Sweet & Salty Salutations

Salted Caramel Cookie Dough Blondies

Nothing says “Happy Birthday” better than Salmonella-free cookie dough; after all, nobody wants a tummy ache and other associated GI symptoms to commemorate the anniversary of their birth.  One should certainly be placed on a throne on this significant day, but not the porcelain kind 😉

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With the quarter-century birthday of my dearest dental school friend on the horizon, I knew this year’s Birthday Bake had to be extra special — I’d suction patient saliva for this girl any day, and I know she’d do the same for me (just FYI, from one dental student to another, that’s the highest of compliments).  She is a HUGE white-chocolate-o-phile with a penchant for caramel.
So, with my heart set on a white chocolate chip cookie dough component to the celebratory confection, I just needed to figure out a a way to incorporate the caramel aspect without creating something too sickeningly sweet to ingest without causing hyperglycemic crises.  Enter salted caramel, the perfect way to mellow out sweetness in a mature, sophisticated way (not that I’m a highfalutin sophisticate or anything, but I play one on TV).  I opted for a salted caramel blondie base (an adaptation of my staple pudding mix brownie batter) to serve as the vehicle for my cookie dough.

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Though I’m sure the whole sweet & salty thing has been around forever — kind of like kale — it has really surged in popularity recently.  This phenomenon is probably best explained by our constant desire to feel more grown-up while still indulging (slanty fonts, sparkly letters, and subbing the word cacao for chocolate can do wonders to disguise a straight-up candy bar).  Still, I’ll be the last person to say that the contrasting yet harmonizing flavor combo isn’t dynamite!
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Raw cookie dough is one of those things that I grew up knowing the rest of the world loved, but, alas, I was raised with a crippling fear of pathogen ingestion, so I never partook myself.  Discovering that cookie dough could be made without eggs has opened up so many doors for me, though, if I’m not careful, I eventually will no longer fit through those doors that have opened — life is about balance.

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Salted Caramel Blondies:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs, room temp
3.4-ounce box of caramel instant pudding mix (not prepared pudding)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Heaping 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit.  Lightly oil a non-stick muffin tin — if desired, you can use foil cupcake liners for easy removal, but I wanted my blondies to have nude sides, so I just greased the pan really well to prevent sticking.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, and eggs, until smooth, ~2 minutes.  Whisk in dry pudding mix and vanilla for an additional minute.  Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour, baking powder, and sea salt.  Divide batter amongst greased muffin wells — they should be approximately half-full (or half-empty, depending on your outlook).  Bake 35-40 minutes, until tops no longer appear wet and edges have formed small microcracks.  Remove from oven, and let cool in pan 10 minutes.  Then use a butter knife to free blondies from the pan, and turn them on their sides within the muffin wells to cool or remove them to wire racks for complete cooling.
Meanwhile, prepare the cookie dough…

White Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (egg-less!):

1/2 stick unsalted butter, reeaaallllyyyy soft
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
Use a mixer on medium speed (or a rubber spatula and some serious elbow-grease) to thoroughly cream together the butter and sugar.  Mix in vanilla extract and salt.  Mix in flour, until combined.  Add almond milk and work dough into a uniform, smooth consistency.  Fold in white chocolate chips, and transfer to a large zip-top bag (or a pastry bag, if you’re cool enough to have one…I’m not).  Snip off a 3/4″ diameter corner of the bag, and pipe the cookie dough onto the tops of the cooled blondies.  Alternatively, you could use a cookie dough scoop to place neat, heavenly domes of cookie dough atop each blondie.  Chill in fridge at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make caramel drizzle (optional)…

Caramel Drizzle:

*NOTE:  You will have extra caramel…best problem ever (just make sure you have sufficient ice cream to help you cope with this “tragedy”)
2 tablespoons unsweetened almond
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
17 soft caramel candies (unwrapped, of course)
In a glass 2-cup measure, place almond milk and butter, and microwave 30 seconds.  Add caramel candies, stir, and microwave in 10-second intervals, stirring between, until you have obtained a smooth, drizzleable consistency.  Let cool 15 minutes.  Drizzle caramel artistically over your cookie dough, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Chill at least 1 hour longer.
*NOTE #2:  I decided to top some of my blondies sans cookie dough, using just caramel sauce, white chocolate chips, and a sprinkling of salt (and also chilled at least 1 hour).  Simply delicious.

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