Christmas Baking


The theme the last couple weeks has been "reduce" and that has carried over to the kitchen as well. There is nothing better than coming to the day of your move and only having a paper bag full of pantry and fridge items left in the kitchen to pass on. In true Chopped style, DaddyO made a list of everything we had in the kitchen and used a little creativity to plan out meals from there.

We had plenty of flour and sugar stocked in our pantry so Christmas baking was easy. DaddyO spent an afternoon in the kitchen with the kids making a variety of baked goods.


For the Mint Chocolate Layer Bars DaddyO combined a brownie recipe he found online for the base with his mother's for the topping. The result was a fudgy success.


Mint Chocolate Layer Bar
Base
10 tablespoons (145 g) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (250 g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (65 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 rounded teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (70 g) all-purpose flour (we use Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour)
2/3 cup (75 g) chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1. Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and heat to 325 degrees F (163 C). Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch (20cm) square baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. (This helps when removing the baked brownies from the pan, once cooled).
 

2. Add enough water to a medium saucepan so that it is 1 to 2 inches deep. Heat water until barely simmering. Combine butter, sugar, cocoa powder and the salt in a medium heat-safe bowl. Rest bowl over simmering water (if the bottom of the bowl touches the water, remove a little water).
 

3. Stir mixture occasionally until the butter has melted and mixture is quite warm. Don’t worry if it looks gritty, it will become smooth once you add the eggs and flour.
 

4. Remove the bowl from heat and set aside for 3 to 5 minutes until it is only warm, not hot.
 

5. Stir in vanilla with a wooden spoon or spatula. Then, add eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one.
 

6. When the batter looks thick, shiny and well blended, add the flour and stir until fully incorporated, then beat with the wooden spoon or spatula for 40 to 50 strokes. (The batter will be quite thick). Stir in nuts, if using. Spread evenly in lined pan.
 

7. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted into the center and come out almost clean (you want it to be a little moist with batter). Note: Some have found they need to bake an extra 10 minutes, so keep an eye on the doneness of the brownies and use the toothpick test as your guide.
 

8. Cool completely then remove from pan. For the cleanest lines when cutting, place into freezer for 20 to 30 minutes to firm up. Cut into 16 squares.

Mint Cream Filling
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract.

1. Beat together all the ingredients until smooth. If you like add a drop of green coloring.
 

2. Spread the filling evenly over the brownie layer, cover and chill until firm, about 1 hour. 

Chocolate Glaze
1/2 package sweet cooking chocolate (2 ounces)
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Melt sweet chocolate and butter ina small bowl over hot water. Stir in vanilla.
 

2. Drizzle the glaze over the mint topping. cover and chill again until firm. Cut the layer into bite-sized squares.
 

Next was a copycat recipe of a seasonal favorite at Starbucks. Why pay $2/bar when you can make a whole pan for almost the same price? 

Cranberry Bliss Bars
Cake
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup chopped sweetened dried cranberries
4 ounces white chocolate, cut into chunks

Frosting
4-ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup chopped sweetened dried cranberries

Drizzled Icing
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vegetable shortening

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Make cake by beating the butter and brown sugar together with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the eggs, ginger, vanilla, and salt and beat well. Gradually mix in the flour and baking powder until smooth. Mix the chopped dried cranberries and white chocolate chunks into the batter by hand. Pour the batter into a buttered 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly across the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned on top. Allow the cake to cool.

3. Make the frosting by combining the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. When the cake has cooled, use a spatula to spread the frosting over the top of the cake.

4. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of chopped dried cranberries over the frosting on the cake.

5. Make the drizzled icing by whisking together powdered sugar, milk, and shortening. Drizzle this icing over the cranberries in a sweeping motion with a squirt bottle or fill a small plastic storage bag with the icing and cut off the tip of one corner.

6. Cover the cake and let it chill out in the fridge for a couple hours, then slice the cake lengthwise (the long way) through the middle. Slice the cake across the width three times, making a total of eight rectangular slices. Slice each of those rectangles diagonally creating 16 triangular slices.

Makes 16 bars.

And last was browned butter banana bread. Not specifically Christmas related but a nice compliment to the sweet bars. 

Browned Butter Banana Bread
2 Cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ Cup butter
¾ Cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
½ Cup sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 350­°F. Grease bottom only of a 9x5-inch bread pan.
 

2. In a bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
 

3. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until caramel colored. Watch it carefully 'cause it can quickly go from a nice caramel color to burned! Pour browned butter into a mixing bowl.
 

4. Add brown sugar, mix well. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla, mashed bananas, and sour cream. Add flour mixture, stirring just until combined.
 

5. Pour into prepared bread pan. Bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

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