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.

 

Lemon Bars with Almond Shortbread Crust

I’m going to call this phase in my baking life Baking in the Time of Coronavirus, in homage to Colombian author and Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Márquez. Truth be told, I’ve never read Love in the Time of Cholera, but I did read (and very much enjoy) One Hundred Years of Solitude, a title that likely resonates with people around the world right now.

Although I’ve worked from home this past week, and imagine that I’ll do so for many days to come, Mike and his coworkers are on the front lines. These treats are for his friend and colleague Elizabeth, who enjoys lemon desserts. They’re adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction in two ways: first, I added almond extract to the shortbread crust, and second, I included the zest of two lemons in my filling. I hope she and the other folks at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System enjoy them, and continue to be grateful for all that they do.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

For the filling

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup lemon juice (from about 5 lemons)
  • Zest of 2 lemons

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 glass baking dish with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract and almond extract, stirring to combine. Add flour and stir to completely combine; press into the baking dish and bake for 20-22 minutes, until the edges are just barely golden brown.

In another medium bowl, sift together sugar and flour, then add eggs, lemon juice, and lemon zest, whisking to combine completely. Pour over crust and bake for another 22-24 minutes, until the center is set. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for a few hours, then place in the fridge to chill further before cutting. Cut into 24 squares and store in the fridge; you can keep these bars at room temperature, but they’re best served cold.

Blood Orange Bars

It’s blood orange season! Oh, how I love baking with these sweet, ruby-red citrus treats. I bought a bag at the supermarket a few days back intending to make some curd, but decided that blood orange bars would be a better experiment.

If you’ve ever had a lemon bar, you know the unique joy that the sweet/tart combination of filling set against a tender crust brings. Blood oranges are sweeter than lemons, and therefore yield a more mellow citrus flavor. This recipe is adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction, using less sugar than her lemon bar variety. Next time, I might actually include some blood orange zest in the filling and see what happens.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

For the filling

  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup blood orange juice, at room temperature*

*It took four blood oranges, about the size of tennis balls, to yield 1 cup of juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a glass baking dish with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract, stirring to combine. Add flour and stir to completely combine; press into the baking dish and bake for 20-22 minutes, until the edges are just barely golden brown.

In another medium bowl, sift together sugar and flour, then add eggs and blood orange juice, whisking to combine completely. Pour over crust and bake for another 22-24 minutes, until the center is set. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for a few hours, then place in the fridge to chill further before cutting. Cut into 24 squares and store in the fridge; you can keep these bars at room temperature, but they’re best served cold.

Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

So, I wanted to mail this pan of brownies to my brother and his family, but I didn’t want to cut them and risk them drying out in the shipping process. I began with a disposable pan, baked the brownies, and let them cool completely. Then I wrapped the pan in foil, placed some of those air pack bubble things that coming in shipping boxes on the top, and secured the lid with enough packing tape to last through the apocalypse.

Fortunately, it appears that my plan worked – as you can see by the photo here, the brownies arrived in North Carolina unscathed and, to my knowledge, still tender. Everyone in Andy’s family likes Reese’s peanut butter cups, but you could swap in miniature Snickers bars or another type of candy in the recipe if you like, or just leave them plain. This recipe is adapted from an “on-the-fence” brownie recipe from King Arthur flour and yields a texture somewhere between cakey and fudgy.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup 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
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 24 miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups, unwrapped

Preparation

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

Melt butter over medium heat, then stir in sugar and continue heating until just warm; this helps give a shiny top to your brownies. Remove from heat and place in a medium bowl along with cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and vanilla and stir to combine. Whisk in eggs, then stir in the flour and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and add miniature peanut butter cups; I spaced mine out into four long rows of six cup each. Gently press peanut butter cups down into the batter.

Bake for 28-32 minutes, until a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs. Cool completely; store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 24 brownies.

Candy Brownies

Mike and I had several premium candy choices left over from this Halloween, among them fun-sized Snickers (let’s be honest, they should just be called bite-size) and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. What better to do with leftover chocolate than to stuff it into brownies, then chop up some more and sprinkle it over the top of said brownies?

This recipe is adapted from one I found at Averie Cooks; I actually made a double batch, but the measurements below would yield one single 8 x 8 pan. You can use regular cocoa powder if you like, but I went with Hershey’s Special Dark, which is actually just Dutch processed cocoa. You’ll also notice that the recipe contains both coffee and espresso powder, which really enhances the flavor of chocolate without making it taste like coffee itself. One of the great mysteries of flavors, no?

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
  • 12 fun-sized Snickers bars
  • 8 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, cut into quarters

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 about 2/3 of the mixture into your prepared tin. Take 8 of the Snickers bars and 8 Peanut Butter Cup quarters, placing them in four evenly spaced rows of four candies each; I alternated my rows so there was one of Snickers, then one of Peanut Butter Cups, then another of Snickers, and a final one of Peanut Butter Cups. Pour the remaining batter over the candy and smooth as much as possible with an offset spatula. Chop up remaining candies and sprinkle 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 cool in pan completely before cutting.

Remove from pan and cut into 25 squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Marble Brownies

Until yesterday, I’d never made those classic cream cheese marbled brownies. How this treat escaped me for so many years I don’t know, but there you have it. While I’m still not eating chocolate, I really considered it yesterday, wondering if it would send me into migraine land. As they baked, a heavenly aroma of chocolate filled my kitchen. And who doesn’t like cream cheese, especially when it’s swirled in chocolate? Well, some people probably don’t, but seriously, I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

These brownies went to work with me today, as a special thank you to our design team. My buddies in design are incredibly talented, have great senses of humor, and always make things work for us even with very short notice. Surely worthy of these treats.

Ingredients

For the cream cheese swirl

  • 3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon flour

For the brownies

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil, extending over the sides, and spray with baking spray.

Make the cream cheese topping: in a mixing bowl, cream together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg and 1 tablespoon flour and beat to combine. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low to medium heat; remove from heat and transfer to a clean mixing bowl, then slowly beat in sugar, a little bit at a time. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed after each until just combined. Beat in milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Beat in flour mixture in three batches, beating until just combined after each.

Pour chocolate batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Spoon cream cheese topping in blobs over the top. Using a dull knife or spatula, gently swirl the cream cheese into the chocolate batter.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Cool in pan on a wire rack; once brownies are completely cool, lift out of the pan by the foil. Cut into bars.

Makes 24 (or you can cut them smaller if you like).

Lemon Almond Bars

I’ve baked a lot of bars this summer. Why? Perhaps because they’re easy, in that you usually just need a few bowls and one pan. No need to prep your dough and roll it, or scoop individual portions for cookies. You make them, press or spoon them into your pan, and about a half-hour later you have a nice batch of treats.

Some bars are more complicated than others, especially those with a bottom crust, a filling, and a topping or glaze. While this sounds complicated, in most cases it’s really not. These lemon almond bars, a King Arthur Flour recipe, were easy to make and taste even better after they’ve had a few days to “age.” These treats actually remind me of a pie in bar form; the bottom crust might seem very thin, but it’s really all you need with the filling.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the filling

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped roasted unsalted almonds
  • 1/4 cup flour

For the glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • zest from 1 medium lemon
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Preparation

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

Make the crust: In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, butter, and salt. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until you get a crumb-like texture that sticks together when you scoop up a handful. Press into the bottom of your baking pan and bake for 12 minutes.

While crust is baking, make the filling: In a medium bowl, combine eggs, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and vanilla extract; stir in almonds and flour. Once crust is baked, pour filling over top, smoothing out as much as possible. Bake for 20 minutes, until the top looks set.

While the filling is baking, make the glaze: in a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, butter, and lemon zest; slowly stir in lemon juice to make a very watery, runny glaze.

Remove bars from oven and allow them to sit for 2-3 minutes, then pour glaze all over the top, spreading gently with an offset spatula; the glaze will soak into the bars right away. Allow bars to cool completely before cutting; store in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

Makes 24.

 

 

Linzer Cookie Bars

I’ve never had a linzer torte, or even a linzer cookie. Until I made these linzer  cookie bars, I had no idea how delicious the combination of almonds, cinnamon, raspberry jam, and lemon zest could be. Granted, these things are all delicious on their own, but together in bar form you get a whole new level of flavor.

A linzer torte is actually a pastry from the Austrian city of Linz, involving crust made with ground hazelnuts and a jam filling. The linzer cookie is adapted from the tart with similar ingredients. And the bar version, thanks to the geniuses at King Arthur Flour, is an easy, tasty twist on both the pastry and the cookie. I used almond flour instead of ground hazelnuts, but you could swap hazelnuts or even walnuts for the nut flour in this recipe. The end result is a wonderful combination of flavor and texture that is part pastry, part cookie. This is one of my favorite recipes I’ve made in a while, and I look forward to making them again.

Ingredients

For the crust and topping

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • generous 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 2 cups flour

For the filling

  • 1 1/4 cups raspberry jam
  • zest from 1 medium lemon

Preparation

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

To make the crust and topping, cream the butter, sugars, salt, vanilla, baking powder, cinnamon, and almond extract until fluffy. Add egg and beat well, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times. Add almond flour and flour, mixing until just combined.

Reserve 1 cup mixture for topping and spread remaining mix in the bottom of the baking pan, pressing it flat with your fingers to get an even layer. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until the edges are golden and the middle is set.

While the crust is baking, make the filling: place jam and lemon zest in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until smooth and just hot. Remove the crust from the oven and spread it evenly with the jam. Break up the reserved crust mixture into crumbs with your fingers and sprinkle evenly over the jam layer.

Bake for another 22-25 minutes, until the jam bubbles around the edge of the pan and the topping looks set; the bars won’t brown except at the edges. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days. Makes 24.