February 20, 2012

dark, rich, fudgy brownies - better than boxed

You might be thinking, "Why post a brownie recipe immediately following one for cookie dough bars?"  It's because I love dessert.  I can, and often do, eat it after every meal.  I can, and often do, eat more than one type of dessert in one sitting.  In fact, I'm contemplating whether it's possible to combine this brownie recipe with the cookie dough bar recipe to create one Mega Bar.  What's that?  Sorry, I can't hear your judgment over all the 'mmms' and 'oooohs' in my head. 

So here's the thing.  I love boxed brownie mixes.  They don't fail.  Ever.  I've long been of the opinion that there's no such recipe that can top Ghirardelli's brownie mixes.  And then one day last week this recipe landed with a fudgy thud in my inbox.  And I've been eating my words - and brownies - ever since. 

My friend is a producer of Talk of the Town, a fabulous daily show that features a different talented cook each day, and from time to time she sends me recipes she knows I'll like.  Last week she shared a brownie recipe from Loveless Cafe.  That was all I needed to know.  If it came from them, it was going to be good.

I wouldn't be me if I didn't tweak the recipe though.  The first 'tweak' was accidentally doubling the flour, resulting in a pretty good chocolate cake.  Oops - not brownies.  I tried again, using all-purpose flour instead of self-rising, omitting the almond extract & doubling the vanilla, adding a little extra cocoa powder, and using salted butter instead of unsalted.

When it comes to cocoa powder, this is one ingredient I've found is worth the splurge.  Buy rich, dark, good quality unsweeteend cocoa powder.  I used Valrhona for this recipe & I'm not looking back.

The result? Pretty much one of the best brownies I've ever eaten. I'll be making these again, though not for another few months.  I'm about to embark on the strictist diet I've ever attempted, and I'll be sharing my (bitchy) journey with you in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, enjoy!

Better Than Boxed Brownies
adapted from Loveless Cafe's Jesse's Mama's Wicked Brownies

3 eggs
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 stick salted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 c bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat the over to 350°F. Line an 8x8 pan with parchment or wax paper, making an ‘X’ with two long pieces of the paper so it hangs over all four sides.  Grease the paper with butter or spray.  This will ensure easy removal of the bars once they’ve cooled by simply lifting the paper and transferring the bars to a cutting board.

Mix the flour and cocoa powder in a medium size bowl & set aside.

Fit a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, and beat the eggs, brown sugar & vanilla on medium speed until thick and pale, 3-5 minutes.  Slowly incorporate the butter.    

Reduce whisk speed to low and slowly add the dry mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl until fully combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake about 40 minutes until center is no longer jiggly (I tend to like gooey brownies, so just pull them when they're where you want them).  Let the brownies cool in the pan, then transfer to a cutting board by lifting all four sides of the paper. 

They can be eaten immediately but taste best after sitting in the refrigerator overnight, a brilliant suggestion from a friend.

February 15, 2012

sweet & salty cookie dough bars

I love over-the-top, rich desserts.  So much that the people who claim they can’t eat more than ‘just a bite’ of rich desserts make me want to slap them – right before I take their dessert & eat it.  These cookie bars are one of the richest sweets I’ve ever eaten, and I can’t wait to have them again.  They combine cookie dough, pretzels, peanut butter cups, chocolate chips, caramel, more peanut butter and more chocolate.  They’re decadent and fattening and everything I love in a dessert.  Bonus: you get to eat it with your hands.  For moms who are busy, this is GOLD.

Thing is, this dessert is not without its fair share of drama*.
First, I tasked myself with developing a brand new recipe for one of the best food bloggers I know.  She just had a sweet little baby boy, and I had set up a Meal Train so she wouldn’t have to worry about dinners during those first few weeks.  But rather than whip up a tried & true standby, I decided to try something brand new.  No pressure, right?
Second, the recipe was inspired by another food blog I stumbled upon, but rather than follow it verbatim I decided to get creative.  I knew Beth was a fan of the salty/sweet flavor combination, and Cookin’ Cowgirl’s recipe for Chubby Hubby Pie sounded like a winner.  Her recipe used time saving, premade items like store-bought cookie dough & caramels, but I wanted to do something a bit more homemade.  So I adapted my own cookie dough recipe.  And I attempted (unsuccessfully) to make my own caramel.  (Can we all agree that making dry caramel is super difficult?  Mine went from beautiful to burned in .24 seconds.)  Then I realized my springform pan was missing, and I couldn’t find my pie plate.  The kids tend to rearrange the baking items in the cabinets, so it’s probably in my bedroom closet.  So I ended up with a sort-of homemade cookie dough pie.  I used a store-bought Oreo crust & pre-made caramel, and filled it with homemade cookie dough & topped it with homemade ganache.  I was happy enough with the result to deliver the pie to Beth, but I was motivated to try it again.  I began to envision this combination in bar form.  Using the feedback from taste-testers, I tweaked the recipe to include more peanut butter, less caramel & I dropped the crust altogether. 
Third, I was incredibly insecure about this dessert.  I routed samples to a number of friends & fellow bloggers, and I got the ‘too rich’ comment more than once.  Personally, I love the richness, but I respect the palates of these folks & wondered if I needed to tweak.  Ultimately, I decided this recipe is not for the sugar-weary, but spot-on for those up for decadence.  
I’m really happy with the result.  However, there’s one more bit of drama.  I can’t think of a suitable name for these bars.  I’ve tossed around many ideas, but they all seem too literal, or too dorky, or too ridiculous.  What do you think they should be called? 

Sweet & Salty Cookie Dough Bars
For the dough:
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 sticks salted butter, room temperature
1 c dark brown sugar, packed
½ c demerara (natural) sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
5 oz chocolate chips (I used bittersweet)
1 cup pretzels, coarsely chopped
1 cup peanut butter cups, coarsely chopped (I used a combination of milk & dark)
For the peanut butter topping:
1 c peanut butter
5 tbs caramel sundae topping (or if you’re a show off, make your own)
1 tbs heavy cream or half & half

For the chocolate ganache:
5 oz chocolate chips (I used bittersweet)
½ c heavy cream or half & half
Preheat oven to 350˚.  Line a 9x13 baking pan with wax or parchment paper, making an ‘X’ with two long pieces of the paper so it hangs over all four sides.  Grease the paper with butter or spray.  This will ensure easy removal of the bars once they’ve cooled by simply lifting the paper and transferring the bars to a cutting board.
Sift flour, baking soda & salt into a bowl, combining well.  Using a stand or handheld mixer, combine the butter and sugar until creamy, about two minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, fully combining.  Add the vanilla and mix on medium speed about three minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl.  Reduce speed to low, and slowly incorporate the dry ingredients until fully combined.  Gently fold in the chocolate chips, peanut butter cups & pretzels.
Spread the dough into the prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes.  (I pulled the bars after 35 minutes, and they remained a firm, yet gooey consistency that I love.)  Allow to cool completely.
Combine the peanut butter, caramel topping & cream in a microwave-safe bowl & heat until just warm.  Stir to combine ingredients completely & spread over cooled bars.
Put the chocolate chips & cream in a heatproof bowl & place over a small saucepan with water in it.  Heat over medium on the stove until chocolate begins to melt, stirring constantly.  Once the mixture is smooth& glossy, spread immediately over the bars.  Refrigerate until the ganache is set and bars are completely cool.
If you’d like to try this out as a pie, the above recipe will make enough to fill two store-bought Oreo crusts – perfect for sharing & keeping.  The bake time will be reduced substantially.  Cookie consistency is a personal decision, so just keep an eye out until they’re the doneness you prefer.
Finally, I mentioned that this was part of a meal I dropped off to Beth.  The much healthier main course was beef & mushroom barley soup – a favorite childhood comfort food of mine – and the recipe is featured on her blog.  Check it out!
*Updated: the drama continues. This post was written, proofed & awaiting publishing when it just…vanished.  I’ve rewritten it, though it’s not nearly as clever as it used to be.  Stupid cursed, nameless cookie bars.