Saturday, November 24, 2012

Amaretto Cheesecake Brownies

Difficult: No way.
Timely? About 30 passive and 20 or 30 active

The Buckeyes whooped up on Wisconsin last week.  And more importantly, Michigan this week (leading the Bucks to a 12-0 season!).  But last week our friends had a house warming slash Buckeye football party and of course I had to find something fabulous to bring.  When I asked my husband what he wanted, he came up with "brownies with amaretto."  His requests never fail to exasperate me (previous requests have included soft gingersnaps, soft thin mints, and Mississippi mud brownies like he likes but can't describe).  Fortunately, amaretto brownies were an easy request.  Some quick googling led me to my recipe of choice.

This is a 3 layer dessert.  Decadent doesn't even begin to describe how rich, fudgy, and tasty these turned out.  The brownie layer is made from a box mix (*gasp*), and I just grabbed a fudgy generic box from Aldi's.  The middle layer is like cheesecake and adds so much flavor and dimension to the dessert - I suppose you could leave this out if you wanted, but really, who doesn't like cheesecake?  And I topped mine with ganache, although the original recipe called for just straight up melting chocolate over top and smoothing it around (last time I tried that I was not too successful).

A word about ganache: Ganache calls for heavy cream for a reason.  The milk fat in heavy cream helps the ganache set properly.  Using skim or 2% milk doesn't have enough fat and is not an adequate substitute.  Maybe you could use half-and-half? I don't really know.  But I do know that if you don't have heavy cream on hand when you decide to make ganache on a whim, you can make your milk fatter by adding butter.  To end up with 1 cup of "heavy cream," melt 1/3 cup of butter into 3/4 cup of milk.  I did this and I didn't love how my ganache turned out but I had no complaints from the people eating the do what you gotta do :)

For the brownies:
1 package chewy fudge brownie mix (around 19 ounces)
2 eggs, plus 1 yolk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup Amaretto or other almond-flavored liqueur

For the cheesecake:
8 ounces cream cheese or neufchatel cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon Amaretto or other almond-flavored liqueur

For the ganache: (Bakerella's recipe)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels


1.  Make ganache - place chocolate chips in a medium bowl and set aside.  Put heavy cream and butter in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the butter melts.  Just when it starts to bubble and boil, remove from heat, pour over chocolate chips, let sit for a minute, then stir to combine.  Set aside.

(Note: I like to make the ganache first so that it has a chance to cool and thicken before I pour it, but you can make it last if you worry that it will set up and harden too much in the down time)

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a 13x9" baking pan with foil, spray with cooking spray, and set aside.  (You don't have to line with foil, but I like to so that I can lift the bars out of the pan to cut, and I don't have to wash the pan!)

3.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the two eggs and extra egg yolk. (*Note: my brownie box directions called for 2/3 cup oil, I only used 1/2 cup and decided to add the extra egg yolk)

4.  In a large bowl, mix eggs, oil, amaretto, and brownie mix until just combined (over mixing will result in cakey brownies - that's why you beat the eggs before adding to dry ingredients).  Pour into prepared baking pan

(Note: you are basically just making a box of brownies, replacing the water in the recipe with Amaretto - I made some adjustments with the eggs/oil for a better brownie texture)

5.  Using a hand mixer, cream the cream cheese in a medium bowl, add butter and continue to cream.  Add sugar, eggs, flour, and amaretto - mix until smooth and combined (there may be very small lumps of cream cheese, but that's ok).

6.  Pour the cream cheese mixture over the brownie batter.  Smooth the cream cheese layer evenly making sure it spreads to the edges and corners.

7.  Bake for 30-35 minutes (a toothpick inserted 2 inches from the edge of the pan will come out clean).

8.  Pour ganache over the cheesecake/brownies and let everything cool to room temperature and set.  I stuck mine in the fridge to speed up the process.

9.  Remove from pan by lifting any foil overhang, transfer to cutting board, and slice into desired sizes.  I cut 9 rows by 4 rows for 36 bars, but then cut each bar in half because they were so rich.  Store in the refrigerator.

This recipe was adapted from Viking.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Caramel Apple Bars

Difficult: Nope.
Time consuming: Nope

Thursday was parent-teacher conferences.  From 8 in the morning til 7 at night.  It was exhausting!  I whipped up these treats for the special ed team meeting but then we decided to go off campus to Cracker Barrel.  These bars were great snacks for our long day since we didn't have them in the morning. 

The oat crust layer was crunchy and just hefty enough to hold the tart apples and caramel.  The topping reminded me of an apple crisp - sweet and crunchy and just a little crumbly.  Eat these quickly though because after a day or two the topping starts to get soggy - although I doubt they'll last that long!

The Recipe:
1 c packed brown sugar
1/2 c butter (1 stick), softened
1/4 c shortening
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c quick-cooking oats
1 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
4 1/2 c coarsely chopped peeled tart apples (I used 5-6 small granny smith apples)
3 T all-purpose flour
1 bag (12-14 ounces) caramels (I used kraft brand)


1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a 13x9" baking pan with foil and set aside.

2. Start melting caramel over low heat.  Keep an eye on it while preparing the recipe, stir occasionally.

2.  Mix brown sugar, butter and shortening in large bowl using an electric mixer. Stir in 1 3/4 cups flour, the oats, salt and baking soda (I used my hands to crumble everything together). The mixture will seem loose but that's ok. Set aside 2 cups oat mixture and press remaining oat mixture in pan.

3. Toss apples with 3 tablespoons flour and spread evenly over pan.

4.  When caramel is completely melted and smooth, pour evenly over the apples (work quickly because the caramel will start to harden - just smoosh it around as best you can).

5.  Top with reserved oat mixture and press down lightly.

6. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

For 36 bars, cut into 9 rows by 4 rows while warm (I waited for about an hour after they came out of the oven). Store covered in refrigerator

Recipe from Betty Crocker

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cookies and Cream Popcorn

Difficulty: easy
Time consuming: nah.

For Halloween at school, I didn't dress up, I didn't decorate my room. I had a sad attempt at decorating my door.  And maybe 3 of my kids actually did Halloween related activities.  Not that I don't enjoy the holiday, but the month really got away from me.  I did manage to carve pumpkins and make pumpkin seeds, but that's pretty much the extent of it.  I did however dress up for the belated Halloween party this past Saturday and dressed as a rugby player (courtesy of hubby's closet).  I had a really clever costume planned around some Jay-Z lyrics, but hubby was a funhater and went as a sad hobo clown (dumb!).  But anywho.  For Halloween I did manage to whip up a treat for all the fantastic teachers at my school: Cookies and Cream Popcorn with Reese Pieces.  I doubled the recipe and it was almost completely gone by lunch.  I was told that my boss hi-jacked a container and didn't return it until it was empty.

The great thing about this recipe is that it is so adaptable.  You can add Reese Pieces, M&M's, or other candies.  You can use colored vanilla melts like red or green for Christmas, orange for Halloween (unless you go to Walmart and they only have lime green colored Wilton candy melts), red and blue for the Fourth of July, you get the idea.  And everyone will love you for bringing it.  I promise.

The recipe:

1 bag of kettle corn, popped; or regular unbuttered popcorn
6 oz vanilla candy melts or white chocolate
12 chocolate wafer cookies, like Oreo's, crushed
3/8 cup (give or take) candy like Reese Pieces (optional)
additional chocolate or vanilla candy melts for drizzling (optional and decorative)


1. Pop kettle corn in the microwave.  Be careful not to burn it!  Put popcorn in the largest bowl you have (I used a bowl that I make party mix in) and sort out as many unpopped kernels as you can (you don't want to chip a tooth).

2.  Melt the vanilla candy melts - put into bowl and microwave on 50% power for 30 seconds, stir, and repeat until melted and smooth.  Or you can melt over a double boiler.  Pour over popcorn.  Add Oreos and candy if you are using them.

3.  Using a spatula, gently fold the popcorn and white chocolate together until everything seems evenly coated.

4.  Line some cookie sheets or counter tops with wax paper and spread popcorn mixture over it.  Spread out and let dry, about 20 minutes.  Serve and eat immediately, at or store in an airtight container.

Recipe from Sweet Tooth plus I added Reese Pieces