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I am pretty certain that this red velvet cheesecake brownie takes the cake for being an all-star red velvet recipe. If you’re at all familiar with what makes red velvet red velvet, you’ll know that it is a subtle balance of tang and cocoa. It’s chocolatey but not quite (from a scant amount of cocoa powder), sour but not quite (from the buttermilk). Another defining quality of red velvet cake is its cream cheese frosting. Last weekend, I happened to be in Grand Central and I bought a Magnolia red velvet cupcake to satisfy my craving. No dice – the frosting was a weakly flavored meringue frosting, ugh. My palate teased, I had to make some legit red velvet.

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This recipe though, was a winner. While it may not be a classic red velvet cake, it’s got the key elements in it – cream cheese and a cocoa-y tang. I love how simple it is to whip up – it didn’t require any finicky preparation method, and I enjoyed that the “frosting” in this brownie is dolloped onto the brownie batter and haphazardly swirled in. It ended up not looking too shabby even though I was supposed to reserve some of the brownie batter to layer on top of the cream cheese dollops so the swirls would be more refined.

The texture of the brownie is more cakey/fudgy than dense, like a traditional brownie. I personally like the brownies chilled since the cream cheese is a little more refreshing there. All those who have tried the brownies like it a lot (although I’ve learned to recalibrate the compliments I receive re: my cooking – very good means good, good means okay, okay means it was terrible.)

This recipe differs from the Food Network recipe it was derived from (which I made 4 years ago) in that there’s more butter in the brownie batter and less egg in the cheesecake filling, so it’s more moist and the cheesecake layer tastes less eggy.

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Red Velvet Marble Cheesecake Brownies
Makes 1 8×8 pan
Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

This recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction had grams pre-calculated – yess!

Brownie Batter
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick or 115g) unsalted butter
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup (21g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon liquid or gel red food coloring
3/4 teaspoon white vinegar
3/4 cup (95g) all-purpose flour

Cheesecake
8 ounces (224g) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

Make the brownie layer first. In a small bowl, beat the 2 eggs together. Set aside. Melt the butter in a large microwave safe bowl in 30 second increments until melted. Stir in 1 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, cocoa powder, salt, food coloring, and vinegar. Mix each of those ingredients into the batter in that order. Whisk in the eggs, then fold in the flour until completely incorporated. Do not overmix. Pour the brownie batter into prepared baking pan, leaving about 3-4 Tablespoons for the top.

Make the cheesecake swirl. With a hand-held mixer on medium speed (or a stand mixer, which is what I used), beat the softened cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, egg yolk, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in a medium bowl until completely smooth – about 1 minute. Dollop spoonfuls of the cream cheese mixture on top of the prepared brownie batter. Cover with the last few tablespoons of brownie batter. Glide a knife through the layers, creating a swirl pattern.

Bake the brownies for 28-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting into squares. Cover brownies and store at room temperature for 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 6 days. Brownies will freeze well, up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

IMG_4283This brownie recipe is the strongest I’ve seen in a while, and will likely go in the hall of fame for being a delicious combination of flavors and textures that are irresistible to me. When I was making the recipe, I was at first a little suspicious. Why is there more chocolate than there is butter? There’s just as much sugar as butter! And one whole TABLESPOON of vanilla? That’s crazy!

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But I persevered and made the recipe as it is and I did not regret it. Firstly, the smell of this is intoxicating. It has the woodsy fragrance of bourbon and vanilla, without an alcoholic bite. It also smells a little comforting like a cup of coffee, even though there’s no coffee in it and I don’t even drink coffee. (But I can appreciate the scent memory it holds for most people.) Be sure not to overbake the brownie, but you don’t have to worry about the brownie not holding together because when the chopped chocolate solidifies, it’ll hold everything together. It’s less a cakey brownie than a chewy, dense one with crunch from the chopped chocolate and, so keep that in mind depending on what you’re looking to make. The sprinkling of fleur de sel on the brownies isn’t necessary, but it does heighten the sweet, earthy, caramelly and woody flavor profile.

bourbonbrownie

Melty chocolate when warmed up, crunchy chocolate bits when cooled

 

Since the ingredients in this recipe are so simple, I highly recommend using good quality vanilla extract and chocolate. I used Trader Joe’s bourbon vanilla, and their Pound Plus Semi-Sweet Chocolate. You do NOT want to use chocolate chips in this once, since it’ll throw off the texture. Take the effort to chop the chocolate, and you’ll be rewarded with craggy, crunchy chocolate bits with a chocolate-flavored batter.

Sweet and Salty Chocolate Bourbon Brownies
From The Vanilla Bean Blog
Makes one 9×9 pan

1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla (use genuine vanilla extract, since this is quite a lot of it)
2 tablespoons bourbon
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or coarse salt [to taste]
Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9 inch square pan, and line pan with a parchment sling.

Heat the brown sugar and butter together in a saucepan until the sugar is melted into a gooey mass with the butter, stirring occasionally. Let cool. Whisk flour and baking powder together, and set aside. Add egg, vanilla, salt, and bourbon to the cooled butter mixture, and beat together. Stir in the flour, and then the chocolate, until just combined. Spread batter in the pan, and bake 18-22 minutes, until light golden brown, and a tooth pick comes out clean, being very careful not to over bake. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Let cool in the pan, then carefully lift sling from the pan and cut into squares.

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I’m a big fan of Clif chocolate brownie bars. They’re only a dollar at Trader Joe’s, taste like a brownie, and unlike Luna Bars, don’t have rice crispies in them. I might have discovered the holy grail to making no-bake, gluten-free sweets that taste very similar to Clif bars – Medjool dates. By themselves, they are sweet, chewy, and have a rich caramelly flavor that makes me think of chocolate. However, I do find them a tad bit dense, and they are fairly caloric (about 60-70 calories per date; for context, an average apple is about 90 calories). However, their sticky nature means they act as an effective binder when blended in with oats and other nuts.

I browsed around for some recipes, and it is really great how flexible this recipe is. Some combination of dates and oats along with almond flour and other berries would work well. I think this would be a pretty good hiking mix since it’s so compact and easy to eat, but note that there isn’t a ton of protein in it compared to the Clif bars. I made my version with cranberries and cocoa powder, but I imagine you can switch up the flavors as you like, using dates (to bind) and almond flour (for protein) as a base. I imagine raisins, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, maple syrup, and honey would work well here too. I also used a Vitamix to blend the ingredients since I don’t have a food processor, but that seemed to work out fine.

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No Bake Homemade Cranberry Chocolate Oat Clif Bars
Makes 6-8 snack-sized bars

120g Medjool dates, pitted (10-12 dates)
3/4 almond flour (or 1 cup raw almonds)
1/2 cup cranberries
1 cup oats
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup water

Put everything in a food processor and blend till it is reasonably mixed up. You still want some chunks, so no need to puree it up. Mold it with your hands into balls or bars, and either eat right away if you’re hungry, or refrigerate so it hardens up.

IMG_4172The heralding of what might finally be spring has spurred me to make something light and summery, like these lemon bars. I’m typically much more of a chocolate person, but I do have to appease the warm-weather gods by baking up an offering. These bars turned out to be just the right balance of sweetness and tartness, but I did alter the recipe quite a bit.

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For the filling, I used three jumbo eggs instead of four regular sized eggs. I also didn’t have enough lemon juice, and I didn’t use Meyer lemons. I just used what was in the supermarket. I clearly didn’t mix the egg up enough, hence the splotchiness, but it didn’t affect the taste at all. I reduced the sugar to compensate, but I entirely eyeballed it. Then for the crust, I decided to do a spinoff of this almond crust I made for a key lime pie, subbing half the flour for almond meal. It turned out pretty darn good overall, despite my slightly haphazard approach.

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Lemon Bars
From Baking Bites
Makes one 9×9 pan

Crust
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup almond meal
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp Meyer lemon zest
1/2 cup butter, room temperature

Filling
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup Meyer lemon juice, freshly squeezed and strained

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 9×9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil.
Make the crust. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Cut butter into chunks and add to flour mixture. Blend in with an electric mixer at low speed until mixture forms coarse, sandy crumbs. Pour into pan and press mixture down (with your fingers or the back of a spoon) into an even layer.
Bake for 16-19 minutes, until just lightly browned around the edges.
When the crust is almost done baking, with just 1-2 minutes to go, make filling. Whisk together all filling ingredients in a large bowl. Do not let the filling mixture sit around on the counter while the crust bakes.
When the crust comes out of the oven and is still hot, pour in filling mixture.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until filling just barely begins to turn golden at the edges. It may appear very wet, but filling will continue to set as the crust cools. Allow to cool to room temperature, then, when bars are completely cooled, refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours before slicing.

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This was an interesting cake to make. It was a joint creation between my French classmate and I for our presentation on David Lebovitz. He explains it better, but this cake is French because it originated from Provence. The French are very traditional with their desserts, and adding vegetable to cakes is quite unusual for them. This cake was handed around in class, and garnered pretty positive responses. The texture is less cake-like and more like a soft granola bar, due to the almond chunks. It’s like a Rice Krispie in terms of density and airiness. The carrots, although brightly coloring the cake, tasted unobtrusive and I thought the true star were the almond pieces that provided a nutty chew.

Making this would be substantially easier with a food processor or pre-chopped almonds. The grated carrots need to be relatively fine too. We had altered the original recipe by doubling up on the grated carrot, but since our almond chunks were larger than “relatively fine”, it still did not taste or feel distinctly vegetable-y. Overall, this was a very easy recipe to make up, and worth trying if you’re into almonds and/or carrots.

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Carrot Cake, French-Style
Makes 1 9×9 inch cake
Adapted from David Lebovitz

4 tablespoons butter, unsalted, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (250g) sugar
pinch of salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (225g) toasted almonds
2/3 cup (90g) flour
1/4 cup, packed, (40g) finely grated carrot

1. Preheat the oven to 325F (160C). Butter two shallow 10-inch (23cm) cake pans and line each with a circle of parchment paper. Then lightly butter the top of each circle of paper.

2. Beat the butter, sugar and salt until smooth.

3. Meanwhile, pulverize the nuts and flour in a food processor or blender until relatively fine, but not powdery. If you don’t have a machine, simply chop the nuts by hand and toss them with the flour.

3. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Afterwards, stir in the ground nut mixture and the carrots, mixing just until smooth.

4. Divide the batter into the pans, smooth it evenly, and bake for 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool, then release the cake from the pans and cut in wedges to serve.

I was personally a little bit suspect about the name of this recipe. What’s so Austrian about raspberry jam and shortbread? I guess it’s a variation of a traditional raspberry shortbread cookie, but raspberry jelly and shortbread is such a ubiquitous combination that I wouldn’t even think it was Austrian in origin. I guess you could say that their product has now been genericised!

This recipe is a riff on traditional raspberry jelly and shortbread biscuits usually offered during Christmas, because it appears in a bar form instead of cookie form. If you think stamping cookies is time-consuming and would like to cut back on effort by resorting to this recipe, let me warn you that this recipe would only reduce your effort if you had a food processor. I do not own one. In order to achieve the airy, crumbly crust, I had to grate a big ball of frozen dough by hand. It took some elbow grease, for sure.

Still, the fruits of my labor were much appreciate. These cookies were really delicious. Grating the shortbread gave it a fluffy and crumbly airiness, which gave some lightness to what would have otherwise been a dense and buttery shortbread. The shortbread could’ve used some brightening from lemon zest, which I unfortunately didn’t have. I also imagine that the raspberry jelly would do really well with a dash of Austrian 80-proof Stroh rum. It also looks so pretty; the scarlet red of the raspberry jelly poking through the crumbly shortbread. No wonder it’s such a common festive season staple.

Austrian Raspberry Shortbread
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 1 9×9 square pan

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp vanilla or lemon extract
1/2 cup raspberry jam, at room temperature
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Cream the butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer) until soft and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix well.

Mix the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add to the butter and egg yolk mixture and mix just until incorporated and the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and form into two balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze at least 2 hours or overnight (or as long as a month, if you like).

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 9×9 inch baking pan with parchment paper or greased aluminium foil, with an inch overhang. Remove one ball of dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it by hand or with the grating disk in a food processor into the bottom of the pan. Make sure the surface is covered evenly with shreds of dough.

With a piping bag with a wide tip or a zip-lock bag with the corner cut off, squeeze the jam over the surface as evenly as possible, to within 1/2 inch of the edge all the way around. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it over the entire surface.

Bake until lightly golden brown and the center no longer wiggles, 50 to 60 minutes. As soon as the shortbread comes out of the oven, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Cool on a wire rack, then cut in the pan with a serrated knife. Chill the pan in the fridge before cutting to get clean slices.

P.S. Here’s a GIF of the bars, sliced and moved around. I couldn’t resist.

lNS3O0 on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

make animated gifs like this at MakeAGif

I already have a seven layer bar recipe on this blog, but this one deserves a post on its own because it’s even more homemade. Usually seven layer bars are made with graham crackers, canned condensed milk, sweetened coconut flakes and chocolate chips. All highly processed stuff, and I’ve a great disdain for things that come out of a package. This seven layer bar takes homemade to a new level: I made the condensed milk out of milk, and the cookie base is made out of an oatmeal cookie dough. The chocolate chips were from a chopped up chocolate bar. I could up the ante by making my own sweetened coconut flakes… and mill my own flour. Hah, I could carry the homemade schtick a lot further.

Honestly the only real reason why I had homemade condensed milk around was because I bought some milk to make cinnamon buns, but then I realized my yeast packets were expired and they didn’t activate. Which sucked, because I really wanted to make bread. But never mind, I used up the milk to make some condensed milk. If you wanted the condensed milk recipe, you can click here. I really don’t expect you to, though. Mine came out a little bit grainy, but then it didn’t matter in the seven layer bar.

The oatmeal cookie base is quite lovely, it holds everything up well and I feel good about putting a little bit more fiber into my body. The recipe had way more cookie than I’d like, so I just made oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough with the rest and it’s now in the freezer, ready to be baked whenever I want some homemade sugary goodness.

Seven layer bars are so incredibly easy; I guesstimated all the proportions of the filling by just sprinkling it by hand. I like baking like this; I feel more at one with my food, you know?

From-Scratch Seven Layer Magic Cookie Bars
Adapted from Allrecipes
Makes 1 9×5 inch pan

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cups packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

FILLING
1/2 (7 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I threw in some white chocolate chips in there)
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add egg and vanilla; mix well. Combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt; add to the creamed mixture. Spread in the bottom of an ungreased 9×5 baking pan with the thickness to your liking; set aside. Spread condensed milk on cookie dough base. Sprinkle chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes.

I recommend freezing the bars before cutting into them. It’s a lot easier to handle and you get cleaner slices.