Cranberry Bliss Bars

I can’t remember exactly when I had my first Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar but I do remember thinking (in no particular order): it could become a very expensive habit, sitting out in the air too long would make them go stale quickly, and only having them available during Christmas holidays was not an option…. I mean, what’s a girl to have as a treat with her coffee mid-March? A cake pop?! Pfft! That’s so last fad.  Never to be outfoxed by a baked good, I went searching into the ether and came back with a promising knock-off recipe … which I further knocked off.  Peace and sanity were restored and mah belly was happy.

One recipe makes a generous batch, enough for your cookie tray and a lucky one or two others.  I’ve never tried to double the recipe into a half sheet pan since I think that’d become too unwieldy for my skill level.  If you’re game, send me pics.  I’ll be amazed!  If by some strange happenstance you get a wild hair and make three batches and find you DO have a few left over, they freeze beautifully in a vacuum-sealed bag.  I can’t begin to tell you how fun it is to do a freezer clean out and find these hiding there.

Fear not non-coffee drinkers, cranberry bliss bars go well with a tall glass of milk, a hot mug of tea and, I hear, a nice dram of bourbon.

Onto the rooftops and down the chimneys, one and all (if you can fit after all the goodies)!

CRANBERRY BLISS BARS

(adapted from Top Secret Recipes version of Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar by Todd Wilbur)

CAKE:
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 tsp ginger (powdered)
¼ tsp Kosher salt
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup dried cranberries(I use unsweetened), chopped, divided
6 oz. white chocolate chips

FROSTING:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
4-5 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of one orange (no pith)
½ tsp vanilla

CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350F. For a cake-like (more authentic) bar, use a quarter-sheet pan.  For a more cookie-like bar, use a 15×11 jellyroll pan.  Line the pan with parchment paper or butter it well.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Mix in eggs, vanilla, ginger and salt and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.  On low speed, gradually add in the flour, scraping down the sides once or twice.  Stir in ¾ of the cup of chopped cranberries and the white chocolate chips.

Spread the batter in the pan, being sure to distribute it evenly to all sides and corners.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until edges are just starting to brown.  Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack.

FROSTING: Combine all of the frosting ingredients in a mixer using the whisk attachment (though a paddle will work) until smooth.  Spread the frosting evenly from side to side, corner to corner.  If you remembered to keep the divided ¼ cup of chopped cranberries, sprinkle them over the frosted bars.

Cut into desired shapes and either serve or store (for up to a week I’ve found) in an airtight container as they do tend to dry out in a cookie tin.

Mintywiches – Andes Candies Sandwich Cookies

These cookies are the absolute favorites of both Gladys of the Suburbs and Mahatma Sissypants (according to my recipe notes from 1999).  I’ve given their nicknames here because right now they’re stepping out on old Minty … looking for greener (literally in one cookie’s case) pastures in the chocolate-mint cookie combo… but I know they’ll be back and I don’t want to out their infidelity to the world for this minor blip.

I don’t know where the recipe originated, just that Mom’s been making them as long as I can remember and I’ve carried on the tradition.  In full disclosure, however, I really prefer to make these cookies with someone else – anyone else (as long as their hands have been washed, natch) – because I loathe rolling the balls.  My uniformity skills are sorely lacking and I end up with a variety of shapes and sizes which are okay in a stand-alone cookie but, um, not so aesthetically pleasing in a sandwich cookie.  You have been warned!

Since we’re coming onto Christmas like a freight train without brakes into a downhill station on a freezing rainy night, I’ve been remiss in photographing these latest cookie recipes.  Fortunately, my verbosity will be of great use here.  To wit, how to make these no-fail cookies in five(ish) steps:

1) Mix the ingredients together following the directions outlined below. 2) Chill the dough (overnight is best but sixish hours should do it).  3) Preheat the oven, 3a) roll the dough in sugar, 3b) bake, 3c) sandwich the Andes candies between two like-sized cookies. 4 or 3a1 … I erred on the side of a stand-alone hint ) The more uniform your dough balls, the less likely you will burn your fingers picking up and putting down cookies until you find the right size to match. 5) Eat.  And done.

Mom used to put a little rosette of red and green frosting on each cookie before serving … I never remember but it is pretty if you want to dude up these otherwise plain cookies.

If the directions above and below still leave you scratching your head as to why I’m recommending these perennial favorites and/or how to make them in more detail, drop me a line.  If I’m not too far into me grog cups, I’ll answer promptly.  I may even let the locusts answer for me since their sadly frequent (and sometimes successful by my count) attempts at pilfering make me think they may be experts in all things Mintywich.

Hope you bake these little lovelies – unless you’re Gladys and/or Mahatma and are out there in your come-hither baking get-ups looking for some Minty-come-lately – they are a real crowd pleaser.

Merry! Merry!

Mintywiches

2/3 cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 egg
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 ¾ cup flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
granulated sugar
60 creme de menthe wafers (Andes Crème de Menthe Thins)

Combine butter, sugar and egg in large mixing bowl and beat until light and creamy.  Blend in melted chocolate and corn syrup.  Sift together flour, soda and salt.  Stir into chocolate mixture.  Chill several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Using a level teaspoon of dough, shape into a ball and roll in granulated sugar.  Place  an even number of balls on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Remove each batch from oven and let it stand just a few seconds.  Do NOT cool.  Turn half of each batch upside down and top with a mint wafer.  Top with a like-sized cookie.  Place mintywiches in freezer to harden (or on counter for an hour).  HINT:  This dough becomes sticky at room temperature; return it to the refrigerator between batches.  If you’ve rolled a pan and they waiting (first, wow, you’re good!), put them in the refrigerator to keep them from getting melty.

Store, layered between parchment or waxed paper in a cookie tin.

Makes 50 cookies when using 1 level tsp measure for the balls.

If you prefer a higher filling to cookie ratio, measure out 1/2 tsp of dough for the balls.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

There is a love-hate relationship in our house with Peanut Butter Blossoms.  BD and the locusts love them.   I … do not.  Oddly, these are one of those cookies that I always make for Christmas.  They are a nice addition to the cookie tray and most people who try them seem to love them.  Mazel tov and to each his own! I say.

Now that the possibility of the wrath of Bunny being visited upon my head is (almost) non-existent, I gleefully will admit to more than once  in my youth taking Peanut Blossoms from the cookie tray, popping the Hershey Kisses off to eat, and tossing the cookies.   I really should be ashamed of myself for that.   And yet …

Self-tattling aside, these cookies really do disappear with an appreciative crowd so if you’re a peanut butter and chocolate fan, I highly recommend you give them a try.  They come together quickly, are very easy to make and really are popular with the Christmas cookie set.

I’m partial to Jif Creamy Peanut Butter for these cookies.  This is one time that natural peanut butter needs to stay in the pantry; it wreaks havoc on the texture of these cookies and makes them unpleasantly oily.  Also, a chocoholic heads up: while a one-pound bag of Hershey’s Kisses will amply accommodate an entire batch of cookies, a two-pound bag will ensure snacking before, during, and after your bake-a-thon with no need for rationing [I shudder to think] or cookie desecration.

No pomp, no circumstance … Everyone into the pool!

 

The dough is ready when it cleans away from the sides of the bowl.  It’s a soft, but not sticky dough.  It’s ready to roll right away or you can refrigerate and roll later … just add a minute or two to the baking time if the dough is chilled.

 

One for me, one for the cookies, one for me, one for the cookies … This really is not an exaggeration for me.  In a funny (I think) coincidence, Stephanie just texted me that when she was little and in charge of unwrapping the Hershey’s Kisses, she was allowed just one kiss to nibble even though there were always at least half a bowl left over.  I think someone needs a hug!

 

The easiest/neatest container to use for rolling the dough balls in sugar is a pie plate.  I load up 8 or 10 balls and then shake the pie plate until they are coated with sugar.

The cookies don’t spread a lot. On a half-sheet tray you can get four across with five rows.  They bake for 10 minutes (maybe 11 or 12 if the dough is chilled) and then, very important here, as soon as they come out of the oven, gently press a Hershey Kiss into each cookie and then, using a spatula, put them onto a cooling rack until the kiss sets.  They become very melty (and delicious!) but firm back up in about 20 minutes.

After they’ve completely cooled, store in a cookie tin, layers separated by waxed paper or parchment.   My odd aversion aside, they truly are a winning recipe, much loved and anticipated during Christmas.  I hope you’ll give them a try.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

2 Tbs milk
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
sugar for rolling
48 Hershey Kisses

Preheat oven to 375F.

Combine the first ten ingredients in a mixer and beat to combine.

Form dough into 1-inch balls and then roll in the sugar.

Place on ungreased or parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes.

Once removed from oven, immediately press a Hershey Kiss into the center of each cookie. Cool on a cooling rack until Kisses are firm.

Store in a cookie tin.

Absolutely Marvelous Caramel Matzoh Crunch

And it is … absolutely marvelous.

Every year when I bake the matzoh crunch, I’m reminded of a fictional account of a near-death experience in a blinding snowstorm with four of five siblings and one Mario-Andretti-Wanna-Be sister-in-law behind the wheel of a rented minivan.  As the story goes, there was a tradition, some years back, when available siblings and MAWB would make a weekend road trip between Thanksgiving and Christmas to a place within driving distance of their homes to sample and pick up beers and other provisions for Christmas.  One of these trips was to Montreal. Continue Reading

Jack Daniel’s Cake With Buttered Whiskey Glaze

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I must start with the caveat that this is not actually my recipe but BD’s.  And, truth be told, it’s not even his.  Many years ago, when shoulder pads and perms were in vogue if unfortunate and our meeting was but a fleeting dream he could only hope to attain (my blog, my version), he found himself in a liquor store that had a Jack Daniel’s promotional recipe for this cake on a tear-off pad.  He availed himself.

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The Most Amazing Brownies

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Doing a Google search for “brownie recipe” brings up a whopping 3.96 million hits. Even narrowing the parameters to include only “the very best brownie recipe” drops it to a mind-boggling 1.44 million hits.  Methinks someone is lying there… Let me save you the trouble.  Just make these.  Ah, this may take convincing, I see.  I understand completely.  I am a chocolate snob.  A chocoholic.  A chocomaniac.  A connoisseur (when in doubt say it in French!  Adds a certain weight, a certain panache … see what I did there).  These brownies are not quite cake-like but not fudgey.  They are densely chocolatey but not heavy.  They have a silky texture that defies their ease of preparation.  Need more?  They catch men!   Being as I’m married, I practice the old catch-and-release … oh, I digress.

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