Saturday, December 12, 2009

Brownies, Cheesecake, and Peanutbutter Cookies

That's just the short title. This post is really about Brownies with Peppermint Frosting, Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake, and Chocolate Dipped Peanutbutter Sandwich Cookies. And not only that, but these awesomely, monstrously, deliciously, huge peanbutbutter sandwich cookies are going to be my entry into the Gourmet Girl Magazine's Virtual Holiday Cookie Crawl. This is your opportunity to show me you love me! On December 22nd Gourmet Girl Magazine will post a ballot and you can vote on your favorite cookies - obviously mine...

Now tell me those cookies don't look good to you.

But, there are other things going on in the world than making cookies. Namely, other holiday things. And given that this is our first holiday season as a married couple, Justin and I decided that we had to get a REAL and seriously awesome fresh Christmas Tree. Firstly, I just don't believe in fake trees. They don't smell good, they don't make your entire house just glow with all the magic of Christmas, and frankly, they're just a little lackluster. Now, I know lots of people swear by fake trees - allergies and all that. Know what I did this morning? Took allergy medication, it is SO worth it. So now that i've gotten my little rant out of the way, I'm going to share our very first christmas tree with you. Don't you feel special?

The picture is a little fuzzy, my camera just isn't up to the task of taking decent pictures in low lighting. And a picture really can't capture the essence of this tree. We found the perfect tree. It's full, and it's a grand fur, which means it smells all citrusy and fresh and crisp. I wish I had a scratch and sniff photo for you. But back to the point.

The Chocolate Dipped Peanutbutter Sandwich Cookies, slightly adapted from a Joy the Baker recipe, are reasonably easy to make, and really scrumptious. yeah. i said scrumptious. I ended up with about 20 fairly large sandwich cookies.


For the Cookies:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Filling:
2 cups crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Optional Coating:
10 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped (Joy the Baker recommends honey roasted, I used regular)

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper, or do what I did and use a nonstick pan. If you lined with parchment paper make sure you grease with butter or cooking spray.

2. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and peanut butter on medium speed until well combined.  Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, usually about 2 minutes. Then add the egg and beat on medium speed for another minute. 

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt). Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and beat on low until just combined.  Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes.  (I got impatient and refrigerated for a slightly shorter time, they still turned out fine)

4. Drop the dough by the scant tablespoon full onto a cookie sheet about 1 1/2-inches apart.  Use a fork to press the cookies flat.  Bake for 7-10 minutes until the cookies are a deep golden brown along the edges.

To make the filling:
1. Wash your stand mixer bowl and paddle attachment then using your mixer, beat the butter, peanut butter and heavy cream together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

2. Add the powdered sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and beat on medium speed until combined.  Try not to eat it all before spreading on cookies.

To make the coating:

1. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, or over a double boiler.  I prefer a double boiler because it keeps the chocolate soft and melted while you're dipping.

To assemble the cookies:  Use a spatula or small knife to spread the filling onto the flat bottom of a cookie.  Top with another cookie, ridge side up.  Set a wire rack on top of a sheet of waxed paper to catch the chocolate drips if you decide to dip your cookies in chocolate. If you're out of was paper get creative and use your cookie sheet as a chocolate drip catcher.  Then, just dip the chocolate dipped end of the cookie in a bowl of the crushed peanuts. Let the cookies stand for 1 hour to harden, refrigerate for a few minutes.

The cookies last up to 3 days in an airtight container, or 2 weeks in a container in the fridge

That's not all. This update is just jam packed with awesomeness.  Next up: Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake from Smitten Kitchen.

Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake:

Crumb Crust*
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) finely ground cookies such as chocolate wafers
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

1 crumb crust (above)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 24-centimeter springform pan. 

2. Stir together crust ingredients (cookie crumbles, butter, sugar, and salt) and press onto bottom and 1 inch up side of a buttered 24-centimeter springform pan. Chill up to 2 hours if not filling immediately.

3. Cook sugar in a dry heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring slowly with a fork, until melted and pale golden. Cook caramel without stirring, swirling pan, until deep golden. Remove from heat and carefully add heavy cream (mixture will vigorously steam and caramel will harden). Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until caramel is dissolved. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until smooth. Stir in sour cream.

 4. Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy, then beat in chocolate mixture on low speed.

5. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated and scraping down bowl between additions.

6. Place your springform pan with crust in a shallow baking pan. Pour filling into crust and bake in the baking pan (to catch drips) in middle of oven 55 minutes, or until cake is set 3 inches from edge but center is still slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken. **

7.  Run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen and cool completely in springform pan on a rack. (Don't worry, the cheesecake will continue to set as it cools.) Chill cake, loosely covered, at least 6 hours. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. Bring to room temperature before serving.

*Next time I make this I will definitely double the crust. 

** If you are worried about the cheesecake cracking there are 2 different options. Firstly, place a pan of water on the lower rack in your oven underneath the cheesecake. And, secondly, open your oven slowly, maybe an inch at a time, when removing cheesecake to cool the cake more slowly. 

And finally, Brownies with Peppermint Frosting. Brownies from my Cave: A Passion for Chocolate Cookbook (makes about 16 brownies), and the frosting from a new cooking blog i've recently stumbled across - Vanilla Kitchen.

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup chopped dark chocolate
1 cup superfine sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted.
3/4 cup chopped walnuts.

1.  Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a shallow 7" square brownie pan and line with parchment paper (if you have any parchment paper, otherwise just spray the pan with nonstick spray).

2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat and add in the chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Allow to cool.

3. Using an electric mixer or a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the sugar and eggs together, then stir in the cooled chocolate mixture along with the vanilla extract. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the sifted flour, then stir in chopped walnuts.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, checking 2 or 3 minutes before the end of the time. The top should be firm. Depending on how you like your brownies you can take them out earlier or later. Allow the brownies to cool in the pan.

Peppermint Icing:

1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons), softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon mint-flavored extract
Crushed peppermint pieces (optional) 

In the bowl of a standing mixer or with a handheld mixer, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar at low speed until just incorporated, then increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of milk and the mint extract and continue to beat until combined, about 30 seconds. If needed add up to 1 additional tablespoon milk to achieve a soft spreadable consistency (this wasn't necessary for me).

To assemble: Using an offset spatula, spread the mint frosting evenly onto the cooled brownies. If desired, sprinkle with crushed peppermint pieces. For best results cover the brownies and allow the icing to set in the refrigerator for about an hour.

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