the apple cranberry muffin obsession has been going on for kind of forever. like circa fall of 1993. back then, i was living on sullivan street in soho (basically the last time i had even a remotely swanky address) and once upon a tart (awesome nyc bakery, totally worth checking out if you don’t know it) was essentially my next-door neighbor. they sold a myriad of delicious goodies (and still do), but i only had eyes for their muffins. first, they were jumbo, and as has been noted before, i’m a sucker for a large treat. second, they were sweet, but not cake-sweet (okay, if we’re being honest here, i really wish muffins were cake, but i know most people are not as palette-challenged as me), third they were super moist (kind of like extremely important to me in a muffin) and fourth they were bursting with whatever ingredients they’d been filled with (apples and cranberries, ginger, pears, and raisins – you get the idea). and my true love, of course, was their apple cranberry one, as the tangy sweet combo of the two fruits (in my opinion) could not be beat.
so, even though i love a bar featuring caramel – like, who doesn’t? – i never intended to develop a recipe for one. instead, i thought i might riff on this – ie: develop a caramel tart of some kind. however, a friend begged me to post a recipe for a bar, as she was still obsessing over this, a treat i had made for her many moons ago, and so i obliged. as i began musing over chocolate caramel bars, in all their sweet and salty glory, the first caramel bar i ever made at home came to mind. it was this one from a 2007 issue of bon appetit. i loved that bar (basically a millionaire’s shortbread bar) – a lot. so much so in fact, that years later, when i developed a caramel chocolate bar while working at the bakery (ie: “the salted caramel” (or “twix”) bar), it was the bon appetit bar that i was trying to replicate for baked. however, during this most recent chocolate-caramel-bar-go-around, i wasn’t really feeling the shortbread crust, or the caramel made from sweetened condensed milk, of my all time fave.
instead i was feeling this: a chocolate caramel bar without an actual layer of chocolate (don’t worry chocaholics: i’ve included a chocolate covered variation, as well), and with a chocolate saltine crust, as well as a layer of caramel made the old-school way (ie: with sugar, water and cream). kind of crazy-sounding, i know, but i’d been slightly obsessed with the idea of saltine crusts after reading about this and making this. moreover, i had (finally) purchased a bag of black cocoa powder, and kind of loved the idea of combining the saltiness of the crackers with the deep chocolate flavor of the cocoa. and with a thick layer of salty/sweet caramel on top and maybe a sprinkling of flaky maldon sea salt? sort of beyond awesome-sounding, no?
okay. so when i posted my recipe for “oh henry bars” (the rice krispy version), i explained that i had not actually set out to develop such a treat. instead, my intention was to develop an oatmeal based “oh henry bar,” like those my husband grew up snacking on. now, i had never had an opportunity to snack on such a bar growing up, as my childhood home was not really of the “homemade-bar” variety – like, i don’t think my mother has ever made a bar in her life (unless you count brownies, which i don’t). in my house, we snacked on drake’s devil dogs, instead, and if i hadn’t developed this for baked elements, you can be sure i’d be posting a homemade devil dog recipe some time soon. but i’m getting off point.
so it was never my intention to develop a recipe for a peanut-butter chocolate rice krispy treat. baked has an absolutely spectacular one, and although i have been known to tinker with a good thing (as ended up being the case here), i would never actively set out to do so. instead, in this instance, i merely wanted to tweak and fiddle with my mother-in-law’s recipe for “oh henry bars:” an oatmeal-based bar with a peanut butter chocolate topping that my husband snacked on incessantly growing up. but when i began researching “oh henry bars,” to investigate how my mother-in-law’s recipe might differ from those of others, i realized rather quickly that there are actually two kinds of said bars: the oatmeal-based one and the rice kripsy treat-based one.and being a rice krispy treat fanatic (very low-brow of me, yes), i knew i had to take a stab at the rice krispy version. (full disclosure: all research was web-based – my books are sadly lacking in the “oh henry bar” department, which – duh – is what motivated me to develop a recipe for them in the first place). now, although my perusal of the web led me to several different recipes for “oh henry bars” with a rice krispy treat-base, really, they were all just versions of this: the chocolate scotcheroo (a recipe from the rice krispy website for a peanut butter rice krispy treat with a chocolate butterscotch topping).and because i am not afraid to borrow techniques, ingredients, etc. from the website of a national brand of breakfast cereal (i’m not kidding about this low-brow thing), i was all-over the particular method used to make the rice-krispy-treat part of the scotcheroo: rather than use melted marshmallows and butter, like in a traditional rice krispy treat, or bring water, sugar and corn syrup to the softball stage, as is done in the baked recipe, in the scotcheroo recipe, you merely boil sugar and corn syrup together, briefly, to basically the same effect, but in a quarter of the time (ie: you create an absolutely dreamy, perfectly sweet, chewy, yet crispy rice krispy treat in minutes – and boy, do i love a shortcut). truth be told, i had an inkling that a shortcut existed, for when smitten kitchen posted the baked recipe for peanut butter chocolate rice krispy bars, someone commented on the fact that bringing the sugar syrup to softball was unnecessary, in light of the scotcheroo technique. but i digress . . .long story short, this recipe is beyond simple and beyond delicious. although, the technique for making the peanut-butter-rice-krispy-treat base for my “oh henry bar” owes its provenance to the scotcheroo (god, i love writing “scotcheroo”), that’s all it owes. to the “treat” part of the bar, i added dark corn syrup, rather than light, for its molasses-y-ness, i also added butter, as is done in the baked recipe; and vanilla and salt, two of my faves for amping up the salty peanut butter-y-ness of it all. for the topping, i decided on a chocolate peanut butter ganache with a sprinkling of maldon sea salt — and not because i thought ganache and fancy salt would elevate my treat from its humble cereal box-website roots (like i said, i’ve no shame) but because it’s yummy. and i’m certain you will find it so, too.
this is an amazing cookie. i’m just going to come right out and say it. it is chocolate-y and spicy and chewy and totally divine. i made these cookies for thanksgiving, and served them along with this and this, and they held their own like nobody’s business (okay, maybe some people even liked them best – as my cousin’s boyfriend told me: “these are empirically good”). but no worries that you missed your chance to serve them on turkey day, as they will make the most truly spectacular christmas cookie, as well.inspirations for this cookie were many. first there is this cake and this cookie from martha – both of which combine ginger and chocolate in the most tastiest of ways and inspired me to try to do the same. however, both of martha’s ginger/chocolate treats call for fresh ginger, as well as ground, and i wanted my cookie to get its ginger-y/spicy flavor from my spice drawer exclusively. this led me to double the amount of ground ginger in my recipe, add a bit of white pepper (as per this recipe) and some cloves (as per this, a recipe my husband heard discussed on npr, oh, so many years ago, and one that has retained a place in my “cookie” file, ever since).as for my cookie’s chocolate-y-ness, i knew i wanted that amped up (martha’s cookie uses a mere tablespoon), but was worried about overpowering the cookie’s spicy/molasses qualities. this cookie recipe put my worries to rest, though, as its amped up chocolate flavor, only intensified its molasses vibe.with the flavor-profile of my cookie taken care of, i just needed to make sure i had the chewy factor down. i knew i would use bread flour and melted butter, seeing as these are my go-to chewy-ness enhancers (and ones that i have already discussed here). and, in addition, having developed this recipe while working at the bakery, i knew corn syrup could help on the chewy-ness front, too (a trick i had originally picked up here). with flavor and texture down, all that was left was the proper name for my cookie, and i must give my mother-in-law credit for that, as she has a ginger sparkle cookie recipe that i adore, and that led me to put just a little “sparkle” in my cookie, too.