double-decker brownies

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Every few weeks or so, I am the conductor of a symphony of dropped jaws when someone in my life finds out that I have a twin sister.  I know it’s an interesting factoid, but I don’t try to preempt the good-natured indignation and broadcast my sororal status just because I feel like it’s a little silly and often irrelevant.

So let’s get it out now: I have a twin sister!  And a few weeks ago, I made her brownies.

 

She’s been chasing science-y aspirations on the East Coast since the beginning of the summer, and this is the first time that we’ve actually had our respective permanent-ish homes in vastly different locations.  And, as it turns out, it’s frustrating to see your sister posting pictures online of baked goods that you would have difficulty replicating in your matchbox of an apartment kitchen.

mix up the brownies

So, after months of torturing my other half, I finally got myself a Priority Mail box and a nice, sturdy brownie recipe to fill it with.  This is the marriage of two old standbys, the blondie and the brownie, with a little thrown in between the layers.  Simple, but easy – and with endless space for customization.

sprinkle on the goods

 

I made these again for Christmas, replacing the peanuts and chocolate chips that I sprinkled between the blondie and brownie in the first iteration with bits of white chocolate.  You can spruce them up with a chocolate and white chocolate drizzle, as I did, or dust with powdered sugar – or just leave them gloriously rich, chewy, and – dare I say – naked.

and now for the blondie

 

So whip up a batch and ship to your cross-country loved ones, deliver them down the street for New Year’s, or eat the tops off of four of them at five in the morning like I did.  Whatever.  It’s the holidays.

Double-Decker Brownies

Make the brownies (replicated from here):

8 oz. unsalted butter

8 oz. unsweetened chocolate

3 cups sugar

3/4 tsp salt

4 tsps vanilla extract

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup flour

8 tbsps cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 13×3-inch baking pan with foil and grease the foil.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water; alternately, heat gently in the microwave for 30 seconds, then at 15-second intervals, stirring after each heating.  Err on the side of caution – when the chocolate barely holds its shape, keep stirring, and it will probably melt on its own. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Stir in the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Beat the eggs in one at a time until blended. Add flour and cocoa and beat until the batter is just smooth.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake on the center rack in oven for 20 minutes.  While it’s baking, make the blondies (replicated from here):

2 ¼ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar, packed

½ cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 cup mix-ins (nuts, chocolate or white chocolate chips, chopped candy, etc.)

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and eggs; beat until well combined.

Slowly add flour mixture; stir until just combined.  Sprinkle mix-ins on slightly cooled brownie; drop blondie batter on top and gently spread.  Bake 35-45 minutes, or until top is browned and toothpick inserted into the center of the bar comes out relatively clean.  Chill.  Use overhanging aluminum foil to remove from pan before cutting.

For a chocolate or white chocolate drizzle, gently melt about 3/4 cup of chips and drizzle with a fork or a piping bag.  Cool.

 

All images property of Allison Wachtel.

m&m blondies

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May I point out, to begin, that this whole “melts in your mouth, not in your hand” thing is bull.  These buggers melted all over my hands while I was picking out the red ones.

these are M&Ms

I suppose I should mention here that these M&Ms – and the blondies they went into – were for the UCLA-USC game, for which any colors nearing red are patently unacceptable.  Provided you’re on the correct side, of course.

these are UCLA M&Ms

My dad has worked at UCLA for nigh on 35 years (maybe more?  Eek), so I half grew up there.  I do not, however, come from what one would call “sporty” stock, so I got jumped into the UCLA football scene 23 years after I should have – with an eight-hour tailgating session.

Why eight hours, you ask?  Don’t.  If you don’t know, we’re clearly not friends with the same people, including one whose birth certificate proclaimed the arrival of not merely a bouncing baby boy but a future Bruin.

Clearly, such a marathon demanded sustenance.  I went simple with this one – it’s a recipe that I’ve had filed away in memory since I started baking on my own years ago.  It’s based on the Toll House cookie recipe that’s on every single bag of chocolate chips you’ve ever bought, just tweaked a bit.  These are great because they’re so versatile – make them plain (as is often my sister’s preference – whenever I used to bake them as cookies, I’d always pick the chocolate chips out of some of the cookie dough and make her a few chipless ones), go traditional with chocolate chips or chunks, or throw in some candy (I suggest chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups or Butterfingers, although a Snickers certainly wouldn’t go amiss).  I’ve also marbled chocolate in with excellent, cookie dough-like results.

I know people in the World of Gourmet Foodies sneer at Toll House, but I bet they’d shut up if they spent eight hours eating Bruin-themed blondies.

Basic Blondies

The key to these is upping the brown sugar, vanilla, and salt.  If you want to highlight whatever mix-in you choose, you can dial them back and replace some of the brown sugar with traditional white, but I like my chocolate/candy/etc. vehicle to be equally as enticing.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

generous teaspoon salt

1 cup (two sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

1-2 cups chocolate chips or mix-in(s) of your choice (try white chocolate or butterscotch chips or coarsely chopped candy canes or candy bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease the bottom of a 13×9-inch pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugars, and vanilla until fluffy and light in color.  Add eggs one at a time; beat on medium speed until fully incorporated.

With mixer on low speed, gradually stir in flour mixture, periodically scraping down sides and bottom of bowl.  Stop when there are a few little bits of flour left unincorporated.  Gently stir in chocolate chips (you can do this by hand as well if you’re paranoid about overmixing – which results in a tough cookie – like me).

Spread evenly in prepared pan.  Bake 20-25 minutes (on the safe side – it may end up being longer) – or until golden.  Cool before slicing.

*Alli’s note:  The piped lettering on top is really just for show (not flavor), but if you’d like to duplicate it, it’s just powdered sugar with a tiny bit of milk and food coloring.  Add a few drops of milk at a time until the icing is at piping consistency.

chocolate peanut butter (fire truck) cake

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I like making things special.

Special, luckily, does not preclude “goofy” and “at a level of maturity generally considered to be below my age,” which is why, the day after Thanksgiving (I know, I have a bit of a backlog), I spent a few hours in my kitchen carving a chocolate cake (with peanut butter frosting; let that not be overlooked) into the shape of a fire truck.  For a boy who was turning 27.

Sure, 27 is a bit out of the typical age range for obsession with emergency vehicles, but I believe in honoring excellence when it occurs, and this particular boy (aside from being quite the mensch, as a lovely Jewish grandmother I recently met would have said) happens to excel at fire trucks.  “But Alli,” you ask, “how does one – as you so clumsily put it – ‘excel at fire trucks?'”

Well, friends, I ask you this.  Can you, upon hearing a siren outside, determine whether it is a police, ambulance, or fire engine siren?  Are you familiar with the emergency codes transmitted among these vehicles, and do you eavesdrop regularly on said transmissions?  Have you, at any point after hearing sirens in your neighborhood, gone on a walk to “find the fire trucks?”

Didn’t think so.  And that, my friends, is why you did not receive a delicious (if a bit amateurish, aesthetically) chocolate peanut butter cake in the shape of a fire truck for your birthday.  It must be noted that, after having taken a few shots of a beverage more age-appropriate than this cake (but equally as much fun), the birthday boy made all partygoers smell said cake because “it smells EXACTLY like a giant peanut butter cup!”

soft, chocolatey, and left over. go to town, friends.

All teasing aside, this one was a pleasure to make, especially for someone who makes me as happy on a daily basis as the recipient.  I’ve tried to cobble together instructions as best I can below, but you’ll have to whip out your own creativity for a good deal of the process.  Don’t worry; when you start making cakes modeled after emergency vehicles, they will be well-received regardless of their aesthetic clumsiness.  Trust me – I speak from experience.

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Adapted from the inimitable Deb

Alli’s note: I scaled this recipe up to 1 ½ times the original and baked in two 13×9” pans.

Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and grease the paper.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl.  [*Alli’s note: I’m a horrible person and omitted this step.]  Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.

3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.  [*Alli’s note: Seriously, cool completely.  You might stick these in the freezer for a half hour or so, just to be on the safe side.]

4. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the peanut butter frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. [*Alli’s note: I recommend a crumb coat.  Frost your cake thinly with a layer of frosting, then stick it in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour to firm up.  This will make sure all the pesky little crumbs remain sealed in that layer and aren’t visible on the finished cake.]

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups [*Alli’s note: I believe I scaled this up to 1 ½ as well.]

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, at room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter (not the natural kind – you’re looking for one where the oil doesn’t separate)

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

To make a fire truck cake:

  1. Place first layer on the serving platter or cake board.  Spread a layer of frosting on the cake; top with second layer.
  2. Cut a roughly 2-inch section across the width of the top layer, starting about 2 ½ inches back from what will be the front of your fire truck.  Reserve for another use (or just eat it).  Frost the cut area and top of the back (longer) section with plain peanut butter frosting, using the crumb coat technique.  Reserve a cup or so of frosting, just in case.
  3. Beat remaining frosting with 2 bottles of red food coloring, adding a few drops of yellow or blue if necessary to adjust the color.  Frost the rest of the cake in red, again using the crumb coat technique.
  4. This is where you get to get creative.  I cheated and bought black frosting because it was late and I couldn’t be bothered to make my own black frosting, but use black and white piped accents to make wheels, a ladder, the engine number (I chose 27, for reasons outlined in the above post), windows, etc.  I used gummy bears for the lights, which for some reason was really exciting for me.  If you’d like, you can go all out with edible silver candies, etc.

molasses crinkle cookies

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So, sometime on the morning of Friday, November 26th, I decided that a dark chocolate tart with brown sugar crust and candied pecans wasn’t enough to bring to Thanksgiving (deja vu Thanksgiving, actually, but who’s counting) with my family.

the best part: cream the butter and sugar

now add molasses

I don’t know why molasses cookies seemed necessary, but they’re chewy, deep-flavored, and rolled in sugar.  And that’s always necessary.

roll 'em up

If there’s a plate of cookies out, I have to admit, I don’t usually go for the spicy, wintery ones.  But these may also have set my personal record for amount of cookie dough eaten in one baking session – so I guess the lesson here is to bake these quickly!  And then hide them from yourself, because with firm edges, chewy middles, and a bit of a sparkly, sugary crust, these could be the scourge of your holiday season.

oh, yes I did.

Oh, and by the way: I dipped these in white chocolate, too.  You’re welcome.

Molasses Crinkle Cookies

Adapted from one of my favorites, Peabody

I’ve included my changes here (for the original, see the link above), but it’s a fantastic recipe as is.  I’ve made these with only cinnamon before (upping it to 4 or so teaspoons) and they’re still excellent, but feel free to adjust the spices to suit your tastes.

2/3 cup brown sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
12 tbsp butter, softened but still cool
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup molasses

Granulated sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 375˚F.  Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (preferably – but I’ve done this with a hand mixer too), cream butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy. At low speed, add yolk and vanilla; increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated. Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasses; beat until fully incorporated, scraping bottom and sides of bowl with rubber spatula.

Slowly add flour mixture; stir until just incorporated.  Scrape down bottom and sides of bowl and mix in any unincorporated ingredients with a wooden spoon.

Roll tablespoons of dough into balls, then roll in sugar.  Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are browned, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, about 11 minutes.  Cool on cookie sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool fully.

dark chocolate candied pecan tart

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Brown sugar.  Dark chocolate.  Candied pecans.  Want a tart?

melt the chocolate

pouring chocolate into the crust. it's like the opening scene of willy wonka

sprinkled with pecans

finished.

 

Dark Chocolate Tart with Brown Sugar Crust and Candied Pecans

Crust:
1 ¼ sticks butter, at room temperature
¾ cups powdered sugar, sifted
¼ cup chopped candied pecans
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Filling:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
scant teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon

About ½ cup coarsely chopped candied pecans

For crust:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until creamy.  Add powdered sugar, then pecans, salt, and vanilla, and beat well.  Add egg; combine thoroughly.  Mix in flour until just barely combined.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap; chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Press dough evenly onto the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of a 10” springform pan.  Line crust with aluminum foil or parchment; fill with uncooked beans or rice to weight it.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes; cool completely.

For filling:
Melt chocolate and heavy whipping cream in heavy medium saucepan, whisking over low heat until mixture is smooth and combined. Remove from heat. Whisk egg yolks, egg, sugar, and flour in together until combined.  Slowly whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until smooth. Pour filling into crust.

Sprinkle coarsely chopped candied pecans around edges of tart.

Bake about 30 minutes, until filling is set and puffy around edges and jiggles only slightly in center. Transfer to rack. Cool in pan 20 minutes. Gently remove sides of springform; chill.

 

 

chocolate dulce de leche bars

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Good grief, I’m behind.  I have four Thanksgiving desserts, a chocolate peanut butter fire engine cake (yes, all of those words do belong together), and two recipes for UCLA tailgating (when we beat USC) this Saturday.  Forgive me if I’m a bit less wordy on this one.

butter. sugar. vanilla. this can't go wrong

So, chocolate dulce de leche bars.  On their own, any of those words would be pretty fantastic, but whoever thought to combine them is a bloody genius.  Also, I believe this provides pretty solid reasoning as to why it’s a crime that Gourmet isn’t still on newsstands.

blend till you've got this

But I digress.  These, these were in my kitchen mere weeks ago, and then they were on the kitchen table of the lovely people who invited me to their home on Thanksgiving Day (my family is a bit unconventional and celebrates Thanksgiving on Friday), and they should be in your kitchens as soon as you can get your hands on some dulce de leche.  I stumbled on it in the baking aisle with the canned milks while looking for some sweetened condensed milk with which to make my own; luckily, my past failures with homemade dulce de leche have rendered it the one substance I’m content to purchase pre-made.

this, friends - this is dulce de leche

In the future, I might try adding a layer of pure dulce de leche between the crust and the chocolate, just because the flavor isn’t too apparent through all the chocolate.  I also might throw in a tablespoon or so of flour to the chocolate dulce de leche mixture to firm it up a tiny bit.  Otherwise…go ahead and get on these.  And if you don’t try some dulce de leche plain (or sandwiched between two little almond-y cookies), I don’t think I want to be friends with you anymore.

does this picture explain why you should make these?

[I also made these again.  You’ll see what they were used for next time.]

Chocolate Dulce de Leche Bars

Adapted from the dearly departed Gourmet Magazine

For shortbread crust:

1 stick salted butter, softened

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Scant 1 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

For chocolate dulce de leche:

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup dulce de leche

4 large egg yolks

7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375˚F.  Butter a 9” square baking pan [*Alli’s note: I doubled the recipe and used a 13×9].  Line bottom and 2 sides with parchment paper, leaving an overhang.  Butter parchment.

Mix butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt gently in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Slowly add flour; blend until a soft dough forms.

Spread dough evenly in pan [*Alli’s note: Grease your spatula.  This stuff is kind of sticky.], then prick all over with a fork.  Bake until golden (15 to 20 minutes) and cool completely in pan on a rack (about 30 minutes).

Simmer cream and dulce de leche in a saucepan, stirring with a wooden spoon until dulce de leche dissolves.  Whisk yolks together in a bowl, then slowly whisk in hot cream mixture.  Return to saucepan and cook over medium heat until mixture reaches 170˚F on an instant-read thermometer.  Remove from heat, whisk in chocolate until melted.

Pour chocolate mixture over shortbread curst and chill, uncovered, until cold and set (about 2 hours).  Run a small knife around pan’s edges to soften, then transfer to a cutting board using parchment.  Cut with a hot clean knife; chill until ready to serve.

*Alli’s note: I drizzled with some melted white chocolate for aesthetic value.