salty brown butter nutella-stuffed chocolate chip cookie bars

DSC_1681I spent 5 minutes trying to think of a shorter name for these bars (and, consequently, for this blog post). At the end, I couldn’t bring myself to leave anything out, and I decided that these bars are worthy of a 53-letter name. (Yes, I counted.) (No, I did not count carefully, so it might not actually be 53.)

These little monsters are going to become a regular occurrence in my life (jk Mom, never again) because they are THAT GOOD. I know this, because most of them were gone in about 12 minutes. And there were only two of us.

DSC_1665The first bit of magic is the browned butter. If you melt butter and let it stay on the heat for a little while, it starts to take on this beautiful amber-brown color, and suddenly the whole apartment is filled with this crazy, nutty smell that signals the imminent arrival of something delicious. You do have to babysit the butter though, because it will go from brown to burnt very quickly, and then it’s no good.

DSC_1671Once the browned-butter cookie dough is made, half of it is pressed into the pan, and that’s when good decision-making and rational thought go out the window. Because that’s when the whole thing gets covered in Nutella. Then the rest of the cookie dough gets pressed on top of the Nutella layer, sprinkled with sea salt, and baked. The salt on top is a perfect balance for the sugar-overload going on underneath it. You won’t be sorry.

Whatever you do, don’t do this while you wait for your cookie bars to bake…

DSC_1678Unless you are in the thick of final projects and papers, and in that case, you deserve a treat while you wait for your other treat to bake.

At least you worked it off by going to the gym exactly zero times in the past 2 weeks!

DSC_1679As you can see, a lot of my chocolate chips ended up melting into the cookie dough, rather than retaining their chippy integrity. This happened because the dough was still a little warm after the addition of the browned butter, causing the chips to start to melt on contact. This can be easily fixed by letting the dough cool for a little bit before throwing the chocolate chips in. The only reason I point this out is because the chips that didn’t melt into the dough re-hardened when the bars cooled, which added a nice little crunch to the otherwise soft and gooey texture.

Even if all your chips melt, this is still going to be the best thing you’ve ever tasted.

DSC_1691Salty Brown Butter Nutella-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars Recipe

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white (granulated) sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Nutella
  • Sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 325°, and grease an 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ baking pan.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and continue cooking until amber flecks begin to appear, and butter takes on a rich, brown color. Remove from heat and transfer browned butter to a large mixing bowl.

Combine the browned butter with the brown sugar and white sugar. Cream the mixture using an electric hand (or stand) mixer until pale and smooth.

Add eggs and vanilla, and combine thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, and combine thoroughly (either using the mixer or by hand).

Allow the mixture to cool completely, then add the chocolate chips.

Press half of the cookie dough into the greased pan. Spread a layer of Nutella (the amount is up to you!) evenly over the cookie dough.

Press the remaining cookie dough on top of the Nutella layer, then sprinkle with sea salt. (Again, the amount here is up to you, but I recommend not being too shy about it!)

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean (except for a possible Nutella smear!). Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

i solemnly swear that the food was so good

19 hours and 38 minutes. That is how much Harry Potter I watched this weekend, along with a few wonderful accomplices. Two days, no blue jeans (strictly stretchy pants), LOTS of yummy snacks, and four sets of parents probably wondering what the hell was wrong with their offspring.

We made it through the first four movies on Saturday (we might have fallen asleep before the end of Goblet of Fire, but there is no excuse for the haircuts sported by Harry and Ron in that movie anyways), and the last four on Sunday, wrapping the whole thing up by around 9pm. By the time the epilogue started, we all felt very old and more than a little nostalgic, having reminisced about all the midnight book releases and midnight movie screenings we had been so excited for in the past.

Prior to the start of our marathon, we had excitedly planned the snacks. I was supposed to make Pumpkin Pasties, Jordan was going to make Cauldron Cakes, Allyson volunteered to bring popcorn (not technically Potterish, but it’s like crack to her), and Becca said she would bring yummy pumpkin bars.

My Pumpkin Pasties did not get made, due to a can of pumpkin that, when opened, turned out to be very questionable in both looks and odor. Becca, however, totally came through and brought some seriously delicious pumpkin bars, thus fulfilling the Harry Potter Pumpkin Quota. The bars themselves had the consistency of bread pudding (I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it was amazing), and were topped with a sweet and tangy cream cheese glaze. As irresistible as these bars were when we first ate them, we found that after chilling for a while in the fridge, they become positively magical.

Jordan also had kitchen woes, and due to a non-functioning oven, she wasn’t able to bake Cauldron Cakes. She did some interesting improvising though, and showed up with a chocolate panettone (Italian Christmas bread), a can of whipped cream, and some licorice. After demanding that we all leave her to her own devices for 5 minutes, she turned around and presented us with the most impressive (and most delicious) store-bought Cauldron Cake this side of Hogwarts. The licorice was only there for visual effect, and was immediately banished to one side while we tore into the “cauldron”.

My fallback plan was much less creative than Jordan’s. I decided to forego cakes or pastries of any kind, and satisfy my craving for Stacy’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips instead. They were low-fat, and pretty quick and easy, but decidedly un-Potterish. As was the unbaked version of my low-fat jalapeño dip, which I also made in an effort to balance the sugar-overload.

In order to make up for not making anything British (or Potter-related) for this weekend, next up I’ll be posting a recipe for Banoffee Pie. It’s completely brilliant (look at me, speaking British).

All in all, we ate too much, laughed too much, and had a blast.

Mischief managed.

Baked Cinnamon-Sugar Tortilla Chips recipe

  • 4 flour tortillas (use less if you want fewer chips)
  • ground cinnamon
  • granulated sugar
  • cooking/baking spray (or butter-flavored spray)

Using scissors or a pizza cutter, slice the tortillas into the desired size for your chips (you can see the size that I cut mine to in the picture above). Spray the cut tortillas with cooking spray on one side (or both, if desired)

I didn’t give measurements for the cinnamon and sugar, because I didn’t actually measure them when I was making the chips. Find a small bowl or container, and add enough cinnamon and sugar (in whatever ratio you want, but you probably want a little more sugar than cinnamon) to toss the sliced tortillas in, a few pieces at a time.

Place the tortilla chips on parchment paper and on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes, or until chips become darker brown and crispy. Remove, cool, and enjoy!

The recipe for Becca’s pumpkin bars is here!

chocolate-covered shortbread

It’s not socially acceptable to just eat sticks of butter, and that is why the Scots invented shortbread. They could have just called it butterbread, but the use of the word “short” is due to the fact that the old meaning of “short” is actually “crumbly”. And the reason shortbread is crumbly is because of ALL THE BUTTER.

Traditional shortbread is composed of sugar, butter and flour in a 1:2:3 ratio. Traditionally, oat flour is used, but nowadays it is often substituted with regular AP flour.

Though they really need no topping, I decided to add a layer of melted chocolate and some sprinkles to these shortbread bars. The easiest way to do this is just to dump chocolate chips on top of the shortbread the minute that it comes out of the oven. Usually, the heat from the pan alone should be enough to melt the chips, but in case it isn’t (or you are getting impatient because Say Yes to the Dress already started and you are missing it), just stick the pan back in the oven for about 20 seconds.

Once the chocolate chips got that shiny, melty look, I pulled the pan out of the oven, smoothed the chocolate with a knife, threw some sprinkles on top, and then went to the back patio to take pictures.

Sometimes taking good pictures means lying flat on your stomach and getting up close and personal with a stack of cookies. This can cause people (such as the guy mowing the lawn) to look at you with a mixture of amusement and concern, prompting you to try and relieve the awkwardness by greeting him with what can really only be described as a salute. The best thing to do in these situations is grab the cookies, run inside, and drown the embarrassment by shame-eating 3 or 4 of those chocolate-covered butterbombs.

Once the shame-eating is complete, I advise burning off this massive caloric intake is with a nice, long walk. I recommend starting at Il Vittoriano on Piazza Venezia and working your way down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II until you get to Ponte Sant’Angelo, and find yourself face to face with this:

The Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Originally commissioned as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family, the castle was later used as a papal fortress, occasional papal residence, and prison. Nowadays it is home to Il Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo.

It could also be a wedding cake covered in mocha buttercream, thus making it a perfect way to book-end the walk from Piazza Venezia.

I submitted this recipe to the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Scharffen Berger!

Shortbread bars recipe (adapted from Joy of Baking)

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • rainbow sprinkles for decorating (can also use toffee bits, chopped walnuts, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350° and line a 9×9″ baking pan with parchment paper (or grease with baking spray).

Using hand mixer (or stand mixer), beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract, then flour and salt and mix until dough comes together.

Press dough into pan, forming an even layer. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until shortbread becomes light golden-brown.

Remove pan from oven and evenly distribute chocolate chips on top of shortbread. If desired, place pan back in oven for 20 seconds to speed up the melting process. Once chips begin to look melted, use a butter knife or offset spatula to spread chocolate in an even layer. Immediately top with sprinkles (or topping of choice), and allow chocolate to harden before cutting.

brownies for grown-ups

Brownies remind me of being a little kid. I hate milk, so I have no nostalgic memories of enjoying a plate of brownies and a cold glass of milk. That sounds like a good way to ruin a plate of brownies. Even so, the crackly tops and chocolate-y interiors and fighting the good fight for a corner piece (this was before those all-corner brownie pans were around) reminds me of bake sales or classroom birthday parties.

These brownies have nothing to do with those brownies. These brownies grew up, got a job, and became productive members of society. Apparently, I’m expected to do the same at this point in my life. Fortunately, I believe that making brownies for friends does, in fact, make me a productive member of society.

There is no baking chocolate in my grocery store, but I found some unsweetened cocoa powder at Castroni, an international foods store. So began the search for a brownie recipe calling for cocoa powder in place of actual chocolate. I found a recipe over at Smitten Kitchen, but Deb’s pictures didn’t look like the brownies that I’m used to. I made it anyways, because the lady is never wrong, and wowww, I’m going to be making these again.

They are super dense, almost like fudge, but less sweet than any brownie I’ve ever had. In my mind, I have chocolate separated into two categories: sweet and bitter, so because I knew these wouldn’t be that sweet, I figured they would be a little bitter. Not the case. They are just…chocolate. There’s no other word for it.

To ease the transition from childhood to adulthood, I threw a couple of m&ms on top – baby steps, right? As you can see, the brownies have a wonderful dark chocolate color, so the m&ms give a nice splash of brightness, plus an added bit of sweetness to those of us who might still be jonesing for the brownies of yore. White chocolate chips might also make a good addition these, if you really can’t leave well enough alone. Better yet, throw in some liquor, make these really grown-up.

Now for the usual dose of Rome, this the view from Ponte Garibaldi, bridging the gap between the centro storico and the neighborhood of Trastevere. In the background is the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. More pictures of St. Peters to come soon!

I submitted this recipe to the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Scharffen Berger!

Cocoa Brownies recipe (adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet)

  • 9 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Lindt)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • m&m candies for decorating

Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease an 8×8” baking pan and set aside.

Combine butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium-sized saucepan. (Note: the original recipe called for heating these in a double-boiler arrangement, but because I had no heatproof bowl, I just heated these ingredients directly over low heat in a saucepan.) Stir until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot. Remove from heat and set aside.

Stir in the vanilla, then add the eggs to the mixture one by one, stirring vigorously upon each addition. Once batter looks smooth and well-blended, add flour and stir until fully incorporated. Transfer batter to baking pan. Top with m&ms.

Bake for 25 – 35 minutes, or until an inserted tester comes out clean. Allow to cool (or freeze) fully before cutting.

beaucoup bars (a.k.a. hello dolly bars)

These bars are known as Hello Dolly bars. I have no idea where that name comes from – perhaps Satchmo loved these, and used his large mouth to eat as many at a time as he possibly could. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

They also can be called Magic Bars, Seven-layer bars, or probably lots of other things. I choose to call them Beaucoup Bars because that is exactly what they are. Too much.

I made these as a dessert for a dinner party, intending for them to be easy to eat, a nice hand-held alternative to a cake/pie/tart. I grossly underestimated the power of these tiny little artery-cloggers.

You start with a graham cracker crust. Then you put every single delicious thing you can find on top of it. Some people choose to layer their toppings nicely, but I follow the mix-it-up school of thought, because this way you never know what each bite will contain. Anyways, whichever method you prefer, once you are done adding your fixings, you dump a can of sweetened condensed milk over the whole thing, stick it in the oven, and for the love of god, jump on a treadmill till they are done. And for about 5 hours more afterwards.

Traditionally, toppings include chocolate chips, shredded coconut, butterscotch chips, and pecans. I skipped the butterscotch chips, and instead incorporated Heath toffee bits. This worked really well, because the toffee provides a little much-needed saltiness to the mix.

These were so delicious, but a little too rich to be a regular indulgence. Next time, I would try using fat-free sweetened condensed milk, and maybe upping the amount of toffee bits, and cutting down on the chocolate chips a little bit. Also, I have no official measurements of toppings for this recipe, because I just eyeballed how much I would need. Go with your soon-to-be-slightly-larger gut.

Graham Cracker Crust Recipe

  • 2  1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 9 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Press mixture evenly into the bottom of a greased 9×13 baking dish.

Add desired toppings on top of crust (layering if desired). Pour a can of sweetened condensed milk evenly over the entire pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until top is slightly golden brown.