Bonus Post: Chocolate Peeps (and everything else…)

The Toasted Cake podcast has done it again! Great flash fiction is a given, but Tina Connolly has once again included a fast easy recipe at the end of the podcast…in which she makes messy chocolate peep blobs and ends up coating half the the stuff in her pantry with chocolate. LOL Fun for Easter or anytime. 😉

Check it out: Glass Future (flash fiction) and chocolate peeps.

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Easy Fudgey Brownies

Last week’s brownie recipe was sort of excessive — delicious, but not something most people could whip up with ingredients on hand (unless you always have 3 kinds of chocolate and Guinness on hand). This is something anyone can whip up quickly any day with ingredients on hand. Some years ago I was talking to a friend down the street; she had just gotten home from a bad day at work and was frazzled. As she went into the kitchen she was lamenting that she didn’t have any brownie mix because she really wanted a brownie right then. I blinked, then said, “Do you have…” and I rattled off the ingredients for brownies. She said yes to all the ingredients because it’s all very basic stuff that everyone usually has on hand. “Well, then you can make brownies. It’s easy.” She was skeptical. (At that time I had to skip two doors down and grab my recipe, but now I’ve got it on my phone along with all my other recipes.) She mixed up the brownies as I read off the recipe and presto! We had brownies! I remember she looked at me sort of dumbfounded and said, “If it was that easy, then why do we have mixes?” Why, indeed? A lot of pre-packaged food stuff is predicated on the idea that cooking (and baking in particular) is time-consuming and difficult…and that a mix is faster and easier. I’m sure there are examples in which this is actually true, but your basic brownie recipe isn’t one of them! You can have dense chocolatey brownies anytime you want them and the only difference in time and effort from using a mix is…you have to measure a few ingredients. (Oh, gosh, that’s so hard and it takes such a long time!) 😆 😉

This recipe used to be on the Hershey’s cocoa container, but it’s not on the one I’ve got on my shelf now. A slightly modified version is on the Hershey site and I’ve linked to it and added notes on how it differs from the original recipe I’ve been making for years. My recipe is slightly easier because you don’t have to melt butter (or margarine). Also, because it doesn’t have chocolate chips, it can be made from ingredients on hand. It’s stirred up with a spoon in a bowl. No mixer necessary!

Do you have…cocoa powder, baking soda, cooking oil, water, sugar, 2 eggs, all-purpose flour, vanilla extract, salt? You have brownies! 😀

Hershey’s Fudgey Dark Brownies

Notes: The original version called for 2/3 cups oil, divided, instead of using butter which must be melted. Pour the oil into a graduated measuring cup then pour 1/3 cup in with the cocoa and baking soda. Add the rest after the sugar and eggs. This recipe is unusual in that it uses boiling water. Don’t take a shortcut and use the microwave; it won’t work as well. The amazing fun thing is that the mixture you pour the boiling water into will foam as well as thicken. The one time it didn’t bubble up and thicken the brownies didn’t turn out very well and I put that down to the water being not quite hot enough. (I could be wrong, though.) The boiling water doesn’t slow down the prep time too much, however. Don’t add too much water to the kettle since you only need 1/2 cup. Measure and pour quickly. Use the time while the water is coming to a boil to grease a 13″ x 9″ baking pan. (You should’ve started the oven preheating immediately.)

Unlike the recipe link above, my recipe has no chocolate chips in it. Nor does it have nuts, though I think chopped pecans were optional in the original recipe. I’m not that crazy about nuts in brownies though I usually have pecans on hand.

The original recipe says that this can be made in two 8″ square pans and baked for 30-32 minutes. I’ve never tried this.

These brownies are very dense and fudge-like in their texture. If you like your brownies more cake-like, this probably isn’t the recipe for you. But if you need a hit of chocolate after a long hard day, this will hit the spot! 😀

Triple Chocolate Guinness Brownies

This is about the most decadent thing that you can make for St. Patrick’s Day. People go into fits of ecstasy with one bite. The original source for the recipe recommended topping the brownies with whipped cream, but as rich as these are, that would probably kill people. 😉

The original recipe (sometimes attributed to “Grace Neill’s”) despite being all over the internet, in magazines and even in a book, has some fundamental problems. Apparently I’m the only one who has ever actually made it because the error continues to be passed on, verbatum, in every copy of it I’ve seen. This version has the same ingredients, but the directions are mine. One odd thing about the recipe that apparently is not a mistake is that there’s no leavening in the recipe. No salt, no soda, no baking powder. I’ve made it this way many times. It makes a very dense rich brownie. Excellent with a pint of Guinness. 😀

4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate
4 oz white chocolate
6 Tbls margarine (or butter)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups Guinness stout (I buy the pub-draught cans.)

Preheat oven 375. Grease 8″ baking pan with butter or margarine, or spray with PAM.

Break the bittersweet chocolate and white chocolate into 1/2 oz pieces and place in microwavable bowl with the margarine (which should be tablespoons, not a block, if you use stick margarine) and heat slowly in the microwave for 10-30 seconds at a time, depending on your microwave and setting. Always err on the side of less time if in doubt! If over-heated the chocolate will become grainy. Stir after each time you microwave. It doesn’t hurt it to set in the microwave for a little while between heatings, so after starting the microwave go ahead and …

Beat eggs and sugar until fluffy. You will need to use a moderate to high setting depending on your mixer.

Sift together flour and cocoa powder while the mixer runs. Continue gently heating the chocolate-margarine mixture in the microwave until thoroughly melted and stirred together. Let cool somewhat. Remove from microwave and beat into the egg mixture–at a lower setting than that used to beat the eggs.

Beat the flour and cocoa mixture in next. Be careful adding this! Slow the mixer down to the lowest “stir” setting and only increase it when things are under control. Adding the cocoa mixture to a mixer that’s going too fast will result in a Trinity-blast type cloud of cocoa caroming up out of the blender, coating counter, floor, and the cook with a fine layer of powder! Scrape sides of bowl frequently during the entire mixing process so that all the chocolates are blended evenly.

Add the whisk attachment and whisk in the Guinness stout. If you don’t have a whisk attachment, use the regular beater. Be careful with the speed of the mixer; start slow.

Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, depending on your oven. Check with a toothpick. The toothpick should not be wet, but not completely clean either. When it’s done, the center of the cake is moist so the toothpick will not be as clean as when testing most other cakes. Set the pan on a wire rack and let cool. Cut and serve.

Hazelnut Scones Three Ways

Hazelnut scones with mini-chocolate chips

Hazelnut scones with mini-chocolate chips

I threw this together because I wanted something a bit different for Thanksgiving morning, but with the variations they’re the perfect yummy scone for any time.  I usually make cranberry scones for Thanksgiving morning, but I had some hazelnuts on hand so decided to use them to make up a new recipe. It took two tries to get it just right. After that I went on to make this recipe without the cranberries, then — because it’s such a natural combination — I made a batch using chocolate which debuted at my Hair of the Dog Brunch this year. So here it is: plain hazelnut scones, hazelnut scones with dried cranberries, and hazelnut scones with mini-chocolate chips. Easy and delicious. 😀

Plain hazelnut scones, hot from the oven.

Plain hazelnut scones, hot from the oven.

1 1/4 cups of ground hazelnuts
1 1/4 cups flour
1Tbls baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbls sugar
8 Tbls Smart Balance Original margarine
1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries (optional) OR 1/4 cup mini-chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 cup milk (Silk Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk may be substituted)

Preheat oven 425.

If you don’t have access to hazelnut meal (which I’ve rarely seen), do like I do and grind hazelnuts into a meal in either a coffee grinder or food processor. The meal will be soft and fluffy so it needs to be pressed down in the measuring cup to get an accurate measure. It only takes seconds to make the small amount of meal needed for the recipe, so this extra step in scone making does not add an appreciable amount of time or effort to the preparation.

Mix dry ingredients, cut in margarine with a fork, pastry blender, or your fingers. (Then toss in dried sweetened cranberries or mini-chocolate chips if desired.) Add milk. Stir until it forms a sticky dough. Form into a dozen balls, about 2 inches in diameter, I’d guess.

Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 425 for 15 minutes. (Your oven may vary. Scones should be slightly browned on top and done all the way through.)

While the scones are in the oven make a pot of tea or coffee. Relax. Enjoy. 🙂

Cheater’s Fudge

I mentioned Eagle brand milk in an earlier post about my Pumpkin Pie recipe. It’s also the magic ingredient that turns chocolate chips into fudge. Don’t have the time, patience or knowledge to make candy for Christmas? Try what I call “Cheater’s Fudge” and no one will ever know you didn’t make it from scratch. 😉 Unless you tell them. Which I do. A lot. 😀 This recipe made the rounds in magazines (advertisements, I think) several years ago and has been passed around ever since. You can find it on the Eagle Brand milk site. If you haven’t tried this, it’s the easiest fudge you’ll ever make. The recipe I have differs from the one on the website in only two tiny ways: I use 1 tsp vanilla extract and the recipe on the site calls for 1 1/2 tsp. Also the recipe I have mentions nuts as optional (though doesn’t give the amount). I’ve never added nuts. A bonus to doing fudge this way is that you can make “fudge” out of different types of chocolate chips. I know someone who makes this using milk chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet. Sometimes mint chocolate chips are also available. I haven’t tried this with white chocolate, peanut butter chips or butterscotch, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. If you do this with some non-standard candy chips, drop a comment and let me know how it turns out! 🙂

Chocolate Hazelnut Oatmeal Cookies

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Chocolate Hazelnut Oatmeal Cookies

This recipe is adapted from the recipe for Chocolate Espresso Oatmeal Cookies on the Vegetarian Times website.

I love this recipe! Usually I only make cookies at Christmastime, but I’ve already made these a number of times. (I only make cookies when I have enough people to share them with so no one is really wrecked by calories, sugar, or fat.) For those of you who like to eat cookie dough or at least lick the bowl, this recipe doesn’t have eggs so you can lick your sticky fingers without worrying about salmonella. When I was growing up we all licked bowls freely, having no idea of potential contamination from eggs in as-yet-uncooked batters and doughs. Now that I’m aware there’s a risk I’m self-conscious about licking the spatula when I’m done. An egg-less recipe returns me to that childhood pleasure. (And not having eggs makes it vegan-friendly, too, though vegans might want to use a substitute for the chocolate chips.)

I made a number of changes to this recipe but the original is excellent as is. Some of the changes I made were due to my own preferences and some were purely creative — like the hazelnut substitution. I’ve made a lot of notes and observations, most of which can be applied to the original recipe.

The first note is that I’ve never been able to get 48 cookies out of this recipe. Not any way, not any how, as the saying goes. I guess I just make ’em too big despite my best intentions. You should be able to get 3 dozen, though, especially if you use the drop method instead of the make-ahead refrigerator method of the original recipe.

3/4 cup hazelnut meal, or ground hazelnuts
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter (or margarine), softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cooled coffee
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups oats
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

A note about ingredients: I substituted an equal amount of hazelnut meal for the flour in the original recipe. It occurred to me when I made it the first time that it wasn’t very much flour and the texture of cookies was such that I thought hazelnuts might work as well — and would be a wonderful addition to an already wonderful cookie. I stumbled onto some hazelnut meal in the bulk section of a store (Central Market, Houston). This made it easy to buy a small amount. It struck me as dryer than hazelnuts I ground myself, but works fine in the recipe. Since that first trial batch I’ve ground hazelnuts in my coffee grinder for this recipe.

The substitution of hazelnuts has an added benefit: it makes the cookie gluten-free for those people who are doing a gluten-free diet (which seems to be very popular right now).

I prefer using butter instead of margarine because it works better in baking than current margarines without transfats. Of course, this means you get saturated fat and cholesterol, but I don’t eat a lot of butter-laden sweets so I’m not worrying about it right now. The butter is organic and natural. I’ve made the recipe using Smart Balance Original which is supposedly good for baking, but the non-refrigerated drop version of the cookies spread out transparently thin and crispy.  Chilling the dough seems to help quite a bit if you use a butter substitute. Though the consistency of both dough and cookies are affected by the butter or margarine you use, either makes delicious cookies. Make whatever choice seems best for you.

The original recipe called for espresso or “strong coffee”. I’m not much of a coffee-drinker so I make coffee on the less-strong side and used a mild-flavored organic Mexican Altura. That’s what I’ve got now. If you want something stronger, go with the espresso. If, on the other hand, you want to reduce the caffeine in the recipe (so Moms won’t have to peel the kiddos off the ceiling) use decaf.

You can get at least 3-4 batches of cookies from one 12 oz bag of mini-chocolate chips. I’m not sure if you can substitute regular sized chips in this recipe: the mini seem just the right size to blend in with the other ingredients and the cookies are very thin so I’d be leery of using larger bits of chocolate which might affect the cohesion of the dough when it melts in the baking process. (I could be wrong, but I like the way the min-chips meld in so well I’m not inclined to experiment with it.)

Take the butter (or margarine) out of the fridge. It’s better if it’s softened a bit. Make the coffee. Measure out a 1/4 cup and pop it into the fridge to cool. Pour yourself a mug of coffee.

If not using store-bought hazelnut meal then grind hazelnuts up into a fine meal in a coffee grinder or food processor. A cup of whole hazelnuts will yield more than the 3/4 cup you need, so buy and grind accordingly. Freshly ground hazelnuts make a meal that clings together like beach sand. Shaking it into a measuring cup, though, and it will sit lightly, not densely packed so you should pressed it firmly down in the measuring cup until you have 3/4 cup.

Stir together the hazelnut meal, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl with a fork until it’s homogeneous.

Cream the butter and sugar in the mixer at medium speed until it’s blended into a thick paste (which will probably stick to the side of your bowl and have to be scraped frequently).

Scrap the bowl, lower the speed and add the cooled coffee (it doesn’t have to be cold, room temp is fine) and the vanilla.

Add the hazelnut-cocoa mixture gradually, sprinkling it in a little at a time, letting each addition be fully incorporated to the mixture before adding more.

Turn the mixer down to the lowest setting (if it isn’t already). Add the oats gradually then sprinkle in the chocolate chips. Everything should be fully mixed very quickly; don’t over mix at this point. As soon as the last ingredients are folded in, turn off the mixer.

Here’s the point where I part company with the method of the original. The make-ahead, refrigerate and slice method is a bit tricky. The oats and chips make slicing uneven and the dough tends to fall apart if it’s very solidly cold or be sort of squishy if it’s just chilled. I’ve found it’s better to just scoop the chilled dough with a spoon and form into 1″-1.5″ balls. But chilling the dough is not necessary. It’s an option. You can have cookies now or tomorrow.

I have to confess that I don’t really “get” the whole chilled and sliced thing. I understand the convenience of making the dough ahead of time and being able to produce hot cookies in minutes on another day. But what I don’t get is that it seems like a lot of recipes use this method and it’s not clear in most cases whether this is a make-ahead option or a method that’s fundamental if you want your cookie to turn out right. The chilled dough method is something that seems to have come up since my childhood. There’s not a single cookie my mother or grandmother baked that used the chilled and sliced method: all cookies were dropped by spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. My preference for this method probably stems from it being what was inculcated into me from a very young age, and my mother not having ever gotten store-bought slice-n-bake type cookies. Although if I’d had small kids when this method started showing up in popular recipes I’d probably have leaped on it in order to be able to feed the cookie monsters fresh cookies at any time. 😉 So there’s definitely a place for this method. But if you want or need cookies now, then the old-fashioned spoon-dropped method is the way to go.

Actually, you can have it both ways. The original recipes calls for dividing the dough in half, so if you want fresh cookies now and tomorrow, you can bake up half the dough (about 1 1/2 dozen) now and bake the rest from the chilled dough later. (I’m not sure how long the dough will keep, but it should be good for a couple of days in the fridge.)

If you want to bake the cookies right now, preheat the oven to 350. Grease cookie sheets or use a non-stick spray. (I use PAM.) Drop the dough by rounded spoonfuls well-spaced apart onto the cookie sheet. Bake approximately 10 minutes. (Your oven may vary.) These cookies are going to spread out, not puff up and because the dough is essentially black you won’t see them “brown” in the oven. They’re done when they look more or less dry; looking through the door with the oven light on, you shouldn’t see the top glistening, aside from a few tiny spots of melted chocolate that may be on top in places.

Let the cookies set on the cookie sheet for at least 3 minutes (longer doesn’t hurt anything) before transferring to a wire rack to cool. They’re thin cookies and cool very quickly. Grab one to go with that cup of coffee, while it’s still warm! 🙂 Warm, they’re chewy, but they cool to a somewhat crisper cookie.

To do the make-ahead option, divide the wet squishy dough in half as best you can and place each on a sheet of wax paper. Roll and form the dough into logs. The original recipe says 2 1/2 inch diameter, but I confess I didn’t measure. The diameter should be less than cookie-sized because these will spread out while baking. The logs will be lumpy from the oats and frankly, are sort of disgusting-looking. Fold down the ends of wax paper to close them up. Chill for at least 2 hours. (Longer is better.)

When you’re ready to bake the cookies preheat the oven and bake (and cool) as above. (Baking time may be slightly longer because the dough is cold.)

I prefer to scoop from the logs and form the dough into 1-1.5″ balls. If you want to slice the logs, the chilled rolled dough should be sliced about a 1/2 inch thick. I didn’t measure, but eyeballing it probably got pretty close to 1/2 inch. How many cookies you get using this method is dependent two factors: the diameter of the logs of dough and the size of the slices. The first time I did this I ended up with 2 dozen instead of 4 dozen cookies. If you’re more experienced with the chill-slice-n-bake method you may have better results. I get a lot more cookies using the drop method. It all depends on what you’re experienced at, I guess.

The Vegetarian Times site has nutritional information for the original recipe. My version, given above, is a lot less healthy because of the butter. If you use margarine then the only difference in terms of calories, nutrition, etc between my version and theirs would be from the substitution of hazelnuts for flour.

If you’re a coffee-drinker, these cookies are some of the best you can have with a mug of coffee! 🙂

Homemade Microwave Hot Chocolate

Why make hot chocolate from scratch when you can use little store-bought packets?

  1. You may not always have packets of mix on hand, but the ingredients for hot chocolate are staples most people always have in the cupboard or pantry.
  2. No additives or preservatives. Just fresh natural ingredients.
  3. You can tweak the recipe to suit your taste.
  4. It’s not any more difficult than using a packet. In fact, you can premix the cocoa and sugar in bulk, then scoop right from that into your mug. Just use the same number of total cocoa plus sugar measures per mug.

I’ve been working on the perfect homemade microwave hot chocolate and I think I’ve got it now. I don’t normally measure when I make it, but I have recently made mugs of hot cocoa in which I measured carefully based on many mugs of just “eyeballing” amounts. Once you make it a few times using your favorite mug(s) you’ll probably be able to just guestimate the liquid and use regular spoons for measuring, too. 😉

The main thing is the ingredient ratios. Once you get a feel for that you’ll be able to whip up hot cocoa in any size mug. People’s taste in hot chocolate varies quite a bit. Some people want very creamy cocoa, some like vending machine style hot cocoa, some want it sweet, some want more of a semi-sweet chocolate taste. Start with what’s below, then tweak the proportions to suit your own taste.

Here’s the main proportions:

1 part water to 3 parts milk
1 part cocoa to 2 parts sugar

To this is added a small amount of vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Amount of vanilla extract. For 10-12oz I wouldn’t use more than 1/8 tsp — a bit less would be better (to my taste). When making 8 oz. I’d shoot for something approximating 1/16 tsp. (I have a 1/8 tsp measure and there are even smaller measuring spoons. Most of the time I just pour a tiny amount into the cap of the vanilla extract bottle.) If you can taste vanilla, it’s too much; anything below the point where you distinctly taste vanilla is okay. If you think that vanishingly small amount of vanilla isn’t enough to matter, you will certainly taste the difference if you leave it out!

Pinch of salt (This is optional. Theoretically it makes the flavor stronger, but — unlike vanilla — it won’t hurt the flavor to leave it out.)

A Note About Cocoa: I usually use just plain ol’ Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa — the same thing I use for making brownies, but you can also get cocoa that’s been “dutched”; it’s sometimes sold as “European” style cocoa. So what’s the difference in flavor? The best way I can tell you is to think about the difference in flavor between hollow chocolate Easter bunnys and regular Hershey bars. Hollow Easter bunnys usually taste different: they taste like Dutch chocolate. You can use any kind of unsweetened cocoa powder: regular, Dutched, European, “gourmet”, etc. So if you have some kind of special cocoa powder that’s the secret ingredient in your chocolate cake or brownies, it can be the secret ingredient in your hot chocolate, too. 😀 It just needs to be unsweetened cocoa powder.

Do you know how much your favorite microwaveable mug holds? Get a liquid measure and find out. Do this once and you can probably fake it with your other mugs. The amount you need to know isn’t the total volume of the mug all the way up to the top, but about how high you usually fill it. My favorite mugs tend to be about 10 oz, which hold about 8 oz if they’re not over-filled. My regular travel mugs hold slightly over 12 oz and I usually fill them with about 11 oz. Your mileage may vary.

Below are the amounts for making up both 1 1/3 cups (slightly less than 11 oz) and 1 cup (8 oz). Both of these measures break down neatly for milk to water proportions.

For 11 oz in a 12oz (or larger) mug: Use 1/3 cup water to 1 cup milk. 1 Tbls unsweetened cocoa to 2 Tbls sugar. Add 1/8 tsp vanilla (maximum, slightly less may be better) and a pinch of salt.

For 8 ozs in a 10 oz mug: Use 1/4 cup water to 3/4 cups milk. 2 tsp unsweetened cocoa to 4 tsp sugar. Add 1/16 tsp vanilla (or anything less than 1/8 tsp). Pinch of salt.

Most regular spoons are actually close to 1 Tbls though we call them “teaspoons”, so you may be able to use the same spoon for measuring as for stirring when making the larger amount.

  1. Heat water in mug in microwave. I do this for 30-45 secs, depending on the amount of water, but it may be less or more depending on your microwave. It doesn’t need to be boiling, just good and hot.
  2. Add cocoa, sugar, vanilla and salt, stir well until it’s dissolved.
  3. Top off with milk. Stir. Heat in microwave 1 min (or to the temperature you want to drink it).

For a more semi-sweet drink, use less sugar. For a creamier drink, use more milk — or use milk with a higher fat content. This recipe was developed using 2% milk. Whole milk would give you a creamier drink (as would substituting a dollop of cream for part of the milk). For vending machine type hot chocolate, increase the amount of water in the water-to-milk ratio or use non-fat milk.

I haven’t yet tried the part-cream, whole milk, or non-fat milk variations, but it makes sense that a higher fat content would make the hot chocolate richer and creamier and since vending machine chocolate tends to be thin and water-based, using more water or lowering the fat content would probably approximate that. If you try these variations, let me know if I’m right. 🙂

Marshmallows, peppermint sticks or cinnamon sticks are embellishment serving options.

Enjoy this on cold winter days! 😀 I’d appreciate your comments here on the blog as this recipe is one of my originals. It’s not a very flashy recipe, but I consider it a necessity. I drink this year ’round! 😀