Thursday, December 2, 2010

In Anticipation of Christmas

Usually I'm the type of girl who can't handle Christmas music, decorations, or any type of green and red combination before Thanksgiving. This year was different.
I don't know if it was my anxiety about life, longing for winter break, or other strange mental state that I was in at the time, but I wanted Christmas. Bad. The thrill of seeing Christmas lights and garland being hung outside businesses in Lakeview made my heart jump. I wanted some Christmas in my life, even if just a little. So of course, the solution I always come up with, I bake.
I had been drooling over this recipe since Betty Crocker e-mailed me their newsletter full of tasty fall twists on their boxed mixes. Although not the fall twist, anything with M&Ms and chocolate leaves my sweet tooth tingling with anticipation.
While visions of Chocolate-Caramel Layer Bars danced in my head, I went on a trip to target. The trip was only vaguely focused on actual necessities and was more an outing to Uptown with a friend to drown some of our woes in the excitement of Target. This excitement may seem pathetic, but as a college student Target sometimes makes your heart flutter with discounts or deals on shoes, knee-high socks, or hello kitty things that you really don't need. This trip consisted of red and green Christmas M&Ms and caramel bits.
After another run to Jewel after I checked the recipe and realized I was missing a few things, I began to bake.
Step One
Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease 13x9 inch pan with shortening. Shortening? really? Even the responses said that wasn't a good idea. Definitely go with PAM or other cooking sprays, they are a gift from the cooking gods.
Then in a large bowl (definitely a large bowl) mix cake mix, 1/2 cup butter or margarine, and 2/3 cup of evaporated milk with a spoon until well blended. Measuring out the 2/3 cup was difficult due to my withering measuring cups, but you can always use your friend google and an ounce measuring glass to convert it to simpler terms.
This part is important, spread HALF of the mixture (about 2 cups) into the pan and bake for 15 minutes. I didn't put half, I put at least 2/3 and then didn't have enough to cover the caramel part. While my friends were too busy drooling over the final product and wanting to dig into the fresh-out-of-the-oven brownies to notice, it bothered me a bit.

While that is half-baking you'll want to heat the caramels and the remaining 1/3 cup evaporated milk over low heat in a saucepan. If you look at the picture to your left, you will see my gooey caramel sauce pan, low-fat evaporated milk, and caramel bits. If you are using Caramel bits like mine, which were little unwrapped balls rather than squares or wrapped pieces, you will want to add more than the recommended 35 pieces. I counted 35, realized that that was too little, dumped a bunch in and still didn't have enough to make the caramel layer as thick and gooey as I would like. Feel free to be generous with this part as long as it works with the amount of evaporated milk and will melt smoothly without overflowing your pan.

Next comes the fun part. Take the partially baked brownie bottoms from the oven and sprinkle your M&Ms all over the crust, trying to keep them pretty even. It suggests using 1/2 cup, but I just put as many would cover it evenly. Next drizzle the caramel mixture on top, be sure to not bring the caramel all the way to the edge of the pan. Betty Crocker suggests a 1/4 inch area between the pan and the caramel and this is necessary to let the brownies actually come out and not force you to get out the chainsaw to release your chocolate friends.
Then drop the rest of the batter over the caramel mixture. It may be hard to spread it evenly over all of this, but try and keep a nice even layer on top. Mine didn't work out so well since I used more on the bottom than the top (as you can tell in the photo). Then once the batter has a nice top layer, put some more M&Ms on top, pressing them into the batter lightly.
Toss it back into the oven for 20 to 24 minutes or until the center is set. Cool completely, cut up, and enjoy your final delicious creation.

This was the perfect thing to brighten my mood as well as devour while watching The Venture Brothers season finale with my friends. While yours may not have the Christmas Spirit as mine did, they are still a delicious treat that any chocolate or caramel lover will dig their sweet tooth into.

- Mollie

If you try it out tell me how it goes!

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