The Youth Group Cooking Night: Toffee and Pizza

Saltine Toffee 
makes 1 cookie sheet of toffee; briefly feeds a handful of teenagers

4 ounces saltine crackers (1 sleeve)
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 package semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup whole or chopped nuts (peanuts, pecans, walnuts, etc), optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Grease foil and line a cookie sheet with it.  (You can use a 9"x13" cake pan in place of a cookie sheet if needed)
In a saucepan combine the sugar and the butter.  Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.  Immediately pour over the saltines and use a rubber spatula to spread it to cover the crackers completely.
Bake for 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top.  Let sit for 5 minutes.  Spread melted chocolate.  Top wth chopped nuts if desired.  Cool completely and break into pieces.  Toffee can be stored in the fridge or freezer.

Fruit Pizza
makes 1 pizza; again, briefly feeds a handful of teenagers
recipe for the filling is from The Life of a Wife

1 roll sugar cookie dough
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (1 package)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk or cream
berries and sliced fruit

To make the cookie crust, slice the sugar cookie dough into even 3/8" slices and place them on a rimmed round or rectangular cookie sheet.  Using your fingers, press the dough gently to bring it together.
Bake at the temperature recommended on the package for 20-30 minutes, or until dough is set and slightly brown.  Cool completely.
To make filling, beat together the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a bowl on medium-high speed until smooth.  Blend in vanilla and milk or cream.  Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled crust, and top with fruit.  Slice with a pizza cutter to serve.

We just had the youth group over for a "baking night" over the weekend.  I think I had forgotten how much fun youth groups can be.  These girls and guys were engaging, kind, and had a lot of interesting things to talk about.  I am already looking forward to the next time we get to host something like this!

I split them up into two groups by having them select various kitchen utensils that were going to be used in one recipe or the other.  That also determined their job and the partner they would work with.  We talked through each recipe step by step, discussed the timing of things, and then put them to work.  I did also decide to mention a few safety tips, hoping that no essential body parts (or nonessential for that matter) would be lost on my account.

The saltine toffee is a favorite of mine that my friend Mary introduced me to a number of years ago (in fact, it's in the first edition of The Blacksburg Wives cookbook).  What's so great about it is the short list of ingredients that I typically have on hand - so if I need something that's a special treat, I don't have to scramble around.  I recently tried it with chopped pecans instead of saltines (going for a gluten-free option), and am thinking of other twists on this favorite like substituting other kinds of baking chips for the chocolate chips - like butterscotch, white chocolate, or peanut butter baking chips.

The group that was in charge of the toffee made two batches, one with peanuts on top and one without.  By the end of the night, there were a few flakes of crackers and a ball of foil left on the table.  I'll take that as a sign of success!

The pizza folks really did a fantastic job from start to finish.  The filling was so light and fluffy, with just enough sweetness to complement the fruit without overwhelming it.  The one challenge we faced was that my cookie sheet did not have a rim on it, so we ended up with some unexpected cookie on the oven rack.  Lesson learned - use the rimmed sheet.

I recently saw a "cooking class" birthday party theme floating around on pinterest and I think either of these recipes - or both - would be excellent choices for such festivities.

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