Peppermint Brownies


In honor of the chocolate-mint combo that 99% of people seem to adore, I made these brownies.  Even though they would never be my first choice dessert, I knew “normal” people would enjoy them, particularly at the holidays.  The pretty red and white chopped Candy Cane Kisses melted on top dress up regular ol’ brownies and make them cute and festive for the season.  The good news for me is that the mint flavor is not overpowering at all.  These are still first and foremost a moist, fudgy brownie, and the peppermint flavor is more of an afterthought.  Ben and I thought the balance was just right, but if you want more of a mint kick then double the peppermint extract in the recipe.  Speaking of the recipe, I now know it by heart after making 8(!) batches for holiday baking.  But really it was just 4 batches – I don’t consider an 8×8-inch pan of brownies to be a full batch, no siree!  A 9×13-inch pan is more like it.  And I don’t think your friends, family, neighbors or coworkers will be disappointed you made some extras 🙂

Side note – today’s holiday giveaway is a copy of one of my very favorite cookbooks, The New Best Recipe.  See the Facebook page to enter.  Details will be posted before 7 am.  Good luck!

Peppermint Brownies
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Yield: 1 9×13-inch pan (about 36 brownies)
Ingredients:
8 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1½ cups unsalted butter
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1½ tsp. peppermint extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 (1.55 oz) milk chocolate bars, broken into segments
1 bag Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses, wrappers removed and coarsely chopped

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.

Combine the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water; heat, stirring occasionally, until completely melted and smooth.  Remove from the heat.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the chocolate mixture with the sugar and eggs until well blended.  Whisk in the peppermint and vanilla extracts and the salt.  Whisk in the flour just until incorporated.

Spread half of the brownie batter into the prepared pan.  Layer with the milk chocolate pieces.  Spread the remaining batter evenly over the milk chocolate pieces.  Bake 30-35 minutes.

Remove the brownies from the oven but maintain the oven temperature.  Sprinkle the chopped Candy Cane Kisses over the top of the brownies and return the pan to the oven for 3 more minutes.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool to room temperature.  Chill the brownies until the candy topping has firmed up.  Slice and serve.

Source: slightly adapted from My Baking Addiction

Chocolate Almond Cake


Some people seem to be under the impression that I never have kitchen fails.  Believe me, just like everyone else, I have my fair share.  Granted, they have become fewer and farther between with my increasing experience in the kitchen, but they still happen nonetheless.  This cake was born of a major kitchen fail.  Someone at work had a big birthday that slipped under the radar and some sneaky investigation revealed that a chocolate almond cake would have been his cake of choice.  Fine, great, I was on it.  Except my extensive internet searching really didn’t turn up the sort of recipes I was hoping for, and none from sources that I count as reliable.

Eventually I found something that seemed like it could work, but the cake was way too small for our needs.  I doubled the batter, baked it in a springform, and hoped for the best.  Unfortunately the type of cake I had chosen is one where the usual toothpick test for doneness simply doesn’t work.  The cake appeared totally done from the outside and came out of the springform beautifully but in attempting to transfer it to a platter, it fell quickly to pieces.  It was underdone and inedible.  And, it was 9:00 pm the night before I needed it.  I may have said a few choice words and even shed a tear or two, but I was still determined to make a chocolate almond cake.  I did some quick thinking and searching based on the ingredients I had on hand, and within minutes I had a new game plan.

One of the best things about Bundt cakes is that they are simple to whip up and look pretty when all is said and done.  So, I jazzed up a basic chocolate Bundt with some almond extract, topped it with ganache and sliced almonds and finally I had a product I could live with.  And you know what?  I think this turned out much better than the original (much more complicated) cake would have.  That little bit of almond extract in the cake gave it a great flavor and I had people asking all day what special ingredient I had added to make it taste so good.  Thankfully something good came of the disaster cake endeavor.


Chocolate Almond Bundt Cake
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Ingredients:
For the cake:
2¼ cups flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1½ cups sour cream
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

For the ganache:
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¾ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup

For garnish:
Sliced almonds

Directions:
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 325˚ F.  Grease and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; whisk to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Mix in the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.  Blend in the vanilla and almond extracts.

With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and beating each addition just until incorporated.  Mix in the melted chocolate just until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading the batter evenly.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes.  Let cool in the pan 10 minutes.  Invert onto a cooling rack and gently remove the cake from the pan.

To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.   Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate let stand 1-2 minutes.  Whisk in small circular motions until the mixture is well blended and the ganache is smooth.  Stir in the corn syrup.  Drizzle the ganache over the cooled cake and garnish with sliced almonds before the glaze sets.

Source: adapted from Williams Sonoma

Halloween Candy Bark


I would like to thank the person that came up with this genius recipe.  I was flipping through the October issue of Bon Appetit and I’m not sure I’ve ever dog-earred a page so fast.  It’s chocolate with candy and more candy and more candy!   As I started making it, I (as in me, Annie, who does not comprehend the phrases “too rich” or “too sweet”) started wondering if this was going to be just, well, too much.  But the smarty pants who thought this up made sure there was a good balance of sweet and salty.  With chopped up Reese cups, Butterfingers, honey roasted peanuts and peanut M&Ms, salty is definitely there.  Believe me, it’s still a very sweet treat, but I think the end result is nicely balanced.  This recipe may be most useful to some people after Halloween, when leftover candy abounds but it would certainly be a welcome addition to a Halloween party spread as well.  I think it goes without saying, but this is obviously extremely adaptable to whatever candy you prefer and what you have on hand.

Halloween Candy Bark
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Ingredients:
1 lb. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 Butterfinger candy bars (or 8 fun size bars), roughly chopped
3 toffee candy bars (or 6 fun size bars), roughly chopped
8 Reese cups, cut into wedges
¼ cup honey roasted peanuts
3 oz. yellow and orange peanut M&Ms, coarsely chopped
3 oz. good quality white chocolate, finely chopped

Directions:
Line a baking sheet with foil.  Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.  Pour the chocolate over the foil and smooth into a thin layer with a spatula.  Evenly sprinkle the chopped candy bars, Reese cups, honey roasted peanuts, and peanut M&Ms over the melted chocolate.  Press gently to adhere the candy to the melted chocolate.  Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.

Melt the white chocolate, again using the double boiler method, until smooth.  Drizzle over the chilled candy bark.  Return to the refrigerator and let chill again until the white chocolate is set, 3o minutes more.

Peel the sheet of chocolate away from the foil and break into irregular pieces.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Source: Bon Appetit, October 2010

S’mores Bars


I was one of the rare kids that wasn’t crazy about s’mores.  I’m not completely sure why, but I think it may have been the messy process of eating one, or the frustrating process of toasting a marshmallow just so over a bonfire rather than charring it.  Whatever the case, for years I thought I didn’t like s’mores.  Silliness, I tell you.  I have since realized that I am crazy about the chocolate-marshmallow-graham cracker flavor combo in all sorts of fun treats.


These s’mores bars are a recipe from the early days of the blog that needed to be reintroduced.  I love them for a few reasons.  Most importantly, they taste fantastic – you just can’t go wrong with s’mores.  These are no bake treats that come together in less than 15 minutes and require very few dishes.  And of course since they are bar cookies they are easy to serve anywhere since no utensils (or even a plate) are necessary.  These would be a fun treat to make with the help of kiddos, but until my guy gets a bit bigger he’ll just have to enjoy the finished product.

Other s’mores treats:
S’mores Cupcakes
S’mores Cheesecake Bars
S’mores Layer Cake
S’mores Oatmeal

S’mores Bars
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Yield: 12-16 bars
Ingredients:
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
¾ cup sweetened condensed milk
1 1/3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup mini marshmallows
2 whole graham crackers

Directions:
Line an 8 x 8-inch baking dish with aluminum foil.  Lightly butter the foil.  Place the butter in a heatproof bowl and microwave until melted.  Mix in the graham cracker crumbs and stir with a fork until the crumbs are evenly moistened.  Pour the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan and press firmly into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.  (I like to use the bottom of a ramekin to do this.)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the condensed milk and chocolate chips.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.  Off the heat, stir in the vanilla and salt.  Pour the chocolate mixture over the graham cracker base.  Working quickly, spread the chocolate into an even layer and smooth with a spatula.  Sprinkle the marshmallows over the top of the chocolate.  Gently press down so that the marshmallows become partly embedded in the chocolate.  Break the whole graham crackers into small pieces and stick into the chocolate mixture between the marshmallows.

Cover and refrigerate the bars until firm, about 4 hours.  Use the foil to lift the bars out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board.  Use a large sharp knife to cut into squares or rectangles.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Source: Williams Sonoma

Yellow Butter Cake with Chocolate Frosting


I always jump at the chance to bring dessert when having dinner with friends.  Thankfully my friends are all understanding of my compulsive desire to cook, bake, and blog about it so they happily oblige.  But once committed, I often do this thing – I make the decision of exactly what to bring into a life or death decision.  I pore over my cookbooks, bookmarked recipes online, etc. and I am unable to make a choice until the last possible second.  It sounds silly but the reason makes sense – too much inspiration, too little time.  The number of recipes I have saved to try is enormous (I really don’t want to know the exact number) and the vast majority are desserts.  It’s the same reason I resist buying all (okay, most of) the new cookbooks I want – that would only make the problem worse.


Most recently I was going through the usual hemming, hawing and second-guessing when I flipped over this page in a cookbook.  Problem solved, case closed, my tummy decided for me – I needed this cake stat.  Incidentally it worked out perfectly because one of our friends recently celebrated a birthday so this classic cake-frosting combo seemed ideal.  Well let me tell you, in the process I have found the yellow cake that I will use as the yellow cake.  It is sturdy but still moist and has exactly the flavor I like in a yellow cake.  Additionally, the steps of mixing up the batter are as simple and basic as any other cake.  No separating eggs, folding in egg whites, etc.  If I can get a  cake with a few less steps, I’m all for it.  And the frosting….oooohhh my.  It’s finger-, fork-, and plate-licking good.  Silky smooth, chocolatey and not too sweet.  Importantly, it also has an strong irresistible scent that wafts from the platter tempting you to take a slice.  One down, hundreds (thousands?) to go 🙂

Yellow Butter Cake with Chocolate Frosting
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Ingredients:
For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans
1½ cups cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1¾ cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1¼ cups milk

For the frosting:
1 lb. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa powder
6 tbsp. boiling water
3 sticks (1½ cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt

Directions:
To make the cakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.  Butter and flour the edges of the pans, tapping out the excess; set aside.  In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk together to blend well and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Blend in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk.  Beat each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes.  Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool 20 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the pans to help remove the cakes.  Invert the cakes onto the rack and peel off the parchment.  Let the cakes cool completely before frosting.  Level the cakes if necessary.

To make the frosting, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted.  Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, about 25-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine the cocoa powder and boiling water in a small bowl; stir until the cocoa is dissolved.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, confectioners’ sugar and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.  Add the melted chocolate; beat on low speed until combined, 1-2 minutes.  Beat in the cocoa mixture until well blended.  (Note: My frosting was still a bit runny for decorating at this point.  I let it cool longer before frosting the cake so it could firm up slightly.)

To assemble the cake, place one of the cake layers on a serving platter.  Top with 1 cup of the chocolate frosting and smooth over the top of the cake.  Top with the remaining cake layer.  Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting as desired.  Refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days.  Let come to room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving.

Source: Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

Ice Cream Sandwiches


I know it’s fall now and ice cream sandwiches seem like more of a summertime treat, but really I think they are a great anytime treat for the kid in all of us.  For me, ice cream sandwiches were the treat I would always seem to find buried in our freezer when there was nothing else around.  These are like the version we all remember, only much, much better.  I’ve made homemade ice cream sandwiches before but I think this shaping method is so genius.  Cutting the cookies and ice cream layer with the same cookie cutter – so easy and it makes for a gorgeous presentation.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of it but I’m really glad someone did!

These were very easy to make, though it should be noted that the dough is fairly soft even after chilling.  I kept waiting and waiting for it to firm up more until I realized it was as chilled as it would get.  This is a good thing though, because it means these cookies are soft and easy to eat even when frozen, but don’t let it worry you when rolling and cutting the dough.  As long as you keep the work surface lightly floured, it shouldn’t be a problem.  I am looking forward to playing around with more flavor variations of ice cream sandwiches now that I have this awesome shaping method down.  Think of the possibilities!

Ice Cream Sandwiches
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Yield: about 1 dozen 3-inch square sandwich cookies
Ingredients:

For the ice cream:
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
6 large egg yolks
¾ tsp. vanilla extract

For the cookies:
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt

Directions:
Combine the milk, sugar and 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan.  Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until warmed through.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the mixture and add the husk of the bean as well.  Cover the saucepan, remove from the heat and set aside to steep for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl with a fine mesh sieve set over the top.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Slowly pour some of the warm milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper the eggs.  Continue until you have added all of the milk mixture.  Return the mixture to the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan as you stir.  Continue cooking until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (about 170-175°F.)  Pour the custard through the mesh sieve and stir it into the cream.  Place the vanilla bean into the custard mixture, stir in the vanilla extract, and stir until cool over an ice bath.  Cover and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.

Remove the vanilla bean from the ice cream batter, stir well, and freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Line a chilled 9 x 13″ pan with plastic wrap.  When the ice cream has reached a soft serve consistency, spread some of the ice cream into the pan in an even layer about 1 inch thick.  Freeze until firm.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, vegetable oil and brown sugar.  Beat on medium speed until combined.  Blend in the eggs one at a time, and the vanilla extract until smooth.  In a separate bowl combine the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and salt; whisk to blend.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the wet ingredients and mix just until incorporated and a soft dough forms.  Gather the dough into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to about ¼-inch thick.  Use a cookie cutter to cut out as many pieces as you can, transferring the cut outs to the prepared baking sheet.  Gather and re-roll the dough scraps as needed.  If desired, use a wooden skewer to make a dotted pattern on the cookies.  Bake 8-10 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheet a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble the sandwiches, use the same cookie cutter that was used for the cookies to cut out pieces of ice cream.  Layer one piece of ice cream between two of the cookies and return to the freezer immediately.  Wrap the sandwiches individually as desired.  Keep frozen until ready to serve.

Source: cookies from Tartlette, ice cream from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Toffee Bar Brownie Torte


Say hello to the richest cake I’ve ever made.  Really, I know I’ve made some doozies in the past, but I think this one takes the cake (pun intended).  Ben’s birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and when I asked him what sort of cake he would like, he said anything would be fine and I could choose.  I immediately began scouring my ridiculously long list of recipes to try but I didn’t get very far when I saw this cake.  Ben just loves toffee so I knew this would be the perfect thing.  Plus, I made him a different brownie torte last year for his birthday and that went over very well.


So, what’s the big deal about this cake?  It consists of three layers of fudge brownie sandwiched with espresso mascarpone filling which is then frosted with an espresso whipped cream and coated in toffee bits.  And for starters, just the brownie layers alone call for a pound of butter, a pound of chocolate, and eight eggs.  I think Paula Deen just gasped.  After I got over the initial shock of the ingredient list, I decided to just go for it.  I knew it would be served at a large family gathering so there would be plenty of people to help eat it.  It really is every bit as delicious and rich as you might imagine.  It seemed like the house was filled with moans, groans, “mmm’s” and “yums” all throughout dessert.  Even after our fairly large crowd was all served, there was close to half the cake left.  Trust me, only a very thin sliver is plenty.


Despite its looks and multiple components, this comes together pretty easily.  There is no need for frosting it very carefully since the whole thing ends up covered in toffee bits.  You can use whatever technique works for you to get the toffee bits on the sides.  Personally I prefer a Jackson Pollock-style approach because it’s just so fun, and then I fill in the holes with a little more care.  It makes quite a giant mess but it’s worth it 🙂

Toffee Bar Brownie Torte
Printer-Friendly Version

Yield: about 20 servings
Ingredients:

For the brownies:
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
16 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 cups sugar
8 large eggs
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt

For the frosting:
3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. instant espresso powder dissolved in 2 tsp. boiling water, chilled

For the filling:
16 oz. mascarpone cheese
2 tbsp. instant espresso powder dissolved in 2 tsp. boiling water
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup reserved frosting (above)

For garnish:
2 cups chopped toffee bits or finely chopped toffee bars

Directions:
To make the brownie layers, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Grease and flour the edges of three 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.  Combine the butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a few inches of simmering water.  Continue heating until the butter and chocolate are melted and smooth, stirring occasionally with a spatula.  Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside.  Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl.  (If your heatproof bowl is very large, transfer to a new bowl is not necessary.)  Whisk in the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until the mixture is smooth and glossy, about 1 minute.  Stir in the flour and salt, and mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared baking pans.  Gently smooth the batter in the pans.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until the brownies are just firm to the touch.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pans 30 minutes.  Then run a knife around the edge of each pan and invert the brownies onto the rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, add the chilled heavy cream to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip on medium-high speed until medium-soft peaks form.  Blend in the sugar, vanilla and espresso mixture, whipping just until combine.  Continue to whip until stiff peaks form.  Reserve and refrigerate 1 cup of the frosting for use in the filling.  Set aside the rest of the frosting.

To make the filling, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the mascarpone, espresso liquid, sugar, vanilla and salt.  Beat on medium speed until well blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Gently fold in the reserved 1 cup of frosting with a spatula.

To assemble the torte, lay 1 of the brownie rounds to a large serving platter.  Spread half of the filling mixture evenly over the top.  Layer with another brownie round, and the remainder of the filling.  Top with the final brownie layer.  Cover the top and sides of the cake with the frosting.  Garnish with the toffee bits to cover the top and sides of the cake.  Use any remaining frosting to pipe decorative swirls around the top edge of the cake, if desired.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Source: The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather