Friday, November 4, 2011

Apple Crisp Days

A few weeks ago I brought apple crisp into the office on a Friday. I had apples to use up (they were getting to that mealy texture that's fine for baking, but not so pleasant for eating), and it was a chilly day. I peeled and pre-baked the crisp the night before - until it just started to brown - then let it cool and stuck it in the fridge. The next morning before work I reheated & finished browning the crisp in the oven so that it was nice an hot when I brought it into the office. I like my crisp (and pie) more on the spicy side than the sweet side, so I tend to use only a tablespoon or two of sweetner in a whole pan of crisp/pie, with a tablespoon or two of spices. This makes the crisp/pie almost savory. I do use a pre-mixed apple pie spice blend, but I also add more cinnamon and some ginger (for "kick"). There's really no measuring that goes into it - I go by taste. Anyway, this particular batch was a definite hit. The general manager in my office (the head honcho) stopped by my desk and said that he thought every Friday should be apple crisp day. I told him that I liked that idea, but it wasn't likely to happen every Friday. Apple crisp is fairly easy to make, but it is time consuming to peel the apples, and to go to the effort to bring it in warm (which makes all the difference). I brought in a larger pan this week - 13x9 instead of my pie plate - and it was gone before 10am. Phew! So, for those of you willing/wanting to try it out, here's a rough version of the recipe - there are no measurements for spices as, like I said, I go by taste:

- 5-8 apples, peeled & cut into slices (depending on size of pan & apples)
- 1-3 tblsp brown sugar or dark agave nectar (I often mix these)
- apple pie spice, cinnamon, and ground ginger to taste
- dash of vanilla
- drizzle of maple syrup or hickory syrup

- 1/2-1 stick butter, softened (depending on size of pan - use 1/2 for pie plate, full for 13x9)
- quick cook oats (usually 1-2 cups)
- 2 tsps brown sugar/agave nectar
- more cinnamon or apple pie spice (1-2 tsps)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel and slice apples; place in large bowl. Mix apples, sweetner, & spices well. Taste & add more sweetner/spices to taste. Pour apples into pan.

Mix together butter, oats, sweetner, and spices - I generally squish it with fingers as it mixes easier. Add more oats as necessary to get to crumbly texture. Be sure to mix well to avoid pockets of butter. Sprinkle topping over apples & bake for 30-45 minutes - until bubbling. If planning to finish the next day, bake for about 30 minutes, and then about 20 minutes the next morning.

Makes a great dessert or breakfast (or both)!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Now from Richmond!

I recently moved to the capital of the Old Dominion, and have already established myself as a baker amongst my new co-workers (and no one seems to mind). A batch of banana bread with choco-chips and toasted walnuts was a real hit, as was my classic dark choco brownies with cinnamon & white choco chips. Personally, I thought my first attempt at brownies in the new oven was a disaster (they ended up overbaked - new oven runs a bit hotter than old one did), but work people seemed to like them. Just going to have to keep working with the new oven to get down the timing on the brownies. Don't think my new co-workers will have any objection to being my test subjects!

Any suggestions for recipes to try out with the new crowd, dear readers?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Surprisingly popular!

This weekend's baking adventure was a foray into the "hot" chocolate brownie. "Hot" is in quotes because that's what they are - not in temperature, but in flavor. This particular batch was seasoned with cinnamon & a bit of cayenne pepper, to give them just a bit of a kick, with semi-sweet chocolate chips mixed in for a bit of texture. The inspiration for this combo came from the "Mexican" form of the hot chocolate beverage. I usually add cinnamon, sea salt, and a touch of cayenne to my hot chocolate that I make at home, so I thought I'd give it a try in brownie form. Though I wasn't all that fond of the final product, everyone else seemed to like them, and I even got a request for the recipe from the staff of a friend who brought them to work. (Bribery with baked goods can work wonders!)

So here's a rough version of the recipe for those that have asked. (For those that know my baking style, I'm liberal with the spices and not terribly precise with my measurements of said spices...)

1 box Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate brownie mix, prepared as on box (2 eggs, 1/2 cup oil, 1/4 water)
2 tsps good cinnamon
1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp double-strength vanilla (or 1 tsp regular vanilla)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chips

Grease 9x13 pan & preheat oven to 325/350 depending on type of pan. (See box instructions)

Prepare brownie mix as on box. Mix in remaining ingredients. Bake for 30 minutes or until wooden pick comes out with moist crumbs. Cool in pan before cutting.  (Yields 24 brownies)

Yes, for those of you who are new readers of this blog, I do routinely use a box mix for my brownies, though I am specific about using the one listed above. The additions of sea salt and extra vanilla really boost the flavor and the chewiness of the brownies. (The salt and alcohol change the chemistry just enough that the brownies are baked through, but still slightly underdone. Science!)

I use the DHDC mix almost exclusively for large batch brownies. If I'm only making an 8x8 pan, I tend to go scratch & use the base brownie batter section of this recipe from

So, for those of you that asked for it, there's the recipe. Happy baking!

Note to self: This recipe will yield brownies that others will love & I will not eat... From now on known as my personal "diet" brownies....

Monday, April 18, 2011

It sounded easy.... maybe too easy...

This weekend I made my first attempt at salted caramels. Though the end product tasted great, I wasn't able to easily remove them from the pan, nor easily package them, so overall it was a bust. But I'm trying again...

I used this recipe from the food52 blog. My first mistake was doubling the recipe. I had plans to bring caramels with me to several friend visits on Sunday, so I thought a double batch might be needed. Three cups of sugar takes AGES to melt on the stove- I even added a bit more water thinking it would help melt the sugars (ie, mistake #2). So, 45 minutes of stirring later I gave up and just turned up the heat to let the sugars carmelize and to hell with it if they're a bit grainy! It took way less than the recommended 15 minutes for the mixture to get amber in color, but I took it off the stove just before burning, mixed in the cream, butter, salt (a bit too much salt probably - mistake #3), and vanilla (bit too much there too), then poured the mix into a foil lined 9x13 pan. I sprinkled the top of the caramel with more sea salt and let the whole thing cool for about an hour and a half, during which time I cut a ton of small squares of waxed paper to wrap them in.

I removed the caramel from the pan by lifting the foil - at which time I discovered that my foil lining had a small hole through which much of the caramel had run. Oops! (Mistake #4) I put the whole thing down on a paper towel on my counter & started slicing the block into squares with my big chef's knife. It looked promising - I was able to easily cut through the bar. Then I picked up a square - and it was totally stuck to the foil. Argh! I checked a few more, and the same thing - this was a disaster. I couldn't pull a clean square away from the foil. Then I feared getting bits of foil into the caramels that I could somewhat pull away. Definitely wasn't going to serve these to my friends! I managed to pull a few away, and they were just way too soft. Delicious, but soft. So much for a "firm caramel".

While this batch was a disaster, I'm definitely going to try again. This time without the double batch, and with some of that "non-stick" foil, and butter the foil... Oh, and carefully measure the salt and not add the extra water... Maybe chill the caramels before cutting... There were many mistakes in this batch, but it's all just a learning experience, right?

Fingers crossed, dear readers, that the next batch is more of a success!

Brownie version of a kid classic

Last weekend I went over to a friend's house for an early season BBQ. It was just three of us, but I was in the mood to bake, and I always bring brownies to BBQs at this friend's house, no matter the size of the crowd. I looked in my cabinet to see what I had to add to my usual dark chocolate brownie mix. The pickins' were slim - a bag of peanut butter chips, a handful of bittersweet choco chips, walnuts, and mini-mallows. I was feeling the PB, but wanted to jazz it up a bit.... Then it hit me - MALLOWS! Fluffernutter brownies - pb chips mixed in, mallows browned on top - this could work!

So I baked up the usual brownies with pb chips (using the mix & my usual add-ins of extra vanilla and sea salt), then sprinkled the top with mini-mallows and stuck the pan under the broiler for a few minutes until they were brown. Overall, a success, though I should have cut them when they were warm 'cause the mallow just stuck to the knife... or warmed the knife prior to cutting....

This combo will definitely make the rotation, though I think I may save a quarter cup of the pb chips to melt and drizzle over the top next time, or maybe even mix some pb into the brownie batter to amp up the pb flavor. (I only had crunchy pb at home, and one of my boys doesn't like nuts in his brownies...)

One of the boys took the leftovers to work & said they were a hit! (I had made a 13x9 pan - three of us weren't finishing that off.) Always good when strangers like your food!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Mel C's Birthday Special

My dear friend Melanie is a BIG marshmallow fan, so for her birthday this year I decided that brownies with mallow topping were a necessary part of her birthday celebration (aka MelanieGras 2011). My first thought was rocky road brownies. I found what looked like a good recipe on After a chat with Mel, I determined nuts were out, so I had to adapt my plan. I decided to try making S'mores brownies.

I used the same brownie base as I found on, but added a graham cracker bottom & left the nuts off the top. I also used salted dark chocolate for the drizzle instead of plain semi-sweet. They were a hit, and the salted chocolate top just adds a bit of pop. (I am a HUGE fan of salted chocolate. If you haven't had it and you're first instinct is "ew", all I can say is don't knock it until you try it!)

So, here's the adapted recipe:

For the graham bottom:
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 stick melted butter

For the brownie layer:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 bag (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup mini marshamallows
1/3-1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chips
sea salt to taste (if wanted - highly recommended)

1. Preheat oven & prepare pan as outlined in Martha's recipe. (I used my brownie pan where the sides separate from the bottom, so skipped the parchment paper.)

2. Melt the 1/2 stick of butter & mix with graham cracker crumbs until moist. Press into bottom of pan.

3. Follow steps 2 & 3 of Martha's recipe to prepare the brownie layer & pour over graham cracker bottom. Spread out the brownie batter carefully so as to not destroy the bottom layer

4. Bake 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs. I recommend a little underdone as you're going to be sticking the pan back into the oven for a few minutes.

5. Remove the pan from the oven & turn it up to broil. Sprinkle the top of the brownies with mini mallows & place under the broiler until golden brown, but not burnt. This should only take a few minutes. Be ware that the mallows will puff up, so allow space between them when spreading.

6. When mallows are golden remove brownies from oven & cool completely in pan. Drizzle melted chocolate over top of mallows once cooled & hardened. Lift from pan using parchment paper ends & cut into squares.

The recipe says it makes 16, but I cut mine into 12.

The bottom's a bit crumbly, so be sure to have napkins or plates available!


Monday, November 29, 2010

The day after

The choco chip cookie bars from last night have actually held up well. A bit dry, but still chewy in the middle. (It would have helped if I'd properly stored them of course - sitting overnight in the pan uncovered is NOT proper storage.) Next time, I need to watch them a bit better to avoid overcooking.