Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake-Swirled Brownie Bites

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake-Swirled Brownie Bites - made December 7, 2014 from Domesticate Me
I chose this recipe to try out because I had every intention of adding red food coloring to the brownie batter and making these red velvet cheesecake brownie bites. Wouldn’t that have been pretty as a holiday sweet treat? Alas, I was so intent on making them and moving on to the next thing that I mixed them up as is and forgot to add the food coloring. So instead, these became (or stayed) regular brownie cheesecake bites.
I had someone ask me once why I make “cheesecake stuff” when I don’t like cheesecake. I tried to explain I actually don’t mind if the cheesecake part is swirled into a brownie or something else equally dominating and the cheesecake only has a supporting role. Plus, for reasons unknown to me, I buy the Costco pack of cream cheese every so often and I need to do something with them that doesn’t involve making an actual cheesecake. They just looked baffled. Yes, apparently I am inexplicable.
In any case, these looked pretty in the picture from the blog I got the recipe from. My own brownie cheesecake bites did not turn out so well. You don’t know how many pictures I took at various angles trying to find a halfway decent shot. The problem was I didn’t line the mini muffin tins with any liners so the bites were hard to take out of the tins without causing them to become misshapen. If I took them out too soon, the cheesecake swirls were too delicate and the bites broke apart. If I let them cool for too long, the brownie part stuck to the sides of the muffin tin cavities. There was just no winning.
Fortunately, as deformed as some of them ended up being, they actually tasted pretty good. The brownie part was moist and I only took a taste test of the one that had the least amount of cheesecake swirl. Ha. The dark chocolate richness of the brownie was complemented by the sweet tang of the cheesecake part. Baking them as minis was also a good call. I think if you tried to bake these as regular size “cupcakes”, they’d be a bit too large of a portion. Remember, you want to exit the holiday season with your clothes still fitting reasonably well.
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1¼ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the Cheesecake Swirl
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a mini-muffin tin (or 2 tins, depending on the size) with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the granulated sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add the warm melted butter to the dry ingredients, add the vanilla extract, and mix until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. (I know this is tiring for those of you with very little upper body strength, but you can do it!) When the batter looks thick and shiny, add the flour and mix until it’s well incorporated. Fold the chocolate chips into the brownie batter and briefly set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the cheesecake swirl.
  5. Spoon about a tablespoon of brownie batter into the well sof the prepared mini-muffin tin(s). Add a dollop (about ½ tablespoon) of the cheesecake swirl batter to each well. Use a knife to swirl the cheesecake into the brownie batter.
  6. Transfer your brownie bites to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (I baked these at a very high altitude and they took about 20 minutes, but I recommend checking yours after 15 for safety’s sake.)
  7. Allow your brownie bites to cool completely before removing them from the muffin-tin.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

12 Days of Christmas Cookies - Day 10: Diamond-Edged, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Cookies

Diamond-Edged, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Cookies - from Bakewise by Shirley Corriher
Is it weird that the more I love something, the less often I tend to make it? There’s a reason for that. Yup, you guessed it. It’s because I would eat it. And before you scratch your head over that, remember that the only reason I don’t weigh 300 pounds is because I exercise (literally and figuratively) portion control. Everything you see on my blog, I’ve often only had a bite of: 1 cookie, a sliver of brownie, a half slice of cake. Unless I confess otherwise. I’m usually honest about my portion control transgressions and will ‘fess up when I’ve eaten five of something because it was just that good.

This falls into the 5-cookies-consumed category. At least I’m pretty sure I ate five when I first tried out this recipe awhile back. This year, so far I’ve baked off most of it and given them away but I haven’t tried this batch yet. But I’m pretty sure they tasted fine since I followed the same recipe and they looked good. 
The only thing I did differently was to roll the cookie logs into red and green sanding sugars so I could get the Christmas look for my care packages and goodie bags. I really liked how they ended up looking and it’s just as easy to roll the cookie dough logs in colored sugars as well as plain sparkle sugar.
If you want to make for Hanukkah, blue sanding sugar and silver sanding sugar works just as well as red and green for Christmas celebrants. I love the versatility of this dough. It’s easy to make, you can make it ahead of time and keep it in your freezer until you need it (thaw for 10-15 minutes beforehand just for ease of slicing but don’t let the dough get warm) and they’re delicious slices of butter goodness. Just try to stop after 5.
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 2-tablespoon pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pure almond extract (I used vanilla extract)
2 large egg yolks
2 ¼ cups (9.9 ounces) bleached all-purpose flour
½ cup coarse or crystal sugar
1 large egg, beaten

1.   In a heavy-duty mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, salt and almond extract until light and creamy.  Add the yolks, one at a time, and beat with each addition, just to blend in thoroughly.
2.   On low speed, beat in the flour, scraping down the bowl twice.  Divide the dough into 4 pieces.  Roll each into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter.
3.   Sprinkle coarse sugar evenly on wax paper, the length of the rolls and about 4 inches wide.  Brush a roll lightly with beaten egg, then roll in sugar to coat well.  Repeat with each roll.  Wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
4.   About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, place a shelf in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375⁰F.
5.   Cover a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  Slice cookies into 3/8-inch slices and arrange about 1 inch apart on the sheet.
6.   Place the baking sheet on the arranged shelf.  Bake one sheet at a time until the edges just begin to brown, about 14 minutes.  Allow to cool on the sheet for 2 minutes, and then remove to a cooling rack.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

12 Days of Christmas Cookies - Day 9: Soft and Chewy Molasses Gingerdoodles

Soft and Chewy Molasses Gingerdoodles - made dough December 6, 2014 from Averie Cooks
If you haven’t noticed yet, my 12 Days of Christmas Cookies series a) hasn’t strictly been “cookies” in the traditional narrow-minded sense (I reserve the right to take artistic license with the definition of a cookie) and b) haven’t really been so much about flavors popular with the holiday season. No eggnog, no fruitcake (shudder), no peppermint, no gingerbread. Instead, I’ve factored in what I personally get asked for when people know they’re getting their holiday baking gifts from me as well as taking into account how busy this time of year is for most people so I’m going for quick, easy, and in some cases, can incorporate helping hands so you don’t have to bake alone if you don’t want to.
But I did decide I needed at least one flavor of the season and this is it. I couldn’t quite cross the line to gingerbread but I did go for this version of ginger molasses cookies. I don’t love ginger molasses cookies as a general rule. I don’t mind the ginger but I get hung up on the relatively strong taste of the molasses. I’ve tried regular molasses and “light” molasses and I’m still not fond of it.
I tried to tell myself it’s not all about me (really?) and some people might actually like molasses cookies so I should bake it for some of my gifts. It’s not like I actually eat more than 1 cookie from a new recipe anyway and this was going to be automatic portion control if I didn’t love it. When I want to be conservative and try out a new recipe with a high chance of success, I go to Averie’s blog. I found this recipe for molasses gingerdoodles which was a cross between a regular ginger molasses cookie and a snickerdoodle. Sold.
I baked mine a couple of minutes longer than her recipe said to and they still felt a bit more underbaked than they should have been. I suspect Averie’s oven runs hotter than mine as this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered these results. The taste itself was good for what it was though. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, remember my picky taste buds and picky taste prejudices. If it helps, one of my baking recipients of the cookies thought they were yummy and they went pretty quickly at work when I brought the rest in. So here’s my token holiday flavor cookie.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark or light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup unsulphured molasses (don't use blackstrap)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch salt, optional and to taste
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Cinnamon-Sugar Coating
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large mixing bowl and electric mixer) combine the butter, sugars, egg, and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 4 minutes. 
  2. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the molasses, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, optional salt, and beat on medium-high speed until combined and smooth, about 1 minute. 
  3. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, cream of tartar, and beat on low speed until just combined, about 45 seconds. 
  4. Using a medium 2-inch cookie scoop, form two tablespoon mounds. Place mounds on a large plate or tray, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, up to 5 days. The dough is soft, mushy, limp, and isn't suitable for baking until it's been chilled. Do not bake with unchilled dough because cookies will bake thinner, flatter, and be more prone to spreading.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  6. Cinnamon-Sugar Coating: Add sugar and cinnamon to a small bowl and stir to combine. Roll each mound of dough through the coating, liberally coating all sides. 
  7. Place coated mounds on baking sheets, spaced at least 2 inches apart. Bake for about 8 to 9 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are have crackled; don't overbake for soft cookies. Cookies firm up as they cool. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Slab Apple Pie

Slab Apple Pie - made November 29, 2014, recipe modified slightly from Pine Cones and Acorns
Since I found the apple pie I’d bought from Three Babes Bakeshop for Thanksgiving so tart, I felt like I was left hanging on the apple pie front. Apple pie to me means sugary cinnamon-y apple slices tucked inside a flaky crust, served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream. Which is great except that making pie crust isn’t top of my list of things I can do effortlessly. I’ve made them before and they’ve turned out okay, one or two of them were even pretty good. But I hate the whole kneading thing, flouring, not flouring, sticking to the rolling pin aspect.

Enter Slab Apple Pie. (You don’t know how many times I kept mis-reading that as “slap happy” instead of “slab apple”.) This is the easy-for-the-holidays version where it’s basically an apple crumble bar cookie. There’s a crust that you don’t have to use a rolling pin to mess with; you simply spread and smooth it into an even layer on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Layer the apple slices on top that have been tossed with that cinnamon-sugar mixture that’s very important to me, then sprinkle the streusel topping over it and bake. Once it’s cool, you can glaze with vanilla icing or leave unadorned and top with vanilla ice cream, your call.

As faux apple pies apple bars go, this was a good substitute although I have to admit, it didn’t quite satisfy my need for an apple pie this season. But the taste is there and this is an easier to make alternative. I did make my own little apple pie in an individual pie ramekin just to fake myself out that I had an apple pie going on but the rest I did make in a 9 x 13 pan, cut into bars and portioned out to give away. 
You want to be careful not to overbake these as the crust can become dry if you bake it for too long. Bake only long enough for the apples to become soft when you stick a toothpick in it.
My only issue was the apples were pretty moist so they didn’t allow for all of the vanilla icing to set as much. But moist apple filling is really not a bad thing.
3 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 cup of solid shortening
2 egg yolks
8 Tablespoons of water

8-10 medium size tart apples (I used Granny Smith)
2 tablespoons of flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice

Streusel topping
1 cup of flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup butter softened
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Mix flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder until blended. Cut shortening into flour mixture.
  3. In separate bowl, mix egg yolks and water, add to flour mixture. Mix well until dough forms a ball. Roll out  ball to cover 9 x 13 pan.  Place on baking pan for bottom crust.
  4. Make filling: Cut, pare, quarter, and core apples. Cut into uniform slices. Blend flour with sugar, cinnamon, and pour over apples. Mix and then arrange on crust. Sprinkle with lemon juice.
  5. Stir flour, cinnamon and brown sugar together, add softened butter. Use pastry blender and cut mixture together until well blended. Sprinkle mixture over the apples.
  6. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Cool and then drizzle with glaze.
2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk
  1. Blend powdered sugar and milk to form a glaze, adding enough milk to achieve desired consistency.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

12 Days of Christmas Cookies - Day 8: Sunburst Lemon Bars

Sunburst Lemon Bars - made December 6, 2014 from So How's it Taste?
Lemon bars, second only to chocolate chip cookies in requests from my friends, are always part of my Christmas baking. Not only is there a seemingly endless supply from my mom's lemon tree but even my own tree yields up a modest amount of lemons at this time of year.
Plus lemon bars are another one of those easy-to-make bar cookies to whip up in quantity and portion out amongst my holiday baking gifts. I tried out this new recipe since it called for a simple lemon glaze that I like on top of my lemon bars to add a bit of sweetness to contrast with the tartness of the fresh lemon. And while the lemon bar might seem humble in a world of spicy gingerbread, flashy peppermint, joyous eggnog and decadent chocolate at this time of the year, perhaps because of its simple goodness, it tends to be a refreshing standout; this one was no exception. Buttery (but not too buttery) shortbread crust, tart (but not too tart) filling and a sweet glaze that sets so this is easy to package up as well as eat.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil. 
  2. In large bowl with electric mixer, beat flour, sugar, butter, and peel on low speed until crumbly. Press mixture evenly in bottom of pan. 
  3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown.
  4. Meanwhile, in large bowl with wire whisk, lightly beat eggs. Beat in remaining filling ingredients except lemon juice and lemon peel until well blended. Beat in 1/4 cup lemon juice and peel.
  5. Remove partially baked base from oven. Pour filling evenly over warm crust.
  6. Return to oven; bake 25 to 30 minutes longer or until top is light golden brown. Cool completely, about 1 hour.
  7. In small bowl, mix 1 cup powdered sugar and enough lemon juice for desired spreading consistency until smooth. Spread glaze over cooled bars. Cut into bars. Store in refrigerator, but allow bars to come to almost room temperature before serving.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

12 Days of Christmas Cookies - Day 7: Shortbread Toffee Cookie Bars

Shortbread Toffee Cookie Bars - made December 6, 2014 from Cookies and Cups
Shortbread, caramel, chocolate and toffee - if that doesn't shriek Christmas at you, you're not listening very well. Okay, it isn't eggnog or gingerbread or peppermint or anything else you might associate with Christmas but these are easy to make and even easier to eat. With all the other stuff you have to work on for the holidays, making treats shouldn't be a chore and neither is making these cookie bars.
The crust is quick to put together. So is the "caramel" in the form of sweetened condensed milk and butter. You could substitute melting caramels with a little whole milk but the sweetened condensed milk will do in a pinch. We're all about the easy this season.
Then you sprinkle the top with milk chocolate chips, let them soften and melt then spread in an even layer. You don't even have to be super perfect with smoothing the top because, guess what? You hide any imperfections in the melted chocolate layer with a generous sprinkling of toffee bits as the top layer.
Honestly, these bar cookies practically make themselves. So if you need a quick treat to give away, take to a party or serve at your own party, here you go. Oh and they're pretty tasty too.
Shortbread Crust
¾ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar
1½ cups flour
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk chocolate chips
1½ cups toffee bits
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x13 pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick spray. Shortbread Crust: Beat butter and sugar together until combined, 1-2 minutes.
  2. Mix in flour. Mixture will be slightly dry. Press into prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Filling: In a small saucepan heat sweetened condensed milk and butter together until butter is smooth. Pour over shortbread crust. Bake 12-15 minutes until filling is bubbly and browned. It will almost take on a light caramel appearance. Remove from oven
  4. Topping: Immediately sprinkle milk chips on top of filling when it comes out of the oven. Place back in oven for 2 minutes until chips are shiny and soft.
  5. Carefully spread the chips over the filling with an off-set spatula. Sprinkle with toffee bits, pressing into milk chocolate.
  6. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fudgy Brownies with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Fudgy Brownies with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting - made November 28, 2014, adapted from Dear Crissy
When people ask me for “my favorite” brownie recipe or “a good brownie recipe you recommend”, I honestly don’t know how to answer that. They seem to expect me to whip out THE brownie recipe to end all brownie recipes. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you might know what a headscratcher that is for me.
Not because I don’t have any good ones but because I have too many. Literally, too many. Search for “brownies” on my blog and the results will max out at 8 pages. But rest assured I have more than 8 pages’ worth of brownie recipes in the 5+ years I’ve been blogging and in the decades I've been baking. And I keep adding more. Like this one. Much as I love brownies, I’m not actually looking for the perfect brownie recipes. I’ve made so many that I’ve come to realize it isn’t so much about the recipe as the quality of the ingredients and the baking technique. So I fall back onto timeless advice: use the best-quality ingredients you can afford (especially when it comes to chocolate) and don’t overbake the brownies. Seriously. That’s 99% of what you need to make a good brownie. 

With that reasoning, this was also a good fudgy brownies. The chocolate cream cheese frosting made as is was a little too tangy for me but that’s my taste buds being prejudiced against cream cheese. So I added an extra 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar to make it a little sweeter, ha. These freeze well and went into multiple goodie bags as part of my holiday gifts this month so they served their purpose admirably.
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 + 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  1. Using a medium sauce pan, heat butter and unsweetened chocolate while stirring until smooth; set aside to cool. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees; line an 8x8x2-inch baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. 
  2. Stir sugar into cooled chocolate mixture. Add your eggs one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon just until combined. Stir in vanilla. In a small bowl stir together flour and baking soda. Add four mixture to chocolate mixture; stir just until combined. Spread batter evenly into the pan.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.
  4. Frosting: using a small saucepan heat and stir semisweet chocolate pieces over low heat, stirring until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  5. In a medium bowl beat together 6 ounces of softened cream cheese and powdered sugar. Beat in melted chocolate until smooth then frost cooled brownies.