Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Non Sequitur: My Vosges Caramel Toffee Brownie Escapade

I had fully intended to start describing all of my recent and current projects, but I got so excited about this topic that I couldn't wait.

Let me start by first saying that I have been in love with Vosges Chocolate ever since I first chanced upon that violet hued house of haut chocolat on a high school trip to Chicago in 2002. This week they were running a 15% off coupon code for Easter so I thought I would treat myself. I ordered a 16 piece box of Fleur truffles, a few candy bars, and a box of their new Caramel Toffee Brownie mix. At $18, it was a splurge, but I thought, "Why not?" Mr. Delta has, after all, never gotten upset with me for any expenditures related to baked goods. The package came yesterday and I immediately wiped out the bars and have thus far made it halfway through the truffles. Delicious!

So right now I'm on a break from stringing my new chandelier with crystals, so I decided to make the brownies. Let me begin by saying the instructions are terrible! The first step is to take a stick and a half of butter and cook it with the included sugar bag for 5 minutes. But seriously, anyone who has ever cooked anything knows you can't go by time alone. Factors differ kitchen to kitchen. What I want to know is what exactly is the objective of the cooking process? To make a caramel like substance? Or just to have melted butter mixed with sugar? Which is exactly what I had after 5 minutes. So I looked back at the instructions and discovered there is supposed to be an instructional video online. Hooray I'm saved!

 But No. After logging on, I discovered that the video is not yet up and running. So I just had to guess.

Using my law school skills of inductive reasoning and context interpretation, I set out the facts in an attempt to figure out what to do.

1) The word "caramel" is in the name of the mix.
2) Caramel is made from browning sugar in butter.
3) There would be no point in cooking the sugar if the goal were not to brown it.

Thus, I decided to cook it longer. After about 2 more minutes it started to turn a nice golden color, so I removed it from heat and poured it into the mixing bowl as instructed.

After letting it cool for a while, I noted that it was starting to get really, really hard, which I knew would make adding the eggs very difficult. So I went ahead and added the eggs even the mixture had not yet cooled to "slightly warm."

Wow! What a mess. The moisture in the eggs made the mixture turn into a thin caramel sauce full of very hard lumps. The caramel mixture had also adhered to the mixer blade in a concrete-like fashion. Frustrated, I resorted to my traditional problem fix. Brute force.

The lumps have sunk to the bottom, but you can definitely see the caramel concrete on the beating spade.

Here's the thing about sugar. No matter what you do to it, it will dissolve in water... eventually. Increasing surface area is key to making the process go faster though. So I went ahead and added the called-for vanilla extract and set my mixer to medium and let it beat for about 5 minutes. It made a lot of noise and walked across the counter for a bit, but eventually the hard sugar bits essentially got pulverized into grains a little smaller than rice. I was going to just let it keep beating, but I decided to just let it sit for a while and come back in a few minutes to see if the granules had softened any more. And that's what I'm off to to right now.


Mission accomplished. When I got back to the caramel, it had, as I suspected, softened up a little. I let it beat on low for about a minute and decided to move on. There were still a few small crystals, but I think they will probably enhance the texture. I added the dry ingredients pouches (chocolate paillettes and a cocoa flour mixture) and stirred. This was difficult because it got so incredibly thick. The texture was really more like taffy than anything else. Once it was sufficiently incorporated, I tasted some (so delicious!!!!) and then I scooped the batter into a foil lined, buttered pan, spread it out, and put it in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes. Then I am supposed to add the toffee pieces to the top and put it back in the oven to cook another 25 minutes.
9x9 pan lined in foil and greased with butter
Ready to bake!

Ok, the moment of truth is nearly upon us. I took the brownies out of the oven and they have been cooling in the freezer for about an hour now. Mr. Delta will be home any minutes, so we are in a race with the clock!

What I should note is that I ended up cooking the brownies about 10 minutes less than what was suggested. This might be because I used a 9x9 pan instead of an 8x8. Brownies are notoriously hard to get just right in the done-ness department. I normally err on the side of underdone, so I opted to take them out after about 36 minutes total bake time (16 minutes post toffee). I think they will be fine. I stuck a toothpick in the center and it came out clean.

I am interested to see how the toffee component comes out. I read online that other people have had issues with it totally sinking into the abyss of batter, so I decided to poke my pieces of toffee into the surface upright like little toffee tombstones. There was some toffee still on the surface when I took my pan out of the oven, so maybe it helped. The toffee does liquify pretty thoroughly though. I expect to see lots of little pockets of toffee in cross section of the finished product.


Le resultat!!

Perfection! These brownies came out so incredibly delicious! I froze them for an hour so they were really cold and they cut into perfect cubes like a dream. You could really taste the caramel base, and the toffee topping was wonderfully marbled throughout. All in all, a brownie win, even at $18 I suppose. Now that I know the cooked caramel base secret, I might try to make them myself next time. I think even with premium ingredients, I could probably render a similar concoction of my own for about $6. And we all like saving money, don't we?

Sidenote - I am in love with this three-tiered bluebirds cake stand set. Mr. Delta got them for me from Neiman Marcus as a surprise. All I had to do was rip the page from the catalog and subtly tape it to the refrigerator. (Can you believe that worked?)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lesson 8. Rome was not built in a day: Updates!

So, everyone is constantly telling me that I should start a blog. (Only 2 of my friends actually know about my journaling escapades.) But I've long believed that blogs are for people that don't actually do anything and that if I spent my time blogging I would never get anything accomplished. And that, my friends, is why you have not heard from me for a few weeks. Needless to say I have lots of projects to share. In law school they teach you that when you're going to tell someone a lot of stuff at once you should first set out a "roadmap" of sorts. So here goes. (Putting that degree to work, am I not?)

When last I checked in, I was about to complete my drapery project. Needless to say, I got them done and was immediately dissatisfied (like I am about almost everything). The color palate was all wrong. What was I thinking - red and teal? red and gold? So I struggled for a while and decided to repaint both the living room and dining room different colors. See the painting painting post for results. Then I hung the curtains and was relatively happy.

On to the next project - 

The little iron chandelier in the dining room just had to go, so I found something a bit more exciting and an actually still in the process of crystalizing it. This will make for a good post. Also picked up a few objets d'art to spruce up the new color scheme.

In the living room I found a wonderful little settee which just happens to be the exact same color I painted the room. Strange, yes. But it seems to work. Made a few accent pillows in red silk (I still like the idea of teal and red, just not on a grand scale) and picked up a little red table. I'm thinking now that I may want to recover our white sofa at some point, but the lazy side of me thinks I will wait.

Picture of the sloping ceiling connecting to the
flat ceiling at the back of the house.

Crown moulding conundrum solved!

So I had also been struggling about what to do with the central foyer in terms of crown moulding. The funny angled ceiling in the back of the room and the cut-out stairwell were making it challenging to find a way to run crown moulding around the room continuously. Finally I just gave in and opted for a construction based solution. I essentially made a little rim around the stairwell and put in a false ceiling where the sloping room connected to the foyer. That gave me a continuous surface on which to install the moulding, among other benefits. Right now I am actually waiting on the plaster to dry on the new ceiling section.

Photo of the beginning stages of me building the rim around the stairwell.

I also had a nice little dinner party last night to celebrate the near completion of the home makeover. It was my very first attempt at floral arranging. Post to follow.