Summer vacation is here in Central Pennsylvania, woot woot! Unfortunately, this does not mean that I will be spending the next 2 1/2 months lounging by the pool or sleeping in because I have a job in an office and summer is a busy time of year for us. Despite the fact that my personal schedule remains largely unchanged, I fully celebrate the fact that we have a few months off from arguing about homework and take home folders and launching full expeditions throughout the house in search of someone’s misplaced glasses – which always happens 5 minutes before we need to leave the house to catch the bus. So in celebration of said summer vacation, we’re having S’mores Baked Oatmeal for breakfast!
There are times that I think about taking this blog in a strictly healthy direction. But then I think about things like sugar cookies and I realize that if I could never post about fun treats like that, I would be sad. Besides, what’s more fun than birthday cake-shaped funfetti sugar cookies?
Answer: almost nothing…. if you’re 7, which Bert was when I made these cookies for his class at school. That’s not to say that sugar cookies are just for kids. Don’t let the adults fool you, they are suckers for sprinkles and icing too. Make some and you’ll see.
I love candied pecans. Are you with me on this? OMG, they are so very very good…and so very very bad for you. I tried to clean them up a bit, cutting out ingredients such as refined sugar and butter and simplifying the process. Making a cleaner, slightly less unhealthy version of candied pecans was fantastic, but I admit that I was driven to make them this way as a direct result of my not wanting to wash a baking sheet. Don’t ask me why, but I hate washing cookie sheets. They are unweildy, they don’t fit well in my sink, and they end up splashing water all over the place. And, in cases like these, they are about 5 times bigger than what I need. So, I fired the cookie sheet for nut toasting purposes and brought out the nonstick skillet. It works just as well and clean up is a bit, well, cleaner.
As a general rule, I get a bit annoyed when people title or identify their food as “The Best”. This is likely because I inherently resist being told that I must/should/have to do anything, so I am less inclined to try whatever it is you deem “The Best,” even if it is to my detriment. Accordingly, for all of you stubborn folks like me, I don’t want to identify this apple cake as The Best Apple Cake because then you may never try it. It is, however, my favorite apple cake, so we’ll go with that. Favorite Apple Cinnamon Cake.
There is no salted caramel frosting or rum whipped cream on this cake (although both of those sound pretty good, so we may return to that another day for another cake). Here we just have apples, cinnamon, and a cream cheese batter. The beauty of this cake is its simplicity. I have been making it for years and years and chances are if you ever come to my house between September and November you are basically guaranteed to have this cake. I make it so often because it never disappoints.
Recently, one of my sisters came up to visit for the weekend. Not just any weekend, mind you, it was our first ever Harry Potter Movie Marathon Weekend. I know, it’s a fantastic idea. You kind of wish that you could have joined us, don’t you? Don’t feel weird, it was awesome. If we were really committed to the movie marathon, we could have made it through all of them. Shockingly, for the first time ever, my kids wanted to do something other than watch tv. In the end, we got through half of the movies, and that was still plenty of Harry Potter for one weekend. Unlike the kids, Meg and I are well-seasoned when it comes to these things. It is a skill we have cultivated over the past several years while catching up on Downton Abbey episodes. Meg is such a great sport and she has spent several visits here allowing me to fill all of our spare time with the fantastically witty banter of the Dowager Countess and Isobel Crawley. I could listen to them all day (or night) long, and indeed at times I have. How often have we said “just one more episode” only end up watching several more? You know how it goes…..unless you don’t know because you don’t watch Downton Abbey, in which case you need to fix that ASAP! The 6th and final season begins the first Sunday in January, so you have time to catch up!
But back to our bark! In anticipation of Meg’s visit, I found a recipe for this Salted Caramel Candy Corn Bark on Pinterest and it looked like something that was absolutely necessary for a movie marathon weekend. The bark turned out to be a definite winner! As we were enjoying butterbeer, jelly beans, oreos (no Harry Potter reference there, they’re just really good), and these tasty little pretzel bites, we started talking about how great they would be with pecans on top instead of the candy corn M&M’s, especially because I used pumpkin spice candy melts in mine instead of white chocolate. The combination of pumpkin and pecans is like peas and carrots, they just go together! That is absolutely the case here. You have a layer of crunchy pretzels, then the caramel, topped with pumpkin spice candies, and covered with toasted salty pecans. How can that be bad? Well, it’s not, it’s delicious! And, consider this your warning — addictive. Meg, these are for you!
These would look nice if you cut them up and served them on a platter with each piece of bark in a mini cupcake liner. Doing so will also alleviate the issue of the bark pieces sticking to the platter or each other. At the very least, place a piece of parchment on top of your platter and stack them on there. I like to cut them in individual pretzel sized pieces, but you could make them bigger. One bag of caramels and one bag of candy melts is just enough for 60 pretzels, but you could easily double the recipe or halve it, as pictured.
Note: The pumpkin spice candy melts I used are made by Wilton and I found them in the cake decorating section at Walmart.
- 60 square/waffle-shaped pretzels
- 2 cups pecans
- 1 T. light olive oil
- 1 t. sea salt
- 11 oz. bag of caramels
- 2 T. half & half or cream
- 10 oz. bag of pumpkin spice candy melts
- 1. Pour pecans in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and stir gently until all pecans are lightly coated. Toast pecans in a large skillet, stirring often over medium-low heat. When I can begin to smell the pecans, I leave them in the pan for another 2-3 minutes and then remove from the heat. Once toasted, set aside.
- 2. Arrange pretzels on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper, in 6 rows of 10 pretzels.
- 3. Combine caramels and cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring each time, until caramel is completely melted. Working quickly, pour the caramel over top of the pretzels. It helps to try to pour a little caramel on each individual pretzel to help distribute it evenly. Be careful - melted caramel is VERY HOT!!! Gently spread the melted caramel over the layer of pretzels and smooth it out in one even layer. An offset spatula works really well for this. Allow the caramel to sit for about 5 minutes to cool and harden.
- 4. Once the caramel is dry to the touch, begin melting the candy coating. Again, pour the candies in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave them in 20-30 second intervals. Be careful of heating it for longer than that because the candies will burn easily. Stir the candies after each interval and repeat until the candies are completely melted and smooth. Pour melted candies over top of the caramel layer and even it out with a spatula. Immediately top the melted candy layer with all of the salted pecans, spreading them out in one layer across the top.
- 5. Set the entire tray aside and allow the pumpkin candies to cool and harden. Once the candy has cooled completely, cut it into squares, following the approximate edges of the pretzels.
- Store in an airtight container with parchment paper between layers of bark so they don't stick together.
To say that I am a creature of habit would be to grossly understate my proclivity for following the same routine every day, whenever possible. It probably sounds boring, but I find comfort in routine and it allows me to feel like I am in control of my day. Sometimes having control over my day means figuring out how to deal with something I don’t seem to have any control over. Case in point, every day, around 3:00, I find myself looking for candy. Chocolate, to be specific. Preferably dark chocolate. With something else mixed in to give it some texture. Every day is the same, and every day I end up raiding the blasted candy bowl sitting on our reception desk. At best, I get a mini Krackel bar and at worst it’s the last piece of rock hard caramel that is only left in there because other people with apparently more discerning tastes wisely decided to invest their calories elsewhere.
It was with this exact scenario fresh in my mind that I started experimenting with a snack mix of some sort. Dark chocolate was key. If I was eating chocolate, I may as well add some things to give it texture, so in went the oats and chia. The roasted almonds make it all just a tad bit salty and the dried cherries give it some extra sweetness. I pack 2 T. of it in a little container and it is just enough to fulfill my chocolate fix in the afternoon and help me to avoid the dreaded office candy bowl.
We ate these bars for an entire week straight while I tinkered with the recipe, trying to find the very best ratio of melted to toasted marshmallows. It’s a tough job, I know, but someone has to do it! Don’t feel too bad for me; when it comes to taste-testing desserts, I will volunteer every time! After several tries I got it just right. Imagine then, my distress when I went to log on last Friday night so I could post these just in time for the holiday weekend and I found out that I was locked out of the blog for the next 84 HOURS! Apparently someone was trying to hack in. I guess in some crazy way, I should feel flattered that something I have posted struck enough of a chord with someone that they felt it was worth their time to try to be a nuisance to my little blog. Pat on the back for me!
But back to more important things, like my s’mores bars. This is what you need to know:
Toasted. Marshmallows. Toasted marshmallows. Toasted marshmallow deliciousness.