Aiming to Please

As someone who shows love through food, I do my best to keep track of people’s likes and dislikes. If I’m making food for you, I want you to love it. (No pressure, Andy.) I know not everything can be a home run, and sometimes, I make things that I know only I’ll enjoy, but those times are few and far between.

Of course, making something that pleases everyone is harder than it should be. Especially when it comes to dessert. In my group of friends, we have a chocoholic who dislikes caramel and coffee, a custards-and-creme-brulee fan, two coffee-and-vanilla-bean addicts, and me, the equal-opportunity-dessert lover (as long as you don’t muck things up with coconut). You can’t even create a Venn diagram of desserts that will please us all. (Or, maybe you can, but you’ll end up with three separate circles.) 

So, when I invited a relatively new friend over for dinner, I immediately started thinking about what I should make for dessert. Not dinner, dessert. (I have a go-to dinner option for first-time guests. Unless you tell me that you don’t eat chicken, cheese, or tomatoes. But then we might have a hard time being friends. Kidding. Mostly.) Dessert though, that’s another story. There are just so many options!

I decided that I couldn’t lose with a chocolate-cheesecake combination, even if our dinner guests weren’t hardcore chocoholics. As my friend Jackie (the creme brulee fan) likes to say, “Chocolate dessert is better than no dessert.” I thought about making black-bottom cupcakes, but the idea of scooping out individual cupcakes just didn’t appeal to me that night. So, I turned to one of my favorite recipe sources, and lo and behold, Deb came through for me. Again. (No one’s surprised by this anymore, right?) 

These were super easy, although I definitely recommend using a hand or stand mixer for the cheesecake filling, rather than a whisk. Or maybe my arms just aren’t strong enough to whisk cream cheese into a smooth batter. (That probably means I should keep practicing, right?) I don’t think my cheesecake swirled quite as nicely as Deb’s, but no one complained. 😉

These were really, really good. We served them straight from the fridge, and I would say that they’re definitely best cold. The brownie layer is thick and fudge-like, and the cheesecake layer is the perfect contrast to the rich brownies. My only complaint? It only makes a 8″ pan, so we ran out of brownies way too soon.

cheesecake swirl brownies

Cheesecake-Swirled Brownies

For the brownie batter:
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2/3 cup AP flour

For the cheesecake swirl:
8 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

For the topping:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350° and make sure the rack is in the middle position. Butter a 8″ square baking pan. If you’d like to be able to lift your brownies out of the pan (for easy / pretty cutting / serving), I’d recommend lining the baking pan with parchment paper to create a “sling.” (I didn’t do this, but probably will next time.)

Melt the butter and the chocolate in a 3-quart saucepan over low heat, whisking often, until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt until everything is well-combined. Stir in the flour until just combined and spread it in the prepared baking pan.

Next, make the cheesecake swirl. In a medium bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla, until smooth. Spread / dollop the cheesecake mixture over the brownie base and use a butter knife to marble / swirl the batters together. Sprinkle the top of the brownies with chocolate chips.

Bake the brownies until the center is set and the edges are slightly puffed, between 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely for easiest cutting / serving.

From Smitten Kitchen, originally adapted from Gourmet

Click here for a printable version.


One Thing Leads To Another

You know the kids books “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” or “If You Give a Moose a Muffin“? Where one thing just leads to another, and before you know it, something simple has morphed into a giant project? I feel like that happens to me sometimes. An idea will pop into my head, and it won’t go away until I do something about it. And the longer it sits and stews in my mind, the more involved it gets.

I’ve been thinking about a Guinness/Bailey’s cake/cheesecake combo for several months now, but the timing hasn’t been right to make one. (The time is coming, though. I can’t wait.) Anyway, with chocolate and Irish cream thoughts floating through my head, it was only a matter of time before they came together in my ice cream maker. Especially after a baby shower cake left me with an overabundance of egg yolks.

I went back and forth about the chocolate base. Dark chocolate or milk chocolate? What would go better with Irish cream? What about spiking the brownies? (The first few recipes Google turned up started with a mix. And we all know how I feel about boxed mixes.) Should I add a fudge swirl, or would that be too much? (As if there could ever be too much chocolate.) Decisions, decisions.

I decided on milk chocolate ice cream, thinking that the Irish cream in the brownies would stand out more against the milk chocolate than the dark chocolate, and since I had five egg yolks in the fridge, I upped the egg yolks to five, rather than four. I used the same fudge swirl that I used in my moose tracks ice cream, and I found a reasonable (and easy) sounding recipe for the brownies.

I began to doubt my milk chocolate decision when I tasted the ice cream base. It seemed overpoweringly sweet, and I was concerned that we were going to have some sub-par ice cream on our hands. And then I was afraid that the brownies were going to be too greasy. But the show has to go on, right? (After all, I’d already offered to bring ice cream to a friend’s house that evening.) So I churned the ice cream as planned and mixed in the brownie chunks, then swirled the fudge through the ice cream and popped it in the freezer to firm up.

Wow. I don’t know if it’s the contrast between the milk chocolate and the fudge swirl, or the hint of Irish cream in the brownies, or what, but we are definitely talking about the sum being greater than its parts. The ice cream is rich, for sure, but that’s never a bad thing. I keep trying to convert Andy from team vanilla bean to team chocolate, and thanks to this ice cream, I think I’m closer than ever. 😉


Fudge-Swirled Milk Chocolate Ice Cream with Irish Cream Brownie Bites

For the ice cream base: 
8 ounces of good quality milk chocolate, finely chopped (A shout-out to my brother-in-law, Dan, who gave us some fantastic milk chocolate for Christmas and made this possible.) 
5 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar

For the fudge ripple:
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the Bailey’s Brownies*: 
1 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Irish cream liqueur, divided
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

First, bake the brownies. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line an 8″ square baking pan with aluminum foil. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.

Place the chocolate chips and butter in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave the chocolate chips and butter in 30-second intervals, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are melted. Set the chocolate mixture aside and combine the brown sugar, eggs and Irish cream in a small bowl. Pour the sugar-egg mixture into the chocolate mixture and stir until smooth.

Whisk the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture until just combined and spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the top is cracked and a toothpick comes out almost clean, about 45 minutes. (The brownies will be very thick. I’m guessing you could bake them in a 9″ x 13″ pan and cut the baking time in half.) Remove the brownies from the oven. Brush the top of the brownies with the remaining tablespoon of Irish cream. Let the brownies cool on a wire rack before cutting them into bite-sized pieces.

While the brownies are cooling, make the fudge swirl. In a small saucepan, whisk together all of the ingredients except for the vanilla. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture starts to bubble. Let it boil for one minute, then remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool until needed, being sure that the fudge has cooled at least to room temperature before using.

To make the ice cream base, place the chocolate and the cream in a heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is melted and smooth. When the chocolate has melted, pour the mixture into a large glass bowl and set a fine mesh sieve over the top of the bowl. (I use my Pyrex two-quart measuring cup for this so I can easily pour the ice cream base into the ice cream maker.) 

Mix the sugar, half-and-half and salt together in a medium saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Whisk the egg yolks together in a small bowl. Gradually add the warm half-and-half to the egg yolks, whisking constantly, until most of the warm milk has been combined with the eggs. Add the entire mixture back to the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens and coats the back of a metal spoon. Pour the custard through the sieve and into the chocolate mixture. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until the ice cream base is thoroughly chilled.

Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. When the ice cream is finished churning, stir in about 1 1/2 cups of brownie bits. Drizzle a tablespoon (or so) of the fudge across the bottom of a freezer-safe container. Spread about one-third of the ice cream on top of the fudge. Drizzle some more fudge on top of the ice cream, then top with more ice cream. Repeat until the ice cream is all in the freezer container, and then top with some additional fudge. Freeze until firm.

*Note: This brownie recipe makes an entire 8″ pan of very thick brownies. I used about 1/4 of the pan for the ice cream, which left us with plenty of brownies to enjoy alongside our ice cream – something that no one complained about. 

Ice cream from The Perfect Scoop, as seen on Annie’s Eats; Brownies from The Recipe Girl Cookbook, as seen on Eats Well With Others; Fudge swirl from the Perfect Scoop, originally seen on Annie’s Eats

Click here for a printable version.

Chocolate Comfort

Let’s start with a story, shall we?

Once upon a time, there was a couple who was ready to buy a house. Ready to give up apartment dwelling and sign their lives away for a yard (that they’d have to mow! whose idea was this again?!), a garage, and a kitchen with one tiny strip of counter space. So, like most people do, they set out one weekend to see what the world housing market had to offer.

One was realistic. The odds of finding their “dream” house? Slim. The odds of finding it on the first day? Even slimmer. The other, optimistic. The glass is always half-full. Not only will the dream house be found on the first day, but it will be within budget and move-in ready.

Guess who was NOT disappointed after an afternoon of house hunting? And guess who returned to the apartment, flopped on the couch and declared, “We will NEVER find a house!” (Dramatic? Me? Never.) I decided, then and there, that only one thing would cure this state of affairs: chocolate.

And that’s how I found my go-to brownie recipe. It’s taken me the better part of five years, but I’ve finally gotten it to the point where I like it better than a brownie from a mix. (Foodie fail, I know, but so many homemade brownies are dry and cakey.) It’s a one-pot recipe; it comes together quickly; AND it makes a 9″ x 13″ pan of brownies. Let’s face it, 64 square inches of brownie are not enough. At least, not around here. 😀 They also lend themselves well to mix-ins, if you’re someone who likes “things” in their brownies. (I usually opt for chocolate chips or chopped Reese’s cups.) 

The trick, as far as I can tell, is to substitute some of the butter with canola or vegetable oil, giving the brownies a moist, fudge-like texture. I borrowed a technique from this recipe and cooked the sugar for a few minutes. (The experts at King Arthur Flour say it helps the brownies get the shiny crust on top.) I also underbake my brownies because I like them on the gooey side. Finally, I use both dark cocoa powder and regular cocoa powder.

(Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we did find a house. Not that first weekend, or even the next, but eventually we found one. And we love it, even when we have to mow the lawn, snowblow the driveway and clear ice dams out of the gutter. :D) 


Beth’s Brownies 

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (honestly, I don’t measure this… I tend to be pretty heavy-handed with it though.) 
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chocolate chips, chopped Reese’s cups or other mix-in of your choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and oil over medium-low heat. Whisk in the cocoa powders until smooth. Stir in the sugar and cook for a minute or two, being careful to not let the mixture boil.

Remove mixture from heat and allow to cool slightly. Beat in the salt, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until just combined. Gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Spread batter in prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until brownies appear “done” and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from oven and let pan cool on wire rack before slicing. Store in an airtight container.

Adapted from Hershey’s Ballot Box Brownies

Click here for a printable version.

A Season for Everything

I’m a big fan of seasonal food. Tomatoes and corn are best in July and August, ripe and warm from the summer sun. Apples and September were just made for each other, and I become practically giddy with excitement when the first squash comes in from our CSA.

Seasonal is good. After all, there is a time for everything, right?

I am, however, NOT a fan of seasonal candy. Especially when said candy is only available for a few weeks out of the year. I try to stock up on our favorite flavors, but that’s not always successful. (Especially when the baking stash gets raided in search of dessert… not that I’d ever do that…)


This recipe was on the back of the bag of Hershey’s Mint Truffle Kisses. If you haven’t tried these before, make a note to grab some next December. They’re what you’d get if an Andes mint and a Hershey kiss got together. If you’re lucky enough to have some hanging out in your baking stash, give these a try. (After all, you have to make room for the peanut butter eggs you’ll be buying soon.) 😀

My biggest mistake with this recipe? I only made half a batch (which I’ve reflected below). I figured, 24 brownie bites is plenty for two people, right? Wrong. Let’s just say that someone made sure they disappeared in record time. And now we’re out of mint truffle kisses till December. Boo.

Mint Brownie Bites

Mint Truffle Brownie Bites

24 Hershey’s Mint Truffle Kisses
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350. Line a mini muffin pan with paper liners, and set aside. Remove wrappers from kisses, and set kisses aside in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the water, egg and vanilla and mix well.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix on low speed until just combined.

Using a cookie scoop, make 24 1″ balls of cookie dough and place one in each well in the muffin pan. Bake until the surface of the cookie is set, about 8-10 minutes. (The original recipe said 11-13 minutes; I was convinced they’d be overdone by that point. Check yours at the 8 minute mark and go from there.) When the cookies are set (they will still seem soft and moist), remove them from the oven and place the sheet on a wire rack to cool. Immediately press one of the kisses in the center of each cookie. Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container.

From Hershey’s

Click here for a printable version.

Must. Have. Chocolate. Now.

I spend a lot of time browsing through recipes. Blogs, cookbooks, magazines, if it talks about food, I’m there. Usually, this ends with me starring the recipe in my Google Reader or mentally bookmarking it for a rainy day.

Not when it comes to brownies. I have no willpower when it comes to rich, fudgey, gooey, chocolaty, baked-in-a-pan goodness. So last Sunday, when I was scrolling through Erin’s blog and just happened to stumble upon these babies, there really was no question. I knew I’d be baking them, stat. I mean, sure, I asked Andy if he had a preference for our Sunday afternoon snack, but really, my mind was made up. Brownies, here we come.

These just might be my new favorite brownie. They were moist, and Erin’s right – they’re the perfect balance between cakey and fudgey. (And this is coming from someone who prefers her brownies to be almost fudge-like.) The pinch of sea salt on top just takes them to another level of awesomeness. And best of all, they’re incredibly easy to whip up – we’re talking maybe 15 minutes to mix things up, plus baking time, which seems almost torturous, since you’re smelling chocolaty goodness the entire time. (After all, the waiting is the hardest part, right?) 

This is where I apologize for a sub-par picture. You’re actually lucky I was able to get these documented at all, as they disappeared in an embarrassingly short amount of time. Whoops.

Dark Chocolate Brownies

1 stick of butter
1 heaping cup of sugar
2 eggs
scant 3/4 dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped* (I used dark chocolate chips and weighed them out, only to realize that Erin said to use about a cup of chips, if going that route. So I threw in a handful or two extra before they went in the oven.)
3/4 cup flour
pinch fleur de sel

Preheat oven to 350. Butter an 8″ square baking pan and set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. When the butter is melted, remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Place the saucepan back on low heat and cook for a few more minutes, to help dissolve the sugar. (Don’t let it boil!) 

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and vanilla. Stir in the butter/sugar mixture until smooth. Stir in the flour and chocolate until just combined.

Spread batter in prepared pan and sprinkle with a pinch of fleur de sel. Bake until set and just a few crumbs remain when tested with a toothpick, about 25-30 minutes. (Mine took closer to the 30-minute mark.) 

Remove from oven and let cool before slicing. (Good luck with this step. Andy was convinced we should cut into them right away. Luckily, I was able to distract him with some roasted nuts until the brownies had cooled most of the way.) 

From Erin’s Food Files, as seen on the Craving Chronicles, originally from King Arthur Flour