Gingerbread Bars

gingerbread barsHappy winter solstice, friends! This is one of my favorite days of the year. And it’s just a few more days until Christmas, so seasonal flavors – like these gingerbread bars – are definitely in order.

Most bars I found online had a cream cheese frosting, but because Mike took them to work today I wanted to have a more stable, room-temperature-friendly frosting on them. Enter molasses buttercream, a tasty topping I’ve used on gingerbread cake before. You could also frost these with a tangy lemon buttercream, as gingerbread and lemon are good flavor friends. These bars taste absolutely amazing, but they’re just a bit more dry than I’d like. I suspect I baked them a few minutes too long, but I’m sure I’ll make them again, and can safely shorten my baking time to about 16-18 minutes, rather than 18-20. 

Ingredients

For the bars

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons molasses

For the frosting

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 9 baking tin with foil, extending the foil over the sides.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and molasses and beat to combine, then scrape down the sides of your bowl and add the flour mixture. Beat to combine completely.

Press mixture into the baking tin; you can use your palm to flatten it or the bottom of a measuring cup. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat butter for about 1 minute, then add all the powdered sugar at once and beat on low, then medium speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add molasses and ginger and beat to fully combine, scraping the sides of the bowl at least a few times.

Remove bars from pan and discard the foil; frost with molasses buttercream. Cut into squares; I made small squares, so my batch yielded about 24 bars, but I think a more ideal quantity would be 16.

Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes

The holidays are in full swing, and I’m baking like there’s no tomorrow. Or perhaps I’m baking like tomorrow is Christmas? In any case, I’m baking a lot.

Today’s chocolate peppermint cupcakes are inspired by the York Peppermint Pattie, one of the best treats around regardless of time of year, but a treat I always associate with winter. I’ve started eating chocolate again and have, thus far, remained stable in the migraine department. But darker chocolate – like the variety used on the famous pattie – will be a new frontier for me, so wish me luck. I found this recipe over at The Baker Chick and adapted it to include some peppermint extract in the cupcake batter, while omitting the peppermint pattie inside the cupcake itself. You could certainly do that, but I wanted to use the patties just as a garnish on top, like a delightfully delicious chocolate moon rising out of a peppermint cloud. Perhaps all the sugar has finally gone to my brain…

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
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract, to taste
  • 12 snack-size York Peppermint Patties

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, vanilla extract, and peppermint 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 1 tablespoon of milk and 1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract and beat for another 1-2 minutes. Add another 1-2 tablespoons milk, plus additional peppermint extract to taste; my frosting used 3 tablespoons of milk and 1/8 teaspoon plus a few additional drops of extract to reach my desired flavor and consistency.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip (like the Wilton M1) and pipe swirls onto cupcakes. Press a peppermint pattie into the frosting to garnish. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 12.

Old-Fashioned Peanut Cookies

Peanut butter cookies are a classic, especially when topped with a Hershey’s Kiss. But these old-fashioned peanut cookies from King Arthur Flour are quite different than that childhood staple. Featuring both peanut butter and ground peanuts, these cookies are almost cake-like, with a delightful crunch from the ground nuts.

I definitely plan to make these again, and next time I plan to under-bake them but just a few minutes. They were delicious the first day, but started to dry out quicker than I expected on the following days. I suspect a 10-minute bake would be sufficient, so we’ll see what happens next time. I also wonder about adding some peanut butter or chocolate frosting to these cookies, or even some miniature chocolate chips. Ideas for next time!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salted peanuts, ground*

*When grinding nuts, place them in a food processor and pulse them until they’re a fine consistency with some larger pieces. Don’t go too far, or you’ll make your own nut butter…which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, peanut butter, sugar, baking powder, vanilla, and salt. Beat in eggs, then stir in the flour and ground peanuts.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto the baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are set and light golden brown at the edges. Remove from an oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 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 3 dozen.

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.