I’m attending a Holiday Cookie Baking Party this weekend and since I hardly bake I thought it would be a good idea to practice baking this week.
Day 1. Monday
I found a recipe online – it was the photo that appealed to me. It also has few ingredients and presents new steps I’ve not done before—like melting caramel.
I quickly discovered you have to melt caramel very slowly otherwise it will burn.
The recipe listed a 9” x 13” baking pan—but I used a smaller one made of glass. I didn’t think it mattered… until I removed my creation from the oven and discovered it had doubled in size.
My Chewy Chocolate Caramel Bars look nothing like the official recipe photo. I took them in to the office and hoped someone would eat them. I thought they were too sweet.
They were gone by mid-day and coworkers were raving about them.
Day 2. Tuesday
Not satisfied, I decided to try the recipe again. But this time I couldn’t find the right cake mix—so I used a chocolate fudge cake mix instead. The bag of caramels, while the right size package, was an off-brand. I didn’t think it mattered. I also decided to use the correct 9” x 13” baking pan—a metal one. Maybe this time the bars will be as thin as the ones in the recipe photo. Also, by special request, my coworker wanted marshmallows on top.
I melted the caramel like a professional this time.
I poured the caramel evenly on the cake batter just as the recipe indicated. Everyone at work liked the caramel – they will love this!
I followed the recipe and placed chocolate chips and walnuts. I deviated from the recipe by adding marshmallows….
The last step: Crumble the second half of the dough on top. I find the word “crumble” baffling. It’s dough — the dough has always been gooey. And most of the dough is required for the base layer. But I managed to save some dough to “crumble” on top. I still had caramel left so I drizzled more on top.
The result was a disaster. The cake didn’t rise. It was an inedible greasy mess. I tried soaking up the grease but it was drenched. It almost all scooped out of the pan in one piece—very convenient for throwing away. (Out of shame I almost didn’t photograph the disaster. But decided for the sake of “science” I had to document the specimen.) My main annoyance: what a waste of expensive walnuts.
I considered the variables and wondered what went wrong. The pan? The cake mix? The off-brand caramels? The marshmallows should have been placed within the last few minutes of baking but that’s not enough to create the mess I made.
One suggestion I received: the off-brand caramels added the extra grease.
Most people would have walked away from the recipe at this point….
Day 3. Wednesday
Now I have to figure out why batch #2 didn’t work. I made another trip to the grocery store and bought the correct cake mix, the name brand caramels and followed the recipe’s suggestion of using the 9” x 13” pan.
I was leery of throwing away perfectly good ingredients again, so I was a bit stingy with the walnuts and chocolate chips. (in retrospect, these are the elements that add texture and taste). And I was uncertain about the caramel—even though it worked for the first batch—maybe I am pouring grease right onto my cake batter. I decided to go light with the caramel.
There wasn’t a lot of dough left to “crumble” on top.
For the last two minutes of baking I haphazardly placed a few marshmallows.
The result was ok. It was a little dry and not very sweet. It didn’t have the same texture as the first batch. But at least the cake rose and it was edible. The “crumbled” dough disappeared into what looks like a standard brownie.
Day 4. Thursday
By this time I’m tired of the recipe. I’m certain nothing I do will produce a version that looks like the recipe photo but I do want to make it one last time just to prove I can recreate Monday’s version.
I used the smaller glass pan, the correct cake mix and the caramel I saved from yesterday. I was generous with the chocolate chips, walnuts and caramel. I saved plenty of dough to “crumble” on top. I placed a few marshmallows in a more orderly fashion within the last two minute of baking.
Here’s the result.
This version turned out as good as my first batch. It still doesn’t look like the recipe photo but it is moist, gooey and sweet. This batch will travel to Thailand on Saturday and will be given to my friend as a thank you gift.
Now to address the insanity referenced in the title of this blog. Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Fortunately, every attempt I made had a different variable (or two). It did seem a bit crazy to keep trying the recipe each day but I wanted to eliminate as many variables before losing interest. Besides, this week I learned:
- How to melt caramel effectively
- The effects of using a metal pan instead of a glass pan
- If it tastes good that’s all that matters.
- And… a new cookie recipe that is fool-proof courtesy of my friend in Michigan. I had enough time on Day 4 to try this recipe and it works. More on this cookie recipe later…
If someone figures out how to make the bars so they look like the recipe photo, let me know!
You can Google Chewy Chocolate Caramel Bars or go directly to the link on the Better Homes & Gardens website by clicking here. It’s worth visiting the website just to see the photo.
One thought on “The Definition of Insanity and the Unsolved Mystery of the Chewy Chocolate Caramel Bars”
Oh, what a bloody mess! I don’t think I’ll be trying that recipe any time soon.