Peppermint-powered cookies for the Christmas platter

peppermintbrowniecookies

If you were a reader of my blog last year, you’ll know that I get intense about Christmas cookies. I’m the designated baker for our extended family gathering on Christmas Eve, and each year I like to find new recipes to add to the enormous platter of cookies for my family to enjoy.

Last year, I found this recipe for Chocolate Peppermint Brownie Cookies in California Bountiful magazine. As you know by now, brownies are my favorite dessert. Adding peppermint and putting them in cookie form seemed like an acceptable idea, so that’s what I did. I liked that the inside was chewy and the outside got slightly flaky when bitten into, just like a perfectly baked brownie. I made them teaspoon-size like the recipe called for, and they were perfect little bites of deliciousness.

If you’re baking cookies for the holidays, try this one. It was a nice, flavor-packed addition to the assortment I made. If you’re looking for a more mellow chocolate cookie, try these totally adorable cocoa cookies instead.

Ingredients
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp. peppermint extract
1/2 tbsp. brewed espresso (see note)
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, whip eggs for 1 minute. Add sugar, peppermint extract and espresso and whip on high speed for 15 minutes or until mixture is thick. While eggs are whipping, melt bittersweet chocolate and butter together in a bowl in a water bath.

Fold chocolate mixture into egg mixture until partially combined, as there should still be some visible streaks. Carefully fold flour mixture into batter, then add chocolate chips and almonds. If batter is runny, let it rest for about 5 minutes to thicken.

Scoop generous teaspoonfuls of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until cookies puff and are cracked on top. Allow cookies to cool before removing from baking sheet.

Note: In place of espresso, you may substitute an instant coffee extract (for example, 5:1 ratio of instant coffee to water).

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Fudgy brownies for a friend’s birthday

Fudgybrownies081014

When it comes to brownies, most people have a preference: cakey or fudgy. My co-worker, whose birthday is today, prefers the latter. Lucky for her, I have a great recipe for people who like fudgy brownies. I found it in the Spring 2008 edition of Cook’s Illustrated Light Recipes and have used it ever since. It’s also a great recipe to use when you want to experiment with flavors in brownies — whether that means adding mint flavoring, caramel streaks, or using it for a base layer of a more decadent bar.

The article that ran with this low-fat recipe said that the fudgy texture can be attributed to the sour cream used in the recipe — which, unlike many brownie recipes, doesn’t use much butter. In a couple instances where I didn’t have sour cream, I substituted Greek yogurt, which added a slight tang to the finished product. But, it will do in a pinch.

These decadent brownies really hit the spot when you’re particular about the consistency. You can also easily add nuts or chocolate chips. I hope you enjoy them as much as the birthday girl did.

Ingredients
Nonstick cooking spray
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon chocolate syrup (or light corn syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg plus 1 large egg white
1 cup sugar

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Fold two 12-inch pieces of foil lengthwise so that each measures 7 inches wide. Fit one sheet into an 8-inch-square baking dish, pushing foil into corners and up sides of pan (overhang will help in removal of brownies). Repeat with second sheet, placing in pan perpendicular to first sheet. Coat foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Melt chocolate and butter together in bowl set oven pan of simmering water or in microwave set to medium power. Cool 2 to 3 minutes, then whisk in sour cream, chocolate syrup, vanilla, egg, egg white, and sugar. Using rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into chocolate mixture until combined.

Pour batter into pan, spread into corners, and level surface with spatula. Bake until slightly puffed and toothpick inserted in center comes out with sticky crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Cool brownies completely in pan on wire rack, at least one hour. Remove brownies from pan using foil handles. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.To keep brownies moist, do not cut until ready to serve.

A recipe to ‘wow’ your guests

redvelvetcheesecakebrownies

Red Pen Recipes turned 1 year old on Friday. This time last year I was nervous about whether I’d have enough time to try new recipes often enough to write a new post each week. I’m happy to say this blog has kept me doing what I hoped it would: writing for pleasure and keeping me trying new things in the kitchen.

Of the 52 recipes I wrote about in the past year, the Rum Raisin Rice Pudding was one of my favorite new discoveries, and homemade applesauce was a close second. They’re both Barefoot Contessa recipes I hadn’t tried before.

To celebrate the one-year mark, I decided to reformat my blog. I chose this format for its cleaner look and to showcase the photos a little more. I hope you enjoy the new look.

While Friday marked the first anniversary of Red Pen Recipes, it also marked the final day for one of my staff members. One of my reporters accepted a new job in Santa Fe, N.M., so I wanted to bake something special for her before she left. I flipped through some of my cookbooks and considered a few different items before I remembered the Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies recipe a friend gave me a few years ago.

This recipe is something I save for special occasions, when I really want to “wow” someone. It combines three desserts a lot of people enjoy, and has yet to disappoint. Cheesecake, red velvet cake and brownies can each require a rather involved process, but this three-in-one treat is pretty simple to make — you just have to use three bowls to combine different ingredients before putting them together.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to bringing you more recipes in the coming year.

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon red food coloring (or six drops red food gel)
2/3 cup all purpose flour (use 1 cup at high altitude)
1/4 teaspoon salt (use 1/2 at high altitude)
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (use 1 teaspoon at high altitude)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 8-inch square baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up two sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment.


In a small, heatproof bowl, melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave. Put it in 3 seconds at a time until soft enough to stir. Stir until combined and very smooth. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.


In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and red food coloring. Add chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Add flour and salt and stir until just combined and no streaks of dry ingredients remain. Pour into prepared pan and spread into an even layer.


To prepare cheesecake mixture, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until smooth. Distribute the cheesecake mixture in eight dollops over batter in the pan. Swirl in with a knife or spatula.


Bake for 35-40 minutes (it could take up between 45 and 50 minutes at high altitude), until brownies and cheesecake are set. A knife inserted into the cheesecake mixture should come out clean and the edges will be lightly browned.


Let cool completely in pan on a cooling rack before lifting out the parchment paper to remove the brownies.

Brownies for any occasion

Germanchocolatebrownies1

Of all the desserts in the world, brownies are my favorite. They always have been, and probably always will be. While I have a couple go-to recipes, this is one I return to when I want to get a little fancy.

These German chocolate brownies look more complicated than they actually are. I got the recipe out of Good Housekeeping’s Favorite Recipes: Brownies! book, which I found years ago during one of my regular trips to Seattle. It was in a clearance pile on the basement floor of the the Barnes & Noble at the corner of Pine Street and Seventh Avenue. As someone who loves brownies, I couldn’t pass up the $4.99 price tag for a book that contained dozens of recipes for my favorite dessert. To this day, it’s one of my favorite cookbooks.

If you like chocolate, coconut and pecans, you’ll enjoy these brownies. When properly cooked, the brownie layer is fudgy, so it sticks to your teeth the slightest bit when you bite into one. The coconut layer browns during baking and adds a burst of flavor to the top. Together, the two make for a decadent treat that I’ve made time and time again.

When I first made these at high altitude, they didn’t turn out right. The brownie layer overcooked at the edges as I attempted to get the center to fully cook. The next time I made them, I added one-fourth cup cocoa powder, which turned out to be the perfect stabilizer. The brownies turned out just right. Thursday will mark one year since I moved to high altitude, and I’m happy to say I think I’m finally getting the hang of baking up here.

BrownieGermanchocolatebrownies2
1/2 cup butter
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet baking chocolate
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
(If you’re at high altitude, add 1/4 cup cocoa powder)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.

To prepare the brownie, heat butter and chocolate in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat until melted, stirring frequently. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in the brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; stir until well mixed. Stir in flour and salt just until blended. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

ToppingGermanchocolatebrownies3
3 large egg whites
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

To prepare the topping, beat egg whites with a wire whisk in a medium bowl until foamy. Stir in coconut, pecans, brown sugar, milk, vanilla and almond extracts and salt until well combined. Spread topping over batter.

Bake until toothpick inserted 2 inches from the edge comes out almost clean and topping turns golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.

When cool, cut lengthwise into six strips, then cut each strip crosswise into six pieces.