Three years ago, my now sister-in-law came over to our itty-bitty twenty-second floor apartment in Greenwich Village to share presents and enjoy an early Christmas dinner with us. In our teeny galley kitchen we were balancing plates and juggling the ingredients for the proper three course holiday meal, that I can still remember as clearly as if it were yesterday.
Back when co-habitating in ‘sin’ in that very first apartment, when it came to elbow room in the kitchen — we weren’t working with much (and even that’s being generous). For if you opened the oven door whilst standing in the teeny galley setup, you became trapped inside all of it’s steamy minute-square-footage glory, and fuggedabout about opening the fridge or dishwasher if you had kitchen company – the space allowed for operating strictly on a one-in-one-out basis.
Even so, we were not deterred in our mission to host a lovely holiday meal. I had set the cheese plate (carefully curated by moi) teetering out on the living room chest that not only held extra blankets, but moonlighted as our dinner table. I had perfectly balanced the salad bowl atop the toaster oven to stand in waiting until his turn, and had seared the lamb chops that we had splurged on from the local butcher on a grill pan after marinating them in rosemary and garlic. I had baked a lemon cake earlier that afternoon which we nestled amongst bottles of red on top of the fridge, and there was a melange of sweet potatoes and cream simmering on the back corner of the stovetop. All in, I thought a far more sophisticated menu than our set-up alluded to.
Of course nothing can be that perfect when you are twenty-five and still navigating the mostly yet uncharted waters of domesticity – in a shoebox, no less. I, the uber-excited-host, lost track of time while sipping white wine and chatting up our guest, leaving the potatoes to simmer down to something less ‘melange‘ and more ‘morose.’ I neglected to think about washing and ironing our new linen napkins, leaving them perma-creased and rough enough to take the skin off your chin with one swipe (nevermind that said napkins were light pink – more Easter than Christmas, but a minor detail, no?). And finally halfway through chop-searing, our pesky fire alarm decided to sound off, reminding us for at least ten solid minutes that it was smoky in our tiny abode. As if we couldn’t already tell.
However in the end, our little dinner was perfect. Despite the melange making it’s way straight to the gar-bage, the lamb chops were perfectly cooked and the cake was light and lemony – I suppose all things considered the main course and dessert are the two most important components at the end of the day anyway. But what really stood out that night was a most curious looking little bag of treats that my future-sister-in-law had brought with her – jagged little toffee-brittle looking cookies that she insisted were very simple to make.
After inhaling no less than 5 extra large pieces (and at least 3 more at the end of the evening while I finished scrubbing aforementioned grill pan) I was completely hooked, and intrigued. What were these things?? From outward appearances I could deduce that there was a cracker – a saltine even – involved as the bottom layer, with a layer of bittersweet chocolate blanketing the top. The middle had some sort of magical salty-sweet caramel holding it all together, that had seeped through and around the crackers, crusting up inside of all of the holes and transforming them into something otherworldly.
After a bit of internet sleuthing, I came upon a recipe on Smitten Kitchen that fit their description perfectly: Chocolate Caramel Crack(ers) where Deb lovingly refers to them as ‘crack‘ both for the crackers, but also for the more sinister and addictive stuff that they liken themselves to as you uncontrollably go back for thirds, fourths — and fifths.
These are soooo sinfully good – they taste like a souped up hybrid of a Twix bar and a Heath bar, but still retain that homemade edge and goodness that any of that store bought junk just can’t hold a candle to. One look at the butter and sugar content and undoubtably you will be scrambling for your sneakers and gym pass, but let’s just shelve those thoughts until after the holidays, shall we? These cracker/cookies are so, so easy to make with things that most pantries are already stocked with – brown sugar, butter, saltines, and chocolate chips. With something so insanely good coming from something so simple, this is a great recipe to have on hand for impromptu gatherings or holiday cookie parties when you already have too many other things on your plate (late holiday shopper who?) or just want to make something really decadent, really fast.
Make these today – you’ll thank me tomorrow!
Chocolate Caramel Crackers
From Smitten Kitchen by way of David Lebovitz by way of Marcy Goldman
Approx 40 Saltine crackers (I find I need 1.5 sleeves for my sheet pan) or 4-6 sheets matzo
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp sized pieces
1 cup packed light brown sugar
A big pinch of sea salt (I use Maldon)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips (or chopped bitter- or semisweet chocolate)
Extra sea salt for sprinkling (optional)
tools – one 11 x 17″ rimmed baking sheet (or two smaller jelly roll sheets)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 11-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet completely with foil, and then line the base of the foil with parchment paper, cut to fit in the bottom of the pan. The parchment is key, as it will prevent sticking (and this is sticky stuff).
Line the bottom of the baking sheet with the crackers or matzo, covering all parts. (If using matzo, you’ll need to break pieces to fit any extra spaces.)
In a medium heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil. Once it has begun boiling, let it bubble for three more minutes, stirring it well the entire time to prevent burning. It will thicken a bit as it cooks. Remove it from the heat and stir in the salt and vanilla, and then quickly pour the mixture over the crackers or matzo. Spread the mixture quickly over the crackers to cover the entire surface area of crackers. Do this quickly, as it will begin to set and harden quickly.
Bake the caramel-covered crackers for 15 minutes, watching carefully as it will bubble and the corners might darken too quickly and/or burn — reduce the heat if you see this happening.
Remove from oven and immediately cover the baked caramel crackers with chocolate chips. Let it stand five minutes, and then spread the chips evenly across the caramel – they will be melted and it will be surprisingly easy to do so. Sprinkle the surface with a bit of sea salt (but also remember Saltines are already salty & Matzo is not, so use more salt if using Matzo // less if using Saltines, depending on how salty you like things).
Once completely cool (this can be sped up in the fridge, or if you are like me, out on the deck on a cold December Colorado morning), break the sheet up into pieces and store in a ziplock or plastic container in the fridge.
It will keep for at least a week in the fridge.