Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Chocolate Caramel Slices, County Line, and Everything Nice

Whirlwind trip in Austin which was filled with eating, seeing friends and family, drinking, tour-guiding, eating some more, drinking, and being part of a wedding. It went by so fast, and Barcelona’s good to return to, but it was hard to leave Austin. I made sure to take plenty of pictures (maybe half of them solely of food) to document it. Because Dan went with me (his first time to Texas ever, and I think Austin was a wonderful, worthy choice), I had to take him to my favorite and the most representative restaurants, 6th Street and its bars, Town Lake and downtown, visit the “Austiny” streets like South Congress or the Drag, venture over to the East Side, drive through the Hill Country to see longhorns and such, marvel at Whole Foods, the list goes on and on. Don’t worry, you’ll read about it all.
I’m going to start in the middle of the trip at the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding. Now this was a difficult trip to make: I was torn between all the places I wanted to eat at (Mexican, burgers, ice cream, barbeque) and cooking at home with a real, full-sized kitchen and all my wonderful appliances that were so hard to leave behind (like my Kitchen Aid mixer), as well as remembering that between all this eating, I had to fit into a dress at the end of the week and stand in front of hundreds of people (at least I wasn’t the bride). Well, I found an extremely happy medium and decided to eat out and cook and roll them all into one tasty experience.

The rehearsal dinner was held at a barbeque restaurant called the County Line. There’re two locations, the one we went to was on Lake Austin, which is great because it has a large deck spread on the lake with outdoor tables and a band was playing. About a week before I went home I was talking to Brooke (the bride) and I got a stroke of genius: I would make little desserts for the rehearsal dinner, because at bbq places, the focus is usually the meat, not so much the desserts afterwards (unless of course you get a great cobbler), so I thought why not top the meal off with a little something sweet? My main problem would be deciding what to make. I wanted something that could be done in tiny portions because after stuffing yourself with bbq you don’t want a decadent chocolate cake, you want something miniature and sweet to balance that brisket. Immediately the idea for Mexican Wedding Cookies came into my head. I don’t need to state the obvious, but wedding cookies, and Mexican, and we’re in Texas, not to mention the pleasing appearance, the powdery white sugar that makes almost a little frosting around the warm cookies when first coated, and the crunch of Texas pecans. And these usually come in little bite-sized pieces, very conducive to picking a few and clearing the palate after a plate of barbeque. So that was easily settled, Mexican Wedding Cookies it was.

Now I needed a second dessert, this one definitely including chocolate. (I strongly believe if there’s ever more than one dessert, at least one must include chocolate). This is when I headed to my trusty foodblogs and started searching night and day for little desserts, and I was leaning towards bars or cookies of some sort. Back before Christmas I had made the Traveler’s Lunchbox Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart, and it would’ve been delicious had I not cooked the caramel too long, which wouldn’t have happened had I found corn syrup in Spain. I’m straying. Anyways, when I got home my mom showed me a pile of magazines (mainly Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and Gourmet) that she had yet to go through. I eagerly set to the task at hand and in the May issue of Bon Appetit, on one of the last pages, I found my perfect recipe: Chocolate-Caramel slices. There was a full page photo and my mouth was watering. Chocolate. Caramel. Crust. Enough said. I thought about making a third dessert, tiny cupcakes, but it was better I didn’t as everyone was stuffed as it was.
The County Line was a great place for our dinner (I was told there were around 60 people there), and they had set up a tent off to the side for us. We entered and there was a bucket of beer (including Shiner Bock, my favorite Texas beer, and the only dark beer I like), red and white wine, and also any drink you wanted to order from the waiter. Tables were arranged with bouquets of flowers in cowboy boots. The outside deck by the lake was shaded and perfect temperature, a beer in the hand could survive a song from the band without getting too warm. After a beer and some margaritas (I’m including others in this count), we headed inside for dinner and were greeted with the bread. Some people like it, some people don’t. I think it’s great, but you can’t eat too much or you won’t get any bbq down. They bring you giant loaves of wheat and white bread, cut in thick “Texas toast” style slices, and it’s sweet. Don’t know if that’s sugar or honey or what, but your taste buds will sense something. So I restrained myself by only having one piece of bread. Then they brought out the sides: pinto beans, coleslaw, and potato salad. I’ll admit it right now, I’ve never been much a fan of the side dishes at barbeque places. Unless it’s the new potatoes swimming in butter at Rudy’s, I stick to the main stuff, which is what they brought in platefuls next: beef ribs hovering over sausages and juicy, juicy (needs two) brisket, all surrounded by barbeque sauce. The word brisket makes my mouth water. Unfortunately I haven’t found it yet in Barcelona. So we split up the goods from the plate, although there was still plenty left. I took a bit of each, a rib, some sausage and lots of brisket. I don’t think this was the “extra lean” kind you sometimes see on menus. It was very tender and moist. Perfect. And the barbeque sauce was sweet, I was reminded how I liked County Line’s sauce. I’m sorry to say though that I ate my rib with a fork….a scandal I know, that might bring tears to many, but I was in a dress and the only girl at the table to even entertain the idea of eating one. It was good too, but I wish I could’ve picked it up and bit into it, like a real Texas woman. Next came a plate chicken, small pork ribs, and what I’m guessing was lean brisket, it looked drier, and I took someone’s word for it when they said it wasn’t as good. The chicken got good reviews, although I prefer to stick to my red meats. Servers even came around with extra barbeque sauce, which I gladly accepted. Finally there was homemade ice cream, but I like to think my desserts were better. Some friends helped divvy them up among the guests, but everyone was mostly stuffed of cow, pig, and chicken, but some bite-sized nibbles did disappear. The verdict? I think the chocolate caramel slices were the favored sweets. And the barbeque was just what I needed, but I’m still kicking myself for not picking my rib up and eatin’ it proper. But give me some Shiner, the lake, juicy brisket, and a bit of chocolate afterwards and I’m a happy camper.

Chocolate-Caramel Slices
(although I think Chocolate-Caramel bar is better. Or cube. That’s what mine were.)

Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon ice water
1 egg yolk

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup (like Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which I didn’t have, but it says you can substitute dark corn syrup, which I did have)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Honey (not necessary, but can be added or substituted for other things, explained in method below)

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I ended up using those two and dark chocolate)
3 tablespoons whipping cream
Flaked sea salt

For crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 11x7x2-inch metal baking pan. Blend first 4 ingredients in processor, or in a big bowl with a fork like I did. Add butter and get out your pastry cutter. If you don’t have one, continue with the fork. Using on/off turns (of your processor or hand), blend until coarse meal forms. Add 1 tablespoon ice water and egg yolk. Blend until moist clumps form. Press dough onto bottom of pan; pierce all over with fork. Bake until golden, piercing if crust bubbles, about 20 minutes (after 20 minutes it still felt a little cakey, but it was golden on the edges, so I took it out and it ended up being perfectly crumbly, for me didn’t need to cook longer). Cool completely.

For Toppings:
Whisk first 5 ingredients (for me, these included sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, vanilla and honey. I doubled the recipe without realizing that I only had one can of condensed milk, so I had to make up for it with honey and corn syrup. I didn’t measure though, I just poured in some, stirred around, and poured in more until it looked like a good amount to cover the crust) in medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves, butter melts, and mixture comes to boil. At this point I through in some big pinches of sea salt from Ibiza, even though it doesn’t call for it, I was inspired by many salted caramel recipes. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Boil gently until caramel is thick and temperature registers 225°F, whisking constantly, about 6 minutes. For me it seemed to take a while for it to go from 210 to 225, but it crept up there. Pour caramel evenly over crust. Once again, I took some sea salt in my hands and sprinkled it over the caramel, just a tiny bit. Then let cool for 15 minutes to set.

Meanwhile, melt chocolate with cream in microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring occasionally. Spread chocolate over warm caramel using a spatula, but do it quickly, otherwise it’ll sink into the spot where you pour it; sprinkle with sea salt (I skipped this because I put it on the caramel).
Refrigerate until chocolate is set, at least 1 hour. I made mine the day before the dinner and about a couple hours before pulled them out to cut into tiny cubes. Actually, Dan cut them, but I was there for some of it. Words of advice: cut fast, they melt. Cut a few rows (he used a metal spatula to cut out a large chunk, take it out of the pan, and then used a knife dipped in warm water) and refrigerate every few rows you cut because otherwise the caramel starts to melt and the chocolate slips and they still taste great, but not as pleasing to the eye. Serve them and make people get them. They will like.

The Mexican Wedding Cookies which were almost a divine act and so wonderfully described above will appear in the next post when I can get my loving mother to tell me the recipe, as I left my book at home...


Anonymous said...

Looks like your caramel came out perfectly. And nicely salted.

And I'm with you on the brisket. That lean stuff is nothing like as good...

northumbrian said...

Magic stuff - something else for the wife to make!!!!

Anonymous said...


I just have to go out and get the ingredients for this.

Out goes the diet, but who cares?!