This is the third and final post in my “How to throw an epic beer-themed birthday” series. Having covered the basics, and how to make awesome candied beer nuts, this post will show you the second party favor I handed out — salted caramels made with beer.
After a lot of online digging, I finally settled on this recipe from the Food Network. It had some good reviews and seemed simple enough to fit into my timeline. If I make these again I might do something more adventurous like these, but this time around I went for a straightforward recipe.
It called for only a few ingredients: a bit of butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream and, of course, beer. I chose another Oregon brew for this project: Gilgamesh’s Vadar, a black IPA aged with coffee beans. I wasn’t sure of the coffee flavor would come through (it didn’t), but it still sounded like a great beer to use in a dessert.
Planning my birthday is seriously one of my favorite things to do. I pick a theme months in advance and then slowly dedicate myself to making invitations, buying decorations, practicing cake recipes, etc. (This kind of “birthday black hole” is why I haven’t been around much the last two weeks — too much to do!)
But there’s one thing I definitely love more than my birthday — and that is beer. Sweet, sweet beer. I often say that if given the choice between my kegerator or my wedding ring, the keg would win out. I’m (mostly) joking.
So to help celebrate my love for the hoppy, malty nectar of the gods, this year I decided my birthday party theme should be beer. And oh, trust me, this theme proved to be a contender for the best idea I’ve ever had.
But we’ll get to that in time…For now, welcome to the first in my “brew-day” series. To kick-off this series we will be making beer-candied pecans. And, yes, they are amazing.
So my husband bought a case (yes, a 200-count case) of sugar cones earlier this year. Most of them were used at Wild About Game where he served up scoops of his ridiculously delicious foie gras ice cream. But he ran out of ice cream before he ran out of cones and so for the past few months I have been shuffling the box around our kitchen.
Finally I figured if he wasn’t going to do something with the leftovers, I would. My first creation was a chocolate toffee bark. I didn’t have the silvered almonds that the recipe asked for so I used crushed sugar cones instead. I added a bit of sea salt as well and called the whole thing a success.
Toffee & dark chocolate bark with sugar cones
After that I did some digging online and found a recipe that actually called for sugar cones, these caramel-date and ice cream cone bar cookies. And since I found them on a post titled “The 12 Cookies of Christmas” I could even claim they were seasonally appropriate! (This year Christmas approached so quickly my holiday baking suffered some serious set backs.)
I have been on cider bender the past few months. Since early October my fridge has contained no less than one half-gallon of fresh apple cider, purchased anywhere from Farmer’s Markets to the grocery store. I’ve drank it straight, mulled with Applejack and used it for various cooking endeavors, like this brined pork roast.
However, the best creation I made are these apple cider caramels from an old issue of Food & Wine magazine. They tasted (depending on which friend of mine you asked) like caramel apple pops, apple fritters or candied apples. To me they were just as I imagined, a perfect combination of the spiced cider flavor — cloves, cinnamon and tart apple — and creamy decadent caramel.
They were also luxuriously soft. While they’d hold their shape in the refrigerator, once popped in your mouth, they would melt almost instantly. They were so good I had to fight my natural instinct to hoard them and instead manged to share them with co-workers, friends and even some of my favorite customers in Seattle.
My friend Ariel loved them so much I think I have to make a batch just for her and her husband to enjoy. I gave her a few to take home and got this hilarious text message later that night: “Holy sheep shit, Batman” is what Eric said after trying a bite of one of your caramels. Now that’s a compliment, people!
I can say a few things about these pies with utmost certainly — they are delicious, they are adorable and they are a total pain in the ass.
But let’s back up, shall we? I have been dreaming about these apple hand pies for a very long time. They seemed too cute (i.e. labor-intensive) to waste on every day life, so I was saving them for a special occasion. When my co-workers decided to have a party after work for Halloween, I knew the time had come. After all what goes better with camel burgers and gator sausage than apple pies with salted caramel?
My downfall was not thinking the project through. The night before the party I was scheduled to work late and I knew I’d have to bake at least 30 hand pies to have enough to go around. This is why I should have baked cookies instead!
And yet at 9:30 pm I found myself starting a double batch of these tiny little pies. Around 11 pm I started to hate myself a little bit. No matter how cute they looked.
I was leafing through Sunset magazine a week or so ago when a recipe for an Apple Oven Cake jumped out at me. Given my fixation on apple cider and butter, it’s a no-brainer that something involving apples and cake would be at the top of my fall baking list. However, my plans for it were a little off base.
Somehow I missed that this cake is more of a puffed pancake (a la Dutch baby) than a cake-cake. Good thing I read the reviews before I started baking because this isn’t the sort of cake that gets better as it sits! Oh no, it’s best eaten right out of the oven, spoonful after spoonful, while it deflates like a fallen souffle.
So while I had planned to ply my co-workers with apple-filled goodness, I baked this warm, caramel-y treat for my husband instead. It was a lazy Sunday morning and we had a long hard day of wine tasting ahead of us. I thought this apple cake would make the perfect (and filling!) fall brunch.