Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Oh Martha... you finally steered me wrong...

We've done pretty well with recipes from Martha that we have made... but I can't say that anymore! I had some heavy cream leftover from last week and needed to get it used up - I looked through her baking handbook and selected a recipe I had marked to try for awhile. I figured it would be a good item to make for Jeff to bring in for the weekly Wednesday Treat Day tomorrow - but alas, I have not decided if they will end up going in or not.

The recipe, Caramel Nut Bars, seemed to be going fine up until the point where the caramel was suppose to be "set". The base is a buttery crust easily made from brown sugar, butter, flour and a touch of salt. While this baked, I toasted and chopped pecans, cashews and peanuts. I thought the caramel was cooking along fine, the candy thermometer went up to 300 as stated (yes, I've even checked to make sure it works correctly - I use it often). As I stirred the nuts into the cooling caramel I thought it still looked very liquid-y, but I poured it onto the crust and into the oven it went to finish. Once the timer went off, I set it on the cooling rack and continued on with other errands I had to do. A few hours later I came back to see it was still sort of jiggly... I stuck it in the fridge thinking it would help get things moving. Well, a couple hours later I went to cut into it and it was still soft - but it seemed to be holding together. After separating the triangles, the caramel started to just run and ooze out... *sigh*. While they certainly taste delicious - salty, nutty and chewy, they are not really presentable and are just too sticky. We will wrap them up and set them in the freezer to see if the texture will be okay in the morning.

I'm not sure if something in the recipe is funky or what, but I diligently followed the directions and am sad that the caramel never fully set up - expensive recipe to not work correctly! Any idea as to what happened? Maybe I was suppose to dance around and hop on one foot when I made it... hmm!

On the other hand, dinner tonight - Balsamic Chicken with Grapes and Almonds, turned out very well. This quick dish starts by searing seasoned chicken breast in a touch of oil until golden on each side. Red grapes, broth, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar are added and brought to a boil. Once reduced, the chicken is added back in and allowed to finish cooking in the simmering liquid. Since this dish is pretty saucy, I threw on some whole wheat couscous while the chicken was finishing to soak up the flavorful juices. The bite from the vinegar was tempered by the sweet brown sugar and we loved how the red grapes brought a soft texture to this savory recipe. Leaving you with minimal clean up and only taking about 20 minutes - this is a perfect dish for those hectic nights when you don't have much time or energy to cook.


  1. Is it rainy or humid? I know some candy won't set up if it is humid. I have problems with English Toffee. I've tried for 5 years and still don't know the trick.
    Good Luck!

  2. Hi Brenda - Nope, it was not rainy!

  3. Sorry Martha's recipe didn't work out, Joe. The bars sure look good though!

  4. Joe - I have a major candy phobia - I have never had caramel set properly, so if I had made this recipe, I would automatically assume it was my own fault. ;)

    However, I have had Martha recipes fail before, so I know she's not perfect. ;)

    I feel your pain on the wasted ingredients. My worst candy failure was an almond brittle - it turned out like a big sugar brick - all those almonds, just wasted........if I try it again, I'll be using a cheaper nut like peanuts until I get it right.

    Your bars still look great, though!

  5. I always get so frustrated when a recipe doesn't work out! Hmmmm. Well at least you have something to munch on yourself now....hope you have more luck with you next wednesday treat! I always love to go to your site on wednesday to see what fabulous thing you've created.

  6. Joe, I found this on Martha's site -- looks like the recipe in her book should not have included the water...

    Caramel for Cookies

    Makes 3 3/4 cups
    Use this recipe to make Congo Bars, Golden Popcorn Squares, and Pecan Caramel Shortbread . It can easily be halved or doubled.

    4 cups sugar
    1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup heavy cream

    Combine sugar, cream of tartar, salt, and 1/3 cup water in a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan, with sides at least 3 inches high. Place over high heat. Let cook, without stirring, until sugar begins to melt and turn golden, 2 to 5 minutes. Turn heat to medium; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until all sugar is melted, deep golden, and a candy thermometer reads 300° (hard-crack stage). While stirring, carefully pour cream slowly down the side of the pan (stand back slightly from the stove, as the cream may cause the caramel to sputter). When cream is incorporated, remove from heat; transfer to a heat-proof bowl. Use immediately.

  7. I did a quick google search on this recipe and the first thing that came up was a blog post from someone else screaming that this recipe doesn't work LOL. Now you can join the club.

    I read one of those negative tell-all books on Martha and it often alluded to her recipes not being very reliable. I've only tried a few of her recipes and they've been okay.

  8. Those bars certainly look good Joe. If Jeff's co-workers are anything like mine, they won't care as long as they taste good!

  9. Joe,

    That's too bad about the caramel. I often have a hard time with caramel. If it's not sticky, it's grainy.

    I also have had some Martha recipes that haven't been perfect. Some merengues for individual desserts come to mind. I know it wasn't me because I did a Cooks Illustrated recipe when the Martha recipe failed, and the CI one turned out perfectly.


  10. I just made caramel for turtle brownies. The recipe came from cooks illustrated which I rarely doubt unless it has to do with the amount of sugar to use in a recipe. They said to cook the sugar to 360, then add the cream stirring till it stops hissing and spitting and then add butter and vanilla. If caramel is what you are after that temperature seems a little low. If it was hard crack its a little high. I think the recipe might have a misprint.

  11. Val - Me too, but the co-workers ended up liking them!

    Alysha - I know, I really dislike when it feels like I've wasted a bunch of expensive ingredients (especially nuts!)

    Corianne - Rejects can sometimes be a fun treat!

    CJsmama - Thanks, I will definitely be looking into the differences. The recipe you posted does have water in it though - just not nearly as much.

    TCJ - How funny - I had to go look it up! I guess I should research her recipes a bit more before I bother trying them!

    Patti - They did taste good at least!

    Tracy - I don't have much experience with caramel yet, but this was the first time it didn't work out.

    Kitarra - There is a moderate temperature difference... I wonder if that is the issue? Maybe more of the water would have evaporated?

  12. I've tried making caramel from a Martha recipe before, and had less than desirable results. Her candy-fu is simply not strong.

  13. s'kat - I wish I knew what part went funky as it tasted pretty good! I just need to work with caramel more I guess!

  14. Hi Joe,
    I browse through your blog often. I saw your blog on Martha's 'Caramel nut bar' and couldn't help reaching out. I have had my fair share of disappointments in the kitchen.
    I hope my suggestion is not unsolicited.
    Anytime I make candy, I always supplement the thermometer reading with the cold water test. It makes all the difference.
    I hope this helps.


  15. Candyland - Suggestions are always more than welcome - thank you!