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RECIPE: Valentine Brownies

Want to bring something fun to work or school for Valentine’s Day?

These strawberry brownies from Kevin Lynch of Closet Cooking can be made for any occasion.

But we especially like the heart-shaped effect of halved strawberries for “love” occasions: Mother’s, Father’s, Valentine’s, anniversaries, etc.

You can adapt the idea to your favorite brownie, or use his. Wwe tweaked his a bit, using 2/3 cup sugar instead of 3/4 cup, since the chocolate topping is so rich; and used white chocolate for the top for color and flavor variation.

For a step-by-step photos and substitutions for gluten-free, vegan, etc., see the original article.

RECIPE: STRAWBERRY HEART BROWNIES

Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Cool Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 1 hour Servings: 9
Chocolate covered strawberry topped fudge-y brownies!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound strawberries, sliced (look for smaller strawberries to maximize the heart effect)
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (substitute white chocolate if you prefer)
  •  
    Preparation

     

    Chocolate-Strawberry Brownies

    Fresh Strawberries

    [1] The strawberry “hearts” make these brownies easy to love (photo courtesy Closet Cooking). [2] Use smaller strawberries for more of a heart shape (photo courtesy Quinciple).

     
    1. GREASE an 8-inch-square baking pan. Optionally, line it with foil or parchment, overhanging to make lift-up and clean-up easier. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

    2. COMBINE the chocolate and butter in a sauce pan over medium heat; melt, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and let cool.

    3. MIX the sugar into the eggs. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Blend the melted chocolate into the egg mixture, followed by the flour mixture.

    4. POUR the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake about 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven.

    5. SPRINKLE the strawberries on top of the brownies. Melt the chocolate over medium-low heat on the stove or in a microwave. Pour it over the strawberries and let cool until the chocolate is set, 30-60 minutes.
     
    MORE VALENTINE DESSERT RECIPES

  • Chocolate Pudding With Strawberry Rose
  • Coeur À La Crème
  • Easy Chocolate Pudding Pie
  • Frozen Raspberry Soufflés
  • Red Velvet Raspberry Truffles
  • Strawberry-Brownie-Marshmallow Skewers
  • Valentine Cheese Plate
  • Valentine Jell-O Shots
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Practice Your Frosting Roses (& Maybe A Party?)

    Since childhood, our favorite part of a birthday cake has been the buttercream roses.

    No matter whose cake it was, we had to have a slice with a rose.

    You too?

    Then Valentine’s Day is your opportunity to practice piping frosting roses.

    Do we have to mention, you get to eat all the “learning mistakes?”

    (We don’t want to demotivate you, but tutorials often recommend that beginners work with Crisco until ready to take on frosting. Rationale: You can put the Crisco flowers back into the can and re-use it. Bah!)

    There are numerous tutorials on YouTube. We’ve included two below:

  • One for roses to put on a cake.
  • One for cupcake roses: The basic one in the second tutorial is pretty easy.
  •  
    If you don’t have a piping set and don’t want to buy one until you’re sure you want to pursue the craft, see if you can borrow one.

    People often have a set they rarely use (we have two sets!).
     

    HAVE A PIPING PARTY

    You can turn piping flowers into a friends-and-family event.

  • You can make it BYO piping bags, tips and, for cake flowers, a #7 flower nail).
  • Or, to make a real party out of it, you can provide these relatively inexpensive items as party favors.
  • Consider hiring a professional—a specialty cake baker or the decorator from your local bakery to guide the group.
  • You can tell guests to bring what they want to decorate (un-iced cupcakes, cakes), or provide them.
  •  
    If you’d like to make the chocolate cupcakes with pink roses (top photo), here’s the recipe.

    There’s chardonnay in the frosting!
     
    WHAT NEXT?

    If you really get into it, pick up a copy of The Contemporary Buttercream Bible.

    After you master roses, there’s an entire garden of frosting flowers to pursue—from anemones, sweet peas and ranunculus to billy balls (like pom moms), succulents and sunflowers.

    We found the chart below on Pinterest, attributed to the Instagram account of My Sister Bakes.

    (Attention social media gods: We need a reliable system for attribution so the originators can get credited.)
     
    NEED INSPIRATION?

    Here it is: Envision a cupcake party you created, with these different buttercream flowers.

    Buttercream Flowers

     

    Rose Cupcakes

    Cupcake Rose

    Buttercream Gardenia Cupcake

    Chrysanthemum Cupcakes

    The Contemporary Buttercream Bible

    Yes you can! Start practicing, and if you need an incentive, have a cupcake piping party.[1] Photo courtesy Kendall-Jackson. [2] Photo courtesy My Cake School. [3] Photo courtesy The Sugar Fairy | Pinterest. [4] Photo courtesy Taste Made. [5] Get serious with a copy of The Contemporary Buttercream Bible (photo courtesy David & Charles).

     

    It’s even easier to frost a cupcake:

      

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    RECIPE: Super-Easy Brownie Cheesecake

    Brownie Cheesecake

    Blondies

    Cheesecake With Lemon Curd

    [1] Top any cheesecake with brownie cubes and drizzle with caramel sauce (photo courtesy iGourmet). [2] Want cake without all the chocolate? Go for blondies instead (photo courtesy Valrhona). [3] Key lime or lemon bars also do the trick, although more jiggly than brownies and blondies (photo courtesy Baking Obsession).

     

    If you don’t have the time or inclination to bake from scratch, the easiest specialty cheesecake starts with a purchased cheesecake base.

    In the case of this Brownie Caramel Cheesecake (photo #1), you can purchase the brownies, too; or make a quick batch from a mix.

    RECIPE: BROWNIE CARAMEL CHEESECAKE

    Ingredients

  • 1 cheesecake
  • Brownies to taste (top the cake with as many or as few cubes as you like)
  • Caramel sauce
  •  
    Topping Variations

  • Blondies (blonde brownies—photo #2) with chocolate sauce
  • Linzer shortbread bars with raspberry sauce
  • Pecan pie bars with chocolate sauce
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CUBE the brownies/bars. Place as desired atop the cheesecake. We made concentric circles and covered the whole top.

    2. WARM the sauce as needed to drizzling consistency, and drizzle over the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
     
    OTHER CHEESECAKE TOPPINGS

    Fruit Curds

    Spread the top of the cheesecake with fruit curd (photo #3).

    Commonly available choices are cranberry, Key lime, lemon, orange or passionfruit.

    It’s easy to make fruit curd from scratch; but it takes a bit of time and clean-up.
     
    Cookies & Candy

  • Cookies: Top with gingersnaps, Oreos or other favorite cookies. Place them flat or standing up around the rim.
  • Candy: The celebrant’s candy of choice will look great atop the cake. After Eight Mint Chocolate Thins, chocolate bark, M&Ms, mini peanut butter cups, pecan pralines, smashed toffee, etc.
  •  
    For fruit curd, cookies or candy, no sauce is necessary. Instead, you can serve the cake with an optional dab of whipped cream.
     
    There are many other ways to dress up a store-bought cheesecake, from pie filling to shaved chocolate.

    We love a cheesecake iced with chocolate ganache.

    Here’s a tip on top of that:

     
    THE GRIMBLETORTE: GRAND MARNIER CHEESECAKE COVERED IN GANACHE

    Long before there were “foodies,”* those who a decade later would bear the mantle sought out the famous Grimbletorte.

    This spectacular cheesecake from Miss Grimble’s, one of the early gourmet cheesecake bakers in New York City. Its point of differentiation was simple: liqueur in the batter and ganache on the top and sides.

    Miss Grimble (Sylvia Balser Hirsch, 2019-2006) sold the business around 1989 and retired. The subsequent owner discontinued the Grimbletorte.

    Here’s more about the original Miss Grimble.

    To approximate the Grimbletorte:

  • If baking a New York-style cream cheese cheesecake from scratch (2 pounds cream cheese, 5 jumbo eggs), add 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur to the cheesecake batter.
  • If you have a ready-made cake, you can still get a bit of the flavor. Brush the cake with the liqueur before adding the ganache.
  • In theory, you can add the liqueur to the ganache, but we’ve always loved the great chocolate flavor against the orange-accented cheesecake.
  •  
    Mrs. Hirsch’s cake decorators wrote “Grimbletorte” across the top of the iced cheesecake, also in ganache. Proust may keep his madeleines; we want our Grimbletorte.

    ________________

    *What’s the difference between a foodie, connoisseur, gourmet, gourmand, gastronome, epicure and glutton? Check it out.
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: 3-D Animal Crackers

    If you like to bake cookies, try your hand at something different: 3-D cookies.

    They’re sold by a British novelty products company called Suck UK (why ask why?), and available on Amazon.

    The zoo animal cookie cutter set contains a mother and baby. Each set has four cutters: two bodies and two pairs of legs, large (mom) and small (baby).

    Cut out the cookie dough, bake, then slot the pieces together. The larger cookie is 7″ tall by 4.5″ wide. Instructions are included.

    For Valentine’s Day, you can affix a candy heart with icing.

  • Elephant
  • Giraffe*
  • Hippo
  • Lion
  •  
    NOTE: For those who pay close attention, we know that these are not 3-D cookies, but 2-D (flat) cookies that stand up. But that’s what the manufacturer calls them, and no one has called them on it.
    ________________

    *We couldn’t find the giraffe on Amazon, but found it on another site, a bit more expensive.

     
    THE HISTORY OF ANIMAL CRACKERS

    Americans grow up on animal crackers. But the concept actually originated in England in the late 1800s, as animal biscuits (the British term for cookies).

    In 1889, when P.T. Barnum toured England with his circus, several manufacturers took advantage of the marketing opportunity and named their animal biscuits “Barnum’s.”

    The animal biscuits were exported to America, inspiring local bakeries to make their own.

    The National Biscuit Co. (today, Nabisco), introduced theirs in 1902 as “Barnum’s Animals” (they added the word “Crackers” in 1948).

    The “circus car” box with the string handle was introduced later in the year, as a Christmas tree ornament for Christmas 1902.

    (Neither P.T. Barnum nor the Barnum & Bailey Circus ever got a cent in licensing fees from any “Barnum’s” crackers or biscuits. Where were their lawyers?)

       

    Giraffe Cookie Cutter

    Elephant Cookie

    Hippo Cookie Cutter

    [1] Giraffe, [2] elephant, [3] and the hippo cookie cutters (photos courtesy Suck UK).

     

    Homemade Animal Crackers

    Homemade Animal Crackers Recipe

    Homemade Animal Crackers Recipe

    [4] Even if you don’t want to take on 3-D cookies, you can make better-tasting animal crackers with this recipe from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen. [5] and [6] Use a toothpick or other implement to make designs in plain cookies (photos courtesy Chicago Metallic).

     

    RECIPE: ANIMAL CRACKERS

    If you have an animal cookie cutter hanging around, here’s a recipe for that animal cracker taste, from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

    They used a set of plunger animal cookie cutters that create the marks on the cookies. Those cookie cutters are no longer available, but we found something similar on Amazon. Alternatively, you can:

  • Make the grooves with a toothpick, ice pick or other utensil.
  • Leave the cookies plain.
  •  
    Prep time is 45 minutes, cook time is 16 minutes. You can make the dough up to two days in advance.

    Ingredients For 20† Cookies

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon mace
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ________________

    †The number of cookies will vary based on your cookie cutter size.
    ________________

    Preparation

    1. SIFT together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and mace over a small bowl. Set aside.

    2. FIT an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater and beat the butter on high speed for 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, slowly add the sugar and beat for 2 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for 1 minute, stopping the mixer once to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

    3. STOP the mixer and add half of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until most of the flour has been incorporated. Add the remaining flour and beat until all of the flour has been absorbed and the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.

     
    4. TURN the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 2 equal balls. Shape each into a disk and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. When ready to bake…

    5. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 5 minutes. Place each dough disk between 2 clean, large pieces of plastic wrap. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. (If the dough cracks while rolling, let it stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes more.) Remove the plastic wrap and place the dough on a floured work surface. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour.

    6. LINE several baking sheets with parchment paper. Dip the cookie cutters into flour just before using and cut out the shapes. With plunger cookie cutters: Hold each cutter over a prepared baking sheet and lightly depress the plunger to remove the cutout; the plunger will also imprint the tops of the cookies. With regular cookie cutters: Place the cut-out shapes on the baking sheet one at a time and decorate as desired with a toothpick.

    7. FREEZE the baking sheets for 15 minutes, or refrigerate for 30 minutes. Gather up the scraps, reroll and cut out more cookies.

    8. BAKE the cookies until very light golden brown, 14 to 16 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool to room temperature.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Turn Your Favorite Cake Into Mini Cupcakes

    A new book, The Case Against Sugar, is pretty; scary.

    For a synopsis, read the review in The New York Times. The one-sentence message: Beyond our diabetes and obesity epidemics (had these been infectious diseases, according to the book, sugar is probably related to heart disease, hypertension, many common cancers and Alzheimer’s.

    But we’re not here to scare you. we’re here to offer one of our favorite work-arounds to eat less sugar: mini cupcakes with much less frosting.

    Mini cupcakes are nothing new. It’s easy to find them, whether for kids or as an alternative to regular cupcakes, that are three- or four-times the size.

    But rather than buy some average cupcake made with some average mix—even at a cupcake boutique—they’re so much better when you make them with your favorite cake recipe.

    (Disclosure: We don’t like airy, fluffy cakes, preferring more dense styles like carrot cake, banana bread with chocolate chunks and chocolate cake enriched with sour cream).

    This recipe from Kraft uses a cake mix for this recipe, but you can use your own.

    Prep time is 20 minutes, bake time is 12 minutes; total time is about an hour.

    RECIPE #1: CARROT CAKE MINI CUPCAKES

    Ingredients For 48 Mini Cupcakes

  • 1 package (2-layer size) carrot cake mix
  •  
    For The Frosting
    (See Our Alternative Frostings Below)

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  •  
    Plus

  • Mini muffin/cupcake pans
  • Paper liners
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREPARE the cake batter as directed on the package. Spoon into 48 paper-lined mini muffin cups. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean.

    2. COOL in the pans 10 minutes. Remove to wire racks and cool completely. As the cupcakes cool…

    3. MAKE the frosting. Beat the butter and cream cheese in medium bowl with mixer until creamy. Blend in the vanilla. Gradually add the sugar, mixing well after each addition. Spread onto the cupcakes.

    ALTERNATIVE FROSTINGS

    Use a small (flat) amount of anything you like. The biggest caloric bargain is aerosol whipped cream, such as Reddi-Wip, at 15 calories per tablespoon.

    The idea is simply to spread it with a spatula, not mound it on! Some cupcakes can seem like a base for eating frosting!

  • Chocolate ganache
  • Greek yogurt, with agave or non-caloric sweetener and other flavorings (cocoa powder, lemon zest, etc.)
  • Ice cream, softened*
  • Reddi-Wip* or homemade with a canister
  • Stabilized whipped cream (recipe below)
  •  
    Garnish

    For color, flavor, and minuscule calories, top with a berry.
    ________________

     

    Mini Carrot Cakes

    Chocolate Mini Cupcakes

    Lemon Mini Cupcake

    Angel Food Mini Cupcakes

    [1] For smaller portions, turn your favorite cake into mini cupcakes. The recipe for these carrot cake minis is below (photo courtesy Kraft). [2] The next step is to minimize the frosting. Chocolate ganache requires just a smear, not a pile (here’s the recipe from Life In The Lofthouse). [3] Another icing tip: Whipped cream has fewer calories because of all that air (photo courtesy Rose Bakes). [4] For the finale, add a fresh berry (here’s the recipe for these angel food cupcakes from Cooking Classy).

    *With “collapsible” frostings, frost the cupcakes immediately before serving, or bring the frosting to the table for self-service.
     
    RECIPE #2: CREAM CHEESE-STABLIZED WHIPPED CREAM FROSTING

    We love stabilized whipped cream as a frosting and filling. It holds its shape for two days without collapsing.

    The stabilizing agent is typically stabilized with gelatin. Here, we use cream cheese.

    As you can guess, it’s richer in flavor and texture when you substitute cream cheese.

    This recipe makes enough to frost a cake; but there are only four tablespoons of sugar in all five cups!

    Add cocoa powder for chocolate frosting/filling.

    Ingredients For Five Cups

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cups heavy/whipping cream
  • 4 tablespoons powdered sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  •  
    Preparation

    1. WHIP the cream cheese in a small bowl until soft and aerated. In a larger, chilled bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft, collapsible peaks that.

    2. ADD the cream cheese to the cream and continue whipping on high speed until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Beat in the sugar, vanilla and optional cocoa powder.

    3. REFRIGERATE until ready to use.

      

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