Frosted Peanut Butter Cookie Bars

Do bakers like me (read: people who usually do everything, and I mean everything, from scratch) use mixes sometimes? Absolutely. Today I discovered a bag of peanut butter cookie mix in my pantry and decided to whip up some frosted peanut butter cookie bars with it.

While scratch baking is great if you have the time and inclination, many people are just too busy to go about softening butter and whisking eggs and whatnot. Enter the bag, or boxed, mix: a convenient way to have home-baked treats in no time. You can always jazz up a boxed mix, which is what I did here; I added a scratch-made peanut butter frosting to these bars, but you could just as easily use a can of chocolate or vanilla frosting from the grocery store if you like. I sprinkled half of these bars, which Mike will take to work, with some chocolate chips once they were frosted, too.

Ingredients

  • 1 box or bag peanut butter cookie mix, plus the ingredients listed on the box/bag
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare your cookie mix according to the package directions; I used Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix, which called for three tablespoons of vegetable oil, one tablespoon of water, and one egg. Mix dough and press into an ungreased 9 x 13 baking pan; bake for 18 minutes, until the top is just golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool bars completely before frosting; to make frosting, beat butter and peanut butter in a mixer for 2-3 minutes until smooth and nearly all the lumps of butter have disappeared. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, beating on low, then medium, then high speed for about 3-4 minute total.

Spread frosting over cooled bars; if desired, sprinkle with chocolate chips. Cut into bars; makes 21-24 bars, depending on how large you cut them.

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Espresso Brownies

While migraine life has kept me from having chocolate and caffeine for the last three years, my favorite dessert in the history of the world is tiramisu. I’ve had it once since being advised that such things could send me into major migraine land, and fortunately, I remained headache, vertigo, and aura-free afterward. Still, one doesn’t want to take too many chances, so I tend to refrain from such potential triggers.

I admit that I did take a teeny, tiny taste of these brownies, which remind me very much of tiramisu. Espresso powder is an essential part of these treats, and you can find it in the baking aisle at your grocery store, likely near the chocolate chips.

Ingredients

For the brownies

  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For the icing

  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk

Preparation

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

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

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, sugar, and cocoa powder over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the butter melts. Remove from heat and add eggs and vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and milk alternatively, beginning and ending with the flour and stirring until smooth after each addition. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread batter in prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool brownies completely in pan before icing.

To make icing, in a small bowl, stir together espresso powder and hot water. Add powdered sugar, then 1 tablespoon milk, stirring until completely smooth. You want an easily spreadable consistency that isn’t too thin; you can add more milk if necessary, but do so very sparingly.

Pour icing over brownies and spread with an offset spatula, then allow to set completely.

Cut into squares and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 24 generously-sized brownies.

Frosted Lemon Almond Blondies

Recipe adaptation continues! These frosted lemon almond blondies use the base from my Scandinavian blondies, but omit the sliced almonds on top in favor of a delicious lemon almond buttercream.

I know, you’re thinking, buttercream on a blondie? But seriously, it works. These treats have an almost cake-like texture, rather than the more cookie-like blondie. Next time, I’ll toast some sliced almonds – or perhaps toss them with some water and sugar to caramelize them a bit –  and add them on top of the frosting. Lemon and almond are two of my favorite flavors on their own, but when you combine them in these treats, they are absolutely dynamite.

Ingredients

For the bars

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • zest of 1 medium lemon
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

For the frosting

  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 2 teaspoons milk

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 square baking pan.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs until light colored and thick. Add sugar and salt, continuing to beat until shiny and pale yellow.

Add extracts, zest, melted butter, and 1/2 cup of the flour, folding in gently. Fold in remaining 1/2 cup of flour.

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading with a spatula to create an even top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and are a very light golden color. Remove from oven and cool in pan before frosting.

To make frosting, place butter in a mixer and beat for 2 minutes, until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat on low, then medium speed, until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter; this will take several minutes, and you’ll want to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times. Add extracts and milk, beating for 2-3 minutes until smooth and spreadable. Frost bars, then cut into squares. Store at room temperature for 3-4 days. Makes 16.

Preparation

Monster Blondies

What’s an easy homemade treat to for Halloween? I highly recommend blondies, a versatile treat that you can customize however you like. These monster blondies feature both Reese’s Pieces and M&Ms (the plain variety), as well as some candy eyeballs. They’re on their way to my favorite little Marylanders, Mo and Margo. Incidentally, Margo’s birthday is on Halloween, so I guess these count as her birthday treats as well.

Candy eyeballs are available at most craft stores in the cake and candy section; I got these at Target, in their Halloween baking section, and used both plain white and creepy red. When you’re placing the eyeballs on top of your blondies, keep in mind your cut lines for when the blondies are baked; I definitely had a few half-eyeballs, but I guess that just ups the creep factor.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Reese’s Pieces
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain M&Ms
  • Candy eyeballs

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan completely with foil and lightly spray with baking spray.

Reserve 1 cup each of Reese’s Pieces and M&Ms for mixing into the batter; save the remaining portions for pressing onto the top along with the candy eyeballs.

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and brown sugar; mix well to combine.

Add melted butter and stir to incorporate slightly; add eggs and vanilla extract and stir well to fully combine. The dough will be fairly dry, so you’ll want to use your hands to fully incorporate your ingredients.

Add candies and mix with your hands to combine well.

Press dough into the prepared pan, then place candy eyeballs at regular intervals so you’ll be able to cut your finished blondies (mostly) without chopping the eyeballs in half. Sprinkle the top with the remaining candies and press them into the dough.

Bake for 23-25 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan for about 10-15 minutes, then lift out by the foil and place on a wire rack; peel foil back slightly and allow to cool completely.

Once cool, remove foil entirely and cut into bars. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 24.

Amaretto Brownies

Chocolate and almond are great flavor friends. So when I found a little bottle of Disaronno in our liquor cabinet, I thought brownies with amaretto sounded like a great idea.

The funny part about this is that Mike and I aren’t big drinkers. He enjoys a good whiskey or bourbon, and I can manage a small glass of wine without getting a migraine so long as I drink tons of water with it. But we’re really not the kinds of people who have fully stocked liquor cabinets; when I need specific types of alcohol for baking, I usually buy miniature bottles from the state store. I have no idea where we got the amaretto, but it inspired these treats, which accompanied Mike to his masonic lodge meeting tonight. I imagine the masons – especially our friend Kevin – will enjoy them.

Ingredients

For the brownies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons amaretto
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For the frosting

  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons amaretto
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons almond extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar and stir to combine, then heat until the mixture is just hot, 110 to 120 degrees, but not bubbly.

Pour sugar mixture into a large bowl and add amaretto, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Add cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder, stirring to combine. Add eggs and stir until smooth. Add flour and stir to combine, until no dry streaks remain. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into baking pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool brownies completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, combine butter, amaretto, and 1 tablespoon almond extract in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for about 1 minute; mixture will be clumpy, but it will smooth out once you add the powdered sugar. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating until smooth between each addition. Add remaining 1/2 to 1 additional tablespoon almond extract to taste.

Spread frosting over cooled brownies; cut into 24 squares. Store, covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

 

Reese’s Pieces Blondies

These Reese’s Pieces blondies, adapted from a recipe at Sally’s Baking Addiction, were so delicious that they never even made it out of our house. I should be embarrassed to admit this, but Mike and I ate them all. That’s right…the whole pan. Granted, this was over the course of about a week, but still, we never do such things.

These blondies are as easy to make as they are delicious, requiring simple ingredients that you probably have in your pantry (except maybe for the Reese’s Pieces) and just one bowl. I lined my baking pan with parchment paper, but you could use foil or grease the pan instead of you like.

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled for 3 minutes
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Reese’s Pieces

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk melted butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Whisk in peanut butter, then eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla until well-combined.

Add flour, baking powder, and salt and stir together using a rubber spatula; batter will be very thick. Stir in 1/2 cup Reese’s Pieces, then spread batter into the baking pan, flattening as best you can to create an even layer. Sprinkle remaining Reese’s Pieces on top.

Bake for 30 minutes, then insert a cake tester in the center; blondies are done if the cake tester comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs. Be careful not to over-bake these; peanut butter treats tend to dry out if they’re baked too long.

Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan; lift out using parchment paper and cut into 24 squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

Butterscotch Blondies

Last weekend I discovered three bags of butterscotch chips in my pantry cabinet. Even for an avid baker like me, this seems like quite a lot. On the back of the bag, I found this wonderful recipe for what Nestle calls chewy butterscotch brownies. Since I have a hard time calling something that doesn’t involve chocolate a brownie, I’ve decided to call my version butterscotch blondies.

I adapted the original recipe just slightly, using pecans (though they did suggest nuts) and a bit more vanilla. Next time, I’ll toast the pecans before including them; while they gave a nice crunch in the texture, their flavor got a bit lost with the butterscotch. Next time I might also include some toffee pieces as well.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups (11-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Butterscotch Flavored Morsels, divided
  • 1 cup chopped pecans 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl well.

Add flour mixture in three batches, beating between each to combine. Stir in 1 cup butterscotch chips and pecans; batter will be very thick.

Spoon batter into an ungreased 9 x 13 pan and sprinkle with remaining 2/3 cup butterscotch chips.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until blondies are light golden brown on top and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely in the pan; cut into bars and store, covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Makes 36 (or 24 if you cut larger squares).