Thursday, June 18, 2009

Peanut Butter Bars

Now that you've been drooling over the sea of chocolate chips and peanuts, calm that craving by whipping up a batch of peanut butter bars/brownies/cookies. Whatever you choose to call them, they'll be soft, chewy, and just durned good! Change it up by varying the toppings (peanut butter chips would be a most excellent addition) or cake mix flavor. I didn't use my usual brand of yellow cake mix for this batch, and I noticed that the flavor was "off" from what I was expecting. It tasted kinda...yellow. Next time I'll use a white or vanilla mix. Of course, I was the only one who picked up on it so maybe it was my imagination. Or my finely tuned, hypersensitive superpowers. :D

Peanut Butter Bars
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbl. water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
  • 18.25 oz. box cake mix (white, vanilla, or yellow)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup plain, unsalted peanuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x13" pan with foil and lightly grease. (I forgot to grease and they came out just fine.)

Mix eggs, oil, peanut butter, and brown sugar together until smooth and incorporated. Add water and vanilla extract, if using, and blend together. Vanilla extract is listed as optional because some peanut butter cookie purists out there insist that vanilla has no place in a 'proper' peanut butter cookie. I'm no purist. Go ahead and throw some vanilla in.

Spread batter evenly in greased pan. You may have to get your hands involved, as it's the easiest way to smooth out the batter. Sprinkle chocolate chips and peanuts on top. Press down ever so slightly or your chips and nuts will fall off the baked bar. Bake in a 350°F oven for 28-33 minutes, or until center tests done. Cool completely, then cut into small bars and serve! (Note: what you see pictured above is a double batch of this recipe made in my biggest cookie sheet, about 12x17".)

P.S. I learned a new word recently while perusing a cookie book published in England...SQUIDGY. What a perfect descriptor! Goodness, do I love that word. I think I might even describe myself as squidgy. :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Peanut Butter Brownies

Looking for a quick way to dress up brownies made from a box mix using ingredients you probably already have on hand? If you're like me, you almost always have a stash of peanut butter in the pantry and leftover frosting in the fridge. How 'bout some peanut butter brownies? Bake up brownies as usual in a 9x13" pan--chewy or cakey, either will work. Use your favorite mix or make some from scratch. While brownies are cooling, mix together:
  • 1 cup peanut butter (I used creamy, but chunky would be good too)
  • 1/2 cup frosting (canned, homemade, vanilla, cream cheese--use whatever you've got!)

Spread the peanut butter mixture onto warm (but not hot) brownies. Cool completely. You can stop there and have perfectly acceptable peanut butter brownies, or you can mix up some chocolate glaze for the top. Melt together:

  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 3 oz. unsalted butter

Spread glaze on peanut butter layer. If the mood strikes you, top with some festive sprinkles before the glaze sets. Or better yet, top with peanut butter chips. Why didn't I think of that? Oh yeah. Didn't have any. Cut into smallish squares, as these can tend towards the rich side!

Snubbed by Pillsbury®

I love Pillsbury®. I love the company. I love the products. I have an unnatural obsession with their mascot "Poppin' Fresh" (aka "The Pillsbury Doughboy") and his trademark giggle. I even love their customer service team. In fact, I love Pillsbury® so much that whenever possible, I try to remember to include the ® symbol after the company name.
But I can't help but feel ignored. You see, I wrote to Pillsbury® via their online comment form but have yet to receive a response. It's been almost two weeks :( Big deal, you say? They never reply, you say? Oh, but they do! I have written in the past with a question and I actually got a reply. Not some generic form letter thanking me for my interest in their products. No sir-ee, it was a real, honest-to-goodness response. From a person. That actually addressed my question. How awesome is that!
My question this time was an inquiry about the change in formulation of their Funfetti™ brand frosting. Today's version is no more than their standard vanilla frosting (which, by the way, is very good as far as canned varieties go. It even comes in pink. Bonus!) with a sprinkle pack attached to the lid. "Back in the day" the sprinkles were mixed in. Now you might think this is no biggie, that I could simply mix the sprinkles in myself to recreate that effect...but I can't. Sprinkles bleed. Simple fact. The old mix-in sprinkles had a different, non-bleeding formulation. People were crazy about the older version. Why did they switch? My question about whether or not Pillsbury® plans to re-launch the original version is a valid one. Valid, but unanswered. I'm just going to assume they're "working on" a response so I can finally get some sleep :)
On to the cupcakes...

Pictured on the left above are red velvet cupcakes (made using my top secret recipe and Pillsbury® White Cake Mix, thank you very much) with vanilla bean cream cheese icing, which has firmly planted itself at the top of my favorite icings list. To the right you'll see what looks like Funfetti™ cupcakes, but aren't actually made with the named mix. I had to go with what was on hand and add sprinkles to make what I like to call "Fun-style" or "confetti" cupcakes so Poppin' Fresh won't come bustin' down my door with lawsuits. That would be pretty freaky.
Anyway, the confetti cupcakes are topped with... get ready for this... Betty Crocker® Rainbow Chip™ Icing. Scandalous, I know. You probably won't believe me, but that particular icing has a pretty crazy cult following. According to 'online people' it's a good replacement for the old style Funfetti™ icing. Never having tried it before, I decided to buy a tub and test it out. FAIL. That is some runny icing. By the next day the pretty cupcakes you see above didn't look so neat and tidy. I thought it was a fluke, that perhaps by some random stroke of fate I bought the one tub that didn't have the correct consistency. Until I saw the same goopy, drippy mess of icing atop some cupcakes at a party this weekend. In a different city 50 miles away. If that's how the icing's supposed to be, then you can keep it and I'll make my own, thanks.
Please, Pillsbury® e-mail answering people...won't you answer my call?

Why I Love Cook's Illustrated

New York Style Crumb Cake, aka Yum on a Plate. Soft. Buttery. Cinnamony. Crunchy. The perfect excuse to have cake for breakfast. Recipe is available for online members of Cook's Illustrated, but the more resourceful among us can find it floating about the interwebs with enough searching :D Good hunting!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Donkey Bars v.2.0

As promised, here is the second edition of the Donkey Bar. Fresh on the heels of my KAF Fudge Brownie "win!", I was optimistic about a successful outcome for these. Using the KAF recipe (see previous post) for the brownie base, I assembled in a 9x13" pan as follows:
  • Brownie batter
  • Cheesecake batter (same recipe as last time)
  • Refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough (from a log)

I baked for 45 minutes, but they might have benefited from a full 50 minutes. When cooled, I topped with a glaze made by melting 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate with 2 oz. unsalted butter.

While the bars maintained definition in their layers, I STILL was not pleased with the result. Too...gooey. The brownie didn't rise, almost as if the weight of the other ingredients was too much for the structure to support. (No, I didn't forget baking powder this time!) It may have to do with using a "from scratch" brownie batter though. Topping it with so much other stuff was just tempting fate! I'm not sure if I should keep trying to perfect these, or if I should leave well enough alone and opt for simplicity. Plain brownies. Maybe with chocolate chunks. Or walnuts. But not both.

Monday, June 1, 2009

King Arthur's Fudge Brownies

Seriously. Ya gotta make these. The folks over at King Arthur Flour know their stuff when it comes to baking. They've even gone so far as to stamp their recipe for Fudge Brownies with a "KAF Guaranteed" label. Now that takes guts. Of course, there's no way the company can guarantee things won't go awry due to user error, so I won't fault them for my brownies not sporting that beautiful shiny top crust. Nor can I blame them for the brownies not delivering the perfect balance of fudgy and cakey. 'Cause you see, I messed up. Dull tops and dense fudginess can happen when:
  1. You don't follow directions very well for melting the sugar & butter
  2. You FORGET to add baking powder (oh snap!)

(I omitted the chocolate chips...that might've been overkill.) Were they tasty? You betcha. Would I make them again? You KNOW I will, because I'm stubborn like that and am determined to get results that "look like the picture!"