Tag Archives: Caramel

News from the Test Kitchen- Bran Madness

The Bride and I have been watching food documentaries of late. Any residual resistance I had for my sugary concoctions went largely out the window after viewing these. Sugar is the devil.

Of course, I’ve long danced with the devil, so no wonder it feels so familiar.

Bad food is also a drug. No wonder I’m so obsessed. I’m scanning about for new addictions apparently.

With that in mind the Bran Muffin test kitchen kicked into high gear in search of our three aforementioned goals: 1) Moistness 2) Health 3) Artistry.

After my first batch, where I stuck to the basics, I decided I had to branch out. Search “moist” bran muffins and the recipes are all very similar to bran muffins, in general, which by definition means dry as toast.

In the true spirit of testing, I’ve now made three batches of muffins each differently, slowly evolving the process to narrow in on what will earn the EFFin Artist label. I’m so far off the grid they don’t even have power here. I’m going where no recipe seems to have gone before.

For example. One batch I envisioned tasting like a healthy Snickers bar, full of chocolate, peanut butter and caramel and still having only a 1/4 cup of brown sugar total. Impossible? I think not.

Overall the muffin proved delicious, especially compared to bran muffins, but nothing like a Snickers bar. It was loaded energy bomb. For the chocolate I used protein powder. The peanut butter was Effin A brand, all natural. The caramel topping came from sweet potatoes, a smidge of butter and a teaspoon of brown sugar, greatly reduced. On a couple of muffins I mixed this caramel-like mixture with a touch of cream cheese to make it more frosting-like. It’s amazing how tasty this all was and with virtually no sugar.

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Sounds delicious right? Well it was. EXCEPT: I was listening to AC/DC and Ozzy at the time and got a little jacked up and forgot to turn the oven down (speaking of dance with the devil… our oven is Satan’s spawn. But that’s another story). So they cooked a bit hot and burned ever so slightly the muffin cup. They were still really moist thanks to the plain Greek yogurt I mixed into the batter. But they just didn’t have the perfect finished artistry to succeed on all three levels. Very close. For the next round I’ll mix some dark cocoa powder with the protein powder because the chocolate was all but lost. (Another little secret: I used half a banana mashed into the eggs to give added moisture. The flavor is lost, which I wanted because it didn’t go with a Snickers Bar, but the moisture remained… very cool, I think).

My next creation was a blueberry coconut bran muffin. Here I got absolutely a bit whacky. I decided to use coconut oil, but rather than heat it into a liquid I used it solid and crunched it up into the batter. My thinking was it would heat and pour moisture into the dough while they baked. I also used a 1/4 cup of raw coconut sugar, 1/2 cup of coconut water, dried coconut flakes and a sprinkling of coconut dust on top for that all-too-important artistry. I folded the blueberries in at the last so they didn’t smash up too much. Again I went for yogurt in the batter as moisture. It almost worked until… the oil ended up basically frying the muffins as they cooked. I opened the oven and it looked like I was frying dough again!

As it turned out, the edges are a delightful crispy texture like fried dough, but of course they aren’t really fried. But the oil kept them so moist and dense, they didn’t rise at all. So these are too tiny to call finished.

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I’m going to try it again with two corrections: The oil will be mixed in so it won’t “fry” but just have that moisture. I’ll also use baking powder next time to get the lift I need. I like BIG muffins that bowl over the edges, so that’s a must for the finished product.

So who wins the sweepstakes?

Just like my brother’s favorite TV show The Sopranos… nobody knows!


I can’t send the sweepstakes package yet… because I haven’t discovered the perfect muffin yet. Some good things have emerged, but other things haven’t quite come together. The freezer is full of these little dudes, but none are Effin Art. None are worthy to wear the “I’m an EFFin Artist, Man!” label. The quest continues. Stay tuned… the winner’s spot is still very much up for grabs. All I can say is when I’m done, these will be very, very worth the effort to win them.

By the way, the Snickers bar muffin had 1 gram of sugar! Only 1 per muffin. Amazing right?!

Stay tuned.

Effin A has left the building…. so don’t bother trying to unsubscribe. He can’t hear you…


Caramels and creativity go sweetly together

Do not re-invent the wheel is not a very useful cliche’ most of the time. In this day and age where everyone is writing and experimenting and inventing and creating and starting businesses and copying others and trying to find their little niche’, most everything has already been invented to some degree. If you don’t re-invent, you become a clone, not a creator and certainly not an Effin Artist.

By re-inventing the wheel we find our own explorations. Sure John Muir hiked it first, but it feels new and adventurous to us the first time we tread in his footsteps. The same goes for our creative expressions, whether they be on canvas or paper or baking sheets. Explore. Go off the trail. Re-invent. Discover. The journey beats the arrival. So, yes, re-invent the wheel… except for those times its just stupid to do so. Like the wheel. Let’s face it, that’s a good one. Don’t EFF with it.

Caramel, I discovered is the wheel of sweet creations. Folks have spent a lot of time getting this thing down and unless you have a masochistic love of frustration and failure, follow their lead.

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Before embarking on caramels of my own, I read a lot of different blogs about how to do it. Disclaimer: When I google something I typically skip the first page of Website powerhouses like the Food Network and the blogs that are so widely read you have to shift through ads like chopping through a jungle with a machete.

Once again, as usual, my bride disagrees. She goes to the ones with hundreds of reviews, reads those hundreds of reviews, and picks the one most celebrated. Then she follows the recipe like the Essenes. If I try to suggest a modification she threatens to banish me from the commune. It isn’t pretty.  She obviously agrees you don’t re-invent the wheel.

I like the blogs from un-celebrated artists like me, who do this for the love of the game. It may not be the most professional or glitzy, but it has heart. It has sweat and soul, still unmolested by corporate ads, (ASIDE: to any corporate advertisers out there wanting to populate this blog… just kidding?! see below… Apparently I’m a sellout.). just like my blogs, which are supposed to be short, I go against the grain and write long and longer. Screw them. I’m not People Magazine here, OK. Relax. Get some coffee, enjoy the read… or not. Really, it’s OK. Maybe next time.


In my search for caramel help, I landed on a blog more akin to my wife’s thinking than my own.  The simple video sucked me in. Soon I was following their footsteps and remarkably for me, staying on the path.

The folks at inspiredtaste.com know how to make the wheel. Their caramel recipe was spot -on and in the dozen batches I made I never varied. Ok, that’s not true. I Nearly Never Varied. I added a 1/4 tsp of vanilla by the second batch and then swirled in chocolate ganache by the seventh. But that’s it. For me that’s as coloring inside the lines as I get. I’m proud of myself for simply having lines to color in at all.

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So really, if you want to learn to make caramel, go watch their video. Whallaaaa! You’re an expert.  Don’t waste your time looking here for secrets. I didn’t invent the wheel.

I’ll say only this: Don’t stress it. It’s fun. Everyone makes caramel akin to splitting atoms. I’ve not split atoms, but it sounds stressful. Caramel is not… I repeat… not stressful. If it gets too hot too fast and turns too brown or hard, well as my daughter says, “that’s a first-world problem.”  You are only out some butter, sugar and cream, so try again. Besides, even hard, brown caramel is pretty tasty. Eating my less than brilliant projects is not what I call stressful.

I give a full recommendation to two key tips from the folks at inspiredtaste. 1) Put the lid on the pot as they say and screw that whole wet-the-sides-of-the-pan-with-a-pastry-brush thing most often advised. This is easier and more effective by far. and 2) Put the pan right back on the stove to boil water in it. This cleans it up in a snap, which is the one stressful part of caramels– cleaning– if you don’t do this step.

I made a scad of caramels and built up plenty of excitement on the ole email chain vying for the package winner this week. I laid out a big hint saying I wanted a bribe. I have several days free after New Year’s and wanted company to go snowboarding. Absolutely nobody took the bait. But my brother did take the bribe route and ordered caramels for 50 at his Christmas party. WINNER WINNER chicken DINNER! Soon the Test Kitchen as a football- watching, candy-wrapping sweatshop:

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The reaction from my loved ones was… well, let’s just say enthusiastic:


“EFF off…. you sold out. If all it meant was cold hard cash, I’ll just go right over to Trader Joe’s…”

ME: “Effin Artist gotta eat!”

“I’m thoroughly disgusted.”

ME: “Wait, I’m confused. Effin Artist doesn’t gotta eat?! You callin’ me fat?”

“sellouts always have excuses…”

“Sorry I haven’t been getting your emails today, I sent them all to spam.”

Tough crowd, my family. We play rough. And on that note, we’ll move on from the Caramel and move into something less hostile (we hope ;-)). Next week’s test kitchen ingredient: Peanut Butter!

Effin Artist out!

Testing this week is like nectar of the gods

I have to admit, caramel intimidated me a bit when this week started. It seemed temperamental… exactly the opposite of why I do this nonsense.

The first batch of caramel was …. well … something other than caramel. It was gooey and tasted ok but looked white and slid around so I just made it into a sauce and served it at Thanksgiving in an apple crisp where it was good, but hidden.

So I knew what I was up against… Not to mention, expectations were high. Folks came hard after the caramel sweepstakes mailing to be sent out at week’s end (for those playing along from home, EffinArtists.com sends out a mailing each week to whoever bribes us the best…errr…. is the lucky winner of a surprise package of whatever we make for our test kitchen). Apparently, their confidence in me was, well, incongruent to use a term I learned way, way back before failing out of grad school.

Anyway, I do not shy away from a challenge. If caramel was going to mean mug me, then it was on. “Let do this!” I shouted as I walked into the test kitchen.

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I’m not even done yet, but as you can see from above, I made that caramel my … uh.. never mind. Let’s just say park bench and try not to lose our PG rating.

A few days into this project and I’ve given those worries the beat down. This stuff so far is bomb.com! Check out this gooey, gooey goodness…

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I can honestly say these cookies are so good I decided to make a list of top five best all-time cookies. These are on the list, which is still under development. I’ve lost at least an hour to pondering it, recalling cookies from days gone by. That was a good hour though.. ummm…

The bottom line is this stuff has game. To my lovely family vying for the surprise package at week’s end, here’s the translation: You need to step it up. I want a visit. Especially on Jan. 1-5 for someone to go snowboarding with me. So call me and make plans, then get in your car and head north. That’s the trump card this week.

Who says bribes don’t work?

News from the Test Kitchen: Caramel

With the waist line being a growing cause for concern, the Effin Artistry focused has moved toward restoration projects of late, BUT do not be alarmed as the test kitchen remains in action nonetheless. We are, after all, addicts, and well, the recent chocolate addiction now rivals the caffeine so we will continue creating — with the hope of some balance of consuming.

Before I get to the ingredient of the week, it bears noting that the one week I didn’t offer a weekly winner (last week’s leftovers focus) this forum was like the classroom in the 80s movie Real Genius where indifferent students leave recorders in the classroom instead of attending to listen to a lecture left by a professor on a recorder in his absence. Only you all didn’t even put up a recorder! Duly noted. Everyone starts this week having to make up ground if they expect to be rewarded. Participation is a responsibility not a luxury here… As my bride tells me, I am indeed a sensitive sort despite the rugged exterior.
SO guess what this week is??? By popular demand… the ingredient is…
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Thank you, thank you… take your seats… thank you… you are too kind…
Let the begging begin now. I don’t mind saying I have high hopes for the package going out this week, not only to be delicious, but to actually be artistic (and safely arrive in said condition despite a staggering hostility from our so-called tireless postal working community).
New exciting restoration projects are also underway, but will likely be kept under the cloak of an Apple Jobsians secrecy until after Christmas.
The work begins… now. Check back for photos and updates…
Some of the comments (err.. sucking up) so far… Effin Artist is nothing without the peanut gallery:
– I would like to point out, that I check both blogs daily and commented both in phone call text and on Facebook. I was in class!
– I think I speak for all of us when I mutter under my breath so that the teacher will not hear: “Suck up.”
– For food. Every day. No shame
– Yes….might I add (in the beautiful words said by SNL cast members): “Suck it Trebek. Suck it long. Suck it hard.”.  🙂
– Dear Most High Effin Artist of the Universe (let the sucking up commence), I wholeheartedly celebrate the topic of caramel for the Artist Kitchen.  Although chocolate has many virtues, I have always had deepest affection for the sugar, cream and butter confection.  I think it’s nectar from the gods, and in the hands of such a virtuoso as yourself, it will be nothing short of a masterpiece.  If I were to be humbly allowed to partake of such a finely crafted sweet, I would be moved to the depth of my soul.
May you hear the angels sing around you as you create!
(EFFin Artist likes this comment)…
–  wait,wait wait, my email wasn’t working and I just realized I missed the whole topic of caramel yesterday. I also see people taking credit for suggesting this caramel extravaganza but I happen to remember sending several emails before anyone else about the need for caramel. I also sent sample pictures for the effin artist to be inspired by. Clearly I am this weeks effin winner…
– Yes, you may have suggested the caramel extravaganza, however the excuse of a down computer is a bit weak, don’t you think?  I think this train has already left the station, sweetheart.
And so it goes in Effin Artist land. You have to come strong if you want the surprise prize at week’s end.
Finally, as always, to unsubscribe to these emails I’d suggest naming a star after EffinArtist and wish upon it.