Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns

I've had a thing for cinnamon buns since I was a kid. My mom and I would drive from LA to some mountains somewhere (Mom, help me out here) and we would always stop at a cafe of sorts where they sold the giantest cinnamon buns. They must have been as big as my 8-year-old head – gooey, beige dough with a simple, deep brown filling and an enormous slather of pasty, white frosting. My mom would only let me eat half of one at a time, which was wise. I have no recollection of the sugar highs that followed (I must have blacked out) but I'm sure they were epic.

The memory of those buns pose a challenge to any cinnamon bun trying to live up to them. (They have, er, big buns to fill.) The Cinnabons in the mall wafted out promises of butter and spice, but they always tasted false, ingenuine. Those buns of yore had integrity. They were the real deal.

So several years ago, around the time when I finished pastry school (the failure to be handed the perfect cinnamon bun recipe just another disappointment) I went on a hunt. I tried three or four different recipes. But here's the thing: I was going through an anti-wheat phase, and was making the buns with a combination of whole and white spelt flours. My logic was that spelt flour, which is closer to pastry flour in its low levels of gluten, would make a softer dough. But each recipe that I tried came out overly dense, with a dry, cardboard-y texture. When I finally tried a blend of a few different recipes from Baking Illustrated (the dough from the sticky buns, the filling from the cinnamon buns, and the cream cheesy glaze from their quick cinnamon buns) I thought I'd struck gold.

But looking back, I realize that this was just the first time that I had broken down and used all-purpose flour. (Thanks, pastry school.)

Since then, I've learned that "hard" wheat varieties, which comprise bread flours with a higher gluten content, actually make for a softer dough, which is somewhat counter-intuitive.

I've also learned that (for me) wheat isn't so bad in moderation.

Unfortunately, my cinnamon bun-eating impulse is, apparently, not something that can be done in moderation. Cinnamon buns, like chocolate chip cookies, are at their peak moments (or 20 minutes for the buns) out of the oven, when they are warm and gooey. Since I know that the buns/cookies will never be better than at that precise moment, restraint can be something of a challenge. With cookies, one can bake off a few at a time, hoarding the dough in the fridge for later cravings. But buns are a different story. I like my buns baked in the pull-apart fashion of shoving them all into one pan; but then, of course, they all have to be baked off at once. And this can lead to abundant bunnage (yes, in the many senses of the word).

At least these buns contain a hefty dose of pureed winter squash (see? healthy). I adapted my pumpkin challah dough to make a 9x9" panful of buns, rolled the buttery dough up with dark brown sugar, melted butter, and cinnamon, and then drizzled the buns with a sour cream glaze. The squash imparts a brilliant color and the starches give the dough a pillow-soft, almost feathery texture. Aside from that, they resemble the buns of my youth (uh, what?) with their tender layers of dough soaked with syrupy filling and tangy-sweet glaze. I did make them smaller than most, though, and cut the dough into 16 (rather than the usual 9) buns.

I've never been into "stuff" in my buns (yikes), but if you are, feel free to add dried cranberries, toasted pecans, or chopped crystalized ginger.

Any way you slice them, these buns make a welcome treat for the holidays.

Or even the "challah days."

Breads and buns:
Rum and Sweet Potato Cinnamon Buns
Pumpkin Challah
Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

One year ago:
Smoky Tomato Butterbean Soup, and Cheddar Biscuits
Baked Pancake with Pear and Cardamom
Pecan-Topped Sweet Potato Pie
Two years ago:
Sourdough Apple Oat Pancakes
Curried Sweet Potato Pound Cake
Mac and Cheese with Bacon, Squash and Collards (I just had this for dinner again tonight, and I love it as much as ever)

Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns

Makes 16 smallish buns

All the butter in the dough makes this a slow-riser; it took about 4 hours for the initial rise and 2 hours for the second in my chilly apartment this morning. You have a couple of do-ahead options, though: you can make the dough up to a day or three ahead, and let it rise in the fridge overnight or longer (it probably won't rise much, so leave it a few hours of room-temperature time to double in bulk before working with it). You can also let the shaped buns rise in the fridge overnight (same here - let them double at room temp before baking them off).

These buns are mildly spiced and closer in flavor to a classic cinnamon bun than pumpkin pie. I like them the way they are, but if you want more spice, try adding 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon allspice to the dough along with the nutmeg.

If you want bigger buns (heh), roll the dough into a shorter, fatter rectangle, and cut the log into 9 pieces.

The dough:
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) milk (whole or not, or water)
1 package (.24 ounces) active dry yeast (or 1 package instant yeast, or 2 tablespoons fresh, cake yeast)

3/4 cup (6 ounces) canned pumpkin or roasted squash puree (I used a lantern squash)
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to warm
6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
a good grating of nutmeg (about 1/2 teaspoon)
2 1/2 - 3 1/2 cups bread (or all-purpose) flour, plus more for dusting

1 cup dark brown sugar (fresh and non-clumpy)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cloves

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon milk or whiskey (or dark rum or brandy)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Make the dough:
In a small saucepan, warm the milk over a medium-low flame, until a bit warmer than body temperature, but not so hot that you can't hold a finger in the milk for 10 seconds (100-110ºF). Pour into a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over, and let sit to dissolve, 10-15 minutes. (If using instant or fresh cake yeast, skip the step of warming the milk and just whisk the yeast together with all the wet ingredients.) Whisk in the pumpkin, eggs, butter, sugar, salt and nutmeg to combine. Begin adding the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition, until a soft, shaggy dough forms.

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (a plastic scraper works brilliantly). Optionally cover the dough with the bowl and let rest for 15-20 minutes (this is called autolyse, and lets the dough get a head start smoothing itself out.) Knead the dough vigorously for 10 minutes, dusting your hands and the surface with just enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking. After 10 minutes, the dough should be smoother, only slightly tacky to the touch, and slightly springy.

Round the dough into a loose ball, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl (or container) that is 3x the size of the dough, turning it to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap (or the lid) and let rise in a warm spot until doubled or tripled in size, about 2 - 4 hours.

Make the filling:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and cloves.

Scrape the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press out the air. Roll the dough out into a long rectangle, about 25" long and 10" wide, dusting and flipping the dough occasionally to prevent it from sticking. Brush the entire surface of the dough with about half of the melted butter. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving 1/2" space at the top (long side) of dough. Press the mixture into the dough.

Beginning with a long end, slowly roll up the dough into a tight cylinder. Pinch the seam closed. Place the log seam-side down. Using a sharp, serrated knife, gently saw the log in half crosswise. Cut each half in half (quarters), then cut each quarter in half (eighths) and slice each eighth in half (sixteenths). (For the most even buns, cut the skinny end pieces longer than the fat middle pieces.)

Brush a 9x9" square pan with half of the remaining melted butter. Place the buns in the pan 4 by 4. Press down on the buns to flatten them out and squish them into each other. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap (or place in a large plastic bag) and let rise in a warm place until puffed and almost doubled in size, 1 - 2 hours.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF.

When the buns are fully risen, brush the tops with the remaining melted butter. Bake the buns until golden brown, 30-40 minutes.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the glaze until smooth and pourable. Drizzle the hot buns with the glaze (you may not want to use it all) and let them cool for at least 20 minutes before serving (the buns are still baking from residual heat.)

The buns are best within hours of being baked, but can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days. (Or use leftovers to make killer bread pudding.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Round-Up, 2011

Ever since I learned that there was no Santa, and realized how people with December birthdays will always get the short end of the stick, I've been a bit blasé about the holidays. But Thanksgiving is one I can get behind, because it serves as an excuse to make – and eat – lots of rich, decadent food. Here are some favorite feast-appropriate recipes from the past year of The Bojon Gourmet.

I'm quite pleased with my iteration of an Ultra-Creamy Pumpkin Pie, based on Cook's Illustrated's, but made from scratch with home-roasted squash and sweet potato. I hope it has the power of converting even the most adamant pumpkin pie haters out there.

Pumpkin Ice Cream is another (gluten-free) way to get your pumpkin fix; serve with ginger molasses cookies or snaps, or doused with a shot of whiskey (we preferred Jameson to Bulleit bourbon; yes, taste tests are very important).

Apple Rhubarb Pandowdy,

Caramelized Apple Bread Pudding,

and Gluten-free Apple Crisple

make tasty twists on the usual apple pie; substitute fresh, chopped cranberries for the rhubarb in the pandowdy, if you like, and top any with Crème Anglaise, or Vanilla Black Pepper or Honey Yogurt ice cream.

Spiced Sweet Potato Oven Fries make a more savory alternative the ubiquitous, sticky-sweet casserole (not that there's anything wrong with sticky-sweet).

And Green Garlic and Chive Potato Cakes would make a sophisticated change to the usual mashers, or even a vegetarian main-dish option.

On that note, so would a Blue Cheese, Pear and Hazelnut Tart; guaranteed to trump Tofurky.

I often show up with a tub of Lentil Walnut Pâté topped with good olive oil and chopped parsley, and a side of Sourdough Crackers and cornichons, for a pre-feast snack.

Crack Sticks, aka Herbed Cheese Straws, make another addictive appetizer that turn any gathering into a party.

For more sweet, savory, gluten-free, and vegetarian recipes, see 2010's Thanksgiving Round-Up.

I am so thankful for all of the supportive, kind readers (and recipe testers!) out there – thank you, thank you for your sweet comments, typed and spoken. Have a happy and nourishing Thanksgiving!

The Bojon Gourmet

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Creamy Pumpkin Pie

Family gatherings can be stressful. That's why one of the things that I'm thankful to have in my life is Bernal Yoga. Every year, BY offers a pre-feast class on Thanksgiving day, which I gratefully take to muster up some calm before a lively, familial evening.

Last year's class was gloriously unconventional for a couple of reasons. The first was that Ann Lam, studio assistant manager, editor of Untapped San Francisco, and accomplished violinist serenaded the practice with ecstatic music throughout class.

The second occurred when Megan Windeler, favorite teacher and über yoga babe, asked each yogi to state their name and favorite Thanksgiving food.

As we went around the room, dishes were shouted out – mashed potatoes and apple pie being the most popular. (Unsurprisingly, no one mentioned turkey.) When my turn came, I told my fellow yogis that my name was Alanna and I couldn't BELIEVE no one had chosen pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie, in my opinion, was the whole point of Thanksgiving. The rest of the meal – the spuds, breads, sauces, meat and veg – were merely a prelude, an excuse, a quagmire to wade through before gratefully throwing one's body upon the shores of pumpkin pie.

I expected my fellow students, and Megan, to slap their foreheads and say, 'Of course! Pumpkin pie! THAT'S my favorite Thanksgiving food!' But instead, everyone just shrugged apologetically as if to say, 'You're nuts. Namaste.' (Jay's turn was next, and he loyally chose pumpkin pie AND mashed potatoes.)

Perhaps the reason pumpkin pie isn't better-loved has more to do with the execution than the concept. (At least, I can hope.) What could be unlikeable about creamy pumpkin and sweet spices bound up in a custard and baked in a buttery pie shell?

According to Cook's Illustrated, plenty can go wrong when making this American classic (but then, they say that about everything). Cook's points out that most pumpkin pie gets over-baked, causing the solid proteins in the eggs to clump together, separating from the liquid, and resulting in a grainy texture. Anyone who has ever over-cooked a custard knows this phenomenon. Care must also be taken to avoid sogging up the crust from the moisture of the custard, and the spices should be a subtle backdrop rather than an overpowering mask for bland squash.

The wonderfully anal cooks at Cook's developed a superb recipe (and if you don't have a subscription to their site, you should – it is well worth the small annual fee). They add sweet potato to their pie (a trick which I happen to know Nancy Silverton came up with many years ago in Pastries from the La Brea Bakery) to give the filling more density and flavor. They also use maple syrup as a sweetener, and fresh ginger and judicious amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg for spice. They par-bake their crust, to which they add vodka for tenderness, and cook the pie just until the center reaches 170º, the temperature at which the eggs are cooked, but not curdled.

Cook's recipe is fabulous, but it calls for a can each of pumpkin puree and candied sweet potatoes, and since I like to make things as labor-intensive for myself as possible, I roasted and pureed my own vegetables. Also, since the usual pumpkin pie recipe calls for only one can of pumpkin puree, or 2 cups, Cook's recipe yielded enough filling for 1 1/2 pies. I know this because last year I made a double batch, and ended up with enough for three pies. (Not that we minded.) So I cut the recipe back by 1/4 and ended up with just the right amount of filling for a tall, full pie.

I made a few other tweaks, too, like increasing the maple syrup and decreasing the sugar, and using half and half in place of milk and cream. I considered trying their vodka-ed pie dough, but was relieved to read Deb's post on pate brisee in which she admitted to preferring a standard, all-butter dough, which is almost identical to Martha Stewart's, which is the recipe on which I base mine. She's posted step-by-step photos of how to make an all-butter crust by hand, which happens to coincide with my own method. (She rocks.)

I will spare you the saga of the dozens of pumpkin pie recipes I've tried throughout the years – from Cafe Gratitude's raw pumpkin pie to a bizarre pumpkin crostata I had in Italy, and even a variation of this recipe 2 years ago in which I used too much sweet potato and overbaked the pie – and cut to the chase about what makes this recipe the best I've found yet. First, the crust is par-baked – an annoying but necessary step to keeping it crisp. Then the squash puree (I used a combination of butternut and kabocha) and sweet potato are combined with the spices and sweeteners and cooked on the stove to evaporate excess liquid and dry out the mixture. This also seems to meld the spices together nicely. The dairy and eggs are whisked in, and the mixture is passed through a mesh sieve for the silkiest texture possible. Then the pie is baked until almost set, and allowed to cool at room temperature, where the residual heat solidifies the filling. (I'm always too chicken to cut into it before chilling it, so I recommend putting it in the fridge for a few hours after it has cooled completely to further firm it up.)

Despite the multitudes of recipes out there, I've finally found my ideal pumpkin pie.

Now I just need to bring five of them to yoga next Thursday to test out my theory.

Peter, Peter:
Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares
Pumpkin Flan
Pumpkin Ice Cream

High on Pie:
Pecan-Topped Sweet Potato
Pink Pearl Apple Custard Tart
Roasted Winter Squash and Sage Tart

One year ago:
Lemon Huckleberry Tea Cake
Two years ago:
Sweet Potato Cinnamon Buns

Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie

Adapted generously from Cook's Illustrated and Smitten Kitchen

Makes one 9" pie, 8-10 servings

To save time, you can certainly use canned pumpkin, and even canned sweet potatoes. Otherwise, to roast your own: Preheat the oven to 400º. Slice a large (2 pounds or more) winter squash in half lengthwise (I prefer butternut or kabocha to pumpkin for their consistently dense, flavorful flesh). Leave the seeds in. Place the squash halves, cut-sides down, on a lightly oiled, rimmed baking sheet. Prick a large (1 pound) garnet or jewel sweet potato several times with the tines of a fork. Place it on the baking sheet with the squash. Roast until the vegetables are collapsed and very tender when squeezed with a pair of tongs, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool until handleable. Scoop out and discard the seeds and strings of the squash, and measure out 1 1/2 cups. Scoop out the sweet potato flesh and measure out 3/4 of a cup. Puree together in a food processor until completely smooth. (Extras are delicious with butter and salt for a snack, or saved for another pumpkin recipe.)

For comprehensive photos, see Deb's post on making pie dough by hand; I take the extra step of fraisage-ing the dough (dragging portions of dough across the counter with the heel of your hand), which helps to create flaky layers, but you can omit this step and still end up with a tender, flaky dough.

Pouring hot filling into a hot crust helps to keep the crust crisp, so make the filling while the crust is baking (or make the crust up to a day ahead and re-heat it before pouring in the filling). This pie requires cooling at room temperature for 2-3 hours (to fully bake the pie from residual heat), and chilling for another 1-2 hours, so do plan accordingly.

All-butter crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons/1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, in 1/2" dice
about 4 tablespoons ice water

Creamy Pumpkin Filling:
1 1/2 cups roasted squash puree (see headnote)
3/4 cup roasted sweet potato puree (see headnote)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon packed finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
3/4 teaspoon salt

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For serving:
whipped cream sweetened with maple syrup (and a splash of whiskey)
freshly grated nutmeg

Make the crust:
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour, and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles sand with lots of pea-sized butter chunks. Drizzle the ice water over, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a rubber spatula, until the dough will hold together when you give it a squeeze. Dump the dough out onto a counter, divide it roughly into 6 portions, and fraisage by dragging a portion of dough across the counter using the heel of your hand. Scrape up the dough, gently press it into a ball and flatten into a disc. Slip it into a plastic bag, and chill for at least an hour or up to 2 days.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a 12" circle, dusting the dough lightly with flour as needed, rotating and flipping it to prevent it from sticking. Ease the dough into a 9" pie plate, fit it into the corners, and trim it to a 1" overhang. Fold the overhang under, and flute the crust by pressing it between the thumb of one hand and the index finger and thumb of the other hand.

Chill the crust for 20 minutes, then freeze it for 20 minutes.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400º. Remove all other racks from the oven.

Place the frozen crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Line it with a piece of parchment paper, and top with pie weights, dry beans, or clean pennies. (I keep my weights in a cheesecloth bag for easy handling; see photo in post, above.)

Bake the crust for 20 minutes, then remove the weights and parchment and bake until the bottom is lightly golden, 15 - 18 minutes longer.

While the crust bakes, make the filling:
Combine the squash and sweet potato purees, maple syrup, sugar, spices and salt in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over a medium flame and bring to a sputtering simmer, stirring frequently with a heat-proof silicone spatula, 5-7 minutes. Continue to cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until thick and shiny, 10-15 minutes longer.

Whisk together the eggs, dairy and vanilla in a large measuring cup, then slowly whisk the dairy mixture into the hot squash mixture until combined. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve and into a large bowl or measuring cup, and use a spatula or ladle to work the mixture through. (I have two strainers: one is super-fine, and one is medium-fine. The superfine one makes for the smoothest filling, but takes forever; this time, I gave up and used the medium one.) Re-whisk the mixture.

Place the hot, par-baked crust on its rimmed baking sheet in the lower rack of the oven (still set to 400º), and carefully pour in the hot filling.

Bake the pie at 400º for 10 minutes, then decrease the temperature to 300º and bake for another 20-35 minutes. The outer edges should be set and slightly puffed, the center should wobble like jello, and an instant read thermometer inserted in the center should register 175º. The pie will seem under-baked, but will continue to cook from residual heat; for this reason, the pie must cool at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.

Cool the pie at room temperature, 2 - 3 hours, then chill in the fridge for another 1-2 hours. (Cook's says you can cut the pie at room temperature, but I am always too chicken to do so, and chill mine first.) Slice into wedges and serve with whipped cream and a grating of nutmeg.

This pie is best the day it is made, but will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Bars

My earliest memory is of running along a Hawaiian beach with my mom. I was three.

Unfortunately, that was the last time I visited Hawaii.

Fortunately, a little of Hawaii came to visit me this past summer. My dear friend Amelia brought back 2 huge bags of macadamias from a nut farm that she worked on last spring. One bag contained shelled nuts, roasted varying shades of toasty beige, and the other held the nuts still in their shell, looking like hard, brown marbles of many sizes.

Amelia roasted the unshelled nuts in the oven for the proscribed amount of time, and it was around 10 pm when we tried to crack one open with a hammer on a cutting board. After a few deafening whacks, we decided that cracking macadamias was not an apartment-at-night sort of task; at least, not unless one wished to make enemies of the neighbors.

But some of the shelled nuts went into cookies, along with chunks of vanilla bean-flecked white chocolate, lime zest and flaky salt. Others made an anchor for coconut lemongrass ice cream, served with ginger pineapple upside-down cake.

I'd been hoarding the rest of the macs in the fridge, waiting for inspiration to strike. And it did the other day, as it usually does, when I flipped through one of my favorite cookbooks, Williams Sonoma's Essentials of Baking. I love that this book has all of the classics – apple pie, chocolate chip cookies, whole wheat bread, chocolate cake – with a healthy dose of originals thrown in: lavendar polenta coffeecake, raspberry-fig galettes, strawberry mascarpone tart.

Caramel macadamia tartlets were one such recipe. But it was the variation that sealed the deal, which suggested topping the tartlets with chocolate ganache. I imagined a shower of flaky salt topping the ganache, and the thought of buttery crust, toasty nuts, dark chocolate and flaky salt all together in one confection made me get to work.

As I was going to a gathering of local writers, I decided to make these in bar form, to be cut into bite-sized, cocktail-party-appropriate squares. Though the recipe has three components, all are quick and easy to throw together, and the resulting confection looks and tastes like something you'd buy in a fancy box at an elegant sweet shop. In fact, these would make superb holiday gifts.

When the bars had been baked, carameled, ganached, salted, chilled and cut, I worried that the pieces were too big, and the bars too rich. But that didn't seem to stop the guests at the gathering, or Jay – the bars were duly devoured while many eyes rolled heavenward and fingers were licked.

I love the mild richness of these nuts here so that I hesitate to suggest any substitutes. But what you do in the privacy of your own kitchen is, of course, your own business. If you're not lucky enough to have hand-harvested mac nuts brought to you directly, or to go to Hawaii and get them yourself, know that this recipe only uses 1 cup of the expensive buggers.

Nuts for:
(Gluten-Free, Vegan) Hippy Crispy Treats
(Gluten-Free) Pistachio Chocolate Torte
(Gluten-Free) Chocolate Brown Butter Hazelnut Cake

One year ago:
Buckwheat Crepes
Two years ago:
Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares

Salted Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Squares

Adapted from Williams Sonoma's Essentials of Baking

Makes about eighteen 1 1/2" squares

A few notes: This makes a relatively small batch of (very rich) squares; feel free to double the recipe and bake the bars in a 9x9" pan. The layer of ganache turned out thicker than I had planned. None of the chocophiles who ate these minded in the slightest, but you can cut the ganache in half if you like. If you use a chocolate with lower cacao mass than the 70% called for, you may need to decrease the cream – or increase the chocolate – to end up with a firm-enough ganache. These bars get soft and gooey at room temp; for best results, store in the fridge until an hour or so before serving. The salt topping will dissolve after an hour or two, so sprinkle the salt just before serving. If I were making these to give as gifts, I would add 1/4 teaspoon of flakey salt to the caramel instead of sprinkling it on top. I so love the macadamias here that I hesitate to suggest substitutions, but all nuts go well with salt, caramel and chocolate. (Peanuts, for instance, could make these taste like a sophisticated Snickers bar...) The lemon juice in the caramel keeps the sugar from crystallizing; lacking a lemon, you can substitute a teaspoon or so of corn syrup.

Buttery crust:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) packed light or dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold, in 3/4" chunks

Caramel-Nut Filling:
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon strained fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup roasted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped into halves or quarters (salted or unsalted)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

3 ounces bittersweet, 70% cacao mass chocolate (see headnote), finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) heavy cream

about 1/4 teaspoon flakey salt (such as Maldon), for sprinkling on top

Make the crust:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Line a 9x5" loaf pan with parchment paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil (you can make chris-crossing slings, or just shove a piece in the bottom, but be sure to cover the sides of the pan; see photo in post, above).

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Rub the butter in with your fingertips until the mixture looks like coarse meal, with no large butter chunks remaining. Press the mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan.

Bake the crust until set and golden (mine took 40 minutes, but the time may be closer to 20 in a metal pan).

While the crust bakes, make the caramel filling:
Place the water and lemon juice in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Carefully pour the sugar right in the center of the water; if any crystals get on the side of the pot, brush them down into the water. (This helps to prevent crystallization.) Use your fingers to moisten all of the sugar. Place the pot over a medium flame.

Meanwhile, place the cream in a small saucepan and heat over a low flame to a bare simmer, swirling occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. If the cream comes to a simmer before the sugar is caramelized, turn off the heat and cover the cream to prevent a skin from forming.

Cook the sugar, without touching, stirring, or otherwise disturbing it, until it turns a deep amber. You can gently tilt the pot if the caramel is darkening unevenly. When the sugar has turned amber, immediately begin to slowly pour in the hot cream. The caramel with sputter and bubble; keep adding the cream slowly, being careful not to burn yourself on the steam. When the bubbling has subsided, place the pot over a low flame and stir to dissolve any caramel that may be sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Stir in the salt and the nuts.

Pour the nutty caramel over the baked crust, and return to the oven until the caramel is bubbling almost all over, about 20 minutes.

Remove the caramelly bars and let cool to room temperature (you can stick them in the fridge to speed this up).

While the caramelly bars cool, make the ganache:
Place the chopped chocolate and butter in a small bowl. Heat the cream in a small pot to a bare simmer, swirling occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for a minute to melt the chocolate. Gently whisk the ganache until smooth. Keep warm until ready to pour over the cooled caramel. (Or re-warm over a bain marie.)

When the caramelly bars are cool, pour the ganache over the caramel, tilting the pan to create a smooth, even layer. Chill the bars until completely cold and firm, about 2 hours.

Lift the parchment and bars out of the pan (you may need to pry them out with a butter knife or offset spatula) and place on a cutting board. Use a sharp chef's knife to cut the bars into small squares, dipping the knife in hot water and wiping it dry between cuts. Just before serving, sprinkle the bars with flakey salt.

Serve the bars at cool room temperature. Store extras in the fridge, and bring to room temperature an hour or so before serving.