Milk Chocolate-Caramel Cookies

Sometimes the classic chocolate chip cookie needs a face lift! Often times I’ve added walnuts or almonds to give it a crunch and other times I’ve tried incorporating a dried fruit such as cranberries or another type of chocolate such as white. One variation that I never considered trying is chocolate caramel cookies. The combination of chocolate and caramel creates a decadent delight!

The recipe is from a recipe book called Milk & Cookies, written by chef and owner Tina Casaceli of New York’s Milk & Cookies Bakery. The book is based on five base cookie recipes with additions to make them even more delectable. The milk chocolate-caramel cookies start with the vanilla base dough and then throw some chocolate chips and caramel bits to add some pizazz.

For the vanilla base dough…

~ 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
~ 2 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1 teaspoon baking powder
~ 1 teaspoon baking soda
~ 1 1/2 cups unsalted  butter, at room temperature
~ 1 cup granulated sugar
~ 1 cup light brown sugar
~ 2 large eggs, at room temperature
~ 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
*Please note the actual Milk & Cookies recipe additionally calls for 1/2 teaspoon salt, which I omitted.

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Alternatively, grease two baking sheets with non-stick spray.
2. Put the oats in a food processor and process until finely ground. Transfer the ground oats to a mixing bowl. Stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and optional salt.
3. In a large bowl, beat the butter on low speed to soften. Gradually increase the speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, or until light and creamy.
4. While beating, gradually add the granulated sugar and then the brown sugar, beating until light and creamy.
5. Add the egg one at a time and beat to incorporate. Beat in the vanilla and when thoroughly blended, slowly beat in the reserved dry mixture.

To create the milk chocolate-caramel variation, make the vanilla base dough and then proceed with this recipe…

~ 2 cups milk chocolate chips
~ 2 cups small caramel pieces

1. Prepare the vanilla base dough.
2. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and caramel pieces, mixing until evenly distributed. Do not use the mixer as it will break up the chocolate chips and caramel pieces into bits that are an undesirable texture.
3. Using a tablespoon, place balls of 1 1/2 inch-diameter on the prepared baking sheets.
4. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges and set in the center. Do not overbake; these treats are most delicious with chewiness in the center. Transfer the finished cookies to a wire rack to cool.

These cookies are tastiest right out of the oven! They can save up to a week in room temperature or can be frozen and defrosted for consumption later. A glass of milk goes great with these cookies. By no means are these a healthy option, but my are they worth the decadence!

Carrot Cake Bars

Carrot cake is one of those foods that is deceivingly unhealthy for you. At first glance, you may think I’m eating something high in vegetables so it’s got to be better than those chocolate chip cookies, right? Wrong! While carrots are high in beta-carotene which provides us with plenty of vitamin A, the culprit in most carrot cakes is scrumptious cream cheese frosting. No need to worry though because these carrot cake bars are sure to be less calories and fat content than previous carrot cakes you’ve indulged in. Not only are these bars healthy for you, but you can also make them anytime, rather than needing an occasion to bake a cake.

This recipe is an adaptation from Fitness Magazine.

~ 2 cups whole wheat flour
~ 1 cup packed brown sugar
~ 3/4 cup granulated sugar
~ 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
~ 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
~ 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
~ 8 slightly beaten egg whites
~ 1 cup applesauce
~ 1/2 cup canola oil
~ 3 cups finely shredded carrot
~ 2 cups powdered sugar
~ 8 ounces cottage cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 15-by-10 inch baking pan with non-stick spray.
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda.
3. In a medium bowl, stir together the egg whites, applesauce and oil. Stir into the flour mixture thoroughly. Stir in the shredded carrot.
4. Spread batter in the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely.
5. For the frosting, in a medium bowl, beat together the powdered sugar and cottage cheese until smooth.
6. Spread the frosting over the carrot cake; slice and serve.

Please note that the frosting had a consistency that was too  liquid-like. As a fix, I put the bars in the fridge to allow the frosting to cool and harden. Instead, more powdered sugar or less cottage cheese could be used in the frosting. Another possible adaptation is to use the classic cream cheese for the frosting. Cottage cheese is a healthier option, however cream cheese creates a thicker consistency.

To enhance the bars with more flavor, you can add 1/2 cup chocolate chips to the batter or on top of the bars; 1 cup cubed pineapple to the batter; or 1/2 cup chopped walnuts to the batter or the icing. I tried the adaptation of adding walnuts to the batter, which provided a nice crunch to the previously moist bars while enhancing the flavor.

Several tips that can be used in alternate recipes are found in these bars. First, applesauce is used instead of half of the amount of oil to slash the fat content. Second, when making frosting, often butter is used, but that can be omitted to slash calories and fat content; the consistency and flavor will still be delicious!

In case you’re curious, the provided nutrition facts from Fitness Magazine are as follows. Given that there are 36 bars, each bar has 125 calories, 2g protein, 21g carbohydrates and 4g fat.