I’m not going to go too much into detail about these pretzel shortbread caramel layer bars. They are what they are, a sugar coma waiting to happen, but they are so amazingly delicious. The crust is a browned butter shortbread with broken pretzel pieces, topped with a browned butter salted caramel sauce, and finished with a perfect layer of chocolate ganache. These are the essence of decadence. They speak for themselves. But today I want to talk about body image and weight issues.
I know, I know. I see the irony of posting something extremely decadent and then talking about weight issues. But I thought it would be good to debunk some misconceptions about health, wellness, and self-esteem.
Now I’m going to be frank. I eat my feelings. If I feel like crap, I’m probably going to eat something healthy to make myself feel better. Eating something full of bright, natural colour like a handful of berries or a mango makes me feel good. But then there are times where I feel great, but I crave sugar. I crave chips. Salty, crunchy, crispy, or sweet. And I’m not going to lie, I have terrible self-restraint. That’s when delicious concoctions like these pretzel shortbread caramel layer bars come out of my kitchen.
But I’ve made an effort this summer to exercise regularly, eat well, and balance how I cave into my cravings. It’s paid off so well, after 3 months, I’ve gained an incredible amount of muscle, slimmed down (not officially down a size, but my clothes are definitely looser) and lost about 5 lbs. That may not seem like a huge weight loss to you, but I feel lighter, more energized, and happier. It’s amazing what a different person I feel like now.
I’m not saying that anyone needs to feel this way, or anyone needs to lead the same sort of lifestyle I do (but I highly recommend it). I don’t smoke, I don’t drink excessively, I don’t really eat candy anymore (most of it isn’t vegetarian unfortunately), and I can’t eat out very often because my options are pretty limited. All this plus exercise and a more conscious diet means that I am definitely healthier to say the least, and that’s all that counts.
But I’ll let you in on a secret. I definitely have body image issues, and who doesn’t? Growing up in an extremely critical family, I’ve had my body picked apart flaw by flaw.
“Lisa’s hands are cracked and red.”
“Lisa’s nails and cuticles are really dry.”
“Lisa’s acne is acting up.”
“Lisa has stubby toes.”
“Lisa’s body hair is really dark.”
And last, but not least.
“Lisa is fat.”
It definitely makes me resent family gatherings. And I love my family, they’re so crazy and fun, and so full of energy. But even if they don’t say this to my face, I know they’re saying it behind my back, and it makes me feel like crap. Unfortunately this is a habit that’s ingrained in me as well. I hear these same thoughts in my head when I see someone who doesn’t quite fit in their clothes, or their make up is just really unflattering.
Who am I to judge these people? I know how it feels to be judged harshly, why am I doing it to others?
I’ve grown up to be a very self-conscious and unhappy person. Unhappy with my body, my skin, my eyes, my hair, my teeth… everything. But it sucks. It’s an exhausting life. Inspecting my body in a mirror. Picking at my skin or trying to cover it up with products that just irritate it more. And then hiding my face, my hands, or covering up my body because I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I’m trying to accept myself, be happier in my own skin, and exercise and a healthy diet is what works for me.
So why am I telling you this? I’m telling you (and I’m telling myself) to stop judging people on their appearance. You may think that you’re doing them a favour, telling them that they’re too skinny or fat so that they eat less and be “healthy”. Don’t tell them that they won’t find a husband if they don’t look pretty enough. Someone who is a size 12 may be capable of outrunning you, while someone who is a size 0 may be someone who has to eat every two hours to maintain a healthy body weight. Weight, body issues, and perceptions of beauty are all subjective and relative to each person.
So if you want to make and eat pretzel shortbread caramel layer bars? Do it. You would rather eat a bowl of cherries? Do that. But do what makes YOU happy. But remember to balance what you do with what you eat. Go for a run, do some yoga, or go for a walk. A little goes a long way.
- To make the shortbread, preheat the oven to 350F, and line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper. (I like to use a dab of butter to stick the parchment paper to the pan)
- In a small pot, cook the butter over medium heat until it's a light, amber colour and smells fragrant and nutty. Set aside to cool a bit.
- In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and pretzel pieces.
- Add the browned butter, mixing with a spatula (careful, it's hot!) until a dough forms. Press the dough into the prepared pan, then bake for about 15 minutes until the edges and the little bumps in the shortbread are golden brown. Remove from oven, turn off the oven, and let the shortbread cool while you make the caramel.
- For the caramel, combine sugar, butter, and light corn syrup in a LARGE pot (it'll bubble when you add the whipping cream). I know it's more typical to add the butter at the end, but I added it in the beginning as a mistake but it made the butter brown and the caramel was taken to a whole other level. Gently stir and cook the mixture until it has turned a nice, golden, amber caramel colour. You need to work quickly, because once it reaches this colour, you need to immediately add the whipping cream and extract or else the caramel will continue to cook and it will burn.
- Stir in the whipping cream and extract until you get this beautiful and pourable caramel. Spread over the shortbread layer and let set while you make the ganache.
- For the ganache, mix the chopped chocolate and sugar in a large bowl.
- In a pot (I used the same pot in which I browned the butter), heat the whipping cream until it starts to steam and the edges have little bubbles. Pour over the chocolate and let the heated cream stand for about 5 minutes.
- Using a whisk or a spatula, mix the ganache until you get a smooth, dark and creamy ganache. Spread over the caramel and shortbread, and let the bars set in the fridge for a couple hours.
- To keep the ganache layer from cracking when you are cutting the bars, I suggest taking the bars out and letting them adjust to room temperature for about 20 minutes. Then using a clean knife and a towel (I soak the towel in hot water, then wring out the water and it works best for me), cut the bars, wiping the knife clean after each cut or else you'll have a nasty mess of caramel/shortbread all over the chocolate ganache layer.
- These are best kept in the fridge and enjoyed chilled. They're also good at room temperature, but they're just a tad more gooey. =P
To make these gluten-free, I suggest using GF pretzels, and a good AF blend with enough xanthan gum that the bars aren't super crumbly. To make these vegan, use full-fat coconut milk instead whipping cream, dairy-free chocolate for the ganache, and vegan margarine instead of butter.