Coconut Tequila Caramels

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As Mother Nature wistfully thrusts us into my absolute favorite season of the year, Fall, I find that I can’t ignore my yearning for the smells and flavors that this glorious season evokes.  I love the overcast, cool and rainy days, the delicate rustling of the leaves as they transform into picturesque colors and begin to break loose from their branches, and most treasured, the smells of wonder baking in the oven.  While this recipe for Coconut Tequila Caramels doesn’t involve the oven, you won’t believe the breathtaking aroma that permeates the house upon creation.

Let me see if I can pique your interest here; chewy, buttery, toasty, sweet, salty, nutty, intoxicating harmony…captured your attention yet?  While these decadent candies render me speechless (and not just because my mouth is full of them), I nevertheless manage to muster up enough utterance to define the happiness that they create.  These caramels have euphoria about them that all desserts strive to possess.  They are perfect displayed on a holiday dessert buffet or individually wrapped as a treasured gift for someone special.  You might find however, that you don’t want to share them at all.

Don’t let the whiskey in this recipe deter you from making this amazing confection.  The liquor evaporates when cooked with the caramel leaving you with a profoundly flavorful candy.  I think that you’ll find that if you do decide to share these little bites of heaven, they will be warmly received time and time again!

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Coconut Tequila Caramels          { Print Recipe }

Yield: 48 caramels

1-2 Tbsp  coconut oil, plus more for cutting caramels

1-16 oz can  coconut milk

¾ cup  light corn syrup

1 tsp  coarse sea salt

1 ¾ cup  granulated sugar

¾ cup  water

¼ cup  Tequila Blanco

½ cup   sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

½ cup  whole almonds, toasted and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line the bottom and sides of an 8”x8” baking pan with parchment paper and lightly brush with coconut oil.

Place the whole almonds on a foil lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 8-10 minutes.  Check them after 5 minutes and give them a shake in the pan to ensure even toasting.  Chop the toasted nuts as finely as possible and set aside.  Using the same pan, toast the coconut for about 6-8 minutes stirring frequently as it can burn quickly.  Set the coconut aside and chop finely.

Combine the coconut milk, corn syrup, tequila and sea salt in a medium saucepan (4-6 quart).  Heat over medium low, stirring constantly for about 2-3 minutes until the milk is just warm and any coconut milk clumps are dissolved.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

In an 8-quart saucepan, combine the sugar and water and stir until sugar is completely wet.  Place over medium high heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar turns a light amber color and a candy thermometer reads 310 degrees F, about 10-15 minutes.  Immediately remove the mixture from the heat and pour into the milk mixture.  Be careful as the mixture will bubble rapidly.  Return this saucepan to medium low heat and stir continuously until the caramel is completely dissolved (The caramel will solidify once added to the milk mixture, but will eventually soften and dissolve into the coconut milk).  Increase the heat to medium high, stirring constantly, and cook until the caramel becomes thick and a candy thermometer reads 240 degrees F, about 20-30 minutes.  Quickly stir in the almonds and coconut, immediately remove from the heat and pour into the prepared pan.  Let the caramel cool completely, about 2 hours, at room temperature.  Remove from the pan by lifting the parchment paper and cut into 1” squares.  Brush your knife with coconut oil as necessary between cutting to avoid sticking.  Wrap individually in parchment paper squares or store in an airtight container between sheets of parchment.  The caramels will last up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

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Italian Cream Layer Cake

You might be surprised to hear that of all the desserts in my baking obsessed world, cake isn’t my first pick when it comes to sweets.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love a slice of cake from time to time, but of all the delicious desserts, I’d pass it by for a decadent bowl of pudding or a light crispy cookie any day.

Now…with that said, there’s Italian Cream Cake.   Oh my goodness.  Here is an exception to my former rule.  One bite of this cake and I’m transported to a happy, happy place.  Most cakes, while much enjoyed, are pretty easy to part with and share with friends.  This cake however, was much harder to separate from.  I literally could have consumed the entire cake without much regard.  The combination of tangy cream cheese, sweet coconut and toasted walnuts is so irresistible and completely self-indulgent…I’m hopelessly in love.

I urge you to give this cake a try…but please try to share.  Can I please have a slice??

For the Cake:          {Print Recipe}

½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup granulated sugar

5 whole eggs (separated)

3 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

2 cups all-purpose flour (+1 Tbsp for high altitude)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup buttermilk (+2 Tbsp for high altitude)

For the Frosting:

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature

½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped + more for garnish

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Making the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour (3) 9” round cake pans (and add parchment, if desired) and set aside.  In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on medium high speed until stiff peaks form.  Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine the butter, oil & sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).  Lower the speed and add the egg yolks, vanilla and coconut.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and baking powder.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix well after each addition.  Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.  Divide the batter evenly into the pans and sprinkle the top of each batter filled pan with 1 Tbsp. sugar.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool the cakes in the pan(s) on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes.  Remove the cakes from the pan by sliding a knife around the perimeter of the pan.  Allow the cakes to cool completely on a cooling rack before frosting.

Making the frosting:

In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar.  Beat until light and fluffy.  Stir the coconut and toasted, chopped walnuts into the frosting mixture or set aside to decorate the outside of the cake (I stirred the coconut into the frosting and used the walnuts for garnish).  Spread the frosting between the layers of cake, the top and all sides.  If using the walnuts for garnish, lightly press the walnuts around the perimeter of the cake.

Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman

Storage:  This cake can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.  Remove the cake from the refrigerator 2-3 hours before serving as it is best served at room temperature for the most perfect texture and consistency.

Enjoy! xoxo

Coconut Rum Meringues

Does anyone else feel like the holidays are moving way too quickly?  Even as I sit here typing, so many things are running through my head, I find it challenging to concentrate on one thing at a time.  My to-do list has far exceeded the time in which I have to complete it all.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life particularly in the midst of the holidays, but it’s so very important to slow down, crank up the Christmas music, enjoy a cup of warmth (perhaps some spiked hot cocoa?) with something sweet (perhaps some meringues?) in front of the Christmas tree and relish in this wonderful holiday season.  After all, it will come and go before we know it, leaving us with only memories to hold us until next year.  I am as just as guilty as anyone else this time of year…I WAY over commit myself with the excitement of the approaching holiday season and find myself completely overwhelmed!

These coconut meringues and spiked hot cocoa are unbelievably good and with a bit of coconut rum in both, they are sure to help you to relax a little more this holiday season.  These two recipes are my first official published post in Front Row’s Magazine’s December issue and I’m so excited to share them with you!  I have to admit that I consumed about three batches of these amazing cookies before finally discovering the perfect recipe.  They are so light and airy with an amazing texture and go down surprisingly easily (way too easily).  I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do!

Please visit www.frontrowmonthly.com to view this recipe as well as the latest in fashion news and entertainment.  My recipe post is on page 16 of the “page-flip” under the section Dish.  I also have recipes published periodically in the Arts & Culture Section of the magazine.

Coconut Rum Meringues          {Print Recipe}

Yield: 30-36 cookies

2 large egg whites

1/8 tsp salt

1/8 tsp cream of tartar

2/3 cup superfine sugar

1 ½ tsp coconut rum

½ tsp vanilla extract

1 cup shredded coconut, toasted

¼ cup almonds, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Place the whole almonds on a foil lined baking sheet and bake for approximately 8-10 minutes or until they start smelling wonderful!  I check them after 5 minutes and give them a shake in the pan to ensure even toasting.  Chop the toasted nuts as finely as possible and set aside.  Using the same pan for the shredded coconut, toast the coconut for about 6-8 minutes stirring frequently as it can burn quickly.  Set the coconut aside.

Separate the egg whites from the yolks carefully leaving no trace of egg yolks (this step is easier to do when the eggs are cold).  Store the egg yolks for another use.  Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-high until foamy.  Once foamy, add the salt and cream of tartar and continue beating for about 3 minutes or until the egg whites form soft peaks.  Add the coconut rum and vanilla extract and the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until the egg whites are glossy and form stiff peaks, about 2 minutes.  Fold the coconut and almonds into the egg whites gently with a spatula until fully incorporated.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and using a piping bag, pipe the egg white batter onto the pan in tablespoon portions, 1” high and about 1” apart.  Bake the cookies for 25-30 minutes or until they turn slightly golden brown or the tops crack slightly.  Let cool completely in the pan.  These cookies are best eaten the day that they are made however they will keep several days in an air tight container.

Spiked Hot Cocoa

Yield: 4 mugs

6 oz. chopped milk chocolate

4 oz. heavy cream

12 oz. milk

1 tsp sugar (or to taste)

2 oz. coconut rum

2 oz. amaretto

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Combine cream and milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour the hot milk over it.  Blend with a whisk until chocolate is completely melted, then add the remaining ingredients.  Pour the hot cocoa back into the saucepan and keep warm until serving.  Serve with a dollop of whipped cream if desired.

Happy Holidays!

xoxo