Category Archives: Brownies and Squares

Blondies

lined-up-in-trayAs the aroma of butter and sugar filled the kitchen, my husband magically appeared to find out what was going on. When I revealed that I was baking blondies he looked puzzled. He had no idea what a blondie was. I explained that a blondie is essentially a brownie without the chocolate. His response was “what’s the point of that?”

His response was understandable. There are times when only a deep dark fudgy brownie will satisfy you. But have you considered the fact that without the distraction of chocolate, butter and brown sugar get to be the star? Once the blondies hit the oven, the brown sugar takes on an undertone of butterscotch, with rich caramel notes. The flavours of a blondie are subtle and complex.cut-up-blondiesThe golden top, slightly crispy, gives way to a chewy interior. Studded with white chocolate, macadamia nuts, toffee bits and coconut, these blondies are chock-full of goodness.what-youll-needThese blondies are adapted from Daphna Rabinovitch’s blondie recipe in her comprehensive new cookbook, “The Baker in Me.” It is from Daphna that I first learned about the freakishly delicious combination of white chocolate and macadamia nuts. She was the pastry chef at the take-out food shop I worked in many years ago. I would have happily accepted her white chocolate macadamia nut cookies or skor bar cookies in lieu of a paycheque.spreading-out-batter-in-pancutting-blondies

Click here to print recipe for Blondies.

piled-up-in-glass-stand

Mars Bars Rice Krispie Squares

6-squares I have been making these treats for many years now. I don’t even remember where the original recipe came from. Essentially, instead of marshmallows, you use melted Mars Bars (they are called Milky Way Bars in the U.S.) as the glue to hold everything together. I glammed them up with a blanket of bittersweet chocolate and a drizzle of milk chocolate to create a gorgeous marble patter . A sprinkling of coarse sea salt finishes off these addictive treats.tray-of-squaresI made a video showing how quickly these bars come together. I have been wanting to learn how to incorporate “stop motion animation” into my videos. Essentially, stop motion animation involves taking a photograph of your objects or characters, moving them slightly, and taking another photograph. When you play back the images consecutively, the objects or characters appear to move on their own. For each second of video footage, you need to shoot about 10 still photos. Check out the video I created. I used stop motion animation for the last 5 seconds of the video. I get so excited when I learn a new skill.

 

They are very fast to make and require no baking which is always a bonus at this time of year. They are a perfect hostess gift. Just be sure to tell your hosts that they don’t have to serve them if they have other desserts planned. Some folks are prickly about that. They would not appreciate an addition to their perfectly planned meal. Suggest they tuck them into the freezer for another day.

On the subject of perfect gifts to bring when you are a guest, I just got these fantastic new oven mitts. My old ones were terrycloth and had a hole burned in them. These are silicone on the outside but lined with padded cotton on the inside so they are so comfortable to wear. New oven mitts are something everyone can use but never remembers to buy.

Click here to print recipe for Mars-Bars-Rice-Krispie-Squares.

Sweet and Salty Magic Bars

on wire rackThese classic bar cookies have been around since the 1850’s! They also go by the moniker of Magic Bars, Hello Dolly Bars, Five Layer and even Seven Layer Bars. Essentially, they all begin with a melted butter and cookie crust, typically crushed graham wafers. This sweet base gets topped with more sweetness, usually chocolate or butterscotch chips, sweetened coconut and some type of nuts. A thick layer of sweetened condensed milk acts as the glue to hold everything together.

Whatever they’re called, they have never really appealed to me because they just seemed too tooth-achingly sweet. But last week I saw this charming video and knew I had to try this twist on these bars. In her new book, “Modern Potluck”, Kristen Donnelly solves the sickly sweet problem by swapping out a cookie base with a potato chip base. What??? Pure genius.

I had high hopes for these “potato chip crusted magic bars”. The combination of sweet and salty is my kryptonite. I went shopping for potato chips, because I rarely keep them in my house. Shockingly, don’t have much will power when it comes to salt. By the way, did you know that they sell unsalted potato chips? Chicken and waffle flavoured potato chips is one thing, but I draw the line at unsalted! I mean, salt is the whole point of potato chips, right?

I whipped up a batch of Kristen’s potato chip crusted magic bars. I was so excited I could barely wait for them to cool.potato chip crusted barsThe first bite was interesting. The crust was not as crispy as I thought it would be. Nor did it taste as salty as I was hoping for. The second bite left an almost rancid aftertaste in my mouth. I had eaten a few potato chips out of the bag as I was making the crust, and they tasted great. I suspect that cooking the potato chips a second time caused some kind of chemical reaction that changed the taste. I was so disappointed. I knew that Kristen’s idea of adding a salty crust was a great idea and I wanted to make these bars work.

And then I remembered these pretzel crusted treats I made last year. Why not trade potato chips for pretzels? Why not indeed? I topped mine with bittersweet chocolate chips, unsweetened coconut chips, salted cashews, almonds and macadamia nuts, and chopped vanilla caramels.cutting caramels

 

Watch the magic happen!

 

These bars have it all. A perfect sweet-salty balance and great textural contrast. Crunch from pretzels, nuts and toasted coconut, gooey sweetness from  sweetened condensed milk,  bittersweet from the chocolate, and chewiness from the caramel. A perfect treat. baked up close

one barOh, and I figured out why they’re called magic bars. Set them out with some cold milk and watch them magically disappear. They are even more delicious straight from the freezer!

Click here to print recipe for Sweet and Salty Magic Bars.

with milk

Magic Passover Pistachio Lemon Bars

lime bars 2Spoiler alert! These were an epic fail. My husband encouraged me to blog about them, even though I would never serve them or make them again. He said that publicly acknowledging my failure would make me more likeable and relatable to my readers. My daughter urged me not to blog about them because no one wants to read about bungled pastry.

In the end, I decided to share with you , if only to see if anyone can solve the mystery of what happened to these bars. More about that in a minute.

If you had come into my house at the beginning of this week, you would have inhaled deeply and said, “It smells heavenly in here.” The air was intoxicatingly scented with coconut, butter, brown sugar and chocolate and almonds. Every year, I am in charge of baking desserts for our family seders. (40 plus on my husband’s side the first night, and 35 plus on my side the second night)

And yes, I would have agreed with you that it was smelling quite delicious in my kitchen on that first day of baking. However, by day 3 of my bake-a-thon, the ambrosial scent suddenly turned  cloying and I could no longer stomach the stench of coconut, sugar and chocolate. I needed a break and thought that some citrus would help clear the air.

I was inspired by these pistachio-lemon bars from Molly O’Neill over at NYT Cooking. Since flour is not used during Passover, I replaced the all-purpose flour in the recipe with ground almonds.crust in food processor 1pat crust into pan A very strange thing happened when I baked them. The crust rose to the top and the lemon filling sunk to the bottom, and stuck horribly to the parchment paper lining.

I scraped them out of the pan and tried again, with this recipe from Joy of Kosher. I used pistachios instead of walnuts in the crust and ground almonds instead of matzoh meal in the filling. Same thing happened when I baked them. The crust magically rose to the top and the filling sunk and stuck.

I am nothing if not persistent, so I tried once more, figuring maybe third time’s the charm.  I used  Anna Olsen’s lemon squares recipe filling and doubled the amount of the first crust I tried, figuring, if it was heavier, it would stay put. I had run out of lemons, so I used limes this time.Lime fillingThe filling sunk to the bottom again, but this time it did not stick too terribly to the parchment so I was able to get them out of the pan, flip them over and slice them into squares. While they had a nice lemon tang, the crust became soggy after a few minutes. Within an hour they were a stodgy gluey mess.lime bars 1If anyone reading this knows the reason for the sinking filling, I’d love an explanation. Hope your baking is going better than mine!!

 

 

On the 8th night of Chanukah: Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares

On the eighth, and final night of Chanukah I gave my true love Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares. Reminiscent of peanut butter cups, but way better because of the crunchy, salty pretzel crust. And, the best part is that they don’t have to be baked!stacked upThis recipe was given to me by my friend Mrs. Dolphin. I’ve granted her this nickname because she shares numerous traits with porpoises. Dolphins are very social animals and excellent communicators. They are friendly, clever and natural performers. Mrs. Dolphin enjoys a very busy and complicated social life. She is charismatic, fun loving and was born to be on the stage. She is very organized and excels in creative problem solving. squares on white boardMrs. Dolphin found this recipe in the food section of the Ottawa Citizen. It was inspired by Trisha Yearwood’s No-Bake Chocolate-Pretzel-Peanut Butter Squares. (Yes, the country singer Trisha Yearwood. Did you know she has a show on The Food Network?)  I took the recipe one step further and made the top layer more lavish, with a marbleized bittersweet and white chocolate topping, because really, we all need more fancy in our lives!what you'll need

making crustpressing crust into panchocolate toppingMarbleizing looks very impressive but it’s simple to do. Here is a video showing you the technique. The video is from my The Ultimate S’mores post, but the method of creating a marble pattern is still the same.

marbelizing chocolate toppingjpg

Click here to print recipe for Mrs. Dolphin’s Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares.

Perfect with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee. The awesome drip coffee stand is from Restoration Hardware. I bought it for my husband because his plastic Melita cone offends my aesthetic sensibilities. with drip coffee