Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars

Mike’s coworkers have gone crazy for my pumpkin bars, especially this most recent iteration: the pumpkin chocolate chip bar. So far this fall I’ve made a few different varieties, and these seem to be the favorite. And strictly speaking, these bars are more cake-like than bar-like, with an excellent springy texture. 

Anyway…pumpkin and chocolate, you ask? I know, there was a time when I doubted it, too. But there’s something about the blend of pumpkin and chocolate, especially semisweet or dark chocolate, that just works. Who decided to put these flavors together, I don’t have any idea. But I’m incredibly glad that they did. Miniature chocolate chips work well in these bars, but you could use regular-sized ones if you prefer. 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 15 ounces pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and cloves until completely combined.

Add eggs, pumpkin puree, and vegetable oil, stirring well to completely combine, with no dry streaks or lumps remaining. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into an ungreased 15 x 10 x 1 pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool for 2 hours before cutting.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 32.

Chocolate Chip Bars

Whenever I had to contribute some baked good to a school function as a child, my mom’s go-to treat was a pan of chocolate chip bars. She’d whip out a box store-bought cookie dough, stir in the necessary eggs, melted butter, and water, press it into a pan, and about 25 minutes later, voila: delicious cookie bars, perfect for school picnics and parties.

I’d not made chocolate chip bars until yesterday, and I’m delighted to say they turned out really well. They’re delicious, not unlike the bars of my childhood, with an almost fudgy middle. I’ve begun working chocolate back into my diet after four years of living a migraine-induced chocolate-free life, but so far, so good. I highly recommend this simple recipe if you’re craving a chocolate chip cookie, but short on time.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12-ounce package milk chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 10 x 15 x 1 pan with baking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, and vanilla and stir until smooth. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then stir in eggs, one at a time, and add flour mixture, stirring to combine completely. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread batter into the baking tin and bake for 24-25 minutes, until the top is shiny and edges are light golden brown. The center will look set, but a cake tester will come out with some moist crumbs; this is totally fine. Be careful not to over-bake your bars; you want the center to be a little bit gooey.

Remove from oven and cool completely before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Makes 35.

Buttery Brown Sugar Cupcakes

No offense to buttercream, but sometimes you just want a different type of frosting. Enter browned butter frosting, a cousin of buttercream that is absolutely delicious, and quite easy to make.

Browned butter frosting starts to harden quickly after it’s made, so in truth it’s better suited for a cake or bars, where you can pour it on, spread it out, and allow it to set. Still, it made an excellent pair with my brown sugar cupcakes, creating a buttery, almost caramel-like flavor. Both the frosting and cupcakes are very easy to make; they would also be delicious sprinkled with some toasted pecans.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake tins with paper liners; this recipe made 22 cupcakes for me.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine brown sugar and melted butter, whisking until no lumps remain. Whisk in egg, sour cream, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Slowly whisk in flour mixture until batter is completely smooth; it will be fairly thick.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into prepared cupcake pans, filling about half-full.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove from pans immediately; cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, melt butter in a small saucepan until light golden brown; this will take a few minutes, and you’ll want to swish the butter in the pan every so often, then use a whisk to get the browning bits off of the sides and bottom. Remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons milk, vanilla, and browned butter. Beat on medium speed for 1-2 minutes, then check your consistency; if necessary, add more milk, about 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to reach a spreadable consistency.

Working quickly, frost your cupcakes using a small offset spatula. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. 

Pumpkin Bars with Maple Drizzle

Pumpkin season is here, and there is a canned pumpkin shortage at my local grocery store. Of all the things I expected people to hoard during the pandemic, canned pumpkin wasn’t among them. Toilet paper? Sure. Cleaning supplies? Yep. But canned pumpkin? Quite a surprise.

Fortunately, I keep a few cans of pumpkin on hand for my year-round pumpkin-themed baking efforts, like these deliciously spiced pumpkin bars. They are incredibly easy to make, and would be a nice addition to a Thanksgiving feast – though I think the next time I make these, I’ll cover the entire top with the maple drizzle for more of an icing. It’s quite tasty, and I would like more of it to enhance the delicious spices in the bars.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 15 ounces pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • About 5 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and cloves until completely combined.

Add eggs, pumpkin puree, and vegetable oil, stirring well to completely combine, with no dry streaks or lumps remaining.

Pour batter into an ungreased 15 x 10 x 1 pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool for 2 hours before drizzling.

To make drizzle, combine powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons maple syrup, and vanilla extract in a bowl and stir to combine. Add additional syrup to reach a smooth but slightly thicker drizzling consistency. Pour into a piping bag and snip off the end; drizzle over bars (or just drizzle from a spoon). Allow drizzle to set before cutting bars into squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 32.

Midnight Brownies

The brownie-baking extravaganza continued last week with these midnight brownies, which I’ve named as such because they are delightfully dark. These treats use Dutch process cocoa, which is made by washing cocoa beans in a potassium solution to neutralize its acidity before they’re processed into powder. 

The end result of this process (apparently pioneered by the Dutch) is a darker cocoa powder, which yields a different type of flavor in baked goods. Dutch process cocoa is also usually paired with baking powder, an acidic raising agent, rather than baking soda, which needs to react with an acid to create a rise in baking. Science was never my strong suit, but I think if I had learned it with baking-related examples, I would’ve understood it much better. 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking tin; sprinkle the bottom with sugar if desired for a crunchy bottom crust.

In a saucepan over low heat, melt butter, then stir in sugar and return to heat very briefly, until its hot – between 110 to 120 degrees – it will look shiny as you stir it (this helps the sugar dissolve better, which yields a crunchy top on the brownies). Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla. Stir in eggs, then flour, until batter is smooth. 

Pour into prepared baking tin and bake for 28 to 30 minutes, until brownies are set and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 24.

Easy Brownies

Brownies have been my go-to treat throughout Baking in the Time of Coronavirus. Why? They’re incredibly easy to make, and these are probably the easiest recipe I’ve ever found. I omitted the frosting from these treats, which I found at Tastes Better from Scratch, so I could ship them off to Maryland.

These treats were baked especially for Mike’s young cousins, AJ and Tommy; their parents, our Uncle Al and Aunt Sam; and our Aunt Penny. Al and Penny are Mike’s mom’s youngest siblings, and they moved from suburban DC to a more rural part of Maryland a few months back. Mike helped with the move, and naturally I sent treats, which prompted the boys to ask if “Amy would bake for us too” on a more regular basis. Tommy said these brownies “taste like the stars,” which I take as high praise indeed. They are delightfully fudgy with a crackly top, exactly how a brownie should be.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking tin; I always sprinkle the bottom of the tin with sugar when I’m baking brownies for a crunch bottom crust.

In a mixing bowl, stir together oil and sugar, then add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Stir in cocoa powder, then salt, flour, and vanilla until the batter is smooth.

Pour into the baking tin and spread into an even layer. Bake for 30-34 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs. These brownies are fudgy, but shouldn’t be too gooey in the middle when they’re done; the center will look mostly set on top.

Remove from oven and allow to cool before cutting; store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 24.

Monster Brownies

Halloween is days away, and I’ve spent most of the afternoon baking for the kids in my life. My goddaughter Maureen, her little sister Margo, and our nephew Dylan are all receiving these monster brownies, a fun treat involving a very basic brownie recipe, some Halloween sprinkles, and candy eyes.

Note to other bakers: candy eyes will dissolve in the oven, so I strongly recommend placing the eyes immediately after you remove the brownies when they’ve finished baking.

Ingredients

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled for about 1 minute
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee (it’s fine to use leftover coffee from the morning)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Halloween sprinkles
  • Candy eyeballs

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking tin with foil and spray with baking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine melted butter, eggs, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, and coffee and mix well to combine. Whisk in cocoa powder, espresso powder, and salt until well blended, then add flour and mix until just combined; you don’t want to over-mix your batter. Pour mixture into prepared tin and scatter sprinkles over the top.

Bake for about 30-32 minutes, being very careful not to over-bake. Brownies are done when a cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs stuck to it. Remove from oven and immediately press candy eyeballs into the top, giving a bit of thought to where your cut lines will be.

Cool brownies completely; cut into 16 squares. Store in an airtight container; if shipping, pack well between layers of waxed paper or parchment.

Mississippi Mud Brownies

Mississippi mud treats apparently come in many forms; cake, pie, and brownies. Wikipedia says the cake version is the original, resembling the banks of the Mississippi River. Having never been to the banks of the Mississippi, I’ll have to take Wikipedia’s word for it.

Though I usually avoid chocolate as a potential migraine trigger, I had a small bite of these brownies, and it was heavenly. It reminded me a bit of fudge, the homemade kind that a favorite aunt or beloved neighbor might make each Christmas. The original recipe comes from Grandbaby Cakes, and I adapted it just slightly to increase the amount of icing and fully cover the treats. Next time, I might mix some pecans into the brownie batter in addition to the topping.

Ingredients

For the brownies 

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows

For the icing

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 baking tin with baking spray.

In a large saucepan, heat chopped chocolate and butter on low until completely melted. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, then eggs, one at a time. Stir in flour in two batches until batter is smooth and pour into the prepared tin.

Bake for 25-27 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Top with toasted chopped pecans and miniature marshmallows.

For the icing, heat butter, milk, and cocoa over low heat and cook until the butter melts. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer and add 2 cups powdered sugar, beating to combine. Add vanilla and remaining powdered sugar, beating until smooth.

Working quickly, pour icing over the pecans and marshmallows, coating completely. Allow to cool about 1 hour, until icing is set. Cut into squares; store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 24.

Maple Sandwich Cookies

It’s maple season. Yes, I know – pumpkin spice is all the rage in October. I have absolutely nothing against it, but it’s not the only fall flavor, right? Maple is one of my favorite flavors regardless of the month, especially when paired with pecans. But for a while I’ve been meaning to make a maple sandwich cookie, so here we are.

Mike’s colleagues loved these, but truth be told, I think they’re just a bit too sweet. I know! Me, thinking something is too sweet…but on occasion, it does happen. The cookies themselves are absolutely delicious, as is the maple cream filling. I think you could leave the cookies plain, and perhaps pair the filling with a different, slightly saltier cookie. Ah well. As long as someone enjoyed them, that’s all that matters.

Ingredients

Maple Cookies

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups flour

Maple Cream Filling

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar on high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping the sides of your bowl a few times. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla, then beat in flour.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough into balls and drop about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 11-13 minutes, until edges are light brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make maple cream filling, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute; add maple syrup, 1 tablespoon heavy cream, and 1 cup powdered sugar and beat to combine completely. Add remaining powdered sugar, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and maple extract and beat until smooth.

To assemble, flip cookies over and spread filling on half the cookies, then top with the remaining cookies to make sandwiches. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Makes 24 sandwiches.

Apple Cake

As a woman who doesn’t really like cooked fruit, my experience with fruit-based cakes is fairly limited. I see them all the time on the Great British Baking Show; impressive concoctions involving currants, cherries, and a range of other dried or fresh fruits mixed into spiced batter. Some people have theories about coating fruit in flour before mixing it in; others, like me, just toss it and hope for the best.

This cake is a gift for my friend Arvind and his wife, who just had identical twin girls (and they are beyond adorable). Because no one in my life can mark any major event without some type of baked good, I’ll be dropping this off at their house tomorrow, along with good wishes for the little ones. I hope it’s delicious; the original recipe came from Recipe Tin Eats, and was incredibly easy to make. I can see serving it with caramel sauce or perhaps some vanilla ice cream.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups chopped Granny Smith apples (about 2 large apples)
  • 1/2 cup flaked almonds

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper on the bottom and sides.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, stir together sugar and vegetable oil, then stir in eggs and vanilla extract. Pour into flour mixture and stir until just combined; be careful not to overmix. Stir in apples and pour batter into prepared pan; it will be very thick. Smooth the top and sprinkle on flaked almonds.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean (mine baked for 42 minutes, but the original recipe states that depending on your oven, it can take more than an hour). Remove from oven and place on a wire rack; let cool 10 minutes, then remove outer ring from the pan and allow to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes about 12 servings.