Peanut butter topped browniesWhy is it always holiday cookies? Have you noticed that brownies never seem to make it onto the treat-giving trays.

Sure, glorified Chex mix studded with chocolate and powdered sugar pops up (affectionately known as puppy chow at our house). But brownies seem relegated into the last-minute-I-just-remembered-I-had-to-make-something category. It’s too bad.

Here’s my theory–most brownies just aren’t pretty enough. I thought about that the other day as I was flipping through a flyer for holiday gifts and the Perfect Brownie Pan Set was right on page one. Really? A whole pan dedicated to baking neatly cut brownies. Again, my thought is that folks really want to make brownies good enough for the cookie tray. But forget about an extra pan!

If you really want to spruce up your brownie, try a few of these tweaks. And hey, if it doesn’t work for you, you can still buy the brownie pan later…

•Wax paper to the rescue!

Brownies get crumbly when you cut them in the pan. Try coating your regular brownie pan–mine is a 9×13″ casserole dish–with cooking spray. Then press in a piece of wax paper onto the bottom and sides of the pan (parchment paper works even better–but I always have wax paper on hand, not so for pricier parchment). Once the brownies have cooked and cooled you can lift them out of the pan on the waxed paper and then cut.

•Chill, then cut

Using a paper lining–either waxed or parchment–is the first step, the next is to wait to cut your brownies. If I’m not in a rush, I’ll put the whole brownie pan in the fridge overnight and cut on day #2. If I need the brownies that day, it’s into the freezer for an hour or so. Once the brownies are chilled, then lift them out of the pan, using the paper, and then onto a cutting board.

•Cut diagonally

Resist the urge to just start cutting. Look at your rectangle’s worth of brownie and make your cuts from corner to corner instead of just across. Diamond-cut brownies are so much prettier! (And you’ll have to eat all the extra ends:)

•Top it

Now that you have a perfectly cut brownie (no extra pan insert required), it’s time to add pizzazz. My standby is to melt about 1/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips along with a tablespoon of butter in the microwave until smooth. Then, using a fork I drizzle chocolate across the cut brownies. Another trick: fill a Ziploc baggie with 1/2 cup of smooth peanut butter. Place the sealed bag (make sure there’s no extra air) into a cup of warm water. Let it sit for a couple minutes and then trim a small hole in one corner of the bag. Make peanut butter patterns on your brownies then add chopped peanuts to complete the look. Refrigerate for about 1/2 hour more to set.

•Top it again

Along with drizzling chocolate or peanut butter over your brownies, what about adding crushed Oreos, candy canes, mini chocolate chips…I could go on, but you get the idea.

Do you have any tricks for making your brownies, well, more presentable?

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