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frugal baking

Did you notice my new button in the top right corner? The one that says “23 Day Frugal Living Challenge”? Even though I already consider myself to be frugal, I think we can always do better, so I signed up to begin a frugal living challenge on January 6th. I know I said I was doing birthday resolutions this year, but one can add to the self-improvement list any time, right?

‘Tis the season for baking, and even though I’m generally not a baker, Pinterest (aka pothead’s paradise) has inspired me to join in the fun. It doesn’t hurt that baked goods make great frugal gifts, an eager three-year-old is itching to lick bowls and help roll out dough, and we also have two preschool teachers to give presents to this week.

We began our holiday baking with some gingerbread men, courtesy of a box of Trader Joe’s mix. Every time we cut out a cookie man, Vivi would wave and say in a falsetto voice “Hey there, little guy!”

Making cookies is actually a tradition we started last year with Halloween cookies, and Vivi has loved baking ever since. Check out a shot of her inaugural baking experience:

Munchie-kins! Look at that belly.

I continued the baking (without Vivi) using a recipe I found on Pinterest, land ‘o good intentions and plenty a yummy dessert recipe. I quickly found one that fit my only criteria: 1) cheap, 2) easy, and 3) including pretzels and chocolate.

Say hello to salted caramel chocolate pretzel bark. You’re welcome.

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Thanks to Legume Loyalist for the recipe. I would share it here, but it’s an involved recipe with many steps, and they do such a good job of interspersing pictures in the directions that I recommend going straight to the original source.

I must admit, I was a little skeptical that it was going to work out at a few points in the process. First, when the recipe says to “strafe” the caramel, I’m like “Do what?” so I ask Nate if he’s heard it, and he says “Only if you’re referring to what the military does when doing air strikes.” Yes honey, of course that’s what I mean. I am sure they are telling me to air strike this dessert. But nevermind. I decided “strafing” must have something to do with moving the pot around like a maniac in fear that the caramel is about to harden. Even though it looked pretty messy, the magical oven-cooking process totally evened it out.

After strafing the chocolate, I was again skeptical, when it looked so gooey and melty, that it was actually going to harden into bark. See here:

But it too magically cooperated, and after an hour of chilling and some breaking, I had for real bark. I may have found a dessert to dethrone our beloved pretzel M&M’s. Nate is not one to sing a dessert’s praises, but after sampling it I could hear him doing a  “What About Bob?” routine in the next room. I’m tellin’ you what, this stuff is THAT good.

Do you have any fool-proof desserts that you make during the holidays? Spill it! I could use more than one recipe that doesn’t include serious involvement on the part of Trader Joe’s.

Think our teachers will like their goodies?

Update 12/14/11: I just tried making a two-batch version, and all seemed to be going well until breaking the bark into pieces. One tray was fine, the other chewy. Dunno what went wrong, but it appears I’m still a bantamweight when it comes to baking. Solo batches only from now on for this amateur.