Posts Tagged ‘Holiday Baking’

The Postman Always Rings Twice … IF YOU GIVE HIM BROWNIES!

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009


I LOVE having an excuse to bake. This time of year I have many reasons to turn on the oven. Yesterday’s was creating a holiday gift for my mother’s New Jersey mail carrier, Colin.
My mother and I are nomadic. We travel from our house in Massachusetts to her house in New Jersey to my brother’s house in Virginia and then back again to New Jersey and so forth.
Fortunately for us, the Post Office almost always finds us. Our carrier in Massachusetts, Lisa, and our carrier in New Jersey, Colin, put up with our comings and goings and keep track of our mail for us. So do the clerks and postmasters in their offices.
We always like to give them a special thank you in December—not just money, but something that represents OUR time the way the help they give us represents THEIR time.
We all like Colin, but our dog Truffle carries her affection for him to extremes. If left to her own devices, Truffle would hop into Colin’s truck and never look back at us. I could tell from the look in her eyes that she felt he deserved something extra special this year.
So I tried baking a treat that had intrigued me in a variety of books and blogs—brownies with mint candy inside.
Basically, this involves making brownie batter and dividing it in half. The first half goes into the pan and is covered with a thin layer of mints. The second half of the batter goes on top.
I decided to use Andes mints, which are very thin. I didn’t want my mint layer to overwhelm the brownies!
I was torn between two different flavors—the traditional chocolate-surrounded “crème de menthe” variety and the seasonal non-chocolate “peppermint crunch.” I settled for using some of each; I put crème de menthe on one half of the brownies and peppermint crunch on the other half.
Naturally, I had to try both kinds before passing the brownies on to Colin!
I might SLIGHTLY prefer the peppermint crunch—after all, brownies already have chocolate in them—but if you are a chocolate lover you may disagree. In any case, both flavors were delicious.
I also threw a little icing on the top of the brownies (with a few sprinkles) to make them extra festive for Christmas. This layer is optional but fun.
Colin looked happy to see them.

Colin takes our comings and goings--and our occasional strange headgear--in stride.

Colin takes our comings and goings--and our occasional strange headgear--in stride.

Peppermint Surprise Brownies
for the brownies:
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
3 ounces (3 squares) semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
for the filling:
2 packages (4.67 ounces each) Andes mints (you won’t need quite all of them, but you will need most of them)
for the icing:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
confectioner’s sugar as needed (about 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
holiday sprinkles (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with aluminum foil, and butter the foil.
Prepare the brownie batter: In a medium pan heat the butter and chocolate squares, stirring frequently, until the chocolate melts. Remove it from the heat.
When the chocolate/butter mixture is cool enough to stick your finger into it (this won’t take long) stir in the eggs, followed by the flour and then the vanilla.
Pour half of this batter into the prepared pan. Lay the mints (unwrapped, obviously) on top of the batter as lightly as you can, covering as much of the batter as you can.
Pour the remaining batter on top (use a spatula to smooth it over the mints as needed) and bake the brownies for 25 minutes.
Allow the brownies to cool completely in their pan. Remove the foil from the pan, and gently peel the foil off of the brownies.
Next, make the frosting. Cream the butter, and add enough confectioner’s sugar to make a spreadable icing, adding the vanilla toward the end of this process.
Gently spread the icing in a thin layer over the brownies. Decorate with seasonal sprinkles if you like.
Allow the icing to harden a bit before you slice the brownies.
Makes 16 to 36 brownies, depending on how big you want to make them. (We like them little so I hope Colin does.)

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North Meets South Pecan Pie

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

pecan-pie-web          Pie is a grand old tradition for the holidays. There’s love in every pie crust–particularly in our home, where my 90-year-old mother Jan is the designated crust roller.

Everyone has a favorite flavor for holiday pie. As far as I’m concerned, you can keep your apples and your squash. Give me a pecan pie, and I’m so happy I could sing (and frequently do)!

This recipe combines two of my favorite ingredients—Southern pecans and Northern maple syrup. It comes from the recipe files of my sister-in-law’s grandmother, Lois Bullard of Memphis, Tennessee. The delicate maple flavor makes the pie taste less sweet and syrupy than many of its molasses- or corn-syrup-based brethren.

3 tablespoons sweet butter at room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons flour

1 pinch salt

1 cup maple syrup (I like to use Grade B)

2 cups pecan halves

1 9-inch unbaked pie shell


          Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, flour, salt, and syrup. Stir in the pecan halves, and mix well. Pour the mixture into the pie shell. Bake for 5 minutes; then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake until the mixture just sets, 30 to 40 minutes, being careful to avoid burning. Serves 6 to 8. A little whipped cream on the side gilds this lily in decadent fashion.

Jan in the Kitchen

Rolling Pie Crust with Love: Jan in the Kitchen




Eggnog Scones

Friday, December 5th, 2008


Now that December has arrived I’m starting to think about holiday baking. Fruitcake is on the horizon, but since I love scones I’m starting with them.

These buttery treats taste like Christmas—delicious and full of nutmeg. I suggest using either homemade eggnog or a good commercial grade. If you’re trying the latter, take a good look at the ingredients.

They should be things you recognize—milk, cream, eggs, nutmeg, sugar—rather than powdered substances, corn syrup, or things that end in the phrase “ose.” Spiking the eggnog is fun but not essential.


for the scones:

1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) sweet butter
2/3 cup dried cranberries (optional for flavor and color)
1 egg
2/3 cup eggnog
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

for the optional glaze:

2 tablespoons orange juice
confectioner’s sugar as needed (I used at least a cup!)


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Liberally grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment or a silicone mat. Combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. With knives or a pastry blender cut in the butter, but be careful not to overmix. Stir the cranberries into this mixture if you want to use them.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg, eggnog, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and blend until the dry ingredients are moistened. You may cut the scones in your bowl by forming the mixture into a round disk and cutting it into 6 to 8 pieces and then placing them on the baking sheet—or you may simply drop 6 to 8 lumps onto your baking sheet. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown.

If you wish to use the glaze (which is sweet but delicious), place the juice in a small container, and add confectioner’s sugar until you have a slightly wet paste. Drizzle the glaze over slightly cooled scones. If you want to go wild, place sprinkles on top.

Makes 6 to 8 scones.