Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Toffee Chocolate Bars

Who doesn’t love Heath bars? Toffee, chocolate, what more could you ask for? So these bars basically take Heath bars then bump it up a notch with vanilla, brown sugar and butter.

The base is a basic shortbread base with espresso powder and chocolate mixed in. To spread it in the pan you lay saran wrap over it and press down. Genius! I always have a problem smoothing out the shortbread base so you can bet that I’ll be using this trick in the future. Once the base is cooked you cover it with chocolate and toffee bits. Again, what’s not to like? I know that Dennis and my co-workers didn’t have any complaints.

Toffee Chocolate Bars (adapted from Culinary in the Desert/Baking From My Home To Yours)

For the base

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

For the topping

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup toffee bits

To prepare the base

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, espresso, salt and cinnamon.

In a large mixing bowl, add butter and beat until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add sugars and continue to beat until very light and creamy, about 3 more minutes. Mix in vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined - fold in bittersweet chocolate.

Drop dollops of the dough into a 9" x 13" baking pan coated with nonstick spray. Lay a piece of saran wrap on top of the dough and use your hands to press it into an even, thin layer.

Place into the oven and bake until lightly golden, about 20 to 22 minutes. Turn the oven off, remove the pan and place it on a wire rack.

For the topping

Immediately scatter the semi-sweet chocolate chips over the hot base and place back into the oven just long enough to soften the chocolate, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and use an off-set spatula to spread the chocolate all over the top. Scatter the top with the toffee bits and gently press them down to adhere. Set aside and let stand at room temperature until the chocolate has set - if it is still too soft after a few hours, put it in the refrigerator briefly to firm up the chocolate before cutting into bars.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Oatmeal Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies

In college one of my signature cookies was Oatmeal Raisin. The recipe came from Quaker and it was definitely one of the best oatmeal cookie recipes I've tried. For whatever reason I've rarely strayed from that recipe but when I had some oatmeal that I wanted to use up I went on the search for something a bit different.

This recipe actually comes from a Christmas cookie recipe but I think it's adaptable for whatever season you'd like. I basically just looked around the kitchen to see what I could throw in. The end result was a cookie filled with cranberries, white chocolate chips and dark chocolate chips. Taking a bite of these I was reminded of why I love oatmeal cookies in the first place. The substance of the oatmeal, combined with the tartness of the cranberries and sweetness of the chocolate - perfection. Feel free to add whatever you'd like to this recipe. I'm thinking dried cherries in place of the cranberries would possibly be even better...

Oatmeal Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies (from A Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies)
1 1/3 cups rolled oats (regular, not instant)
3/4 cup flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup mixed white chocolate and dark chocolate chips
1 stick unsalted butter
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpat.
Whisk oats, flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl; stir in cranberries and chocolate chips.
In a medium saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Simmer over medium-low heat until the milk solids turn golden brown, about 4 minutes.
Pour browned butter into a large bowl and whisk in brown sugar until combined. Whisk in cinnamon, then whisk in eggs and vanilla, beating well after each. Add dry mixture to wet ingredients and stir just until combined. Drop by rounded tablespoon 2 inches apart onto cookie sheets.
Bake until light golden brown and just dry to the touch, about 8-10 minutes. Slide parchment paper or Silpat onto racks to cool completely.
Makes about 30 cookies.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Double-Decker Confetti Brownies

I had no ideas for a treat this week. No inspirations struck so I decided to page through my cookbooks and see what caught my eye.

Anything with M&M’s is usually a safe bet for something that will please most people. When I bake with M&M’s I usually make my normal blondie bars studded with M&M’s. This recipe though offered the chance to combine blondies and brownies – how could I resist?

Dennis said these were pretty similar to my normal M&M bars and would have liked it if the chocolate flavor came through even more. I think next time I might add in some espresso powder to the chocolate layer to really up the ante. I see future experimentations with this recipe in my future.

Double-Decker Confetti Brownies (from Favorite Brand Name Cookies)


3/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups flour, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 cup M&M's, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugars in a large bowl until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs and vanilla.

In a separate medium size bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups flour, baking powder and salt; blend into creamed mixture.

Divide batter in half.

Blend together cocoa powder and melted butter; stir into one half of the dough.

Spread cocoa dough evenly into the prepared pan.

Stir remaining 1/4 flour and 1/2 cup M&M's baking bits into remaining dough; spread evenly over the cocoa dough in the pan.

Sprinkle with remaining M&M's.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until edges start to pull away from sides of the pan.

Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes 24 brownies.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Almond Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies

It seems like Nutella has bumped up their advertising budget recently because I've been seeing their commercials all over the place. In the commercials they try to portray Nutella as the perfect nutritious and delicious. Hmm, I'm not so sure how good for you it is (isn't it basically just hazelnuts and chocolate?) but it definitely tastes great. Nutella spread on crepes or on a fresh baguette - it doesn't get much better than that.

Unless of course you put it in a cookie. ;) This was my first time baking with Nutella, as well as with almond butter. I got the almond butter from Trader Joe's but you can probably find it in the peanut butter section at a regular grocery store, or maybe in the natural food aisle. It's a bit runnier than peanut butter but gives the cookies a great flavor that people aren't expecting.

The texture of these cookies was great - soft and chewy, they nearly melt in your mouth. The almond butter imparted a bit of saltiness which paired great with the Nutella. Overall everyone loved these; Dennis even said these are one of his new favorites, high compliments indeed.

Almond Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies (from SavoryandSweet.com)

1/2 c. unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 c. smooth almond butter
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 farm fresh egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. Nutella

Mix first 8 ingredients until smooth and fluffy. Slowly sift in flour until well incorporated. Stir in the Nutella just until you have a pretty swirl pattern.

Refrigerate dough for at least 15-20 minutes. Then scoop out small dough balls onto lined cookie sheet and bake in 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes. I baked mine for a bit longer, probably closer to 9-10 minutes.

Makes about 36 cookies.