Lessons in caramel and toffee making

I have had issues with making caramels and toffee in the past, so I decided to do some research and testing to find a safe and reproducible method for dealing with caramel.  The results of this experimentation are some recipes and techniques that work well.

The first and most important thing is having the correct equipment on hand to do the job correctly.  You need a large (at least 3 quart) heavy saucepan that is not non-stick.  The All-Clad D5 pan works great here, as you need a steel interior to be able to judge color of the cooking sugar, and having a pan whose aluminum core is on the sides as well as the bottom is much better for even heating.  I have the luxury of using a wonderful large sauteuse made of heavy French copper lined with nickel which is ideal for this purpose.  A large wooden spoon, large silicone spatula, and a candy thermometer are also needed.

Working with boiling sugar is somewhat dangerous, so some precautions are needed.  Make sure your work area is uncluttered.  Have all the ingredients set aside, measured, and available.  Wear a long sleeved shirt and have access to cold water to use if the hot sugar spatters on you.

The first two recipes are from watching a youtube video from “Cupcake Jemma”, her “masterclass on caramel.” Jemma Wilson is well known in Britain for being part of Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube, and is the owner of Crumbs and Doilies, a popular London bakery.  Here is the link for the video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihHytr6MTro&t=401s

Wet Caramel Sauce

A Wet caramel is ideal for pouring on ice cream, and topping baked goods.  Just be sure to be patient and watch the temperature, for the caramel can go from perfect to burnt in seconds.


  • 220 grams of superfine sugar (what in Britain is called caster sugar, but regular granulated sugar is fine to use) (7 3/4 ounces)
  • 245 milliliters heavy cream (8 1/4 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 120 milliliters water (4 ounces)


  1. Mix the vanilla extract into the heavy cream.  Set aside.
  2. Put the sugar in the saucepan.  Add the water by putting it in on the edges of the pan, and swirl the pan so the sugar is hydrated.
  3. Put the pan on medium heat and leave it undisturbed.  As the water starts to boil, be sure not to stir the mixture, as this will cause sugar crystals to form at the edges.  If this happens, use a pastry brush dipped in cold water and brush above the edges of the crystals to let them fall back into the mass of bubbling sugar.  Another trick I have learned is to use a tight fitting cover to the saucepan.  This will trap the steam that is forming, and it will condense into water that falls down the sides of the pan and dissolves any crystallization.
  4. Do not increase the heat, but let it slowly build.  Once the water is boiling, the temperature will start to rise, and this is the time to watch closely.  I use an infrared thermometer to monitor the temperature as well as visual and olfactory clues know when the caramel is done.
  5. The sugar is done when a medium brown (not dark) color is reached, and the temperature is about 345 degrees F.  Take off the heat immediately, and using the wooden spoon as a mixing tool, add a little of the cream/vanilla mixture.  Be careful as this will foam up and perhaps splatter (this is why a high sided saucepan is needed).  This will temper the sugar so the rest of the cream can then be added safely.  Do not add the cream all at once!  Stir until completely mixed and transfer to a bowl to cool.
  6. Store the cooled caramel sauce in the refrigerator.

Dry Caramel aka Chewy Caramel


  • 450 grams caster sugar (15.87 ounces)
  • 300 milliliters heavy cream (14.14 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 150 grams unsalted butter (5.3 ounces)


  1. Use a candy thermometer (or digital thermometer) mounted on the side of the heavy saucepan.  Do this first, as it is not safe to try to do it later with a hot pan.
  2. Add the vanilla extract to the cream, mix and set aside.  Cut the butter into small pieces and set aside.
  3. Put the sugar in the saucepan.  Put the heat on medium to medium-low.  The sugar will start to melt on the edges of the pan, so use a silicone (heat-proof) spatula or a large wooden spoon to move the melting sugar towards the center of the pan, and continue to do this until all the sugar has melted.
  4. The sugar is finished when a medium golden amber color (I find this is at about 345 degrees F).
  5. Remove from heat, and using a wooden spoon, add a little of the cream mixture, mix carefully, and then with the mixture having been tempered, add the rest of the cream and mix thoroughly.  Add the butter and mix thoroughly.
  6. Return the pan to the heat and using medium heat, stir continuously until the temperature hits 118 degrees C (245 degrees F).  This step dries the caramel to a chewy consistency.  As soon as the temperature is reached, remove from heat.
  7. I lined a half sheet pan with parchment paper, and poured the caramel mixture onto the parchment paper to cool.  After cooling, the dry caramel can be cut into convenient size pieces, and refrigerated or frozen.

Now these two recipes are relatively foolproof as long as you don’t get impatient or walk away at the wrong time.  Here are two more recipes for caramel that also work well.  The first is from Ina Garten:

Barefoot Contessa Caramel Sauce


  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract


  1. Mix the water and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the sugar dissolves. Do not stir. Increase the heat to medium and boil uncovered until the sugar turns a warm chestnut brown (about 350 degrees F on a candy thermometer), about 5 to 7 minutes, gently swirling the pan to stir the mixture. Be careful – the mixture is extremely hot! Watch the mixture very carefully at the end, as it will go from caramel to burnt very quickly. Turn off the heat. Stand back to avoid splattering and slowly add the cream and vanilla. Don’t worry – the cream will bubble violently and the caramel will solidify.
  2. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. It will thicken as it sits.

The next recipe is from Michelle Norris aka “The Brown Eyed Baker.”  Michelle has a cooking blog from Pittsburgh, and has a lot of followers.  This is flavored with sea salt at the end of cooking, and because of the addition of butter, is more creamy.

Salted Caramel Sauce

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes


  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream at room temperature
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter cut into pieces, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fleur de sel


  1. Add the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a heavy saucepan, with a capacity of at least 2 or 3 quarts. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking it as it begins to melt. You’ll see that the sugar will begin to form clumps, but that’s okay. Just keep whisking and as it continues to cook, they will melt back down.
  2. Stop whisking once all of the sugar has melted, and swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar cooks.
  3. Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should look almost a reddish-brown, and have a slight toasted aroma. This is the point where caramel can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds, so keep a close eye. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, cook the sugar until it reaches 350 degrees F.
  4. As soon as the caramel reaches 350 degrees, add the butter all at once. Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Whisk the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, be careful because the mixture will once again bubble up ferociously.
  6. Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add the fleur de sel and whisk to incorporate.
  7. Set the sauce aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and then pour into your favorite glass jar and let cool to room temperature. You can refrigerate the sauce for up to 2 weeks. You’ll want to warm the sauce up before using.

With these caramel making skills, you can do many things.  I have 2 great examples for you to try.

This dessert relies on good caramel making and is very rich.  A tart, it can serve 8 large portions or 12 less generous slices.  From Bon Appétit’s site, it has a chocolate crust, but a normal pastry crust can be substituted.

Salted Caramel–Chocolate Tart

8 servings

You can use a 9″ or 10″ tart pan, but the layers will be thinner in the larger pan. We also found that Morton kosher salt won’t dissolve completely in the caramel filling, so use Diamond Crystal for the best results for this tart recipe. Then, a generous sprinkling of flaky sea salt before serving brings out the flavor of the chocolate and tempers the sweetness of the caramel.



  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (we like Guittard’s Cocoa Rouge Cocoa Powder Unsweetened)
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 1⅔ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3 Tbsp. chilled milk or water


  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ⅛ tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 6 Tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt


  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate (do not go above 70% cacao), finely chopped
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • Flaky sea salt

Special Equipment



  1. Whisk cocoa, sugar, salt, and 1⅔ cups flour in a medium bowl. Add butter and toss to coat. Using your fingers, smash butter into dry ingredients until it nearly disappears (you shouldn’t see any large bits) and mixture holds together when squeezed—you’re working it more than you would pie dough. Make a well in the center and add yolk and milk. Using a fork, gradually incorporate flour mixture until you’ve got a shaggy dough. Knead a couple of times in bowl until no dry spots remain and dough is smooth. Flatten into a ¾”-thick disk, wrap tightly in plastic, and chill until firm, about 2 hours. (You can make the caramel filling during this time.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Let dough sit 5 minutes to soften slightly. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a 14″ round about ⅛” thick, dusting with more flour as needed to prevent sticking. Lift dough on one edge and throw a pinch of flour on surface. Then we’ve got a trick from the School of Mary Berry to prevent cracks and tears in the dough: Slide the removable bottom of tart pan under dough, positioning it roughly in the center (Pro tip: Use a bench scraper in the first step for easier lifting.).
  3. Fold the edges of the rolled dough inward toward the center, working all the way around so it rests on top of the tart pan bottom. Then lower the bottom into the tart pan.
  4. Unfold the edges so they gently slump against the sides of the tart pan and the excess dough is hanging over the edges. Press dough firmly into bottom of pan with floured hands, then use a straight-sided measuring cup to firmly press sides of dough into grooves and up sides of pan. Use a rolling pin over top edge of pan to shear off excess dough:
  5. Reserve dough scraps for patching any potential cracks later. Prick bottom of dough all over with a fork and chill in freezer until very firm, 10–15 minutes.
  6. Place tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and line with a sheet of parchment paper or foil. Fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake until edges of crust are set and starting to look dry, 12–15 minutes. Carefully lift parchment with weights. Patch any visible cracks with reserved dough. Return crust to oven and bake until firm and dry all over, 18–22 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
  7. Do Ahead:Dough can be made 2 days ahead; keep chilled. Crust can be baked 1 day ahead. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature.


  1. Bring sugar, cream of tartar, and ⅓ cup water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-low, stirring with a heatproof spatula until dissolved. Cook, swirling pot often but not stirring, until mixture turns deep amber and wisps of smoke rise from the surface, 8–10 minutes. Remove caramel from heat and immediately stir in butter a piece at a time until smooth (be careful; mixture will sputter). Gradually stir in cream, then add salt. Transfer caramel to a heatproof measuring glass (you should have about 1½ cups). Let cool until warm.
  2. Pour caramel into cooled tart shell. Chill until caramel is set, at least 1 hour.
  3. Do Ahead:Caramel filling can be made 3 days ahead; cover and chill. Microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring in between, just until pourable. Caramel-filled tart can be made 1 day ahead; once it’s set, cover and keep chilled.


  1. Place chocolate, cream, and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (bowl should not touch water). Stir with a heatproof spatula until ganache is smooth, about 5 minutes. Let cool until thickened enough to hold an indentation from a spoon—if it’s too warm, it won’t hold its swirls.
  2. Remove tart from refrigerator and scrape ganache over caramel. Using a spoon, gently work ganache over surface, creating decorative swooshes and swirls. Sprinkle with sea salt; let sit until ganache has lost its sheen, 10–15 minutes.
  3. Do Ahead:Tart can be assembled 1 day ahead. Chill until ganache is set, then cover loosely. Let sit at room temperature 15 minutes before slicing.

This can become a sort of Snicker’s bar dessert if you add salted chopped peanuts to the caramel layer before adding the ganache.  Yum.

The last recipe is a little more fussy.  Its author is Donna Gabrilson, owner of Goodytwo’s Toffee Company from Scottsdale, AZ.

English Toffee


  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 pound granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces raw almonds, chopped
  • Melted milk and dark chocolates (recommended Belcolade and Callebaut. Callebaut milk chocolate has caramel undertones and marries nicely with the toffee.


  1. In a saucepan, melt the butter and then add the granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon water. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil and cook to 260 degrees F.  One must stir continuously throughout, or it will separate.  When the mixture turns medium brown, go to the next step.
  2. Stir in the raw almonds and continue cooking to 290 to 300 degrees F. Remove from the heat and add 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Keep stirring to let some of the steam out
  3. Immediately, pour the mixture onto a sheet pan that is upside down and covered with heavy aluminum foil. Spread to an even thickness with a heat proof spatula.  Let the pan cool, and then cover with plastic, and cool overnight.   After cooling, cover with melted chocolate with additional crushed almonds as an option added after the chocolate.  Flip the sheet pan over, and cover with more melted chocolate, with more crushed almonds added to the chocolate.  The chocolate is heated to and maintained at 108 degrees F for the correct temperature for spreading.  Let set completely and then break into bite size pieces.

Note:  The author prefers to use raw almonds and to roast them in the butter-sugar mixture, which infuses the nutty flavor into the toffee and creates a toffee that isn’t overly sweet.

The absolute necessity for success with the toffee recipe is the constant stirring necessary for all the time the mixture is on heat.  The result is worth the effort required.

Finally, here is Jemma Wilson’s recipe for pecan nut brittle, the last item on her masterclass video.

pecan nut brittle


  • 225 grams caster sugar
  • 60 ml water
  • 15 grams unsalted butter
  • 60 grams lightly toasted pecans


  1. Add the sugar and the water to a heavy saucepan.  Swirl the water to mix with the sugar.  Heat on medium heat until a rich, almost dark amber color is reached.
  2. Remove from heat, mix in the butter.  Then add the nuts and mix completely.
  3. Immediately pour the nut/caramel mixture on to a silpat mat (or a greased baking sheet) and using a spatula that has been lightly greased with oil, spread the nut mixture to an even layer.
  4. This mixture is still very hot, so do not touch until cooled, about 20 minutes.
  5. The brittle can be picked up and broken into pieces.

You can use different nuts or seeds, but don’t toast the seeds as they will toast in the hot caramel.

Have fun with these!

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Monster size Chocolate Chip Cookie

In New York City, Levain Bakeries have made their mark with their signature 6 ounce chocolate chip walnut cookies.  These cookies have created quite a following, and this has spawned multiple attempts to duplicate the recipe, and the internet has many of them.

These cookies are humongous and are meant to be shared.  The edges are crisp, and the centers are soft and chewy.  The nuts are an integral part of the cookie, and cannot be omitted, so nix for those with nut allergies.

In April, 2019, Stella Parks published a Levain style cookie https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2019/04/super-thick-chocolate-chip-cookie-recipe.html and in November, 2019, Delish contributors June Xie and Makinze Gore put their version on the Net https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a46396/copycat-levain-bakery-cookies/.  The versions are not alike, and differ in technique, so as a public service, here are both recipes in one place, and hopefully this will inspire everyone to try both and determine their preference.  Please let me know what you think!

Here is Stella’s recipe:

Super Thick Chocolate Chip Cookie


  • 4 ounces unsalted American butter (about 1/2 cup; 113 g), softened to about 65°F (18°C)
  • 4 ounces light brown sugar (about 1/2 cup, firmly packed; 113 g)
  • 3 1/2 ounces white sugar, preferably well toasted (about 1/2 cup; 100 g)
  • 1/2 ounce vanilla extract (about 1 tablespoon; 15 g)
  • 2 teaspoons (8 g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight (plus more for sprinkling, if desired)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs (about 3 1/2 ounces; 100 g), straight from the fridge
  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 cups, spooned; 283 g), such as Gold Medal
  • 15 ounces assorted chocolate chips (about 2 1/2 cups; 425 g), not chopped chocolate; see note
  • 8 1/2 ounces raw walnut pieces or lightly toasted pecan pieces (shy 1 3/4 cups; 240 g)

Toasting white sugar will give a more caramel tasting note to the cookie, and is worth the trouble.  Here’s how to do it:

Use a 4 pound bag of granulated sugar.  Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 300°F. Pour sugar into a 9- by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Toast until the sugar turns ivory, about 1 hour. Stir thoroughly and continue roasting, pausing to stir every 30 minutes. The sugar will produce steam as a byproduct of toasting, so it must be stirred well to allow that moisture to escape. Stirring should also help move hot sugar from the edges toward the center, and cool sugar from the center toward the edges, for even toasting. Continue toasting and stirring every 30 minutes until the sugar has darkened to the desired degree, from a light beige to the color of traditional brown sugar, between 2 and 4 hours more.

Smaller amounts of sugar can be done, but watch the sugar and toss more frequently.

The Delish copycat recipe for monster cookies

I have not made either of these recipes yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll come back and finish this post with my results. Please let me know if you try either (or someone else’s copycat of the Levain cookie). Most important, are these monsters cookies better than the tried and true chocolate chip cookie benchmark, The NY Times modified winner from my prior posting?

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Is it a cookie, is it a cake, is it a brownie? It defies definition, but it’s a hyper-chocolate treat!

I don’t know if you follow David Lebovitz and his wonderful blog, or have read his cookbooks, but I think he is a treasured resource. His knowledge of Paris, and especially its food, is extremely comprehensive. But, more important to me is his love of desserts. His cookbook of ice cream is a delight, and I recommend it highly.

I came across his recipe for chocolate chocolate cookies awhile ago, and saved it, but I haven’t tried it until now. This is for serious chocoholics as it is intensely, densely chocolate. It uses about 1 1/2 pounds of chocolate! Made like a cookie, it has the texture in between a brownie and a hand held cake. It is easy to make, and it is worthy of your consideration.

David recycled this recipe from one of his first cookbooks, and it is now in Ready for Dessert, which is still in print. I’ve reproduced the recipe here, with my alterations and instructions in italics.

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Makes about 24 large cookies


1 pound (454 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped. I used Callebaut 60% cocoa

4 tablespoons (60g) butter, salted or unsalted

1/2 cup (70g) flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 3/4 cups (350g) sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups (320g) chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, or chocolate chips. I used the same Callebaut 60% cocoa chocolate, chopped from a large block, creating flakes and chunks of different sizes

1 cup (140g) walnuts, pecans or almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped. I toasted pecans in a 350 degree oven for 6 minutes.


1. I prefer to weigh out all the ingredients rather than use volume measurements. Melt the chocolate and butter in a large bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally, until the chocolate is smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

3. In a stand mixer fitted with the whip, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla on high speed until a well-defined ribbon is formed, about 5 minutes. On low speed, mix in the melted chocolate. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the dry ingredients, then the chocolate chips and nuts using a spatula. (If the dough isn’t stiff enough to scoop, cover and chill for about an hour.)

4. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

5. Using a spring-loaded ice cream or cookie scoop (or two soup spoons), scoop up mounds of dough and place them evenly spaced apart on the baking sheet, leaving about 2-inches (5cm) of space between them. (The scoop I use is a #40, about 1 1/2-inches/4cm across. If using two spoons, they should be in mounds about the size of generously rounded tablespoons). Since there is not a lot of butter in the batter, these cookies will not spread out significantly while baking, so after scooping out the cookie portion, flatten the cookie with a spatula. If you use the full scoop worth of a portion, this will make a cookie about 4 inches in diameter, so make sure there is sufficient space between each cookie prior to putting in the oven.

6. Use the center rack of the oven. Bake the cookies, rotating the baking sheet midway during baking, until they feel just slightly firm in the center and begin to lose their shine in the crevices, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool. After removing the cookie sheet from the oven, leave the cookies on the sheet for 5 to 6 minutes, and then transfer to a cooling rack. Cooking times can vary with different ovens, so pay attention to the cooking time. It is done when it has a somewhat soft center and a stable edge. It will firm up with the additional time out of the oven on the cookie sheet and then on the cooling rack. Do not overcook!

Storage: The dough can be refrigerated up to five days and can be frozen for up to two months. The cookies can be kept 1-2 more days in an airtight container at room temperature.

This is a recipe for serious lovers of good chocolate. Milk chocolate, Nestle’s semi-sweet, Baker’s chocolate–these will not cut it. Use a 60% cocoa from Belgium, such as Callebaut or Belcolade, or a good American chocolate like Ghirardelli’s or Scharffen-Berger’s. Trader Joe’s sells a half kilo bar of Belgium chocolate for a good price, and the quality is pretty good (be sure it’s not the one with almonds).

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Remember Fanny’s of Evanston?

updated 7/21/19


If you are a baby boomer and grew up either on the North Side or in one of the North Suburbs of Chicago, chances are that you knew or had gone to Fanny’s restaurant.  Fanny Bianucci Lazzar had her landmark restaurant at 1601 Simpson Street in Evanston, Illinois from 1946 until 1987.  She was a diminutive but effervescent lady, and she or her husband Ray greeted you at the door.  The foyer was crowded with photos of famous people who had dined at the restaurant and awards for both the salad dressing and meat sauce from the International Epicurian Society of France.  I loved going there as a kid, and remember Fanny going into the dining room with a big bowl of spaghetti to offer seconds to anyone.  I remember going there for my birthday and getting coconut cake with a candle and being embarrassed when the servers would gather…

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In an attempt to find a restaurant like the old Phil Schmidt’s, we tried Teibel’s

Fond childhood memories of old restaurants;  stopping at White Fence Farms in Joliet (actually, it is in Romeoville) while driving US 66, and going to Phil Schmidt’s in Hammond while coming back from visiting Mom’s friends that had a house in Michiana.  White Fence Farms still exists, serving fried chicken (1/2 chicken fried, served with cole slaw, bean salad, cottage cheese, and beets as “relishes”

I haven’t been there for many years, so I don’t know if the chicken is any good at this time.

Phil Schmidt’s closed in 2007 after 97 years of operations.  It was famous for 3 things, fresh lake perch, fresh walleyed pike, and fresh frog legs.  All could be prepared fried, or sauteed in butter.  Starting with relishes of beets, cottage cheese, and cole slaw, the perch, walleye and frog legs could be replenished as desired (all you could eat).  Sitting at the end of Calumet Avenue in Hammond Indiana, next to a giant Proctor and Gamble soap factory, the restaurant abutted up to the train tracks of the New York Central line, so the location was not anything special, but the food was outstanding, and the wait to get in (even though there were multiple rooms and lots of tables) could be a problem.

There was a Phil Schmidt’s restaurant in the Merchandise Mart for a very short time in the 1980’s (?), but it closed quickly.

Restaurants that serve lake perch can be found all over the lower end of Lake Michigan, but there has not been a replacement to Phil Schmidt’s in terms of quality or ambiance.   Now, having said that, let me make a qualification:  I love L. Woods.  This Lettuce Entertain You restaurant in Lincolnwood, evocative of the old “northwoods” roadhouses in Wisconsin, serves wonderful walleyed pike, and has a Friday perch fry.  No frog legs, however, but consistent good food.  So, is there a place like Phil Schmidt’s left?

Our friend Judy posted on Facebook several months ago about visiting a restaurant in Schererville, Indiana, called Teibel’s.  Open since 1929, the restaurant is at the corner of US 41 and US 30, and is a big sprawling place with multiple rooms, and serves, among other things, perch, walleyed pike, and frog legs.Teibel’s Family Restaurant has been honored to serve Northwest Indiana since 1929.

So, I thought, maybe this is the place to refresh memories of good times.  Well, sorry to tell you Judy, this is not Phil Schmidt’s replacement.

We went there Saturday night, driving home from Michigan City.  The restaurant is very large, and has very poor signage, as we went into the coffee shop area and not the main entrance, and were not told about the difference until we sat down at a vinyl covered booth with laminate tables.  Almost no one was in this area of the restaurant, but since the menu was the same as the main dining room, and we could get a lunch size portion for dinner, we didn’t switch to go the main dining room.

I had a dinner portion combination of walleyed pike and Indonesian fried frog legs, served with soup, a choice of tossed salad or relishes, choice of potato, and ice cream!  The relishes were a scoop of cottage cheese, 4 red pickled beets (obviously from a can), and cole slaw.  I will say that the pike sauteed in butter, and the frog legs were very good, but the baked potato was lukewarm and hard.  My one scoop of chocolate ice cream was icy.  My wife had the lunch portion of walleye, a nice filet about 7 ounces, with mashed potato and very over cooked green beans.

After we finished, we walked to the other entrance (facing the US 30 road) to look at the main dining rooms. Go Out To Eat The entrance, correctly described in one post as reminiscent of a funeral parlor, was large and stark, and the dining rooms had linen tablecloths and napkins, with a clientele that was average in the older age groups.  Despite the fact that the food was not bad, we will not be back, as this is a place with lots of roots in the past, but not enough good things to keep it in the present.

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Create some magic with avocados and cucumbers

Julie Turshen is a home cook who lives in the Hudson Valley area of New York State, and has published several best selling cookbooks.  In April, 2015, Deb Perelman put up Turshen’s recipe for an avocado and cucumber salad https://smittenkitchen.com/2015/04/obsessively-good-avocado-cucumber-salad/.

I saw this and put it in my recipe file under things to try (thinking that is sounded like it would work well), but then forgot to do anything about trying to make it.

We were at our friends for 2nd night of Seder (as we are almost every year, since they are responsible for me meeting my spouse).  I always volunteer to help with the prep, and this year A*** was making this avocado-cucumber salad, and I got in chopping mode.  This salad makes a refreshing side that would be good anytime, and works great at Passover to balance the brisket and turkey that S*** makes every year.  I made slight modifications in the amounts of some of the ingredients from Deb’s post, and I suggest that the recipe has room for variations.

Avocado Cucumber Magic


12 to 16 ounces peeled cucumbers, cut in half moons about 1/4 inch thick

1 large ripe avocado, cubed

2 to 3 green onions, sliced thinly

2 to 3 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise (homemade is better)

1-3 teaspoons hot sauce (Melinda’s, Sriracha, Sambal Oelek Chili Paste, even Tabasco can work here)

Zest and juice of one lime

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped cilantro


  1. Cut the peeled cucumber in half and slice 1/4 inch slices into a large bowl.  Make the dressing by adding the mayonnaise, lime zest, lime juice, salt, pepper, and hot sauce.  Use the amount of hot sauce that your taste buds prefer.  Add the dressing to the bowl.  Slice the scallions using both the white and green parts, and add it to the bowl.
  2. Cut the ripe avocado in half, remove the pit, and use a spoon to scoop the avocado flesh onto a carving board.  Cut the avocado into 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice, add it to the bowl and immediately mix thoroughly.  Garnish with the cilantro (adjusting the amount for personal preference).  Chill in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour or more prior to serving.

My version is a little heavy on the lime (I used zest and double the amount of lime juice compared to Deb’s version), but I think it brightens the dish.  Discuss with the rest of your guests as to what level of hotness can be tolerated by most of them.  You can always serve hot sauce on the side for those who wish to test the cast iron nature of their tongues and stomach!

Posted in Jewish Holiday Cooking, Salads, vegetables | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Apple Cake Loaf versus Apple Fritter Bread

March 2, 2019

I watched today’s episode of the Kitchen on the Food network, and as usual was very unimpressed with the recipes that they presented. Only one segment tweaked my interest–they had a guest, Kim Lange.  She is a blogger who has over a million hits on Pinterest for her “apple fritter bread” and has a web site called http://www.thebakingchocolatess.com. On the show, she demonstrated her apple fritter bread, and I had to try it.  Here is her recipe:

Awesome Country Apple Fritter Bread

Lange’s title–totally undeserved

Fluffy, buttery, white cake loaf loaded with chunks of apples and layers of brown sugar and cinnamon swirled inside and on top. Simply Irresistible! (Kim Lange’s comments and recipe name, not mine-SDR)
Course: Breakfast, Brunch, Dessert
Servings: 8
Author: Kim Lange


Brown Sugar/Cinnamon Mixture:

  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Bread Loaf

  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs room temp
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk or almond milk room temp

Chopped Apple Mixture

  • 2 apples any kind, peeled and chopped. Then toss apples with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon just before adding it to the bread mixture.

Old-Fashioned Creme Glaze

  • 1/2 cup of powdered sugar
  • 1-3 tablespoons of milk or cream- depending on thickness of glaze wanted. For more apple fritter style like the apple fritter donut- use more milk for a thinner glaze that you can pour over the whole loaf.



  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a 9×5-inch loaf pan and spray with non-stick spray or line with foil and spray with non-stick spray to get out easily for slicing.
  • Mix 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon together in a bowl. Set aside.
  • Combine & whisk 1 & 1/2 cups flour and 1 & 3/4 teaspoons baking powder together in another bowl and set aside.
  • In another medium-sized bowl, beat 2/3 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup softened butter together using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
  • Beat in 2 eggs, one at a time until blended in; add in 1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract.t and mix.
  • Add the flour mixture into creamed butter mixture and mix until blended.
  • Mix 1/2 cup milk into batter and continue mixing until smooth.
  • Pour half the batter into the prepared loaf pan; add half the chopped apple mixture with the sugar and cinnamon added in.
  • Sprinkle 1/2 of the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture you set aside earlier, on top of apple layer.
  • Pour the remaining batter over apple layer and top with remaining chopped apples, then the remaining brown sugar/cinnamon mixture.
  • Lightly pat apples into batter; swirl brown sugar mixture through apples using knife or spoon.
  • Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, approximately 60 minutes.
  • To make glaze, mix 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 to 3 tablespoons milk or cream together until well mixed.  (Place mixture in microwave for 10 seconds to get it pourable if it needs a boost.)
  • Let loaf rest in pan for about 15 minutes before removing from pan to let cool off completely on a cooling rack. Drizzle with glaze.
  • If you want more glaze, make a double batch. 🙂


The recipe is very easy to make, and the results aren’t bad. There are enough apple pieces to make it a moist product, but it is not a cake nor a bread, but something in between. It is definitely lacking something and needs a little (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) of salt to help balance the flavors. In addition, making the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture more like a streusel with pecans or walnuts and a small amount of butter might be worth trying.

I like apple fritters, but I can do without the white sticky glaze on top, so I didn’t bother to put any on the bread, but that is a personal preference. The big question is how does this stack up against the obvious alternative, the apple cake that we adore. The answer is that the apple cake is the hands down clear winner, it tastes better and is more complex than the rather one note mouth feel of the apple fritter bread. To be fair, the apple cake is a more involved recipe and must be made in a bundt or a tube pan. If you were to try to make the apple cake recipe in a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan, I wondered if the center would be properly done.  So, I had to experiment.

On the left, apple cake loaf, on the right, apple fritter bread

So, if I were to make the “Jewish Apple Cake” as a loaf pan recipe, here is the alterations I made (see my post “Jewish” Apple Cake).  This is an amalgamation and adaptation of several different baking combinations, not just a loaf version of the Apple Cake.

apple cake loaf

1 1/2 cups Flour
1 cup Sugar
2 large Eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/8 cup Orange juice
1 1/2 tsp Baking powder
1 1/4 tsp Vanilla
1/2 tsp Salt

2 tbs milk
3 medium Apples
1 tsp Cinnamon
2 1/2 Tbs Sugar

  • –Streusel Mixture
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • optional:
    • 1/3 cup finely chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
    • 4 tbs softened unsalted butter


1. Peel and slice 3 apples in square chunks about the size of a thimble. Toss them in 1 tsp  cinnamon mixed with 2.5 tablespoons of sugar, and set aside.

2. Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

3. Mix the batter ingredients together until batter is smooth (use Kitchenaid or other heavy mixer, as the batter is very thick). The preferred method is to mix the eggs and sugar together until the ribbon (pale yellow) stage, then add the softened butter, orange juice and vanilla, then mix. Add the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour 1/2 of batter into a greased 9 inch by 5 inch loaf pan.  Put 1/2 of the apple mixture on the first half of the batter.


After the first half of the butter, half the apples, half the streusel, and the rest of the batter.
After the last half of the batter is evened.

Place one half of the streusel mixture on the apples.  Then pour in the rest of the batter, followed by the rest of the apples, trying to distribute the apples as evenly as possible, followed by the rest of the streusel mixture.

added the rest of the apples
Stirred the cake after the last streusel added, and used an offset stapula to even the top

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour (the cake assumes a golden brown color), and remove to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Turn out of pan onto a cooling rack.

3/18/19  I have tried some variations of this loaf recipe, and think that making the streusel with the walnuts and the butter enhances the streusel, but at the expense of making the interior of the loaf cook slightly unevenly.  The best result is no butter in the streusel as it makes the interior of the cake loaf a little too wet.  I do like the addition of the chopped and toasted nuts to the streusel, as I think it adds a nice texture to the streusel.  Using 2 tbs of unsalted butter to the last half of the streusel that goes on top helps melt the sugar and gives a darker color to the top of the loaf.

Again, side by side, there is no question that this apple cake loaf tastes much better than the apple fritter bread.  Sorry, Kim Lange, your recipe needs the salt and the better crumb.

If you want to make this loaf cake pareve, swap out the butter and milk with 1/2 cup of a neutral oil and more orange juice (1/4 cup).

Make the apple cake loaf for yourself and decide!

Try it!


Posted in Baking, Cooking, Dessert, Recipe | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Remember Fanny’s of Evanston?

If you are a baby boomer and grew up either on the North Side or in one of the North Suburbs of Chicago, chances are that you knew or had gone to Fanny’s restaurant.  Fanny Bianucci Lazzar had her landmark restaurant at 1601 Simpson Street in Evanston, Illinois from 1946 until 1987.  She was a diminutive but effervescent lady, and she or her husband Ray greeted you at the door.  The foyer was crowded with photos of famous people who had dined at the restaurant and awards for both the salad dressing and meat sauce from the International Epicurian Society of France.  I loved going there as a kid, and remember Fanny going into the dining room with a big bowl of spaghetti to offer seconds to anyone.  I remember going there for my birthday and getting coconut cake with a candle and being embarrassed when the servers would gather around to sing Happy Birthday.

Fanny died in 1990, but her son John sold her spaghetti sauce frozen or in jars from World Wide Food Products in Skokie.  Despite many requests, he had kept the spaghetti sauce recipe secret, saying it was worth “millions.”

I don’t know what has happened to John Bianucci.  The fannysofevanston.com website is down, the phone number (847-679-4438) is not in service, and Sunset Foods has only 2 (after I purchased 1) jars left of Fanny’s meat sauce.  I haven’t seen the frozen packet version of the meat sauce (or the frozen spaghetti dinner packet) in years.  I called the phone on the label (847-791-9660) and someone answered, so I guess World Wide Food Prod. Ltd. is still in business.  So, John, if you are still with us, can you give your Mother’s spaghetti recipe please?

The label of the meat sauce jar:

A photo of the dining room:


It is worth noting that Fanny employed black wait staff and cooks at a time when this was very unusual.  The restaurant was not on a fancy street in Evanston, but people flocked there.

The story below is from Old Lost Recipes, a web site that does not seem to be currently maintained, which is a crying shame!  Monica Kass Rogers, where are you?

Update (7/21/19  Monica is still blogging, but at a new site:  http://lostrecipesfound.com)


My image

From the time it opened in 1946 until it closed in 1987, Fanny’s of Evanston was known for its unusual orange juice/pecan/chutney salad dressing, spaghetti with meat sauce, and? This fried chicken. You can still buy the dressing and the meat sauce from the Bianucci family’s Worldwide Foods online (www.fannysofevanston.com) Not so, the chicken. But now, you can make the chicken yourself at home! (Thank you, Helen Bianucci!) The recipe has a really-truly “knock-knock” story to it: Upon opening, Fanny (a woman of faith) prayed for a cook. Two days later, Bob Jordan knocked at the restaurant door announcing “The Lord sent me to be your cook.” To Fanny’s “What-do-you-cook?” query, Jordan answered, “The best fried chicken around!” Hyperbole notwithstanding, we think Jordan’s recipe, which he prepared at Fanny’s for 25 years, has phenomenal flavor. Really a fricassee, (i.e. not crispy) this rich, fall-off-the-bones rendition has cream in the coating and butter in the dish.

Makes 8 servings


  • 3, 2-lb chickens cut into pieces
  • 1 stick each vegetable shortening and butter
  • 1/4 cup flour,
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly-ground pepper
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 1/2 cup cream or half-and-half


Heat fat in heavy skillet. Mix flour, salt, pepper, and oregano in a bag. Dip chicken pieces in cream and then place in flour bag, shaking to coat. Remove chicken pieces to hot skillet, cover. Turn heat down to simmer and fry slowly for 30 minutes. Uncover. Drain fat, but leave meat juices and crumbly bits. Scrape those to unstick from bottom of pan, but do not discard: Add enough water to just cover bottom of skillet, and mix with the meat juices and bits. Cover skillet again and simmer another 30 minutes.

This ends the reprint from old recipes found.

Now, I made this chicken and clearly there is something missing from the recipe.  I remembered Fanny’s fried chicken as moist chicken with a wonderful crispy coating, and this recipe delivers a moist well flavored chicken but not a crisp coating.  The second stage of adding water to the pan makes a lumpy pan gravy.  I’m going to have to tweak this recipe to preserve a crunch to the skin,  and improve the pan gravy.  I even question whether or not a pan gravy should be included, as my memory of the Fanny fried chicken does not register any gravy at all, just crispy and wonderful fried chicken.

What follows now is my attempt to recreate Fanny’s meat sauce.  I would love for people to try this and see if it comes close to their memories.  Here is a photo of the Fanny Meat Sauce jar label showing the ingredients:

Fanny label2


SDR Clone of Fanny's of Evanston Meat Sauce

4 servings


3 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes

1.5 pounds ground beef (ground chuck)

1 6 ounce can tomato paste

1/3 cup diced carrots

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia or Texas 1015, or similar), diced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons dried oregano

4 to  6 tablespoons unsalted butter

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Place the ground beef in a heavy skillet and break up into small pieces. Sauté until brown.  Drain the fat from the beef and put aside.  Wipe the pan and then saute the diced onion and carrots in 2 tbs of butter until the onions are translucent and soft.  Add the 3 cans of diced tomatoes with their juice to the pan.  Add as much tomato paste as you wish, to taste.  Simmer for 1 to 2 hours.

Take the sauce and process in a blender (hopefully a Vita-mix or Blentec) to get a very smooth puree.  Return the sauce to the pan and add the beef. Finish the sauce with 2-4 tbs of butter whisked into the sauce.  If sweet onions were not used, one might need to add some sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes, but as I made it, the sauce is slightly sweet without the addition of sugar.

Serve over spaghetti or other pasta and finish with grated Parmesan cheese.

Please try to make this and see if it is close to your memory of the Fanny meat sauce, or do what I’m planning, a direct comparison with the bottled sauce.

Posted in Chicken, Cooking, food/restaurants/recipes, Italian, Recipe, Recipe clone, Sauce, Spaghetti | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The still best chocolate chip cookie (plus some others)

I think it is appropriate to talk about chocolate chip cookies again because they are such a universal favorite.  I was prompted to revisit the topic due to Sam Sifton’s NY Times cooking email, which reminded us that yesterday was Ruth Wakefield’s birthday (born Ruth Graves on June 17, 1903).  In 1926, she married Kenneth Wakefield, and 4 years later, the couple bought a building in Plymouth County, Mass., and opened an inn there.

Mrs. Wakefield’s claim to fame is the confection that was known originally as the Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie, after the Toll House Inn, a popular restaurant that she ran with her husband in eastern Massachusetts.

Legend had it that she was brainstorming about cookie dough while returning from a vacation in Egypt when she first came up with the recipe, a variation on another popular treat called Butter Drop Do pecan icebox cookies.

“We had been serving a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream,” Wakefield recalled in a 1970s interview. “Everybody seemed to love it, but I was trying to give them something different.”  Her initial idea was to add melting squares of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate to the cookie batter, but all she had on hand for the experiment was a Nestlé semisweet bar, and she was too rushed to melt it.

Wielding an ice pick, she chopped the bar into pea-size bits and dribbled them into the brown sugar dough with nuts. (Susan Brides, a pastry chef, assisted.) Instead of melting into the dough to produce an all-chocolate cookie, the bits remained chunky as they baked.

In her “Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book,” Carolyn Wyman rejected the prevailing theory that the recipe was developed inadvertently. Mrs. Wakefield was too perfectionist a cook. “Confusion is unknown,” a promotional brochure for her restaurant boasted.

“Nowadays, people love the ‘dumb luck’ story of the person who wins the lottery, or invents something because they were doing something else,” Wyman wrote about Wakefield’s innovation. “But what she did was still revolutionary.”


The ruins of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Mass., after a fire damaged the property in 1984.CreditBarry Allen/Boston Globe, via Getty Images

That establishment, the Toll House Inn on Bedford Street in Whitman, eventually expanded from seven to more than 60 tables. It became a destination, famous for its sea foam salad ring (with lime gelatin), lobster dishes and desserts, including Boston cream and lemon meringue pies, Indian pudding and baba au rhum and other recipes Wakefield had inherited from her grandmother or created herself.

She included some of them in a cookbook, “Ruth Wakefield’s Tried and True Recipes” that she published in 1931. Her enduring chocolate chip cookie recipe first appeared in a later 1930s edition.

Her Toll House cookie recipe was reprinted in The Boston Herald-Traveler, and Wakefield was featured on “Famous Foods From Famous Eating Places,” the radio program hosted by Marjorie Husted (who was known as Betty Crocker).


In 1939, Wakefield sold Nestlé the rights to reproduce her recipe on its packages (supposedly for only $1, which has to be the worst licensing deal of all time) and was hired to consult on recipes for the company, which was said to have provided her free chocolate for life.

Nestlé began pre-scoring its chocolate bars for easy baking, then introduced Nestlé Toll House Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels which became known as chocolate chips. (For the record, Allison Baker, a Nestlé spokeswoman, said that the morsels do, in fact, melt, but retain their shape because of the way the fat structure of the tempered chocolate is aligned.)

Wakefield’s recipe was printed on the package. (It was later updated to account for the availability of pre-sifted flour and other modern ingredients.)

When Wakefield added the recipe to her cookbook in the later edition, she included this explanatory note: “At Toll House we chill this dough overnight.  When ready for baking, we roll a teaspoon of dough between palms of hands and place balls two inches apart on greased baking sheet. Then we press balls with finger tips to form flat rounds. This way cookies do not spread as much in the baking and they keep uniformly round.”  This vital step of letting the cookie dough chill and rest never made to the instructions printed on the yellow bag of the morsels.

In 1967, the Wakefields sold the inn. (It burned in 1984.) The couple retired to Duxbury, Mass., where Ruth Wakefield died in 1977.

The appeal of chocolate chip cookies is undeniable.  Just look at how ubiquitous they are.  They are found in almost every bakery, grocery store, or made at home from a treasured recipe.

I still think that the best chocolate chip cookie is my working of the New York Times article written by David Leite.  I believe the investigation Mr. Leite did goes far to understanding the underpinnings of the cookie recipe.  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/dining/09chip.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=1&adxnnlx=1426461985-2l7wZ43hFSY/Tzbyds0I5Q.

J. Kenji López-Alt has done an extensive analysis of the science and variations in chocolate chip cookies, and his article is linked here:


America’s Test Kitchen’s version of a chocolate chip cookie involves browning more than half of the butter used in the cookie to enhance the butterscotch notes in the final cookie, and that can be adapted to any variant of a chocolate chip cookie.


The 2008 NY Times recipe is mostly derived from Jacques Torres’ bakery chocolate chip cookie.  It uses both bread flour (more gluten and protein) and cake flour (less gluten and protein) in equal amounts (8 ½ ounces of each).  I now make the recipe using 17 ounces of King Arthur all-purpose flour, because I tried making the cookies with the bread and cake flour combination, and I found no real difference to the one made with the King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour.  There are differences in protein content of bleached and unbleached cake flours.  Protein content of the Softasilk bleached cake 6.9%, King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend 9.4%, Unbleached Self-Rising 8.5%, Unbleached Pastry 8%, KAF Unbleached All-Purpose 11.7% KAF Unbleached Bread Flour 12.7%.   No matter what flours are used, I strongly recommend that ingredients are weighted, not dry measured, for increased accuracy.  I do think there are variations in the commercial varieties of flour, and I have switched to using King Arthur flours in all my cooking and baking.

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

Original source The New York Times


  • 17 ounces King Arthur unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 ½ sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
  • 1 ¼ cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces)granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
  • Sea salt.


  1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
  4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.
  • Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.  Ghirardelli makes a wonderful 60% cocao chip, available at Cost Plus and other retailers.  Belcolade 60% cocao nickel size discs are found on Amazon.com.

Also, as the article details, let the cookie dough rest and hydrate thoroughly for 12 to 36 hours (the longer the better).  It definitely makes a difference in the end result.  I did tests at 1 hour, 3 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, and 36 hours.  At 36 hours, the cookies are much more complex, with caramel and toffee notes in the taste that is extremely pleasant without being overwhelming.  The 3 ½ ounce size of each cookie make a monster five inch cookie, with the 3 rings of flavor that Mr. Rubin talks about in the NY Times article, but in my oven, it cooks in 14 to 15 minutes.  A 1 ½ ounce size produced a 3 inch cookie, and took 11 to 13 minutes to cook.  This is less of a monster, but with similar taste, but with a less pronounced 3 ring effect.

I use a combination of Ghirardelli chips and Callebaut 60% cocoa.  I buy a 5 kilogram “bar” and slice off the needed amount with a knife, and then use the knife to create small chunks of chocolate (with the added benefit of tiny residual chocolate bits and powder which gets thrown in as well).  The combination creates a very interesting mix of texture and enhanced chocolate intensity.  I will also use the Belcolade discs to get a bigger and more intense chocolate bite to the cookie (Belcolade Belgian Chocolate – Dark Bitter-sweet Chocolate Discs, “Noir Superieur”, 60.0% Cocoa, 11 Lb./5kg. Bag found on Amazon).

Despite what Dorie Greenspan says, I think this cookie is fine without the addition of a sprinkle of sea salt.  There is enough salt in the dough and I think the salt counterpoint on the top of the cookie is overkill.  Timing is everything with this recipe, from the resting of the dough in the refrigerator to the exact cooking time (just a light color to the top of the cookie without the edges getting too well done) to the resting on the cookie sheet for 5 to 10 minutes before the transfer to the wire rack.  It pays off to do a small test batch to get the timing right for your oven and the size of your cookie. The 5 to 10 minute rest on the cookie sheet after it comes out of the oven finishes the cooking process, so don’t forget or prolong the time.

As usual, nothing but the best ingredients gives the best results, and this is particularly true concerning the chocolate.  The cookie will taste very different if made with Nestle’s semi-sweet morsels, or horrors, with milk chocolate chips.  I believe the higher percentage of cacao in the bittersweet chocolate gives a better counterpoint to the sweetness of the cookie dough.  Nuts can be added if desired (I use 1 cup of raw chopped pecans into a recipe but chopped walnuts works well too).

There is one more thing that will make cookie making much easier.  Making the cookie balls from the refrigerated dough is a bit of a pain to do, and I’ve come up with a better solution.  Once the cookie batter is done, form your cookie balls with the help of an ice cream scoop.  I weigh each ball to get a consistent and equal cookie (whether the 1½ ounce or the 3 to 3½ monster cookie).

Cookies after mixing and weighing. Small ones weigh 1 3/8 oz, larger one (with walnuts) weigh 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 oz. Into the refrigerator for 36 hours prior to baking

 I have been making the 1½ ounce size and it is easy to combine 2 cookies to make a monster cookie prior to baking.  I put the 1½ ounce balls in a ziploc bag for the 36 hours rest.  It is also easy to freeze the cookies after the 36 hour rest, and for those with instant gratification issues, having a supply of cookie dough in the freezer makes baking on a whim much easier.  Wait 20 minutes after removing from the freezer and press the ball to flatten the disc prior to baking.  Whether using the dough after the refrigerator rest, or using the frozen dough after the 20 wait, cooking on a silpat or parchment paper with the baking sheet is a must for good results.

Now, I’m going to give alternatives to my choice as the best chocolate chip cookie.  Why?  Everyone does not have the same preferences, and one must allow for variants, and sometimes, it is good to do something a little different.

Kathleen King has built a cult type following for her Tate’s Bake Shop chocolate chip cookies.  They are flat, and very crisp, but have a nice buttery mouth feel.  She published the recipe for her cookies in 2005 in her Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook.

Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe from Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook by Kathleen King
Makes 4 1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup salted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets or line them with Silpat. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Add the water and vanilla. Mix the ingredients until they are just combined. Add the eggs and mix them lightly. Stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Don’t over-mix the dough.

Drop the cookies 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets using two tablespoons or an ice cream scoop. Bake them for 12 minutes or until the edges and centers are brown. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

My second favorite chocolate chip cookie is a “double” chocolate chip cookie, the winner of  2600 entries in the Orchards’ 1987 cookie contest.  It is a dark cookie not from melted chocolate, but from the use of unsweetened cocoa in the batter.

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

Author: Junior League of Las Vegas

Recipe Type: American Classics, Chocolate, Cookies, Desserts, American

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 large egg
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 Tbs milk
1 cup chopped pecans, or walnuts
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips, (1cup)

1. Combine flour and baking soda, set aside. Cream butter with mixer, add vanilla and sugars and beat until fluffy. Beat in the egg. At low speed beat in cocoa, then milk. With a wooden spoon mix in dry ingredients just until blended. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.

2. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto nonstick cookie sheet. Bake at 350° F. for 12 to 13 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before removing from baking sheets.

Yield: 3 dozen

Oven Temperature: 350°F

For some, the remembered and cherished tastes of our childhood is paramount and nothing satisfies as much as the original “Toll House Cookie” but I hope you look beyond the yellow bag of your youth and delve into the delights of better chocolate than Nestle or Hershey!

Posted in Baking, Chocolate, cookies, Cooking, Dessert, Recipe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apple Bars–a handheld alternative to Apple Pie

“As American as apple pie”  One out of five Americans surveyed picked apple pie as their favorite.  “For Mom and apple pie” was the reason why Americans went to war in World War II.  But is apple pie American?  The short answer is No.  The actual pie has origins in Britain, Holland and Sweden.  But apple trees didn’t exist in America (other than crab apple trees) until the 17th century. when seeds were brought over to north America by colonists.

I love apple pie.  I’ve got a bunch of different recipes for apple pie, and that could be the subject of a post of its own.  I’ve talked about apple bars in two prior post:  A Delicious Fall Dessert–Dutch Apple Pie Bars and briefly in The summer baking spree.  So, I like apple pie bars.  Why talk about it again?  I came across a recipe at Lindsay Conchar’s blog for apple bars, and I had to try them:   https://www.lifeloveandsugar.com/2016/10/03/apple-streusel-bars/

One can find many recipes for apple pie bars or apple squares, but which one to chose?  It can get confusing.  This post will discuss 6 different recipes.

Apple Squares

6 deciliters plain low-fat yogurt
3/4 deciliter vegetable oil
3 1/2 deciliters sugar
9 deciliters flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 liter apple, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 deciliters dark brown sugar
**sprinkling mixture**

1. Mix yogurt and oil together. Add vanilla. Mix dry ingredients together, and combine with yogurt mixture.

2. Peel and slice the apples (about 3 to 4 large apples).

3. Place the batter no more than 1/2 inch thick in 9X13 inch buttered pan, and distribute apple slices on the surface up to 1/2 inch from the sides of the pan. Use excess batter for second batch in smaller pan.

4. Make a “streusel” mixture of rolled oats, sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle on the surface, dotting with butter. Alternative method is to melt the butter and mix it with the 3 other streusel ingredients.

5. Place in a preheated 225° Centigrade (437° Fahrenheit) oven for 20 to 25 minutes until surface browns.

6. Cool and slice into squares.

7. Metric to American equivalents

8. 6 dl= 2 5/8 cups ¾ dl=1/3 cup 3.5 dl= 1 1/2 cups 9 dl=3 3/4 cups 1 liter=4 1/4 c or just over 1 lb of apples 1.5 deciliter=5/8 cup

Servings: 6

Cooking Times
Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Source:  a friend’s Finnish Au Pair

Not bad, but I think we can do better.

  • Difficulty: moderate
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For the crust:
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp ground cinnamon
For the apple filling:
1 1/2 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and sliced 1/8 inch thick (3 large)
1 1/2 lbs Golden Delicious apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and sliced 1/8 inch thick (3 large)
2 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
4 Tbs (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. For the crust, place the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and creamy. Sift the flour and salt together and, with the mixer on low, slowly add to the butter-sugar mixture, beating until combined. Scatter two-thirds of the dough in clumps in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan and press it lightly with floured hands on the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown, and set aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, put the mixing bowl with the remaining dough back on the mixer, add the walnuts and cinnamon, and mix on low speed to combine. Set aside.

4. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees.

5. For the filling, combine the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples and lemon juice in a very large bowl. Add the granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix well. Melt the butter in a large (10-inch-diameter) pot, add the apples, and simmer over medium to medium-low heat, stirring often, for 12 to 15 minutes, until the apples are tender and the liquid has mostly evaporated. Spread the apples evenly over the crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border.

6. Pinch medium pieces of the remaining dough with your fingers and drop them evenly on top of the apples (they will not be covered). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the topping is browned. Cool completely and cut into bars.

7. Cook’s Note–Ina lined the baking pan with parchment paper before making the crust.

Author: Ina Garten
Source: “Cooking for Jeffrey” by Ina Garten © Clarkson Potter 2016. Provided courtesy of Ina Garten. All rights reserved.

Like most things Ina creates, these taste great.  But one pound of butter for the shortbread crust is a little much!

Dutch Apple Pie Bars Adapted from Food and Wine

3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
12 Granny Smith apples (about 6 pounds)?peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 Tbs cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup water, as necessary
3/4 cup walnuts
3 cups quick-cooking oats
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled

1. Crust: Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a 15-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. At low speed, beat in the flour and salt until a soft dough forms. Press the dough over the bottom of the sheet and 1/2 inch up the side. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, until the crust is golden. Let cool on a rack.

2. Filling: In each of 2 large skillets, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter with 1/4 cup of the light brown sugar. Add the apples to the skillets and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir half of the cinnamon and nutmeg into each skillet. Cook until the apples are caramelized and very tender and the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes longer; scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the skillets and add up to 1/2 cup of water to each pan to prevent scorching. Let cool.

3. Topping: Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast until golden and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop the walnuts. In a large bowl, mix the oats with the flour, light brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the walnuts and press the mixture into clumps.

4. Assembly: Spread the apple filling over the crust. Scatter the crumbs on top, pressing them lightly into an even layer. Bake in the center of the oven for about 1 hour, until the topping is golden; rotate the pan halfway through baking. Let cool completely on a rack before cutting into 2-inch bars.NOTE: The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 4 days or frozen for up to a month.

These are not bad.  I just had a standard large cookie sheet/jelly roll pan that was about 13×18 inches. I followed all the same instructions except I didn’t use quite all of the topping.
NOTE: The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 4 days or frozen for up to a month.

Dutch Apple Pie Bars adapted from King Arthur's Cookbook

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
2 Tbs ice water
2 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar, ( more if needed, depends on tartness of apples and personal preference)
1 pinch nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
5 cups peeled cored diced apples ( Granny Smith), (5 to 6)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 425°; lightly grease a 13×9 inch pan.
Crust: in a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and salt; using a pastry blender, cut in the butter. Drizzle the beaten egg over the mixture; toss lightly to combine. Add the ice water 1 tablespoons at a time, stirring gently until the dough starts to clump together; grab a fistful; if it sticks together easily, you have added enough water. Roll the dough into a generous rectangle to fit your pan or spread it to an even layer on the bottom of the pan with your fingers. Prick it all over with a fork; bake it for 10-12 minutes, until it is set and barely starting to harden. (10 minutes should be enough).

2. Filling:
In a bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, spices, and salt together; add in the apples, tossing to coat. Stir in the vanilla, then the cream; spread the filling over the crust.

3. Topping:
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon. In another bowl, combine the melted butter and extracts; pout over the flour mixture. Stir until the butter is absorbed and the mixture forms fairly even crumbs; sprinkle over the filling.

4. Bake for 15 minutes; decrease temperature to 350°; bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the topping is brown and the filling is bubbly. Remove from oven and cool on a rack; let them cool to lukewarm before cutting.

Author: adapted from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion cookbook

Good crust, but the filling is not perfect.

So, I tried Lindsay’s recipe.

Apple Streusel Bars

3/4 cup (168g) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup (216g) light brown sugar, unpacked
2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (195g) all purpose flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves ground
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups (272g) chopped apple (1-2 large apples)
2/3 cup (87g) all purpose flour
2/3 cup (150g) light brown sugar, packed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 pinch ground cloves
3 Tbs (42g) salted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C) and line the bottom of a 9 inch square pan with parchment paper and grease the sides.

2. Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl, then transfer to a mixing bowl.

3. Add the brown sugar and whisk to combine.

4. Add the vanilla and eggs and whisk until incorporated

5. In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients.

6. Slowly add the dry ingredients to wet ingredients until combined.

7. Spread about half of the batter evenly into the bottom of the pan.

8. Fold about 3/4 of the chopped apples into the remaining batter, then spread evenly into the pan.

9. In another bowl, combine streusel ingredients and mix together until it forms a crumbly mixture. Stir in the remaining apples.

10. Sprinkle the streusel over the top of the bars.

11. Bake the bars for 33-35 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.

12. Cut into bars and serve. Bars are best stored in the fridge.


Since the batter becomes the bottom of the bar, this recipe is a little easily than most.  The problem is the balance.  The use of nutmeg and clove creates an overdose of Thanksgiving like smells and taste, which overpowers the apple flavor of the bar.  More like an apple cake than an apple pie bar, if I make it again, I’d cut way back on the clove and nutmeg.

So after a lot of trial and testings, the winner is the adaptation of using the King Arthur bar crust with the America’s Test Kitchen filling.

  • Difficulty: moderate
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an apple pie in your hand

These take 1st place

For the Crust:
8 ounces animal crackers, (4 cups)
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 pinch salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the Streusel:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornmeal
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (or better yet, 8 tbs)
For the Filling:
2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced ¼-inch thick
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch salt
Alternate Crust:
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, 1 stick
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons ice water, more or less as needed

1. Preheat oven to 375º F. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with foil or parchment paper, allowing excess to hang over pan edges. If using foil, grease or spray with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Make the Crust: Process the crackers, brown sugar and salt in a food processor until they have been reduced to fine crumbs, about 15 seconds. Add the melted butter and pulse to incorporate. Press the crumbs into an even layer in the prepared pan and bake until deep golden brown, 10 to 13 minutes. Cook on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Keep the oven on.

But instead, use this Alternate crust:
Preheat oven to 425º F. Lightly grease 9X13 inch baking pan. Whisk together the flour and salt; using a pastry blender, cut in the butter. Drizzle the beaten egg over the mixture; toss lightly to combine. Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time, stirring until the dough clumps together. Roll into a rectangle and fit into the pan (or just use your fingers to evenly layer the dough on the bottom of the pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork, bake it for 10 to 12 minutes (12 is probably too long), until set and barely starting to harden. Remove from oven, cool on a rack. Reduce oven heat to 375º.

3. Make the Streusel: Whisk together the flour, sugars and cornmeal in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and toss with a fork until the dry ingredients are all evenly moistened. Set aside.

4. Make the Filling: Combine the apples, melted butter, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft and the liquid has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.

5. Assemble: Spread the apples over the crust in an even layer and sprinkle with the streusel. Bake until the streusel is brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Using the foil or parchment overhangs, lift the bars from the pan and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

6. 2nd Alternate topping (from the Silver Palate sour cream apple pie recipe):
3 tbs brown sugar
3 tbs sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
1 c chopped walnuts
Mix well and sprinkle as topping

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies by Michelle Norris, the “Brown Eyed Baker” and by me.

the perfect bite sized apple bar

SDR: I don’t like using commercial products if I can make it myself. By making it myself, I avoid any preservatives and can control the seasonings.  I think those points are a fair trade-off to spending the extra time to make things from scratch.  Besides, where is the creativity of using something from a box!

America’s Test Kitchen used animal crackers instead of graham crackers to get a different flavor profile. However, the mild character of the animal crackers is not as good as a modified cookie crust. Therefore, I didn’t use Michelle Norris’ animal cracker crust, but used the crust from the King Arthur Dutch Apple Pie Bars, also in this post. If you want to make your own animal cracker cookies, I found a recipe for that as well, but it won’t taste as good.

The first time I made the streusel, it was too dry because I used only 2 T of butter as I was looking at the filling portion of the recipe, whereas the recipe calls for 6 T.   Even 6 T is not enough, so I now use 8 T to help the streusel brown and taste better, with much better results.

One of the things I like about the Dutch apple pie bars is that no machines are needed. Even the pastry cutter can be substituted with bare hands. A fork is used to mix the egg and the ice water, and bare hands work fine to distribute the shortbread crust in the 9×13 pan. Just be sure that you cook the apples enough to get all the liquid reduced to a minimum.

Now, why do this post at all.  I’ve posted the best apple pie bar recipe before.  As my wife says, why try other recipes when this one works so well.  My response is that I might find something even better, and if I stop searching, I might miss out!  Give that Lindsay Conchar’s recipe for the clone of Chris’ Outrageous Cheesecake was so good, I had to try her recipe.  I’ve laid out all the best alternatives that I have found so far.  But the first place winner is still my modification of the Dutch Apple Pie Bar.  Try them all, I invite your comments, and if you think you’ve got something better, I’m eager to try your recipe!


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