Lunch Lady Brownies

It is with total certainty that I can say that my "Freshman Fifteen," that extra bit of weight one gains at college, came from these brownies. Being allowed to fill my plate with anything I wanted for the very first time in my life was a revelation. After making my way through the cafeteria line (mac & cheese! creamy chicken! buttered vegetables!), I'd joyfully serve myself one, two, maybe three of these puppies before wandering off with a Thanksgiving-like satiety.

Something about the cakey brownie with the smooth frosting tickled my fancy then, as it does now. It's down-home baking at it's finest. I swear, I love trying any kind of savory cuisine, but I will hands down choose an All-American dessert (apple pie, chocolate cake, brownies, you get the idea) over eclairs or flan anyday.

Life is busy lately. Like, really busy. When I need to slow down a little, my brain does me this kindness of recalling a recipe I wanted to try or drumming up an old food memory that leads me to the kitchen. That culinary college memory was the inspiration here. Well, that and my daughter's teacher asked who would bake brownies to sell at the talent show tonight.

This recipe seems to go a little out of order. So many recipes go "mix wet ingredients, mix dry ingredients and then combine them," but this one throws in a few curve balls. Maybe this is where the magic happens.

Also, it makes a thick batch of batter. Like, almost cookie-dough-like and you may have to spread it across your pan.

That said, these are rich, gooey, and delightfully sweet. I think they'll do okay at the talent show. I'll let you know!

xox,

A.



Lunch Lady Brownies*
1 C butter, melted
1/2 C cocoa
2 C flour
2 C sugar
4 large eggs, at room temp
4 t vanilla

Chocolate Frosting
1/4 C butter, softened
1/4 C milk
1/4 C cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a 9x13­inch baking dish with parchment and butter that. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand­ mixer, add the melted butter and cocoa powder. Using the paddle attachment, blend until smooth.
3. Add the flour and sugar. Beat together then add eggs and vanilla. Mix just until combined. Don't over mix. The batter will be thick.
4. Pour or spread your batter into the prepared baking dish and spread out evenly.
5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
6. Remove brownies from oven and let stand 15 minutes before frosting.  The brownies should be warm (but not hot) when you frost them.
7. Beat together all the frosting ingredients until smooth.
8. Pour and spread over warm brownies.

Let cool completely before cutting and serving.

*Makes 15 2-1/2"x2-1/2" brownies

Graham Cracker Hearts with Theo Chocolate's Honey Ganache


Can you feel the love in the air? For me, it's a little hard to pin down this year.

As is the norm with our life, everything is up in the air once again. My husband's company down-sized by 25%, leaving him to find a big job in a small town that is saturated with talent and bereft of opportunity. Put another way, we're probably moving again. But, we'll know more when we know more.

And so it goes.

Let's talk about Valentine's Day. Every year, I think chocolate. But lurking at the back of my mind lately has been this brown sugary heart cookie stuffed with ganache that I used to get at the now-shuttered Mani's Bakery. Is anyone from LA? Remember how au courant Mani's was when they opened a sugar-free bakery that had vegan options? You can get this stuff everywhere now, but not in the 90's. In the 90's it was Mani's or you had to boil down apple & white grape juices to make fruit syrup to attempt subbing that in for sugar in a recipe that rarely tasted right.

Back to the brown sugary heart. This was not a vegan option and the cookie itself tasted like a brown sugar shortbread, although rolled out very, very thin. They packed that sucker with ganache that really kind of knocked the wind out of me. Rich, dark, no-holds barred ganache filling against crisp, complex "sugar" cookie. I had to try to recreate this one.


It just so happens that this graham cracker recipe was basically handed to me brought to my attention through my copywriting job. We were covering a nutritionist's post about healthy Valentine's Day treats and this cookie recipe was one of them. "Healthy" cookies? I'll try anything, once.

The ganache comes from Fair Trade chocolate company Theo Chocolate. Based in Seattle and now authors of this book (thanks, Toya!), Joe Whinney and Debra Music are artists with chocolate and downright good people. Their ganache includes honey which paired absolutely perfectly with graham crackers and elevated this cookie to a whole new height.


The best part about this treat is that I did most of it with my five year old daughter. She loved rolling out the dough, whisking up chocolate and especially chowing down the results. My husband wolfed about 12 crackers in 2 minutes before realizing we were stuffing them with chocolate. Then, he had to eat at least 2 sandwich cookies, so, don't ask him if these felt healthier than regular desserts because I'd venture a guess that he felt kind of heavy after all this eating!

Spending time in the kitchen with the ones I love is the perfect elixir to what ails me. Anxiety disappears with the wafting scent of baking honey and steaming chocolate. Wherever we go, we'll be fortunate enough to have a kitchen. There's no place I'd rather be, especially with them.


Honey Graham Crackers
  • 1C graham flour
  • 1½C all purpose flour
  • ½C dark brown sugar
  • ½t salt
  • 1t cinnamon
  • 1t baking soda
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled & cubed
  • ¼C honey
  • ¼C water
  • 1t vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a food processor combine the graham flour, all purpose flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Pulse 3-5 times. 
  3. Add butter to the mix and pulse 3-5 more times, until it resembles coarse meal.
  4. Add honey, water and vanilla and pulse until the dough comes together. (It may look wet or piece-y. Don't worry because it all comes together when you roll it out.)
  5. Remove and shape the dough into a flat disk and place between two pieces of wax or parchment paper.
  6. Roll dough out until ¼ inch thick. Cut into crackers or shapes. Repeat until all the dough is used.
  7. Place cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 13-15 minutes.
  8. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Theo Chocolate's Honey Ganache
10 oz. Theo 85% dark chocolate, finely chopped
4½ T unsalted butter, diced
1C heavy cream
3T honey

1. Heat the cream and honey just to boiling. 
2. Pour over chocolate and begin whisking. 
3. Add the butter in about 8 additions until fully combined. 
4. Let ganache set by coming to room temp or by refrigerating, stirring every 30 minutes until fully set. 


Graham Cracker Ganache Sandwiches
Place three teaspoon-sized scoops of ganache on each heart and cover with another. Let set at least 30 seconds, if you can wait. Hehe. 

Ruth Reichl's Chocolate Fudge Cake

Welcome to the new iteration of my blog!

This is exciting stuff. A new name. A new template. A host of new topics. I'm so excited to share more and more and more. I hope you like it.

This blog started as an ode to baking and to those I bake for. Whatever life tosses me - lemons or sugar -  I head straight to the kitchen to stir up whatever can be made with lemons. Or sugar. Or both! Since I started blogging, I've begun a career as a writer while studying early childhood development. Plus, you know, being Jeremy's wife, Lulu's mom and Fergie's person.


Lately I've been reading Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, a book that exemplifies the beauty of connecting with others through food. As Ruth is one of my heroes, it's such a pleasure to "spend time with her" through her writing, especially in this book. Why? Because this book is about the uncertainty in her life during the year after Gourmet magazine closed and our life has held much of the same uncertainty for sometime. It makes me feel stronger knowing that she, at 60-something, continues to accomplish so much.

So... let's celebrate!


You will be so thrilled with the flavor and texture of this lovely cake. From the aforementioned book, (adjusted by me to make a 3-layer 9" cake because Ms. Reichl's recipe makes a cake that serves 25!) this is exactly what a chocolate cake should be: perfect silky crumb and fudgy frosting. Bite after bite, this cake makes me feel like a kid after school in a 1950s kitchen. I can almost see the gingham potholders and pretty little frilly apron hanging in the broom closet. That's what a Ruth Reichl recipe will do: transport a diner to another world, one she has probably been in herself. Through this cake, I imagine that she had some sweet moments in her childhood. At least I'd like to think so.

My husband's boss said to me when we met that the only way he knew me was through my baking. That's the way to know me best. The measure of salt, sugar, butter and infinite love that flows through my fingers is the best of me, really. Yet, there is more. And I can't wait to share it with you. 

To us!

xox,

Allison


Cinnamon Roll Cookies


It's the most baking-est time of the year and I'm missing it!

What have you been up to? I've been:
(to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas)
Holiday card addressing
Lots of gifts a-wrapping
School volunteering
Full-time a-working
Some party-going
and parenting a five year-old...

I guess maybe I'm not totally missing it because I did make these amazing cinnamon roll cookies I found on the King Arthur Flour website. (This post is not sponsored. I was just noodling around on the interwebs and found something good to make.)

Buttery, cinnamonny (totally a word) and a little salty, baking these will scent up your house so fragrantly that the neighbors may "happen" to stop by.

The only thing I will caveat here is that these are a several hours long activity. If you're spending a day by the fire, playing board games with visitors and family, these are a perfect background baking craft. Oh, are they worth it!

And, hey, go easy on yourself. If you're into baking, you know that these take a little patience and skill. But if you're a novice, maybe roll the doughs out, put them on top of each other and cut into wedges. They may not look like these photos, but trust me when I admit that mine look nothing like the pro photos on their site of origin. Whatevs, they're tasty and they smell good and my husband loves cinnamon. Done deal!

xox,

A.



Cinnamon Roll Cookies
Yield: 4 dozen cookies

Vanilla Cookie Dough
½ C powdered sugar
12 T unsalted butter
½ t kosher salt
1 ½ vanilla
1 ½ C flour

Cinnamon Cookie Dough
¼ C brown sugar
2 T honey
½ t kosher salt
½ t vanilla
12 T unsalted butter
1 T cinnamon
½ C toasted chopped pecans

1 ½ C flour

Make the vanilla dough: 
1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl cream together the sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla.
2. Mix in the flour. 
3. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. 

Make the cinnamon dough:
1. In a saucepan combine the sugar, honey, salt, vanilla, butter, and cinnamon. Heat over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.
2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool briefly.
3. Transfer the cinnamon mixture and the toasted pecans to a food processor, and process until smooth.
4. Add the flour and pulse 3-5 times until the dough comes together.
5. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. 

Put it all together:
1. Place parchment on your work surface and dust it lightly with flour.
2. Lay the vanilla dough on the parchment and roll it into an 18" x 12" rectangle. Set aside.
3. Place another piece of parchment on your work surface and dust it lightly with flour. Roll the cinnamon dough out into a 17" x 11" rectangle.
4. Place the cinnamon dough on top of the vanilla dough.
5. Carefully roll the dough into a log. If you lose pieces along the way, carefully press them into the log form.
6. Wrap the log in parchment, and freeze for one hour.
7. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
8. Working quickly, remove the dough from the freezer, unwrap it, and use a sharp knife to gently cut the log into ¼" slices.
9. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they feel firm.
10. Cool completely and munch with milk!