mid week sweet treat

You might think the below image is of cookie dough about to be baked, but you would be wrong.  Have you ever had Buckeyes before?  Well below is a Buckeye before it gets dunked in melted chocolate.  What we have here are peanut butter balls.

Except in this case we are not dunking the peanut butter balls into melted chocolate but rather placing them on top of a fudgy cookie.  These are Buckeyes in cookie form… genius!  (Thank you Joy the Baker for your brilliant concoction.)

The cookie dough is kind of runny and has to be dribbled on a parchment-lined baking sheet with a spoon.  At first I was a little nervous about this because I was afraid they weren’t going to bake up properly but indeed they did.  They result in a fudgy, soft cookie that makes for a perfect vehicle for the aforementioned peanut butter balls.

You place the pre-made PB balls in the center of the cookies when they are fresh out of the oven so that they meld together into a beautiful final piece that is greater than the sum of its parts.

There is no better combination that exists than peanut butter and chocolate together.  Perfection.  In cookie form.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ball Cookies (from “Joy the Baker Cookbook” by Joy Wilson)

For the peanut butter balls:

  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons peanut butter

For the cookies:

  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To make the peanut butter balls: in a large bowl, combine powdered sugar, butter, and peanut butter.  With clean hands begin to work the mixture together.  The butter and peanut butter should come together to create a stiff but pliable dough.  (I had to add 2 additional tablespoons of peanut butter to make the dough come together but I think that’s because I use natural peanut butter which tends to be a little more dry.)  Roll dough between your palms to create 16 small walnut-sized balls.  Place on a clean cutting board or cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.

Place a rack in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

To make the cookies: in a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until thick and pale.  Set aside.

Place about 2 inches of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.  In a heatproof bowl, combine butter and chocolate chips.  Place the bowl over but not touching the simmering water.  Heat until chocolate and butter have melted together.  Remove bowl from heat.  Add the melted chocolate to the egg mixture and fold together.  Once entirely incorporated, stir in the vanilla.  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.  The mixture will be glossy and loose.

Spoon heaping tablespoonfuls of cookie batter onto the baking sheet, spacing the batter 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10 minutes until crackled on top, but still fudgy in the center.  Remove from oven and immediately press a peanut butter ball into the center of each cookie.  The warmth will help meld the two together.  Allow cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cookies will last, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 4 days.

zucchini brownies, gluten-free and almost vegan

A coworker of mine has been very generous with sharing her garden with me this summer and lately she has had an abundance of zucchini.  Apart from zucchini bread I have only ever had zucchini in savory dishes so when she mentioned to me that she had recently eaten a delicious brownie made with zucchini I was intrigued and did a little interweb research.  The best-looking recipe I came across also happened to be gluten-free and refined-sugar-free.  What?!  Since I have been getting myself out of bed at 5 in the morning three days a week lately for a bootcamp class both of these things appealed to me so as not to undo all the good I’ve been doing.

Now, normally “healthy” and “baked goods” are not words that should be used together in a phrase but in this case it works.  And the brownies were so easy to make!  Four simple steps.  Anyone can handle that!

In place of sugar the recipe called for raw honey and instead of flour there was almond butter.  I happen to love almond butter and generally keep it in stock when I want a break from peanut butter so already had some on hand.

The results were moist brownies with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg.  If you want a rich, dense, chocolate-y brownie, look elsewhere, but if you want a sweet treat that actually isn’t that bad for you health-wise, this is your dish.  I think it may inspire me to sneak vegetables into sweet baked goods again…

Flourless Zucchini Brownies (recipe found at http://fastpaleo.com/zucchini-brownies/)

  • 1 cup of almond butter
  • 1 1/2 cup of grated or chopped zucchini (I used food processor)
  • 1/3 cup of raw honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp of nutmeg
  • 1 cup of dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix everything together.

Pour into a greased 9×9 baking pan.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

the best part about chocolate chip cookies

I have a friend, let’s call her Cheri* (*not her real name), who has a serious cookie dough problem.  The kind of problem where she buys cookie dough from the freezer section in the grocery store just to munch on.  Raw.  I understand the appeal, I mean, who doesn’t like to lick the beaters clean while baking?  But they always warn you about that raw egg thing… and no one wants to risk salmonella.  So when I found a recipe on one of my favorite blogs for cookie dough that is made without eggs and is meant to be eaten raw I knew just who to make it for.

The original recipe went one step further than I have here and dipped the cookie dough balls in melted chocolate for a Buckeye effect but my cookie-dough-eating-friend is a bit of a purist and prefers them sans melted chocolate.  It’s very good that way but if you’re more into the salty-sweet thing than overly sweet stuff, this is the way forward.  Trust me on this.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls (adapted from recipe from www.joythebaker.com)

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about three minutes in the machine.  Beat in yogurt along with the vanilla extract and stir to combine.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add all at once to the butter and sugar mixture and stir until incorporated.  Fold in chocolate chips.

Scoop large spoonfuls or ice cream scoops onto a  waxed paper lined cookie sheet.  Place in the freezer overnight or until frozen, at least three hours.  Serve cold from the freezer.

camping classic, without having to sleep in a tent

Confession: I’ve never been a big fan of camping.  As a child I was a Campfire Girl and often had to go on camping trips with my troop where we made friendship bracelets, went on nature hikes, and had to sing songs, yes, around a campfire.  All I really remember is always feeling cold and damp and once burning my hand on the wrong end of a metal fire-poking stick.  Not fun.

I like nature and everything, I’m just not sure I like sleeping out in it in a tent on the cold ground, feeling every root and rock beneath me as I toss and turn all night.  No thanks.

However, there is one thing camping really does have going for it: s’mores.  There’s nothing quite like a marshmallow toasted on a stick over some hot coals and then packed between chocolate and graham crackers.  It’s one of life’s simple pleasures that you enjoy no matter how far from Campfire Girl days you are.

These bars recreate that feeling.  And you don’t have to sleep in a tent to enjoy them.  Score!

S’more Bars (from Taste of Home: Simple and Delicious magazine)

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 6 oz. of milk chocolate bars
  • 1 cup marshmallow cream

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and beat well.  Combine the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, and salt.  Beat into creamed mixture, and set aside ½ cup of this mixture for the topping.

Press remaining mixture into an 8-inch baking pan.  Place candy bars over the crust in one single layer.  Spread marshmallow cream on top of candy bar layer.  Crumble remaining graham cracker/flour/butter mixture over top.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes, or until golden brown on top.  Cool on a wire rack and cut into bars.

gluten free brownies

Well, I made it through Lent gluten-free as planned.  At least I’m pretty sure I managed to avoid it almost entirely.  It sneaks up in places you don’t expect, like as a thickener in soups and is apparently sometimes used to keep pre-shredded cheese from sticking together in packages in the supermarket.  Hmm.  At any rate, I am back on the stuff but am trying to keep it in moderation and as previously mentioned will still be baking gluten-free items on occasion, since I have oodles and oodles of gluten-free flours in my pantry.  Fortunately I found a gluten-free cookbook that I really like: Blackbird Bakery Gluten Free.

The recipes in this book taste like the traditional baked goods I was used to and these brownies were no exception.  They were rich, dense, and sweet.  Totally brownie-like in every way possible.  They were even better heated up and served with a little Salted Caramel Ice Cream which I will share with you later in the week.  Until then, happy Monday!

Gluten Free Brownies (from “Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free” by Karen Morgan)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces high-quality chocolate, such as Scharffen Berger, chopped
  • 2 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, such as Scharffen Berger, chopped
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup almond meal
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ cup tapioca flour
  • ¼ cup glutinous rice flour (Bob’s Red Mill Sweet White Rice Flour will work)
  • 1 ¾ teaspoons guar gum
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Take a piece of parchment paper and using a pair of kitchen scissors, cut 2 inches into each corner (right where the two edges of the paper meet) at a 45 degree angle.  Press the parchment into the greased 9-by-13-inch pan.  The slits you cut into the corners will allow you to fit the paper into the pan with perfectly smooth edges.

In a large stainless-steel bowl set over a saucepan with 2 inches of barely simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water), melt the butter and chocolate, being careful not to let the chocolate scorch.  Whisk in 1 cup of sugar.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and stir with a whisk to blend.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs with the remaining 1 cup sugar until the eggs have doubled in volume.  Stir half of the egg mixture into the melted chocolate mixture, then stir in half of the dry ingredients.  Repeat this process and stir until the batter looks like chocolate pudding.  Fold in the vanilla.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 30 minutes, or until the brownies are cracked around the edges.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.  Lift the brownies out by grasping the two sides of the parchment paper.  Transfer to a cutting board and remove the paper.  Cut into 16 bars.

flourless chocolate cake

Ah, spring.  You have arrived!  Over the past week I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the overgrown bush outside my front door is in fact a lilac bush.  Nice!  I am going to trim it a bit this week so I can enjoy the lilac fragrance indoors.  (Don’t tell my landlord.)

In other spring news, I baked a flourless chocolate cake for you.

This recipe is so simple.  It can be made from scratch to finished product in 45 minutes.  And also its delicious.  And gluten-free!

If you are making this for a birthday, as I did, don’t expect it to be birthday cake-like.  We took to referring to it as the “brownie-cake.”  It is rather flat and is so rich that no frosting is required so does not resemble a typical cake but it will still knock the socks off of all who eat it.  I converted a few naysayers who were skeptical of gluten-free baking with this cake.  It’s magical.  Just like spring.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (recipe found at www.epicurious.com from Gourmet magazine, November 1997)

  • 4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container, 1 week.)

a classic, minus the gluten

A friend of mine who is allergic to wheat once gave me the sage advice to not expect gluten-free things to taste like the gluten-filled counterparts that I am used to.  This has proven to be true in most areas but I will say that thankfully it is not always the case.  This gluten-free chocolate chip cookie recipe from the “Blackbird Bakery” cookbook is just as good as the Tollhouse version I grew up on.  I promise.

The main difference is that the dough for these cookies needs to be refrigerated for at least two hours prior to baking.  A minor inconvenience for a delicious cookie.  Just keep this tidbit in mind should you need to whip up a quick batch! 

The resulting cookies are moist and rich.  I think the greatest compliment that I can give them is that I plan to make them again even after my gluten-free diet is over with.  They’re delicious, and I don’t know if this is psychological but I swear I didn’t feel as heavy after eating a couple then I usually do with traditional chocolate chip cookies… so that meant I ate like four in a sitting.  No judgement.

Chocolate Chip Cookies (slightly adapted from recipe found in “Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free” by Karen Morgan)

  • 1 ¼ cups glutinous rice flour (Bob’s Red Mill Sweet White Rice Flour works just fine)
  • 1 ¼ cups sorghum flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon guar gum
  • 1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all the dry ingredients, including the sugars, and mix on low speed to blend.  Add the butter and mix on low speed until blended.  Add all the eggs at once along with the vanilla and mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Fold in the chocolate chips until evenly dispersed.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Using a 1 ½ -inch-diameter ice-cream scoop, place mounds of dough 1 ½ inches apart on the prepared pans.  Bake one pan at a time for 13 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned on the edges, rotating the pan halfway through baking.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan for 5 minutes; transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.