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.

Rocky Road Bars

Rocky road ice cream has been around since 1929, when enterprising ice cream maker William Dreyer decided to toss some walnuts and marshmallows into chocolate ice cream. His partner, candy maker Joseph Edy, had done something similar with a chocolate candy bar and Mr. Dreyer thought the idea would be a good one for ice cream as well.

The original recipe was one of the first ice cream flavors to mix these types of ingredients together, and as always, I’m amazed at how people once looked at various component parts and put them together into something absolutely delicious. The recipe below is adapted from one I found at King Arthur Baking Company; I decided to add some chopped almonds and drizzled chocolate to the top of the bars because they looked a bit plain at first. It helps to chill the bars just after drizzling them with the melted chocolate so it sets, making the bars much easier to cut.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 3 1/2 cups chocolate chips, divided
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons roasted salted whole almonds, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows

Preparation

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

Cream together butter, sugars, baking powder, salt, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. Add flour and cocoa powder and beat on low speed to incorporate; stir in 2 cups chocolate chips and 1 cup almonds.

Spread batter in the pan; I used an offset spatula to create an even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, until sides are set and middle is still soft. Sprinkle with miniature marshmallows and 1 cup of the chocolate chips. Bake for another 4 minutes, until marshmallows are just beginning to brown.

Cool completely, then melt remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Drizzle over bars, then sprinkle remaining almonds over the top. Chill briefly to set chocolate, then cut into squares; store at room temperature.

Makes 24.

Mocha Chip Brownies

Mike’s coworkers seem to like coffee and chocolate, so this week I decided to bake another mocha-themed treat. These brownies are adapted from a recipe I found at King Arthur Baking Company, which recently re-branded from King Arthur Flour. King Arthur has been a great guide for me in my baking; I’ve mentioned their Cookie Companion many times on this blog. Their recipes tend to turn out very well, and I imagine they have an extensive test kitchen, not unlike Better Homes & Gardens. Test Kitchen Baker is my dream career, and I like to think I’m on my way with how much adaptation goes on in my kitchen.

This recipe is a spin-off of King Arthur’s toffee coffee brownies. Instead of topping my icing with toffee chips, I chose to go with miniature chocolate chips instead. There are also chocolate chips in the brownies themselves, so that seemed like a good idea.

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
  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

For the icing

  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 – 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking tin and 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, baking powder, and espresso powder, then whisk in eggs and vanilla extract. Stir in flour, then chocolate chips. 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 espresso powder and hot water in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Add powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon heavy cream, stirring until smooth. Add 1-2 more tablespoons of cream to reach a spreadable consistency of icing. Spread over cooled brownies, then sprinkle with chocolate chips. Allow icing to set before cutting into squares. Makes 24.

S’more Bars

As a child, I was kind of afraid of the woods. Blame it on the fairy tales, maybe? But as an adult, I cannot get enough of nature. While Swallow Falls State Park is my favorite place on Earth, the coronavirus pandemic has prevented us from crossing state lines into Maryland. We’re lucky to live near North Park in Pittsburgh, and also to have our own backyard, complete with a fire pit.

I recently caught the scent of a backyard fire on the breeze, and this made me think of s’mores, which then made me wonder how I could bake something s’more-like for Mike and his coworkers. The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion includes a recipe called “Build-a-Bars” that can be adapted to whatever flavor profile you like, and it seemed a good option for a s’more bar. You could make a pastry crust for these, but I chose to go with a graham cracker crust for extra s’more-ness.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 13 1/2 sheets of crackers)
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For the filling

  • 2 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 4 full-sized Hershey bars, broken into pieces
  • 1 cup broken graham crackers

For the topping

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 5 ounces evaporated milk

Preparation

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

Combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, flour, and brown sugar and press into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

In a medium bowl, stir together miniature marshmallows, Hershey bar pieces, and graham cracker pieces; set aside while you make the topping.

For the topping, beat cream cheese, sugar, and salt until blended. Add egg and beat well to combine completely, scraping your bowl as necessary, until no lumps remain. Add evaporated milk and beat to combine completely.

Pour the filling evenly over the crust, then pour topping evenly over filling.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until edges bubble a bit and the center is set. Cool on a wire rack completely before cutting; cut into 24 bars.

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

Hazelnut Brownies

You’ve had Nutella, right? Was your life ever the same afterward? No, it was not. Because you’ve probably put that delicious chocolate hazelnut spread on everything from pretzels to graham crackers to toast. And why wouldn’t you? It’s delicious. I miss it very much in migraine life.

While these aren’t Nutella brownies, they are a wonderful combination of chocolate and hazelnut. I adapted King Arthur Flour’s “On the Fence” brownie recipe, which yields a somewhat cakey, somewhat fudgy treat, by adding a tablespoon of hazelnut liqueur and some chopped toasted hazelnuts to the batter, then topping the baked treats with a hazelnut buttercream and more toasted hazelnuts.

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
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons hazelnut liqueur
  • Chopped toasted hazelnuts

Preparation

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

In a large microwave-save bowl, melt butter. Stir in sugar and microwave for another 45-60 seconds, until the mixture is just hot. Stir in cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder, then whisk in eggs, vanilla extract, and hazelnut liqueur. Stir in flour, then chopped hazelnuts. Spread evenly in prepared pan.

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

To make the frosting, beat butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add powdered sugar and allow the mixture to incorporate fully; this will take a few minutes. Add vanilla extract and hazelnut liqueur and beat until combined.

Frost brownies and sprinkle with chopped toasted hazelnuts. Cut into two-inch squares; store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Bourbon Pecan Brownie Bites

I could literally bake every day. Granted, flour is a bit scarcer right now as we’re Baking in the Time of Coronavirus, but fortunately these bourbon pecan brownies, which I adapted slightly from the Better Homes & Gardens Baking book, only uses 3/4 cup of flour.

Truth be told, I have a few extra bags of flour tucked away in my cupboards at any given time and no, I am not one of those people buying out all the flour at my local grocery store as if I’m going to have to make homemade bread for the rest of my life. But it’s been interesting to think about recipes that use less flour, or just different types of flour, as I’ve seen empty shelves at the grocery store, and I’m taking it as a challenge to become a more creative baker. We’ll see how it goes.

Ingredients

For the brownies

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks*
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon

For the frosting

  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled just slightly
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans

*You could substitute semisweet chocolate chips for this, and that’s how the original recipe is written, but I only had chunks for some reason and decided this would be a great way to use them up.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking tin with foil, extending the foil over the sides, and spray lightly with baking spray.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, butter, and water; cook over medium heat until the mixture just boils. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chunks until melted. Allow to cool for just a moment before stirring in the eggs and vanilla, then stir in flour mixture until completely combined. Stir in pecans.

Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack; brush top of brownies with bourbon. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute, then add powdered sugar all at once and continue to beat until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter. Add bourbon and vanilla and beat for 2-3 minutes, until fluffy.

Spread frosting on cooled brownies, then drizzle on melted chocolate. Sprinkle with pecans.

Cut into 1 1/2 inch squares for bite-sized treats (or larger for regular-sized brownies). Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 25.