Chambord Brownies

chambord browniesAmy Bakes in the ‘Burgh will be on hiatus for a few weeks while Amy’s Kitchen Gets Remodeled. Friends, this has been years in the making. Thirteen years, to be exact, when we first bought this house and I said “someday we’re going to redo this kitchen.” At last, someday has arrived.

As a last bit of baking before the Great Demolition Project begins this week (I cannot wait to swing a sledge hammer, let me tell you), I decided to bake these Chambord brownies. If you’re not familiar with Chambord, it’s a raspberry liqueuer that’s been made in France, and its bottle looks a bit like that orb thing kings and queens have to hold along with a scepter when they get crowned. It’s also delicious, though I don’t think the raspberry flavor was quite strong enough in these treats. I’m also not totally convinced about my decorating skills on these, as the chocolate drizzle against the pink looks a bit like animal print…and that is definitely not my jam.

Ingredients

For the brownies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 50 ml Chambord (about 3 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

For the Chambord icing

  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 50 ml Chambord (about 3 1/2 tablespoons)

For the chocolate drizzle

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dutch process cocoa
  • 2-3 teaspoons water

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking tin with foil and spray lightly with baking spray. Sprinkle the bottom with sugar; this is my tip for a slightly crunchy bottom crust that adds a nice texture to otherwise soft treats like brownies.

In a large pot, melt butter over low heat. Stir in sugar and continue heating for another minute while stirring, until the mixture is just hot. Remove from heat and stir in cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder, then whisk in eggs, Chambord, and vanilla extract. Stir in flour, then spread evenly in prepared pan.

Bake for 28-30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before icing.

To make icing, place powdered sugar in a medium bowl and add the Chambord, stirring to combine; you may need to add just a bit more powdered sugar if your mixture is too runny – you want a consistency that’s thicker than honey, but still pourable. Spread over brownies, covering the top completely. For the drizzle, stir together powdered sugar and cocoa, then add enough water to make a drizzling consistency. Place in a piping bag, snip the tip, and drizzle over the icing. Allow icings to set before cutting into squares. Makes 24.

Oatmeal Bars with M&Ms

oatmeal mm barsOur kitchen remodel begins in 15 days. This weekend, in an effort to clear out our cabinets, I baked zucchini bread, chocolate chip pumpkin bread, brownies, and these oatmeal bars with miniature M&Ms.

Fun fact about this recipe: it was originally written for cookies, as a “make it mine” recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens Baking book. Wanting to save a bit of time, I decided to bake my adapted recipe, which uses peanut butter as part of the fat content and miniature M&Ms as the stir-in ingredient, as bars. Some cookies convert easily, but if you’re not experienced with this, check out this very useful post from King Arthur Baking for tips on how to figure out the right size pan and baking time.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 1/2 cups M&Ms miniature baking pieces

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil and spray lightly with baking spray. Note: next time, I might not spray the foil and see what happens; the bottom of the bars were softer than I expected and I suspect the baking spray is the reason why.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and peanut butter until smooth. Add brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt and beat until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat, then beat in flour and oats. Stir in miniature M&Ms.

Press dough into prepared baking pan and bake for 25-28 minutes, until top is light golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center  comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, then lift the foil out and cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into bars; store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 24.

French Toast Cookies

french toast cookiesOur kitchen remodel is three weeks away, and I’m trying to use up as many of my baking ingredients as possible so there will be less to pack away and store during construction. This week’s effort included maple sugar, so I scoured the internet for recipes and came up with a maple snickerdoodle, which tastes uncannily like French toast. Hence, French toast cookies.

This recipe comes from a place where they really know maple: the State of Vermont. While I chose to just bake my cookies without flattening them with the bottom of a glass as the original recipe stated, I can definitely see why you should – I felt like my cookies looked a bit like tiny potatoes. In any case, these were a big hit in Mike’s office today.

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature 
  • 1 1/2 cups maple sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the coating: 

  • 1/3 cup maple sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preparation

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and 1 1/2 cups maple sugar until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and beat; add flour mixture and beat to form a smooth dough. Chill for about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir together 1/3 cup maple sugar and cinnamon for coating.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop generous portions of dough and roll into balls, then roll in coating. Place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart and bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for 1-2 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. 

Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 dozen, depending on how generous you are with your scoops of dough. 

 

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

pumpkin choc chip cakeWho bakes with pumpkin in July? A woman who is one month away from her kitchen remodel and trying to use up as many ingredients as possible so she doesn’t have to pack them away. Also a woman who hasn’t been very fond of July for many years and wishes it would pass quickly. Basically, me. I am the woman who bakes with pumpkin in July.

While I have some very dear friends who celebrate birthdays this month, July is a melancholy month for me. My dad passed away in July 16 years ago, and a few weeks ago Mike and I said goodbye to our beloved Millie, the best dog who ever lived. So today, as I look forward to fall, to cooler weather, to a complete kitchen, and hopefully, to a new four-legged friend, I present this pumpkin chocolate chip cake. It is beyond delicious, made even better by the abundance of chocolate chips. I hope Mike’s coworkers enjoy it.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 15 ounces pumpkin puree
  • 12-ounce bag semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 10-inch Bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar and oil until very well-combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing very well after each.

Stir in flour mixture and pumpkin alternatively, stirring until well-combined and smooth. Fold in chocolate chips, then spoon or pour into prepared pan.

Bake for about 45 minutes, then check with a cake tester or toothpick; continue baking for a few minutes at a time, checking frequently, until the cake tester comes out clean. My cake baked for about 50 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool cake in pan for 10 minutes. Flip out onto a wire rack to cool completely before serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Makes about 12-16 slices, depending on the size.

Patriotic Flower Cupcakes

patriotic floer cupcakesHappy Independence Day, Americans! I’m grateful to be an American, even though our country has astonishing problems yet to fully acknowledge, let alone solve. Today I’ve made some patriotic flower-themed cupcakes to celebrate, which will go to work with Mike on Tuesday. They’re a classic yellow cupcake with almond buttercream, a request from one of his colleagues.

One skill I acquired during quarantine was the ability to pipe buttercream flowers, and I used that skill with varying degrees of success for these cupcakes. I piped various blossoms and other shapes, but my favorites are actually the plain, sort of hydrangea-looking ones that I made with a medium closed star tip, like the red cupcake at the bottom center of the photo above.

Ingredients

For the yellow cupcakes

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

For the almond buttercream

  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Red, cornflower blue, and moss green gel food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line two muffin tins with paper liners; you’ll need 15.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for one minute. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until well combined, then add egg and beat well. Add flour mixture and milk alternatively, beating until combined.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared muffin cups, filling about half-full.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make almond buttercream, in a mixing bowl, beat butter for about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until all of the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take a few minutes. Add vanilla extract and almond extract, beating well to combine.

To frost, divide your frosting into portions of red, blue, green, and white and tint to your desired shades. Use whatever tips you like to create your flowers; I used a medium closed star, small open star, petal tip, plain tip, and leaf tip.

Store in an airtight container at a cool room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 15.

Under the Sea Cookies

under the sea cookiesAquarium-inspired baking continues with these under the sea treats. Mike’s coworkers actually asked if there would be treats this week, and indeed, there will. A variety of whales, octopuses, crabs, sand dollars, starfish, and sea life motifs that feature kelp, anemones, and jellyfish will join Mike in the office tomorrow.

These cookies took me forever to ice, but it was nice Zen time, which I greatly needed. Although my whales look a bit crusty (I suppose whales actually are a bit crusty?) and my sand dollars (not pictured here) left a bit to be desired, I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. I hope Mike’s coworkers enjoy them.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • Triple batch Zella’s icing
  • Royal blue, pale blue, teal, copper, brown, and moss green food coloring
  • Miniature chocolate chips (for eyes)

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Divide dough in half and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes; I used a crab, whale, star, octopus, and two round cutters (small to make sand dollars, large to make the sea life motifs). Place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart; for the starfish, gently bend the tips of the star to make them more like a starfish.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden brown at the edges. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

To ice, divide the icing into six portions: royal blue, pale blue, copper, green, and brown. You’ll need two small plain tips for the white and brown icings, a small open star tip for the green, and a small closed star tip and plain tip for the copper.

For the crabs, use royal blue icing and add miniature chocolate chips for eyes. For the whales, use a base coating of pale blue, then add royal blue and swirl – don’t wait to long to add your coating of royal blue or your whales will turn out crusty like mine! Add a circle of white and a miniature chocolate chip for the whale’s eye. Combine the blue icing portions and add some teal for the octopuses, then pipe on suction cups with white and use miniature chocolate chips for the eyes. For the starfish, use copper and pipe on white details. For sand dollars, use white, then pipe on pale brown details (mine didn’t turn out as well, so I didn’t include a photo of them). For the large round cookies, frost the base with the remaining blue/teal icing, then pipe on kelp using a small star tip and the green frosting, add anemones using a closed star tip and the copper frosting, and add jellyfish or other sea life with a plain tip with the copper frosting. I realize now that I should have made my jellyfish white, but that’s okay. I can always make these again.

Allow icing to set before storing in between sheets of waxed paper. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Sparkling Sea Life Cookies

sparking sea lifeMike and I visited the National Aquarium in Baltimore last weekend after a family party. I love an aquarium – the serene sharks and stingrays gliding through enormous tanks, the colorful tropical fish, the varieties of coral. I don’t scuba dive, but aquariums make me want to. Actually, I always just want to hop into the big tank and swim with the sharks, but I realize such behavior is both a) frowned upon and b) likely dangerous.

This weekend’s baking is inspired by our aquarium visit in these travel-friendly sparking sea creatures, which are basic sugar cookies in aquatic shapes covered in sparkling colored sugar. Easy to make and ship, these treats are on their way to Maryland for Maureen and Margo along with some books. Although the pink ones were supposed to be starfish, they didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped – but fortunately, they could be any kind of interesting aquatic plant.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • Pink and blue colored sugar

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Knead just slightly until dough sticks together, then flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes – I used crabs and what were supposed to be starfish, as I bent the tips of the stars a bit, but actually look more like some kind of aquatic plants. Place colored sugar on a plate and carefully dip each cookie into the sugar, pressing so the sugar sticks (this provides better coverage than sprinkling the sugar on top, but you could do that too if you prefer). Carefully place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are just golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for about 4-5 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Quantity varies based on the size of your cutter; this batch yielded about 20 cookies because the crab cutters are pretty large.

Banana Nut Muffins

banananutmuffinYou’d think a girl like me who bakes all the time would have made banana nut muffins before. Not until this week, my friends. I guess I always make banana bread with our sketchy-looking bananas, but Mike requested banana nut muffins this time. In they went to his office, providing his coworkers with a classic breakfast treat.

I found this recipe at Celebrating Sweets and adapted it just a bit, using pecans and adding nutmeg. You could also use walnuts or chocolate chips as an alternative if you like, or a combination of the two. The interesting thing about this recipe is that it uses melted butter, rather than oil, giving a richer flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 cups mashed banana (about 4 medium bananas)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

For topping:

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners; my batch yielded 20 muffins.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together melted butter and brown sugar, then add mashed bananas, vanilla, and eggs. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir to slightly combine, then mix in pecans, stirring just until no dry streaks remain.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into muffin tins. Sprinkle with topping.

Bake for 14-17 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven, remove muffins from tins, and cool on a wire rack (or serve warm). Once muffins are cool, store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Makes about 20 muffins.

Hydrangea Cupcakes

hydrangea cupcakeHappy Mother’s Day, friends! Several years ago, while preparing to move to North Carolina, my sister-in-law Kristin encouraged me to take some plants from her yard. Into buckets went hostas, daffodils, and my absolute favorite, tiny shoots of an Annabelle hydrangea that had just begun to grow beneath a tree at the edge of their front lawn. 

My own mother took a pick axe to said hydrangea shoots (nearly missing my head) in order to remove them from the stubborn western Pennsylvanian soil, and we planted them in a newly created flower bed in our back yard. Today, Annabelle lives on in riotous glory; she blooms green each spring, turns white in the summer, then turns back to green again in the fall. These cupcakes were inspired by that beloved plant, and were very easy to make. Piping flower blossoms onto cupcakes is actually quite easy if you have the right equipment: all you really need are some star tips and a piping bag. And because nothing in nature is perfect, your piping skills don’t have to be, either.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon  vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • Green, yellow, and moss green food coloring 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir together, then add water, oil, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for about 2 minutes, until the batter is smooth; it will be thin.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, scoop batter into prepared cupcake tin, filling wells about 2/3 full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from cupcake tin and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat butter on low speed for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat on low until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this takes a few minutes. Add vanilla extract and beat another 1-2 minutes. 

Reserve a very small portion of white frosting and set aside; tint the remainder light green by combining green and yellow gel food coloring. Fit a piping bag with a Wilton M1 (large star) tip and pipe blossoms over the top of each cupcake, leaving just a bit of room at the edges for some leaves. I did a single layer of blossoms so they could fit easily into the container Mike uses to take them to work, but if you’re displaying them for a party or get-together, you could add a second row if you like.

Fit a small piping bag with a plain round tip and pipe blossom centers. Scoop out the remaining white and green frosting from your piping bags to maximize your frosting use, then add moss green coloring to reach a medium-dark green for your leaves. Fit a piping bag with a leaf tip and pipe leaves around the edges. 

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

Hazelnut Mocha Cupcakes

hazelnut mocha cupcakeFor a woman who doesn’t drink coffee, I love coffee-flavored desserts. I also love hazelnut and chocolate, which fortunately I’ve worked back into my diet without migraine consequences. Coffee, chocolate, and hazelnut combine incredibly well, so I decided to bake them into these cupcakes.

I’m actually quite impressed with how these look; they remind me of something you’d see in a real bakery. The dominant flavor in these treats is coffee, with very subtle chocolate and hazelnut. Next time I’ll ramp up the other flavors by adding cocoa powder to my buttercream and maybe using hazelnut liqueur instead of the Nutella. They still taste delicious, though, and are bound for Mike’s office tomorrow. I hope his coworkers enjoy them. 

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup coffee, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup milk*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature

*The original recipe recommends whole milk, but I almost never have whole milk in my fridge. I usually have skim milk and heavy cream though, and used in a 7/8 skim, 1/8 heavy cream ratio, you’ve basically got whole milk.

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Nutella spread
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons heavy cream
  • About 1/3 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • 19 whole toasted hazelnuts

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners; my recipe yielded 19 cupcakes.

In a medium-sized glass measuring cup, whisk together coffee and espresso powder until the powder is completely dissolved. Add milk and vanilla and stir to combine, then set aside.

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and mix to combine, scraping down your bowl at least once. Add flour mixture and coffee/milk mixture in alternate batches, starting and ending with the flour and mixing just to combine between each. Stir with a spatula to ensure that all the flour mixture is incorporated.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into the cupcake wells, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven, then remove cupcakes from tin and cool completely on a wire rack.

While cupcakes are cooling, toast your hazelnuts; place on a baking sheet with rimmed sides and toast at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes, until they smell nutty. Remove from oven and place in a kitchen towel, then carefully roll them around to remove their skins. Place skinned hazelnuts on a platter or plate to cool completely before chopping.

To make the frosting, combine espresso powder, vanilla extract, and heavy cream in a small bowl and stir to completely dissolve the espresso powder. Beat butter and Nutella on medium speed for about 2 minutes, then add powdered sugar all at once and beat until the sugar is fully incorporated. Add espresso mixture and beat 2-3 minutes until completely combined; you’ll want to scrape your bowl a few times in the process.

Fit a large piping bag with a Wilton 1A tip and pipe blobs of frosting on each cupcake. Gently press half of the frosting blob into the chopped hazelnuts, then press a whole hazelnut in the center. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.