Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Toffee Brownies Bites with Caramel Buttercream



I reallyreallyreally love Christmas music.

From the oldies to the super-oldies to the eighties to the manufactured pop to the R&B ballads to the easy listening to the duets to the Paul McCartney to the Charlie Brown, I enjoy them all.

(Click, click, click! Don't be a Grinch.)

That is, except for the ones I absolutelycannotstand:

Madonna's version of Santa Baby (see also: nails on a chalkboard),
Sippin' in Seattle's Latte Land by Duffy Bishop,
The Christmas Shoes by Newsong,
and Christmas in the Northwest by Brenda White

Unfortunately (?), the first 48 seconds of a random ice skating video was the only audio I could find for the ridiculous coffee-themed adaptation of Walking in a Winter Wonderland. Which obviously means that The Rulers of the Internet agree with me about how awful it is.

Sometimes I buy songs to put on my iPod that I don't necessarily like, just so I can play them whenever I want to annoy my family, friends, and coworkers be funny, ridiculous, and/or ironic.

You do that too, right? Please say yes. If other people don't do this, how am I going to continue to justify this being on my iPod?

Anyway, this should explain why a few days ago I bought a couple of The Christmas Songs I AbosolutelyCannotStand.

At work, we're allowed to listen to the music of our choice before the shop opens, and it seemed like the perfect day to make my coworkers hate me start playing my Christmas music. I needed those songs in order to make my playlist hilariously, ridiculously, and ironically complete.

I plugged my iPod in, selected my Christmas playlist, and hit shuffle.

The first song that came on was The Christmas Shoes. Weird, right? I just bought it that morning! But it achieved the level of ridiculousness I was going for. Mission accomplished.

The next song? Christmas in the Northwest. Okay, fine. Now that the funny/ridiculous/ironic songs were over, I was ready for some timeless holiday classics.

Except, the music stopped playing. Which made no sense because there were at least fifty songs on the playlist. But whatever.

I selected my Christmas playlist again and hit shuffle. First song? Christmas in the Northwest. Second song? The Christmas Shoes. End playlist.

Yikes.

I've tried everything. Deleting the songs and re-adding them. Re-syncing my iPod. Deleting the playlist and making a new one. No matter what I do, these are the only two songs that will play when I shuffle my Christmas playlist.

I guess this is my karmic punishment for trying to be ironic. Helppp.

In times like these, you need brownies to numb the pain (of your bleeding ears). Bite-sized brownies with toffee bits and caramel frosting, to be exact. But seriously? Chocolate + toffee + caramel = You should definitely make these even if you aren't stranded on The Island of Misfit Christmas Songs.

See what I did there? Ha.

Toffee Brownie Bites with Caramel Buttercream

For the brownies:

1 box Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge Brownie Mix
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 & 1/4 cups toffee bits, divided

For the caramel buttercream:

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 & 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
3 tablespoons caramel ice cream topping

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven according to the directions on the brownie mix packaging. Coat a mini cupcake pan with nonstick spray or line with paper liners.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the water, vegetable oil, and eggs. Add all but 1/2 cup of the brownie mix, and whisk until smooth. Combine the reserved brownie mix with 1 cup toffee bits in a small bowl, then whisk this mixture into the brownie batter until fully incorporated. This additional step will prevent the toffee bits from sinking to the bottom of the batter.

3. Spoon about 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of batter into each cup of the prepared pan. Bake for 16-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center brownie comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

4. To make the frosting: In a medium bowl, cream the butter for about one minute with an electric hand mixer at medium speed. Add the powdered sugar and continue mixing at low speed for about one minute more; the mixture will look dry and crumbly. Add the milk and continue mixing until the frosting comes together, adding additional milk if needed. Add the caramel and mix until completely incorporated.

5. Once the brownies are completely cool, pipe a swirl of frosting onto each one and garnish with the remaining toffee bits.

Makes about 30 brownie bites.

FTC Disclosure: As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemakers Program, I received Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge Brownie Mix at no cost; however, all opinions stated are my own.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011: Pumpkin Pie and Carrot Cake


Where to begin.

I guess I should start by accepting the award for Worst Food Blogger Ever, since I'm just now posting the desserts I made for Thanksgiving... three days too late for you to make them. I guess you can just consider these early for next year.

Ohwait. Did I say the same thing last Thanksgiving?

Happenings of Thanksgiving 2011:

1. My longstanding annoyance toward making pie intensified. I started baking at around 7 p.m. on Wednesday and didn't finish until 2 a.m. 2AM!!! All because of the stupid* pumpkin pie and its burnt gingersnap crust, followed by pie dough sticking to everylastthing, and topped off by pumpkin filling splashing all over my oven.

burnt crust!

*Please note that this is my second choice of all potential adjectives to describe that pie. I wouldn't want to use my first choice and have my classy lady status revoked.

2. I made the best carrot cake everrr. Which almost made up for the horrific pie episode. Almost.


3. I saw Arthur Christmas on Thanksgiving night, which turned out to be the first (new) Christmas movie I've truly enjoyed in the past several years. I laughed out loud on several occasions! That said, A Charlie Brown Christmas will always be my favorite.

4. After the movie (around 11:30 p.m.), my dad, my sister, and I were going to stop at Starbucks. That is, until we saw the 20+ cars lined up in the drive-through. Cars filled with crazed, pepper-spray-wielding Black Friday shoppers no doubt.

5. I volunteered to work at 3:45 a.m. on Friday. At the mall. To be honest? I was disappointed. I had hoped to experience the madness of Black Friday for the first time, but it turned out that all the really intense shopping happened between 10 p.m. and midnight.

Instead, I sat at my kiosk and observed mall people for four long hours.

I judged their fashion choices. (Only about 25% of people were wearing real pants. One person was wearing a brown suit, complete with top hat).

I considered suicide as an alternative to listening to the Hickory Farms guy shout "You folks care for a sample?" overandoverandover while furiously shaking his container of mint meltaways.

And I listened (against my will) to two of my fellow mall workers debate the relative superiority of the Cowboys and the Seahawks. And when I say debate, I mean "smugly repeat the same point over and over until one of them gave up."

6. After my exhilarating Black Friday experience, I went home and slept for six hours. Which completely threw off my circadian rhythm. I'm still recovering.

Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

For the filling:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
3 eggs
2 cups (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 & 1/4 cups half & half

For the crust:

Pie crust

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, salt, and spices. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, and half & half until thoroughly combined.

2. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth.

3. Prepare the pie crust dough. Roll it out into a 13" circle and transfer it to a 9-inch pie pan. Trim off any excess dough and crimp the edges. Chill the piecrust while the oven preheats to 400°F. I'm not providing instructions for making the pie crust because I had a really hard time with it. I recommend that you follow King Arthur Flour's instructions, use your favorite recipe, or buy a refrigerated pie crust at the store!

4. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the filling is set two inches in from the edge; the center will finish cooking as the pie cools.

Makes 1 pie, 6-8 servings.

Carrot Cake with Coconut, Raisins, and Walnuts
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

For the cake:

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups carrots, grated
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup coconut, shredded
1/2 cup raisins
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

For the frosting:

1 & 1/2 cups cream cheese, softened
1 cup + 2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
9 cups powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Coat three 8-inch cake pans with nonstick spray and line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with nonstick spray and coat each pan with flour.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together the carrots, walnuts, coconut, and raisins.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the sugar and oil at medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Reduce the mixer speed to stir and add the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated. Add the carrot mixture and mix until evenly distributed.

4. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

5. While the cake cools, make the frosting. Beat the cream cheese and butter at medium-high speed for about two minutes. Add the vanilla and beat one minute more. Reduce the mixer speed to stir and add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Once all of the sugar is incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and beat for about two minutes, or until the frosting is light and fluffy.

6. Assemble the cake. Stack the cake layers on top of each other, adding a generous layer of frosting between each layer of cake. Cover the top and sides of the cake with frosting as well. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. For detailed instructions on assembling a layer cake, please visit this post.

Makes 1 three-layer cake, about 10 servings.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pumpkin Maple Rolls


Thanksgiving is next week. I should probably write something about that.

But what is there to say, really? I've heard people say they're annoyed that Thanksgiving gets overshadowed by Halloween and Christmas. But the truth is, there's nothing to overshadow. That's actually one of the things I love most about Thanksgiving. It's all about spending time with family eating yourself into a carb-induced coma. There are no Thanksgiving costumes. No Thanksgiving lights. No Thanksgiving trees. Just a four-day weekend of gluttony and mindless consumerism.


So I'm just going to go ahead and start writing about Christmas. Here are some of the things that my eyes are already getting sparkly about:


But before we get to all of that, we need to make pumpkin maple rolls.
And by we... I mean you.

Because I already did. And then this happened:


Pumpkin Maple Rolls
Adapted from Lauren's Latest

For the dough:

2 & 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon + 2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup warm milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
6 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

For the glaze:

4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 & 1/2 teaspoons maple extract
7 tablespoons milk

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar, and warm water. Allow to proof for 5-10 minutes, or until the yeast becomes foamy. If the yeast does not foam, discard and start over with new yeast.


2. To the same bowl, add the warm milk, butter, sugar, salt, and pumpkin puree and stir well. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, until you can no longer stir the dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead in the remaining flour until the dough is sticky, but does not stick to your hands. For me, this took about 5 minutes, and I used about 5 & 1/2 cups of flour.


3. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free area for about two hours, or until doubled in volume.


4. While the dough is rising, combine the melted butter and maple syrup in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Grease a 9x13-inch pan and an 8x8-inch square dish.

5. Punch down the dough and transfer it to a lightly greased surface. Roll the dough out into a rectangle approximately 12 inches by 24 inches. Using a pastry brush or small spatula, spread the butter and syrup mixture evenly over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle the brown sugar and spice mixture evenly over the moistened surface, and gently press it into the dough.



6. Roll the dough up as tightly as possible into a log. With a sharp knife, trim about one inch off each end of the log and discard. Cut the log into 16 equal pieces. The easiest way to do this is to cut the log in half, then cut the halves in half, and so on. Carefully transfer the slices to the prepared pans (12 in the large pan, 4 in the small pan) and reshape if necessary. Cover the pans with plastic wrap.




7. Place a baking dish filled with about 1" of boiling water on the bottom rack of a cold oven. Place the covered pans on the top rack of the oven and allow to rise for about one hour, or until almost doubled in size.

 

8. Remove the pan of boiling water and the risen rolls from the oven and preheat to 350°F. Once the oven is heated, remove the plastic wrap from the pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the rolls are golden brown.

9. While the rolls are baking, prepare the glaze. Combine the powdered sugar, vanilla, maple extract, and milk in a medium bowl. Whisk until the ingredients come together to form a thick glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the hot rolls. Serve warm.

Makes 16 rolls.


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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Caramel Cream Cheese Filling


I've been looking forward to these whoopie pies since August when I planned out my fall baking schedule.

Yes, I made a schedule. Yes, in August. Have we met?

Unfortunately, the universe sensed how excited I was about caramel cream cheese frosting sandwiched between pumpkin cake-cookies and decided to invoke that every-action-equal-opposite-reaction thing by completely ruining them, thereby sending me into a spiral of disappointment and self-loathing equal to my initial level of excitement.

Abridged version? The universe ruined my whoopie pies, and my will to live is waning.

How did I (the universe) ruin them? I underbaked them. Major.

The tester came out clean, the tops sprang back when pressed gently, and everything seemed to be in order when I was assembling them. But as soon as I took a bite, my pumpkin whoopie pie dreams were shattered.

Some things are kind of delicious when they're slightly underbaked (hello, brownies. hello, cookies), but cake is not one of those things. Not to mention that "slightly" doesn't really apply in this case.


Q: Which of the following disturbs you most?
I. I still ate an entire whoopie pie. Plus a few extra bites "just to see if they were really under baked." Sound familiar
II. As I was throwing them away ( / crying and cursing the universe), Charlie snatched one out of my hand and devoured it in approximately 3 seconds. Apparently, pumpkin whoopie pies are bulldog-approved. 
III. Despite my complete failure, I still decided to blog about these and highly recommend that you make them. 
Please select your answer from the following choices: 
A. I only
B. II only
C. I & II only
D. I & III only
E. I, II & III
F. None of the above
Anyone else having a terrifying flashback to reading this kind of question on a standardized test and wondering why WTF isn't listed as an option?

No? Just me again?

I don't want to sound all "those grapes were probably sour anyway", but I've decided that I don't really like whoopie pies. The cake-to-frosting ratio is all wrong. Double cake? Ehh. Double frosting? YES.

If you disagree, then you've obviously never had caramel cream cheese frosting.
You should really do something about that.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Caramel Cream Cheese Filling
Adapted from Martha Stewart

For the whoopie pies:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves
2 cups brown sugar, pakced
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the caramel cream cheese filling:

3/4 cup butter
1 cup cream cheese
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
6 cups powdered sugar
caramel ice cream topping

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. In a separate large bowl, stir together the brown sugar and oil until completely combined . Add the pumpkin puree, followed by the eggs and vanilla, mixing well after each ingredient is added.

3. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients, and stir until the dry ingredients are totally incorporated.

4. Using an ice cream or cookie scoop, drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets about one inch apart. I used a 1/4-cup scoop and ended up with 24 cakes, which made 12 large whoopie pies. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops begin to crack and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool the cakes completely on the pans.

5. While the cakes are baking, make the filling. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese at medium-high speed for about two minutes. Add the vanilla and beat one minute more. Reduce the speed to stir and add the powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time. Once the sugar is completely incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and beat for about two minutes.

6. Assemble the whoopie pies:

Prepare your decorating bag. You can either use a disposable pastry bag or a gallon-size plastic storage bag. After fitting your decorating bag with a large round piping tip, use a small spatula to paint stripes on the inside of the bag with the caramel ice cream topping. Next, fill the bag with the cream cheese frosting. Squeeze the frosting out into a small bowl until you begin to see the stripes of caramel in the frosting.

Match up the cooled cakes according to size and shape. Pipe 2-3 tablespoons of frosting onto one cake in each pair. Top the frosted cakes with the unfrosted cakes and press down gently. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Peanut Butter Candy Bar Squares


Ostensibly, these bars are the solution I'm offering for those of you looking to get rid of unwanted Halloween candy. But considering that I'm posting this almost a full week after Halloween, I guess it's pretty obvious that I just wanted an excuse to bake something with peanut butter candy bars in it.

Besides that, since when is Halloween candy something that people don't want around? That's just silly, if you ask me.

Even though I knew I wasn't going to get a single trick-or-treater, I went to the store on Halloween and bought candy so I could make these bars the next day. I figured I should buy it while it was still on sale.

"But, Allix, wouldn't the candy have been even cheaper on the day after Halloween?"

Oh. Yeahhh.


Imagine my dismay when Safeway was out of fun-size Butterfingers on Halloween! Are people really this last-minute with their candy purchasing? I was under the impression that most people started buying Halloween candy the day after labor day, ate their way through 5-10 bags of it before Halloweekend even arrived, and then bought a bag of that really crappy candy to give out to trick-or-treaters so that they could keep hoard all the good candy for themselves.

No? Just me then.

P.S. Who decided that the term "Halloweekend" was a good idea? I think I just threw up in my mouth.

Anyway, these bars? They're serious. They are peanut butter on top of peanut butter on top of peanut butter, with a few chocolate chips thrown in for good measure.

Don't let a lack of leftover Halloween candy deter you from making these. Christmas (!!!) candy works just as well.


Peanut Butter Candy Bar Squares
Adapted from Bake or Break

1 package (16 oz) Nutter Butter cookies, crushed
1/2 cup butter, melted
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
25 miniature peanut butter cups, chopped
7 fun-size Butterfinger candy bars, chopped
1 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 13x9-inch pan with aluminum foil and coat with nonstick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the crushed cookies and melted butter. Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, and bake for 6-8 minutes.

3. In a small bowl, combine the condensed milk, peanut butter, and vanilla. Whisk together until smooth.

4. Sprinkle the chopped candy bars and chocolate chips evenly over the baked crust. Drizzle the peanut butter mixture evenly over the candy bar layer.

5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the center is set and the top is lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes about 20 bars.

As I mentioned in my last post, I didn't dress up for Halloween this year. It's probably for the best, since I'm pretty sure I maxed out my potential for Halloween cuteness the year this photo was taken:


I'm the bunny to the left of the ninja turtle. No biggie. I'll just quit while I'm ahead.

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