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.

Hazelnut Cookies

My dear friend Amanda gave me an awesome cookbook a few weeks back called The Boozy Baker. Each recipe involves alcohol of some kind; cakes made with rum or bourbon, pies spiked with brandy, icings flavored with a range of liqueurs. One recipe that’s suitable for shipping across the country is these hazelnut cookies, which actually featured chocolate chips in their original iteration. But Amanda also gave me a recipe notebook, titled I’m A Whisk Taker, in which to record my own concoctions. And so, I adapted the original recipe to feature more hazelnuts (because can you really ever have too many?) and some salted caramel chips.

The end result is a delightfully delicious hazelnutty creation, and the next time I bake these, I’ll add another cup of salted caramel chips to the dough to pump up the sweetness just a bit. At present these treats are en route to California, where Amanda and her family will hopefully enjoy them.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur
  • 1 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped*
  • 1 cup salted caramel baking chips

*To toast hazelnuts, place them on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350 degree oven and toast for 5-10 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from oven and place in a kitchen towel, then rub so the skins fall off – don’t worry if you don’t get every last bit of skin from the nuts, as this will add to their flavor. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

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

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl a few times. Beat in hazelnut liqueur.

Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing just until combined. Stir in hazelnuts and caramel chips.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of dough onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 5 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake another 3-4 minutes; these cookies brown very quickly, so keep an eye on them. You want set edges, but a puffy middle.

Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Evergreen Sugar Cut-Outs

Evergreen trees frightened me as a child. No, really – I thought they looked sharp, like they’d pierce your skin if you got near them. Fortunately my Grandma Zella recognized that if I could see the pine in front of her house as pretty, I might be less intimidated by it. Thus she tied a ribbon around its trunk and helped me see that its needles were in fact soft. I’ve loved evergreens ever since, including the enormous pine at the side of our house. I’ve often told Mike that if the evergreen someday needs to come down I’m just going to sell the house and move, rather than see it felled.

These evergreen sugar cut-outs were originally intended to be fully decorated Christmas trees. But after I piped them and stood back, I liked how pretty they looked plain, like a little forest on my table. And so they remained, a plain little forest for our Christmas cookie dessert.

Ingredients

  • 1 batch sugar cut-outs, made with 2 additional teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Double batch Zella’s icing
  • Moss green and Kelly green gel food coloring

Preparation

Prepare dough and cut out with a tree cutter; bake cookies for about 9 minutes, then remove from oven and cool on wire racks completely before frosting.

Prepare Zella’s icing and add small amounts of moss green and Kelly green food coloring to reach your desired shade of green. Moss green is a muted shade while Kelly is a bright green, and combined they make a nice tree color.

Fit a piping bag with a small star tip and pipe icing onto each tree, moving your tip back and forth to create branch-like shapes.

Allow icing to harden before storing; store in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature. Cookies will stay fresh for about 4-5 days.

Makes about 40 cookies.

Maple Pumpkin Cupcakes

While scrolling through Pinterest a few weeks ago, I found adorable cupcakes frosted to look like pies. What better time to bake such a treat than the start of Thanksgiving week? I’ll bake actual pies on Wednesday (apple and pumpkin, an annual tradition), but Mike will take these treats to work with him tomorrow.

I’ve gone for a maple pumpkin flavor profile in these treats, and truth be told, the flavors could be stronger. A little more spice in the cupcakes, perhaps a dash of maple extract along with the syrup in the buttercream, and we’ll be in business. They still taste great and have a lovely texture, but right now they’re more of a spice cupcake with a hint of maple than the bolder flavors I’d planned. That’s the beauty of baking, though; there’s always a next time.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin spice*
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 plus 2-3 teaspoons pure maple syrup
  • 3-4 teaspoons milk
  • Brown, orange, red, and golden yellow gel food coloring

*If you don’t have pumpkin spice, you can make your own. Combine 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoons each of ginger and allspice, and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg; this will yield 2 1/4 teaspoons of spice. I make my own blend and keep it in a small jar year-round. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners; my recipe yielded 14 cupcakes.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin spice.

In a large glass measuring cup, combine pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract. Mix well, then add all at once to the flour mixture. Stir until well-combined and smooth.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, fill cupcake wells about 3/4 full.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven; immediately remove from tins and place on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting, in a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the powdered sugar, all at once, then beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take several minutes.

Add salt, vanilla, and maple syrup, then beat on medium speed for about 3-4 minutes, until very light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl very well at least a few times.

Divide frosting into portions for orange, brown, and white; you’ll need just a small amount of white (about 1/4 cup) and about equal portions of orange and brown. To make orange, combine orange food coloring with brown and golden yellow, then add a few drops of red and stir, adding more color to reach your desired shade if necessary. To make brown, combine brown food coloring with golden yellow and stir, adding more color to reach your desired shade if necessary.

Fit a piping bag with a large plain tip and fill with orange frosting; pipe into cupcakes and smooth the surface so it’s flat (or just frost with an offset spatula).

I used several different frosting tips for my pie crust details, including a petal tip, a leaf tip, and a star tip. I think I liked the leaf tip best. Fit a piping bag with the tip of your choice fill with brown frosting; pipe around the edge of each cupcake to make the crust detail.

Fit a small piping bag with a star tip and fill with white frosting; pipe a blob in the center of each cupcake to look like whipped cream.

Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Note: my orange frosting started to look mottled the day after these were baked, but it still tasted delicious. Makes 14.

Maple Pecan Cookies

I like to bake with seasonal ingredients, and fall is a wonderful time of year for maple. While browsing on Pinterest, I came across this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, originally called maple brown sugar cookies. I amped up the pecans just a tad and decided that in my version, they definitely deserved equal billing with the maple.

These are life-changing cookies, my friends. I mean, out-of-this-world, stop-the-presses delicious. Amazing flavor, great texture, all topped with wildly tasty maple icing. Just be sure you use pure maple syrup when baking these, rather than pancake syrup. Pure maple syrup, while pricier, is absolutely worth the cost when it comes to flavor. It also lasts pretty much forever, not that it has a chance in my house.

Ingredients

  • 2 and 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon maple extract
  • Heaping 1 cup pecans, chopped

For the icing

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • pinch of salt

Preparation

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together until very fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add egg and beat to combine, then scrape down the bowl and add maple syrup, vanilla extract, and maple extract, beating to combine completely. Add flour mixture all at once, beating to completely combine; stir in pecans. Dough will be very soft. Chill for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from fridge; using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, placing about 2 inches apart on your baking sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes, until edges are set but centers are still puffy. Lightly bang your baking sheet on the counter or your stove top to slightly deflate the cookies; allow to cool on the baking sheets for about 3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, place powdered sugar in a medium bowl; set aside. Melt butter and maple syrup on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts. Pour into powdered sugar and whisk until smooth, then add a pinch of salt to taste. Drizzle over cookies; allow icing to harden before storing.

Makes about 25 cookies.

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.

Bloody Murder Cupcakes

Due to inclement weather, trick-or-treating has been postponed in many neighborhoods around Pittsburgh. Cue outrage! I do have to admit that in my childhood we went trick-or-treating exclusively on Halloween, regardless of the weather. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor freezing temperatures kept children of the 1980s inside on Halloween night. Out we went with coats over our costumes or sweatshirts underneath, prowling the neighborhood in eldest-child-lead packs (I truly have no recollection of ever trick-or-treating with my parents), returning soaked and half frozen with pillow cases full of candy bars we had to break in half before eating, lest they be laced with razor blades. Ahh, the 80s.

But times are different now, and in all fairness it really is horrible out tonight. In any case, to celebrate this Halloween, I’ve whipped up some bloody murder cupcakes, a new take on the crime scene cupcakes I’ve made previously, thanks to some candy decoration weapons. Mike is very excited to take these to work in the morning.

 

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

For the frosting, blood spatter, and weapons

  • 1 recipe vanilla buttercream
  • 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • Red gel food coloring
  • Wilton Halloween weapon candy decorations*

*I had the variety pack, which featured knives, axes, and meat cleavers and I bought at my local Target. Fun!

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; this recipe can yield 12-16 cupcakes depending on how full you fill the wells. Now that I’ve baked this, I recommend filling the wells about half full, rather than three-quarters full as I did tonight.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix until well-blended, then make three wells for the wet ingredients.

Place vinegar, vanilla, and vegetable oil into the wells; add water and mix until the batter is smooth. The mixture will bubble up slightly when you add the water, so just keep mixing until you get a smooth consistency in the batter, which will be fairly thin.

Use a 1/4 cup measure to fill the cupcake wells about half full.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on wire racks.

Prepare the frosting and fit a 14-inch piping bag with a large plain tip. Pipe generous portions of frosting onto each cupcake, then flatten out each blob with a small offset spatula.

Stir together raspberry jam and red gel food coloring to your desired bloody shade.

Using a teaspoon from your flatware, drop, drizzle, or splatter jam onto each cupcake. If you like, lightly drag a toothpick through the jam splatters to extend the splattered effect. Place a candy weapon on top.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.