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The holidays seem so long ago.  I closed out the year with a bit of last minute holiday baking the final afternoon before bidding adieu to 2011; and wanted to share what I had made.

The morning before, Danielle and her husband Josh decided to have some people over at the last minute for a casual NYE dinner and a pool soirée.  Lolo and I had planned to stay home while ringing in 2012, plopped out in the comforts of our uncomfortable couch, and watch Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve.  However, we happily obliged Danielle and Josh’s offer and were very glad we did – they are always such gracious hosts; and we met great people, most were transplants from back East.

As a rule, I do not like to go places empty-handed, and it was afterall for New Year’s Eve!  As usual, many different ideas began racing through my head – What to take, what to take…?  I had come across a fabulous Turtle Bar recipe from La Tartine Gourmande and knew it would make for a perfect dessert that would be easy to devour, especially poolside.  I finally decided on a couple of blue cheese logs (oh, how I do love blue cheese and Roquefort), the indulgent dessert, and of course champagne.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with lots of hugs.  People slowly began trickling in, while others were getting picked up from the airport.  The house was filled with warmth and illuminated with flickers of candle, lighting up the Hollywood Hills.  The grazing and flow of alcohol soon began.

Eventually folks lazily migrated to the pool level for a swim.  It was actually quite warm and a perfect night to spend outside in the pool under the palm trees – life in Southern California is tough.  Josh had been slowly heating the pool for three days.  He wanted to insure all his guests were kept comfortable.  It’s not uncommon for him to warm the pool to 102 degrees – yes you read that right, 102! But for this evening he kept it to a balmy 95 degrees.  It was a relaxing evening filled with good food, drinks, and great friends new and old.


Walnut Turtle Bars
(Adapted from La Tartine Gourmande Nov 2008, Turtle Bars)

Ingredients:

Base:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter

For the topping:
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cups walnuts, chopped
1 cup dark chocolate — I used 72% dark chocolate squares, chopped coarsely

Preparation:

Preheat the oven at 350 F. Line an 8 x 8 inch pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough to hang over the edge and act as handles to remove bars after baking. Grease foil with butter.

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and blend briefly to combine.  Cut butter in small pieces and sprinkle over flour mixture.  Process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the crust is golden and firm and dry.  Leave oven on at the same temperature.

Combine the cream, butter, salt, and brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil for about 1 minute.  Spread the walnuts over the top of the crust.  Pour the hot caramel filling evenly over the walnuts.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the caramel topping darkens.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate pieces over the hot topping.  Let sit for a few moments and then use a knife or offset spatula to spread the melted chocolate evenly over the top.

Chill the bars in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or until the bars have fully set before slicing them.

Using foil as handles, pull bars from pan and place on cutting board.  Cut long side into 6 strips, then cut 4 strips across the short side, creating 24 bars.  Wipe the knife clean between cuts.

I kept the bars refrigerated until ready to eat.

Enjoy!