Chocolate Orange Brownies

chocolate orange browniesBrownies are probably one of my favorite things to bake, because they’re so versatile. You can make them plain, add different flavors, put frosting on them…whatever you like. In this case, I chose to mix in some orange zest and a few drops of orange extract, then add a chocolate buttercream frosting. The end result is probably one of the best treats I’ve ever made. Or at least, it’s among my favorites.

Next time, I plan to add a few drops of orange extract into the frosting as well…but these treats were absolutely delicious. The brownie base is more on the fudgy side, which I prefer, and the orange adds a nice kick of flavor to complement the fudginess.

Ingredients

For the brownies

  • 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
  • Zest of 1 medium orange
  • About 4-5 drops orange extract

For the frosting

  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking tin with foil and lightly grease the foil. I also always sprinkle the bottom of the foil with sugar when I’m baking brownies for a crunchy 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, vanilla, orange zest, and orange extract 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 frosting; to make frosting, in a mixing bowl, cream butter for about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar and cocoa, beating on low speed to fully incorporate into the butter. Add 1 tablespoon milk and vanilla extract; beat to combine, scraping down your bowl a few times, for about 2-3 minutes. Add the second tablespoon of milk and beat for another 1-2 minutes.

Spread frosting over brownies; allow the frosting to set slightly before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes 24.

Speckled Egg Cupcakes

speckled egg cupcakeA few years ago I saw a beautiful speckled egg cake, probably on Pinterest or in an issue of Real Simple magazine. Since then, I’ve intended to make something like it each spring, and I finally made a cupcake version this week.

A word of caution regarding the speckling: it is not nearly as simple as every single recipe online would have you believe. I set up a splatter guard made of parchment paper, and still ended up with speckles all over my countertop, with a few on my walls and many on myself, likely because I didn’t use a paintbrush with stiff bristles; my brush had soft bristles, which made things a bit messy. Still, the end result is worth it: these received rave reviews from Mike’s colleagues. Also, you could pair almost any flavor combination for these cupcakes, but I chose a classic chocolate and almond.

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 teaspoon almond extract

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Light blue, light green, and turquoise gel food coloring

For the speckles

  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-2 teaspoons water*

*Most online recipes did not call for water, but my mixture was too thick for it to flick from the paintbrush so I added some water. 

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 almond 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, vanilla extract, and almond extract; beat another 1-2 minutes. Add additional tablespoons milk, one at a time, beating well between each. To tint, add blue, green, and turquoise gel food coloring 1-2 drops at a time; I used 2-3 drops of blue and green, and about 3-4 drops turquoise. Frost cupcakes; you will have about 2/3 cup left over for another use.

For the speckles, stir together cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and 1-2 teaspoons water; you don’t want the chocolate to be too thin or it’ll bleed into the frosting, but if it’s too thick, you won’t be able to flick it onto the cupcakes. Dip a food-safe paintbrush with stiff bristles into the chocolate and use your fingers to flick the chocolate onto the frosting.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. Makes 12. 

Ultra-Marshmallow Rice Krispies Treats

ultra marshmallow krispie treatWe all remember that person from our childhood who made Rice Krispies Treats without enough marshmallows. In my childhood, that person was my beloved Grandma Zella. Despite being a stellar baker, her Treats were always far too dry. Like scratch-the-roof-of-your-mouth, practically-drawing-blood dry. And nobody wants that.

A few days ago Mike asked if I’d make him some Rice Krispies Treats because they’re Passover-friendly, at least in his opinion (some Jewish people don’t eat rice during Passover for traditional reasons). I was happy to do so, and found an extra-marshmallowy recipe online that I adapted for maximum marshmallowness based on what I had on hand. I strongly advise you to use an enormous pot when making these, because the ingredient quantities are also enormous. The end result poses absolutely no danger to the roof of anyone’s mouth in my opinion, but certainly wouldn’t be recommended for those watching their sugar and calorie intake.

Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 30 ounces (yes, seriously, three 10-ounce bags) miniature marshmallows
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 9 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Preparation

Generously grease a 9 x 13 baking tin and set aside. Reserve three cups marshmallows to add along with the cereal.

In a large pot over low heat, melt butter. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted; this takes several minutes, and I did mine in matches for easier melting. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and salt.

Add remaining three cups marshmallows and cereal all at once and stir to combine as quickly as you can – this will take a few minutes to fully combine. Pour into the prepared pan as best you can; spray your hands with cooking spray and press the mixture to create an even layer. It will be warm, but not so hot you can’t touch it.

Allow to cool to room temperature; store tightly covered at room temperature for about two days. Makes 24.

Unicorn Shortbread

unicorn shortbreadMaureen and Margo, our goddaughters, love unicorns. I don’t remember unicorns being such a big deal when I was a girl, but then again, I was a girl in the 1980s. Back then we had icons like the Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, and Rainbow Brite. Now that I think about it, Rainbow Brite seems like the kind of gal who would have hung out with unicorns. Maybe she did? I honestly can’t remember.

To create this unicorn-inspired treat, I simply took some colored sugar and sprinkled it on top of the dough before baking. You can use whatever colors you like, and I went with pink, purple, blue, and yellow for my mixture. Before I baked, I wondered if I’d gone overboard with the sugar, but once it was done I was really pleased with the result.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • Pink, purple, blue, and yellow colored sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add flour and beat to combine completely.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottoms of the cake pans, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface. Prick all over with a fork, then sprinkle with colored sugar.

Bake for 30-32 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice each round into 12 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to about 5 days; if shipping, pack between layers of waxed paper.

Makes 24 wedges.

Irish Cream Brownies

Full disclosure: until today, I didn’t actually know the ingredients in Bailey’s Irish Cream. I suppose it never occurred to me to investigate the contents of a liqueur that I consume rarely and pretty much only in baked goods, despite its deliciousness. But it’s St. Patrick’s Day week, and some Irish cream brownies seemed like a good idea. They were, indeed.

Bailey’s Irish Cream, as you may know, is a mixture of Irish whiskey, cream, and cocoa. Why anyone thought to put these three ingredients together, I don’t know. But they’re a genius, and should be celebrated well beyond St. Patrick’s Day. Sláinte, friends.

Note: you can likely buy the 50 ml “mini” bottles of Bailey’s at your local liquor store (known as a state store in Pennsylvania). If not, a 50 ml bottle translates to about 3 1/3 tablespoons.

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 bottle Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

For the icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 50 ml bottle Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons milk

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, Bailey’s, 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 bottle of Bailey’s, stirring to combine. Add 1-2 tablespoons of milk to reach a thicker drizzling consistency. Drizzle over brownies; allow icing to set before cutting into squares. Makes 24.

Focaccia

Bread baking requires a whole different set of skills than I currently possess. But I’m determined to become a bread baker, so here I am, learning to make focaccia.

Why focaccia? It’s a fairly simple dough, and thus seemed like a good place to begin. I made a different version a few weeks back but didn’t get a chance to blog it; the recipe itself is adapted from one I found at Gimme Some Oven. I used a good cup or so more flour than in the original, kneaded it for a slightly longer time, and sprinkled the top with regular Italian seasoning instead of fresh rosemary. I’m happy to say that it turned out very well, and it’s something I’ll definitely make again. Maybe next time, I’ll top it with a bit of parmesan cheese.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (one 7-gram package)
  • 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Italian seasoning, for sprinkling

Preparation

In a mixing bowl, combine warm water and sugar. Add yeast and stir, then allow to sit for 5-10 minutes until the yeast appears foamy.

Using your dough hook, mix the dough on low speed and gradually add about 3 1/2 cups flour, the salt, and the olive oil. Increase the speed to medium-low and mix for 5 minutes, adding an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup flour. The dough will be fairly sticky.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few more minutes, adding the remaining flour (up to about 4 1/2 cups). The dough will still be a bit sticky, but you’ll be able to shape it into a ball. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover it with a damp towel; allow the dough to rise for about 1 hour, until double in size.

Gently deflate the dough and transfer it to a 9 x 13 baking pan; stretch the dough so it fills the pan, and cover it with the damp towel again. Allow the dough to rise a second time for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Before placing your dough in the oven, poke deep indentations in the top, then drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Bake for 23-25 minutes, until dough is golden on top. Remove from oven and allow to cool for just a few minutes before serving, or cool to room temperature.

Makes one 9 x 13 rectangle of focaccia, enough for about 12-15 servings.

Rum Raisin Sweet Rolls

As someone who doesn’t like raisins, I’ve never had rum raisin ice cream. Apparently it originated in Sicily, with wine-soaked raisins in vanilla gelato, and became a huge hit in the U.S. in the 1980s. Why raisins? Who knows. This is one of life’s culinary mysteries, along with bizarre (and yet beloved) treats like fruitcake.

Mike likes both raisins and rum, so I made these rum raisin rolls for him with a “make-it-mine” recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens Baking book. I’m trying to gain more experience with yeast doughs, and today’s batch turned out really well. You could omit the rum in the icing if you like and just go with vanilla extract or water, but I highly recommend using the rum.

Dough

  • 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (or 1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • 5 1/3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs

Filling

  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • About 1/8 cup dark rum
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Icing

  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 teaspoons dark rum
  • About 2 tablespoon water

Preparation

Place raisins and rum in a bowl and stir together; you can let this sit overnight, or just for a few hours while you prepare your dough.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 1 and 1/2 cups flour and active dry yeast.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, masked potato flakes, butter, sugar, and salt; heat on medium in just warm, between 120 and 130 degrees. Pour into flour/yeast mixture, then add eggs, and beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down your bowl and beat for 3 minutes on medium.

Switch to your dough hook, and add another 3 cups flour. Mix on low speed until flour incorporates as much as possible, then set your timer and allow the dough to mix for another 2-3 minutes; it will pull away from the sides and wrap itself around the hook. You can also knead this dough by hand, but I used my mixer to do all the work today, and it turned out really well. Remove from the bowl, knead by hand just 2-3 times, then place it back in your mixing bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm place until about doubled in size, 45-60 minutes.

Once dough has risen, punch it down gently and turn it onto a lightly floured surface to rest for 10 minutes. While the dough rests, stir together the light brown sugar and cinnamon; set aside. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 baking tin.

Shape dough into an 18 x 12 rectangle and spread with softened butter; I just used my fingers for this. Sprinkle filling leaving 1 inch unfilled along the top and bottom of the rectangle. Roll up the rectangle, starting from the long side, and pinch the dough to seal the seams. Slice into 12 equal portions and place cut-sides down in the baking tin. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Uncover rolls and bake for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

While rolls are cooling, make the icing by combining the powdered sugar, rum, and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Stir in enough remaining water to make a drizzly consistency. Spread over warm rolls; serve warm or at room temperature. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days. Makes 12.

Apple Hand Pies

Mike requested apple hand pies for this weekend’s treat. I need to continue developing my pastry skills, and this was excellent practice. Because I chose to focus on the pastry, I decided to use canned apple pie filling, but you could absolutely use fresh apple filling if you prefer. Next time, I probably will.

The crust recipe comes from Live Well Bake Often, and it’s probably my favorite I’ve come across so far. I also used some crust-making techniques I learned from this incredibly comprehensive video from King Arthur Flour, and feel like this pastry-making experience was the easiest that I’ve ever had. While the pies look like tiny flying saucers, Mike says they’re absolutely delicious.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups (315 grams) flour – use the spoon and level method if you’re measuring by volume
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 8 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cold, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup ice water
  • 1/2 of a 21-ounce can apple pie filling
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Sanding sugar

Preparation 

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, and salt. Add butter and shortening, tossing with a fork to coat. Use a pastry blender to combine the butter and shortening into the flour mix until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Drizzle in water1 tablespoon at a time and mix with a fork until the dough begins to combine; you may not need the full half-cup, but I did.

Turn the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper and use the paper to gather the dough into a rough rectangle shape; fold the dough over on itself a few times to fully incorporate the wet and dry ingredients. The technique in the video around 7:03 is really helpful here. Shape the dough into a rectangle and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop out half the can of pie filling into a medium bowl and chop up the apples into chunks. Add nutmeg and cinnamon to taste; set filling aside while you roll and shape your crust. Reserve the remaining filling for another use; you can heat it up and serve it over ice cream, or just warm it and eat it by itself as a side dish.

Remove crust from fridge and place on a lightly floured surface, rolling into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thickness. Using a 3 1/2 inch cookie cutter, cut out circles of crust; re-roll scraps and repeat. Place half of the circles on the baking sheet and top with about a tablespoon of filling. Punch a steam hole in the remaining circles using a small cutter (I used a frosting piping tip) or knife and place the top crusts over the filling, pinching the edges to join the bottom and top crusts. Gently press the edges with a fork to seal.

In a small bowl, beat together the egg and milk to make an egg wash and brush over the pies, then sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until the pies are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Makes 10 pies (my recipe made nine round pies, plus one larger half-circle shaped pie that I made from the last of the scraps).

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Choosing a favorite cookie is next to impossible…at least for me. But these old-fashioned chocolate sugar cookies, a recipe I found at Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, could be serious contenders for one of my favorite cookies ever. They’re soft, with a crunchy edge and soft, chewy middle. Flavor-wise, they remind me just a bit of a brownie, but not exactly. I decided to call mine “old-fashioned,” since I made them slightly smaller than the original and pressed them with a fork like you would a peanut butter cookie. They look very homey, like something your favorite aunt would have made.

The original author stressed the importance of using dark brown sugar in the recipe, and I completely agree with her. I don’t think the light brown version would yield the same kind of flavor or texture you get with dark brown sugar, but you can certainly substitute it and let me know what happens.

Ingredients

  •  1/3 cup sugar
  •  1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons  flour
  •  3/4 cup  unsweetened cocoa powder
  •  1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  •  1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  •  14 tablespoons butter
  •  1 3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
  •  1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt
  •  1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

Preparation

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

Place granulated sugar in a small bowl; set aside. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder and set aside.

Melt 10 tablespoons butter in a microwave-safe bowl, checking frequently – you want your butter to be just melted and not too hot. Stir in the remaining 4 tablespoons butter; this will bring the temperature down slightly. Let the butter sit until its about 90 degrees in temperature, then pour into a large bowl and whisk in dark brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until completely smooth. Whisk in egg and yolk, then stir in flour mixture until just combined.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop out dough and roll into balls, then dip in granulated sugar to coat. Place on the baking sheet, leaving space between for spreading. Gently press the tops with a fork to make the crisscross pattern.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until edges are set but tops are still puffy – be careful not to overbake these, or they’ll be too hard. Cool on baking sheet for about 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 24 cookies.

Carmelitas

Carmelitas: I’ve wanted to bake them forever. And I am astonished at how easy they were to make. This recipe came from Six Sisters’ Stuff and uses pretty basic ingredients, most of which you likely have in your pantry. While the Six Sisters recommended baking this in a glass dish, I baked mine in a ceramic dish lined with foil and sprayed with baking spray for easier clean-up.

Next time, I think I’ll try this with semisweet chocolate chips to see how it turns out, and I might even add a small dash of cinnamon into the crust/topping mixture. I also recommend pressing the top crust bits into the caramel layer (using a spatula or the back of a spoon so you don’t burn your fingers) to make it stick just a bit better.

Ingredients

  • 11-ounce bag caramel bits (or 32 unwrapped caramel squares)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 12 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup flour
  • 12-ounce package milk chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 ceramic or glass baking dish with foil, extending the foil over the sides. Spray lightly with baking spray.

Combine caramel bits and heavy cream in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until caramel bits are melted and mixture is smooth; keep warm while your crust bakes. I got my caramel started and kept an eye on it while I made my crust.

To make the crust, combine melted butter, brown sugar, oats, and flour; I mixed mine with my hands to make sure it incorporated well. Press half the mixture in the baking dish and level it out; bake for 10 minutes.

Remove crust from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips, then pour on the caramel. Sprinkle the remaining crust dough over the caramel and return to the oven, baking for about 15 minutes, until the top begins to just turn golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool completely at room temperature, or place in the fridge to speed the cooling process. You can’t cut these bars until they’re completely cool, so don’t even try – you’ll end up with a mess, from what I read in other recipes. Lift out of the pan and peel off foil; place on a cutting board and cut into 16 bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.