good, that's for sure. Those bars must certainly have been among the first to go at the exchange, they look scrumptious. :)

Jennifer said...

wow, so good!

Aimée said...

I'm sad my exchange is already over...and there's not much left to show for it! These would have been a welcome addition.

natalia said...

Ciao ! They are so beautiful !!! And I appreciate the mailing instructions !!!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Lynn, these look irresistible! And I love all of your tips for mailing edible gifts too. I'm sure you just helped out a lot of people! Happy Holidays!

Maris said...

These look soo good! And thanks for the shipping tips. Very helpful for a bloggy sweet treat exchange that I am doing!

alexandra's kitchen said...

yes, all the joy of baking would certainly be taken out in a fiercely competitive bake off. these turtle bars sound divine

Marysol said...

I'd love to make these Lynn, but I can't promise to share them. I'm only human, dear.

Katrina said...

Yum! There's something about the holidays and caramel....okay, there's just something about caramel, no matter when! ;)
Thanks for the packaging tips, I needed them.

Baking Soda said...

Everytime I read about cookie exchanges I wish we had such tradition here! I'd love a get together with friends and bake. Sadly cookie baking in Holland raises eyebrows (remember the Bush-Clinton bake off? They are Clinton, I'm Baaarbara). These sound great!

Mike of Mike's Table said...

These cookies have everything going on that I could want. They look awesome!

Gigi said...

...mmm these sound like the perfect cookie to bring to my cookie exchange party! Thanks for sharing the shipping tips.

Melinda said...

These sound lush! Yum, yum, yum!

thecoffeesnob said...

Caramel and chocolate? I'll have ten please! :D

t said...

Way nummy! Thanks for choosing a new cookie every year. These were awesome!

eatme_delicious said...

Ooo yes these look delicious. I was tempted by that Fine Cooking cookie magazine but didn't end up getting it. I think it had a recipe for potato chip cookies that was pretty intriguing though.

Laurie said...

I featured you on Tip Junkie today. Thanks so much for the yummy inspiration!