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RECIPE: Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownies

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Chocolate Pretzel Brownie

Brownies just might be our favorite finger food. [1] Photo courtesy Jennifer | Bake Or Break. [2] Photo by Katharine Pollack | THE NIBBLE.

 

Sweet and salty treats and desserts have been a hot combination for a decade or so, beginning with salted chocolate and salted caramel. There’s science behind it:

Each taste bud contains 50 to 100 taste cells, which respond to a particular flavor: sweet, salty, sour, bitter or umami. The cells have a component called the SGLT1 receptor, which transports sugars into the cells when sodium is present.

This is proffered as an explanation to why sweetness is accentuated by salt: The receptors are activated when salt accompanies sugar.

While the receptor is a new finding, the result has been known for centuries. That’s why there’s a dash of salt (or more) in recipes for cakes, cookies and pies.

The brownie recipe below was developed by Jennifer of Bake Or Break for Go Bold With Butter. It combines bittersweet chocolate and smooth peanut butter with salty, crunchy pretzels pretzels.

Not a peanut butter fan? Check out these Salted Caramel Pretzel Brownies.

RECIPE: PEANUT BUTTER PRETZEL BROWNIES

Ingredients For 16 2-Inch Brownies

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces (1 cup) bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup chopped pretzels
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Line with parchment paper (or foil), leaving a couple of inches of overhang on two sides to lift out the brownies. Grease the parchment.

    2. PLACE the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at half power in 30-second intervals until the butter is melted and the chocolate melts into it when stirred. Combine thoroughly and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Set aside to cool slightly.

    3. WHISK together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Set aside.

    4. ADD the sugar to butter/chocolate mixture and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.

    5. PLACE the peanut butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 20-30 seconds, or until it can be easily stirred. Add to the chocolate mixture, and mix until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in about 3/4 cup of pretzels, adding any “crumbs” that splintered off during chopping.

    6. TRANSFER the batter to the pan and spread evenly. Place the remaining pretzels over the top of the batter, and press them down gently into the batter.

    7. BAKE for 40-45 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

    8. LIFT the brownies from the pan onto a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut them into bars.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Champagne Jell-O Shots…Or Maybe Beer

    How old can you be and still enjoy Jell-O shots?

    Erica of Erica’s Sweet Tooth adapted this recipe from Bakers Royale.

    Point of accuracy: This recipe is made with plain gelatin, not flavored Jell-O, so it’s not really a Jell-O shot.

    Another point: Everyone responds to the word “champagne,” but pricey champagne at $30 and up is not the best wine to use in recipes. Instead, use another sparkling wine for one-third of the price.

    Don’t Like Champagne?

    If the dad-of-honor prefers beer, substitute fruit beer in the recipe…or go bold with an IPA or stout. Guinness shots, anyone?
     
    RECIPE: CHAMPAGNE JELL-O SHOTS

    Ingredients For 15 Jello Shots

  • 10 ounces plus 5 ounces champagne (or cava, prosecco or other sparkling wine)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 envelopes Knox plain gelatin
  • Optional garnish: white sparkling sugar (sanding sugar)
  •    

    Champagne Jell-O Shots

    Champagne gelatin shots for any festive occasion (photo courtesy Erica’s Sweet Tooth).

     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE 10 ounces of the champagne with the sugar in a saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and let it soften for 2 minutes.

    2. PLACE the saucepan over low heat and stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add the remaining 5 ounces of champagne; stir to combine.

    3. POUR the mixture into a brownie pan or other square/rectangular container, and chill for at least an hour until firm.

    4. CUT: First dip the pan into warm water and use a knife along the sides to gently release the gelatin. Use a sharp knife to cut squares. Before serving, dip the tops in the sparkling sugar and serve with a festive toothpick.

    (Or, for the tongue-in-cheek approach described below, serve a square or two in champagne coupes, with an optional strawberry or raspberry.)

     

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    Champagne cupcakes—to serve with the shots? (Photo courtesy Cook Craft Love.)

     

    RECIPE: RASPBERRY CHAMPAGNE CUPCAKES

    Another celebratory treat: champagne cupcakes. Why are they shown in champagne coupes (photo at left)?

    Decades ago, it was established that the champagne coupe—also called sherbet champagne glasses because they were popularly used to serve scoops of sherbet—were not ideal for sparkling wine.

    The wide surface area of the bowl—allegedly modeled after Marie Antoinette’s breasts—enables the bubbles to dissipate more quickly than they do in a flute or tulip glass.

    While the photo shows them tongue-in-cheek, serving champagne cupcakes instead of champagne, you can serve equally tongue-in-cheek champagne shots in them.

    If you want to bake the raspberry champagne cupcakes in the photo, here’s the recipe from Meaghan of CookCraftLove.com.

    You don’t have to open a new bottle: You can make this recipe with leftover champagne. It doesn’t matter if it’s flat: It will become flat quickly enough when mixed into the batter.

     
    You can serve the cupcakes with a glass of sec or demi-sec champagne, which are sweeter than brut champagne. Here are the levels of sweetness in Champagne.

    If you’re planning to buy champagne, check out our champagne buying tips.

      

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    RECIPE: Hazelnut Crunch Cake

    June 1st National Hazelnut Cake Day (see all of the food holidays). We used to make one every year with a delicious, but alas discontinued, white chocolate hazelnut cake mix from The King’s Cupboard (which still makes some of the best chocolate and caramel sauces, including organic and sugar-free varieties).

    So we had to search for a recipe, and found this stunner by Ashlae of Oh, Lady Cakes, which is dairy free and vegan.

    Ashlae also does a great job with cookies and other desserts. Take a look at her Facebook photos and decide what you want to bake.

    We are not handy with frosting, so we shy away from cakes that require the skill.

    But while this cake is a beauty, it requires only a “naked cake” frosting—a slick of frosting we applied with a spatula.

    You don’t have to make the hazelnut truffles on top of the cake, either: A sprinkle of hazelnuts will do. (Or, if it’s a party, assign the truffles to someone else.)

    For the truffle recipe, and more delicious photos, see the original recipe.

    As they say on The Great British Baking Show: Ready, set, bake!

    RECIPE: HAZELNUT CRUNCH CAKE

    Ingredients

    For The Hazelnut Cake

  • 3 cups (395g) unbleached cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons (8g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cup (150g) roasted hazelnut oil
  • 1-1/2 cups (305g) light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (25g) hazelnut liqueur
  • 2 cups (420g) hazelnut creamer
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped (optional)
  •  
    Vanilla Bean Frosting Option 1

  • 3 cups (330g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean powder
  • 3/4 cup (150g) refined coconut oil, melted but not hot
  •  
    Vanilla Bean Frosting Option 2

  • 1 cup (180g) non-hydrogenated shortening
  • 1-2 tablespoons (14-28g) unsweetened almond milk
  • 3 cups (330g) powdered can sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean powder
  •  
    Plus

  • 1/2 batch salted chocolate truffles (see notes above)
  • Toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of three round 6″ cake pans with parchment paper; then spray with oil and coat with sifted flour; set aside.

    2. SIFT together in a small mixing bowl the flour, baking powder and sea salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oil, sugar, and vanilla extract.

     

    Hazelnut Layer Cake Recipe

    Hazelnut Layer Cake

    Hazelnuts In Bowl

    Shelled Hazelnuts

    [1] and [2] A beautiful layer cake topped with chocolate hazelnut truffles, from Ashlae of Oh, Lady Cakes. [3] Hazelnuts in the shell (photo courtesy Loacker USA). [4] Shelled and ready to toast or eat (photo courtesy Better Herbal Health).

     
    Alternate between adding the creamer and the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and mixing after each addition; add one third of the creamer followed by half of the flour and repeat the process ending with the creamer. Whisk batter just until combined (don’t whisk too much or else you’ll overwork the gluten and your cake will be rubbery); then fold in the toasted hazelnuts.

    3. POUR the batter into the prepared cake pans, level with the back of a spoon, then tap the pans on the counter to release any trapped air bubbles. Bake at 350°F for 36-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the layers to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. While the cake layers are cooling…

    4. PREPARE the vanilla bean frosting. Ashlae prefers the coconut oil recipe but cautions that it does dry out pretty quickly and is somewhat unstable: It melts if the room temperature is higher than 80°F. Option #2, with shortening, stays soft for a while.

  • For the coconut oil frosting (option 1): Sift the powdered sugar and the vanilla bean powder into a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the coconut oil until smooth.
  • For the shortening frosting (option 2), add the shortening and almond milk to a large mixing bowl and, using a hand mixer on high speed, beat just until combined. Sift the powdered sugar and vanilla bean powder over top then beat until smooth and creamy.
  •  
    Alternatively, you can use vanilla buttercream.

    5. ASSEMBLE the cake: Level the layers, then place one layer on a cake stand or plate. Add a generous portion of frosting with a wide spatula. Repeat with remaining layers and frosting. Using an offset spatula, smooth the frosting around the cake. Garnish with the chopped hazelnuts and truffles. Serve, adding one of the remaining truffles to slices that didn’t get one of the garnish truffles..

    The cake will keep in an airtight container for up to three days. Ashlae cleverly uses a large pot topped off with a silicone lid.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Mashed Potato Bar

    Mashed Potato Bar

    Mashed Potato Bar

    Mashed Potato Martini

    Mashed Potato Bar

    [1] Who can resist a mashed potato bar (photo courtesy Betty Crocker)? [2] Use whatever dishes you have for the toppings. They don’t have to match (photo courtesy Hormel Foods).[3] If your guests can cope with glass, use your Margarita and Martini glasses (photo courtesy Hormel Foods). [4] Keep the potatoes warm in a slow cooker (photo courtesy Tip Hero).

     

    Whether you like to grill for Father’s Day or prepare everything in the kitchen, a fun, interactive addition to the festivities is a mashed potato bar.

    Our dad loved our cold green bean salad. With a bowl of that, and a cucumber salad or a special slaw, the only other side you need is the mashed potato bar.

    It’s a treat for guests to customize their toppings. For you, everything can be prepared ahead of time, including the potatoes, which are kept warm in a slow cooker or other device.

    Don’t want potatoes? Substitute mashed cauliflower.

    PREPPING THE MASHED POTATOES

    Make the mashed potatoes with or without skin, using your choice of red, white or golden potatoes.

  • Use a tried-and-true recipe.
  • If you like to load up the groaning board, offer mashed sweet potatoes as well.
  • If you don’t have a slow cooker to keep the potatoes warm, use aluminum foil pans with steam warmers underneath. For a fancier event, use chafing dishes. If you don’t have any of these, see what you can borrow.
     
    MASHED POTATO BAR TOPPINGS

    DAIRY

  • Butter
  • Cheeses: blue, cheddar goat, parmesan; crumbled, grated or shredded
  • Sour cream, plain Greek yogurt
  •  
    PROTEINS*

  • Bacon
  • BBQ pulled pork
  • Chili
  • Sausage, sliced mini pepperoni or crumbled whole sausage
  • Anything else you like
  •  
    SEASONINGS

  • Prepared seasonings
  • Salt and flavored salts
  • Heat: dried chipotle, hot sauce, red chili flakes, peppermill
  •  
    VEGETABLES

  • Onions: caramelized, onion rings, sliced scallions
  • Mushrooms, sautéed
  • Steamed medley: broccoli, carrots, zucchini, etc.
  • Tomatoes: diced fresh tomatoes, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped sundried tomatoes
  •  
    TOPPINGS

  • Cheese sauce (if you can keep it warm)
  • Corn chips
  • Fresh herbs: chives, dill, shredded basil, parsley
  • Gravy
  • Olives
  • Sliced jalapeños
  •  
    PARTY ON!
     
     
    MORE DIY FOOD BARS

  • DIY Bacon Bar
  • DIY Bloody Mary Bar
  • DIY Breakfast & Brunch Bar
  • DIY Dessert Bar
  • DIY Jambalaya Bar
  • DIY Stuffed Avocado Bar
  • DIY Taco & Wing Bar
  • DIY Wedge Salad Bar
  • 20 More Food Bars
    ________________

    *Assumes beef and chicken are main courses from the grill.

     
      

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    RECIPE: Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

    May 31st is National Macaroon Day. Here, David Lebovitz, renowned pastry chef, blogger and author of cookbooks, shares his recipes for chewy, chocolaty macaroons.

    First, some macaroon history:

  • MAC-A-ROON is the English name for the Italian almond meringue cookies (maccarone, mah-cah-ROW-nay) first made by monks, possibly in the 13th century. They most resemble today’s amaretti cookies, with a crisp crust and a soft interior, developed at the court of Savoy in the mid-17th century. Since almond flour made them kosher for Passover, Italian Jews embraced the recipe.
  • COCONUT MACAROONS were developed in the Jewish community as a variation to the original recipe. They became a popular year-round cookie outside of the Jewish community as well.
  • MAC-A-RONS are the French version, delicate meringue cookie sandwiches filled with buttercream, ganache or jam. They were created at the beginning of the 20th century by Parisian baker Pierre Desfontaines Ladurée, had the idea to join two meringues and fill them with ganache.
  •  
    All three versions are gluten-free.

    Who first thought to dip coconut macaroons in chocolate? It isn’t known, but we thank them.

    Here’s a detailed history of macaroons and macarons.

    RECIPE: CHOCOLATE-DIPPED COCONUT MACAROONS

  • Be sure to use unsweetened coconut (medium shredded coconut or coconut flakes), which is available at most natural-food shops and online.
  • You can prep the dough up to a week in advance, or freeze it for future use.
  • Prep time is 30 minutes, cook time is 25 minutes.
  •  
    Ingredients For About 30 Cookies

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar (10 oz./315 g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2-1/2 cups (9 oz./280 g) unsweetened shredded dried coconut
  • 1/4 cup (1-1/2 oz./45 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces (60 g) semisweet chocolate, chopped
  •  
    Preparation

    1. STIR together the egg whites, sugar, salt, honey, coconut and flour in a large fry pan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, scraping the bottom as you stir. When the mixture just begins to scorch at the bottom…

    2. REMOVE from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. At this point the mixture can be chilled for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 2 months. When ready to bake,

    3. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Using a spoon and your fingers, form the dough into 1-1/2 inch (4 cm) mounds and arrange them evenly spaced on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely.

    4. LINE a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Melt the chocolate in a clean, dry bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Dip the bottom of each macaroon in the chocolate and set the cookies on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, 5 to 10 minutes.

     

    Coconut Macaroons Chocolate Dipped

    Macaroons On A Silpat

    Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

    Coconut Macaroons Chocolate Dipped

    [1] Dipping in chocolate. Who gets to lick the bowl? (photo courtesy David Liebovitz). [2] A Silpat baking sheet protects the macaroons from over-browning (photo courtesy Silpat). [3] Bet you can’t eat just one (photo courtesy Burdick Chocolate). [4] Dipping the tops in chocolate may cause drips, but there are no sticky fingers from holding a chocolate bottom (photo courtesy The Fosters Market Cookbook).

     
    Recipe originally posted on Williams-Sonoma.com.

      

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