Sunday, May 5, 2013

Caramel Chocolate Pretzel Bark

This recipe can be made in different forms. I'm partial to making on a sheet tray and then cutting it up into smaller pieces, (because it's faster) but it would also work really well as caramel and chocolate coated pretzel rods. That is actually what got me wanting to make this.
   Last Christmas, my dad received a box of coated pretzel rods. I looked at them (while in mid-hunt to find something to satisfy my sweet tooth) and thought, well I guess these will suffice. With the first bite I was hooked. It was nothing special. Just a large pretzel rod, drizzled with caramel and then drizzled with semi-sweet and white chocolate, but the taste was amazing! They were undoubtedly expensive to purchase, but incredibly easy to make. So, I was on a quest to find a good caramel recipe. I found one that I liked, made a few minor tweaks and then my pretzel bark was born.
   This sweet confection is crunchy and chewy. Salty and sweet, creamy and satisfies most every textural sensation I look for in a candy. The first batch I made with regular shaped pretzels, and I thought that the caramel over powered the pretzels too much. So, then I made a second batch, with two layers of pretzels. I liked the flavor much better, but they were a mess to cut. So, I was determined to try again with the stick shaped pretzels, but it would have to wait. I had eaten almost all of the first two batches that I made - within a matter of a week or two - along with many other holiday treats, and I was slowly creeping back up to my "fat" weight. SO, I had to put the treats making on hold until I got a better handle on my waistline.
   Now that it has been a few months, and I am back down to my "ideal" weight I tried my hand again at my pretzel bark. It's just as amazing as I remember it to be. Which is also very dangerous. I made this batch two days ago and it's already half gone. (No one else but I have been eating it.) So, today I packaged the rest of it up and am going to hand it out for teacher gifts. (This weeks is teacher appreciation week after-all.)
  So, I encourage you all to make this. (I don't know how one's dessert life could ever be complete without tasting this at least once.) But, you have been warned. Package this up and give it away quickly. Perhaps even before your first bite. Because once you start you may not want to stop!
  Just sayin'. :)

Here's how it starts:
  You need a candy thermometer. Once you have a thermometer, you need to test it. Attach the thermometer to the pot you want to use for you caramel making and fill it with a few cups of water (enough so the thermometer can get an accurate reading). Bring the water up to a boil and check the temperature on the thermometer. The water should start to boil @ 212F. If it starts to boil at a different temperature, you'll need to adjust the caramel recipe to fit your thermometer. My thermometer is about 12 degrees off. (My water started to boil at around 200F). So I had to adjust the recipe and only cook my caramel to about 233F. Just test your thermometer before you start, so you will get the optimal results. The recipe is really easy, but if you cook the caramel too long you'll end up with hard crunchy candy instead of a chewy caramel.

Get your sheet pan and your pretzels ready. You'll want to generously butter your pan. Do this even if you are dipping the large pretzel rods, because you don't want the caramel to stick. I forgot to butter my pan and it was a pain (to put it nicely) to get the candy to come up.
I'm using a large sheet pan that is roughly 15 3/4 by 21 3/4 inches (it just fits in my oven). Two cookie sheets would work too.

Once the pan and the pretzels are ready, it's time to make the caramel. 2 cups of sugar, 1/4 tsp salt and 1 cup of light corn syrup go into a medium to large heavy pot.

2 sticks (1 cup) of butter also goes in. 

Turn the heat to medium high and stir everything together.

Keep stirring as the butter melts.

When everything is combined, stop stirring and bring it up to a boil.

When it boils rapidly, let it go, untouched, for 4 to 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add 1 can of sweetened condensed milk.

Stir it really well, and turn the heat back on.

Attach a candy thermometer to the pot and cook, while stirring, until your thermometer reaches 245F (firm ball stage). (Remember to adjust this to your thermometer testing you did earlier.)

When it reaches 245F (or 233F in my case) turn off the heat and remove the thermometer. Be careful!

Add in a splash of vanilla, and stir well.

Slowly pour the caramel over your prepared pretzels, trying to pour it evenly. (If you are dipping your pretzel rods, pour the mixture into a tall glass or measuring cup and keep warm. Dip your pretzel rods in one at a time - leaving a couple inches un-dipped, where you are holding it, and place onto the buttered pan to set up.)

Spread the caramel out evenly.

Sprinkle on some chocolate chips. (If you are doing large pretzel rods, you'll need to melt the chocolate and either put into another tall glass for dipping, or into a piping bag for drizzling.)

I used about 2 cups to fill my tray. You just want to lightly cover the caramel.

Let the chocolate sit for 2 minutes to melt and then spread it out into an even layer. (I just use the same spoon that I used for the caramel.)

When the chocolate is spread out evenly you are done!  Just let it sit (or put it in the fridge) until the chocolate is set.

You can spread a few chopped pecans over the top if you want. (I only did half with nuts. I prefer the candy without the nuts.)

When the chocolate is almost set you can start to cut your pieces. (If you wait until the chocolate is completely set, if may shatter off of the caramel and not be so pretty.)

This was my first (of many) pieces.

You can see all the beautiful layers. 

My favorite part is the pretzels on the bottom. :) It reminds me of a raft they would make in Candy Land. I love that game! Many times in my childhood I wished that game was real. :)

These are 4 (of the 6) jars I packed up to give away. I'm telling you, this stuff is dangerously addictive!

I took a couple shots so you could see how pretty they package up. The pieces aren't uniform, but that is part of their charm. Like peanut brittle or my English Toffee, the pieces are irregularly beautiful.

One last shot - because this candy is pretty to look at, as well as insanely tasty to eat.
Here's the recipe:

Caramel Chocolate Pretzel Bark

10 oz pretzels (any shape)
2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, cubed, plus more butter for pan
1 (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk
splash of vanilla (1-2 tsp)
about 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Generously butter a large sheet pan (or two cookie sheets). Lay out your pretzels in an even layer. (Some overlap is o.k. I've put a double layer before too.) In a medium to large heavy bottom pot, add the sugar, salt, corn syrup and 2 sticks of butter. Stir and cook over medium high heat until the butter is melted and everything is combined. Stop stirring and bring to a full boil. Boil for 4-5 minutes and then turn off the heat. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Turn the heat on to medium low and cook until the temperature reaches 245F. Turn off the heat, stir in the vanilla and pour the caramel over the prepared pretzels - trying to get them covered evenly. Use the spoon you stirred the caramel with to evenly distribute the caramel over the pretzels in an even layer. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips as evenly as possible. Let the chips sit for 2-5 minutes (until they look melted) and then spread the chocolate out into an even layer. Let sit on the counter until mostly set (or refrigerate for 10 minutes) and then cut into pieces. (I like to lift it out of the pan and cut it on a cutting board.) Store in an airtight container. If you live in a warmer climate, keep it in the fridge so the chocolate doesn't melt.

*Always test your candy thermometer before cooking. Bring water up to a boil. It should be @ 212F when it starts to boil. If your thermometer reads a different temperature, make the adjustments to your recipe. (For example, my water started boiling @ 200F so I cooked my caramel to 233F instead of 245F.)

**This recipe can easily be used to make pretzel rods. Just pour the caramel into a tall glass or measuring cup and keep warm. Dip each rod individually (leaving a 2 inch "handle") and place on a buttered cookie sheet to set. Once they are set you can drizzle with melted chocolate of your choosing. (Dark and white chocolate look nice together.)

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