Decadent Desserts

Homemade gift idea #2: Nutella hot fudge

Nutella takes hot fudge to the next level

Nutella makes anything it touches creamier. And I’m still convincing myself that it’s somehow better for you than your average chocolate spread, what with all the ground hazelnuts in there. So when I was throwing together a homemade hot fudge sauce to dress up brownies I was serving to guests I figured mixing in a little hazelnut might make the sauce even better. Granted, it’s hard to mess up a hot fudge sauce, but the Nutella did exactly what I’d hoped–upped the richness of the flavor and texture of the hot fudge.

The best part? Well, besides having to do a little quality testing yourself on the sauce, that is. You can pour the melted sauce into containers to give to friends as gifts. As with the berry sauce (homemade gift idea #1), you might want to attach a couple recipes with the sauce, like the best brownies ever or even brownie waffles.

Nutella hot fudge

Prep time: 5 minutes

Servings: 1 cup (easy to double, triple)


Ingredients

1/2 cup dark chocolate (I use semi-sweet Ghirardelli)

1/2 cup half and half

2 tablespoons Nutella

Directions

  1. Place the chocolate and the half and half in a glass measuring cup.
  2. Heat at medium-high in the microwave for 90 seconds. Stir vigorously.
  3. Keep heating the sauce at 20 second intervals until the chocolate begins to melt.
  4. After stirring the chocolate until smooth, add in the Nutella and continue stirring.
  5. Cool slightly before pouring on brownies.
  6. The sauce can be kept in the fridge for up to a week (if it lasts that long!) and should be heated before serving.

BONUS: Nutella is offering a giveaway until 12/31. You can enter here.

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Easy raspberry tart

Raspberry picking. Yes it’s that time of year. Once you’ve had your fill of popping fresh raspberries by the handful, try this easy tart (and yes, I snuck in some blackberries and blueberries too).

You’ll need a tart pan for this recipe—a pie plate just won’t do. You could try using a 9-inch springform pan in a pinch, but once you’ve tried making tarts, my guess is you’ll want to have one on hand anyway. Tart pans aren’t expensive and you can find them at any large home goods store.

You pre-bake the piecrust to keep it from getting soggy once you add the berries. To pre-bake, the oven will need to be at a higher temperature and you’ll also want to add some weight on top of the crust so it doesn’t get air bubbles in the dough. Simply place some heavy-duty aluminum foil on top, along with either uncooked rice or beans and you’re set. (Once you’re done cooking, carefully remove the aluminum foil and pour the beans or rice back into its container once they’ve cooled. You can still use them.)

The berries are the easiest part of the tart: Wash and dry the berries, then mix in cornstarch, sugar, and lemon. I like my tarts, well, tart, so I don’t add in as much sugar as most recipes call for. If you want to increase the sweetness go ahead and double the sugar.

No fresh berries? Don’t worry, this recipe works well with frozen berries too (or do half and half). Thaw the frozen berries and follow the recipe according to the directions.

Raspberry Tart

Tweaked from How to Cook Everything (Wiley, 1998)

Prep time: 15 minutes + baking

Servings: about 8

Ingredients

1 pre-made pie crust (Trader’s Joes is my fave)

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

zest from one lemon

3 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen, thawed)

Directions

  1. Lightly coat a tart pan with cooking spray. Lay the dough onto the pan and then press into the edges and up the sides. Trim any excess.
  2. Prick the dough with a fork and then place a piece of aluminum foil on top and weight it with either rice or beans.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Once heated, cook the crust for about 15 minutes of until barely golden.
  4. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl stir together sugar and cornstarch. Toss in the raspberries (reserve ¼ cup) and lemon juice and zest.
  5. Mix the berries into the cornstarch/sugar combination. Press the berries with a fork so that some break apart.
  6. Pour the berries into the cooked tart crust. Add the reserved berries on top.
  7. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook the tart for another 20-30 minutes, or until the berries’ juices are bubbling.
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Quick pretzel smores

It’s National Toasted Marshmallow Day! Can you believe I almost missed it? I know, I know, it seems like there’s a day for everything now, but hey, it’s a great excuse for passing along this simple recipe I like to think of as smores ‘deconstructed’ (even if there’s no roasting involved).

There are just four ingredients to this dessert that comes together quickly. Plus, it’s easy enough that you can explain how to put these together, give your kids the ingredients and then let them go to work.

Ready for the shopping list? One bag big marshmallows, one box graham crackers, 1 bag pretzel sticks, and of course, melting chocolate. That’s it.

Once your have everything together, put one of your kids in charge of crushing the graham crackers (my middle daughter loved this task!). Then melt one cup of chocolate pieces in the microwave. I separated it out into two bowls so that I wouldn’t hear complaints about somebody taking all the chocolate. Although with three kids, and two bowls, there were still some claims of chocolate swiping.

Before you dip the marshmallows into the chocolate you’ll want to make sure it’s cool. If you’re chocolate is too hot, the marshmallows will melt into it, instead of getting a nice coating. Test the temperature by dipping a spoon in and then dip your finger on the chocolate. As long as it’s lukewarm, you’re good to go. Now for the fun part—dip & roll. Set the finished marshmallows on waxed paper until they set. It’ll only take a few minutes.

Recipe

Servings: About 30

Prep time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 bag big marshmallows

1 sleeve graham crackers (or 1 cup crushed)

30 pretzel sticks

1 cup melting chocolate

Directions

  1. Place the chocolate in a glass, microwave-safe bowl and heat on medium power for one minute, thirty seconds (microwave temperatures may vary).
  2. Stir the chocolate until smooth.
  3. Place pretzels into the marshmallows.
  4. Crush the graham crackers to make one cup, then place in a shallow bowl.
  5. Dip the marshmallows one at a time into the chocolate, then the graham crackers crumbs.
  6. Place on waxed paper to set.
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Potato chip brownie sundaes

Here’s the set-up: my daughter “had” to have brownies for an activity and I found out about an hour before. That’s when I reach for the nearest box of brownies. Nothing fancy, but it comes together quickly.

Once she got to the activity, someone else had already brought the treat. We had a pan full of lackluster brownies that needed a little enlivening. Enter potato chips.

I’ve been noticing the trend toward adding saltiness to add depth and interest to desserts. I like it. Have you noticed the ‘in’ flavor right now for ice cream is salted caramel?

That was in the back of my mind when I created a rich chocolate sauce–bittersweet chocolate, a touch of semi-sweet melted into heavy cream (it was slightly bitter to compensate for the sweet brownies). I made a swath of the chocolate sauce on each person’s plate, followed with a brownie, topped with vanilla ice cream and crushed potato chips. The crunchy, saltiness of the potato chips pulled all the dish together. Yum.

If I were to do it again, and trust me, my kids are making requests, I think I’d process the potato chips in a food processor until the were fine and then roll the ice cream in the pieces.

Your turn–have you noticed sea salt making an appearance in desserts? Have you tried adding a hint of salt to chocolate to bring out its flavor?

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Mini oatmeal peach crisps

Warm peach slices with a crumbly, buttery filling, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream was a summertime tradition growing up. Of course, I’ve got to continue that one! When I see peaches at the grocery store or farmers’ markets, I figure it’s peach crisp baking time. And I like to take it one step farther and make ‘em mini. You can still use a regular dutch oven or casserole dish, but for change I’ve included the instructions for using ramekins (sorry, using a muffin pan for this one is a no-go).

I looked through several recipes—and even tried one that literally fell flat—before deciding on the one below. In my mind, fruit crisp has to have oatmeal in it (that’s so you can eat it for breakfast on day #2 and feel like it’s nearly as healthy as oatmeal on its own). But most recipes relied just on oatmeal without including flour, which made for a less crisp crust.

Another point on the crust—I like to cut the butter in with a food processor versus doing it by hand. But the first time I added in all of the dry ingredients from the beginning, then my oatmeal was reduced to crumbs. Ditto for the nuts. To keep my oatmeal and nuts from disappearing, I processed the dry ingredients with the butter first then added in the oatmeal and nuts at the very end. Two pulses so the pieces are still chunky.

Recipe

Tweaked from The American’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Prep time: 20 minutes + baking

Servings: 8-10

Ingredients

6 Tablespoons flour

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

5 Tablespoons butter

1/3 cup rolled oats (not instant)

¼ cup almonds

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon cinnamon

About 10 peaches

Blueberries or blackberries (optional; I had some handy so I threw ‘em in)

Directions

  1. Bring water to a boil in a large cooking pot. Place the peaches in a large mixing bowl and pour the boiling water over them.

    Found this little pot with a lid on sale--perfect for mini foods

  2. Allow the peaches to sit in the hot water for about 3-5 minutes. Pour out the hot water and rinse the peaches with cold water.
  3. Peel the skins off the peaches, remove the pits, and then slice into ¼” pieces. Place the pieces into a mixing bowl and toss with the cornstarch and cinnamon.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  5. In a food processor place the flour, sugars, salt. Pulse twice. Add the butter in pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles crumbs.
  6. Place the oatmeal and almonds into the butter mixture and pulse twice to four times (you don’t want to pulverize the nuts and oatmeal just break them up slightly).
  7. Lightly grease a 9” casserole pan or dutch oven (preferred). Place the peach slices into the pan and then add the butter mixture on top.

To make ‘em mini

  1. Grease one 7-ounce ramekin per peach.
  2. Distribute peach slices into ramekins (keep in mind the peaches will shrink by almost half when cooking so this will seem full but they’ll go down–promise). Toss the berries on top.
  3. Carefully top each ramekin with crumb mixture, pressing it down as you go.
  4. Bake on a cookie sheet (I overfilled one and it bubbled over but it still tasted good).
  5. Serve to smiling kids.
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BEST brownies ever

I’ve been meaning to pass along this recipe for awhile now but it seemed like the right timing with Memorial Day this weekend (knockout picnic treat anyone?) and school coming to an end. Not only are these the BEST brownies, but my youngest daughter has a chocoholic teacher so I’m planning on making a batch of these just for her. And if you’re looking for more ideas to thank your child’s teacher check out these ideas courtesy of Motherboard.

So what makes these so good? Chocolate. I know, that’s obvious, but we’re not talking just cocoa powder here or gobs of flour, the main ingredient in these brownies is the good stuff. And there are layers of chocolate–with the butter, mixed with the flour, the eggs. As with the best desserts–in my sweet tooth opinion–they’re better on day two when they’ve had a chance to densify (that’s a word we’ve invented just for these brownies; they’re airy on day #1, dense with dark chocolate day #2).

I bake these in a parchment-lined pan so I can easily lift them out and make perfect cuts and shapes with the brownies.

Recipe

Ingredients

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate

1 ¼ cups sugar

12 Tablespoons butter

1 cup flour

1/3 cup cocoa

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

4 eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons cocoa powder, Espresso powder, or black onyx powder

½ cup chocolate chips (optional, cuz there’s not enough chocolate already)

1 cup walnuts (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt the chocolate, sugar and butter together in a large glass bowl in the microwave, heating it at half power in 1-minute intervals. Cook just until you can stir to combine. Step aside to cool to room temperature.
  3. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs together until frothy and all the Espresso powder.
  4. In another mixing bowl, mix all of the remaining dry ingredients (baking powder, salt, flour, cocoa) together.
  5. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat to combine.
  6. Stir the flour mixture into the chocolate just until combined. Pour into prepared pan.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes in a 9×13” baking pan sprayed with cooking oil. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick; when it comes out clean the brownies are done baking.

Optional directions for the perfectly cut brownie:

  1. Spray the 9×13” baking pan with spray and then add a sheet of either parchment or wax paper to the bottom of the pan, spray again. Pour the brownie batter onto the paper.
  2. Bake as directed above.
  3. Let the brownies cool and then place then in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably overnight.
  4. Lift the brownies out of the pan and then remove the pan underneath before placing on a cutting board.
  5. Use a sharp knife to remove the outside edges, then cut the brownies into 11/2 to 2” squares.
  6. Keep in the fridge for best, most intensely chocolatey results.
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My mother’s day meal

Note to self: remember to take the camera off landscape

Can I just say, I heart Mother’s Day–from the little handmade cards to the extra hugs (not to mention breakfast in bed!)–I enjoyed every minute of it. So today I wanted to thank my hubby and his little helpers for making it so memorable.

As requested, my hubby fixed Mexican food for dinner. He went all out–shredded beef taquitos (he marinated the meat overnight, bless him!), mushroom and chorizo quesadillos, rice and refried beans. And that’s a dollop of guacamole, fresh-made salsa and chipotle creme sauce on top. It was delicious.

For dessert, I talked him in to making crepes (well, it didn’t take much convincing). He filled the them with Ghirardelli chocolate, almonds, dried cherries, honey and walnuts and then thinned Nutella to slather on top along with a handful of raspberries. Mmmmm (and yes, I’m trying to get him to do a “guest” post on crepes). Happy Mother’s Day everyone! Now what to do with the one leftover crepe…

Crepes for a crowd

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Mother’s Day Mini-Cheesecakes 3 Ways

Cheesecake. For birthdays, holidays, my kids always request cheesecake. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love making them, but to do ‘em right you have to follow a few tricks–including baking it for over an hour. A traditional cheesecake can take a better part of a day to make. Yikes! I just don’t have that amount of time.

Solution? Minis. (I know, I know, I’m really into baking things in miniature). I can now, make a dozen awe-inspiring cheesecakes in the same amount of time it takes for brownies. And the recipe is simple enough that my kids can make these.

What I like about my little discovery is that you’re not stuck with just one flavor–mix raspberry jam into one, miniature chocolate chips (there I go again) into another. Extra pecans? Throw ‘em in a couple.

Get the idea? What’s in your cupboard you’ve been wanting to get rid of use creatively in a recipe? Here are three ideas, I’m sure you’ll come up with more. Better yet, pass your ideas along to you Mother’s Day baking crew.

Light:

Follow the basic recipe below, substituting fat-free or Neufchatel cream cheese (1/3 less fat than regular) and low fat graham crackers for the crust. (Sorry no picture here–I went for a happy-calorie medium, with Neufchatel cream cheese and regular crumbs for the crust:)

I put a layer of caramel sauce on before adding the chocolate ganache

Turtle:

Instead of graham cracker crumbs, use crushed pecan sandies. Stir pecans into the batter. Before serving the cheesecakes, top with caramel sauce, and chocolate ganache.

Chocolate Lovers:

For the crust, try chocolate graham crackers (I used chocolate animal crackers, mmmm). And make this addition: melt 1/2 cup high quality chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons heavy cream in a glass measuring cup by heating it half power for 90 seconds in the microwave, then stir. Let the mixture cool then add it with the cream cheese batter (you might also want to add 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder; I went with my black onyx powder). Serve with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkled with cocoa powder.

Is your crew not the cooking type? Check out these Mother’s Day gifts that moms over at Motherboard received. I love the story of the little boy that bought his mom the best present ever (or so he thought)–a racing car magazine.

Now for that mini-cheesecake recipe…

Basic Recipe

Ingredients

Crust

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (chocolate or regular)

4 Tablespoons butter, melted

Filling

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

¾ cup white sugar

2 eggs

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Pulse graham crackers in a food processor until you have fine crumbs.
  3. Add the melted butter into the crumb mixture. Mix to combine.
  4. Lightly grease 8, 6-ounce ramekins (or you can use muffin papers).
  5. Divide the crust into the 8-10  containers and firmly press the crust into the bottom and a little bit up the sides.
  6. Bake the crust for 10 minutes.
  7. For the filling, mix the cheese on high until creamy. Add the sugar and then the eggs, making sure to combine.
  8. Mix for 5 minutes straight to fully incorporate all of the ingredients.
  9. Scoop the batter into the containers, making sure that they aren’t overly full.
  10. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the batter barely giggles.
  11. Cool and then refrigerate over night.

Your turn–what are some of your favorite Mother’s Day memories? Or do you have a special request for the big day (besides mini-cheesecakes)?

Hungry yet?

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Whole wheat banana bread

Bananas are a wonder food. They’re packed with potassium, fiber. They help build stronger bones. They’re better than Tums for achy stomaches… I could go on, but you get the idea. I really like bananas, which is why banana bread is an infrequent treat at our house. I eat them before they ever get ripe.

But occasionally I do buy a large bunch so that I’ll have a few leftover for bread. Now I’m a bit picky with my banana bread—I don’t like it overly moist, which makes the crust gooey by day two. I like hearty slices that can stand up to a little slathering of butter. This recipe is a tweak from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. It uses yogurt to give the bread just the right smooth consistency. And it’s moist enough that I can substitute half of the regular flour for whole wheat without it becoming too dry. I also toss in some ground flax for an added nutrition boost (and then usually some chocolate chips because you can’t go wrong with bananas and chocolate…I mean, because you want added anti-oxidants).

And instead of a large loaf pan, I bake mine in two smaller pans. My favorite part of the bread is the crust anyway and smaller loaves equal more crusts–and more heels for everyone to argue over.

Ready to break out some bananas?

Recipe

Prep time: 5 minutes

Servings: 2 mini loaves

Ingredients

2 cups flour (I use 1 cup whole wheat, 1 cup all-purpose)

¾ sugar (I use ¼ cup brown, ½ cup white)

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

3 ripe bananas

6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

2 eggs

¼ plain yogurt

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 tablespoon ground flax seed (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat each pan with baking spray.
  3. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.
  4. In a large bowl mash the bananas with a spoon and then use the blender to puree them. Add the melted butter, eggs and yogurt and blend again.
  5. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet. Add in the walnuts.
  6. Gently mix until just moistened.
  7. Add the batter into the two pans.
  8. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until cooked through and golden brown.
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Buckeye brownies

Usually I don’t even notice when March Madness comes and goes. But this year all three of my kids are not only playing basketball but hungry for any and all things basketball, NCAA tournaments fit right in.

In honor of Ohio State’s recent big win, I just had to make Buckeye brownies. I ran across the recipe months ago while writing up a post about cookie bars. Granted I didn’t need much of an incentive to make anything the combines peanut butter and chocolate! So if you’re looking for something to munch on while enjoying Ohio State’s next game on Friday against George Mason University (they’re also predicted to win the whole tournament, OSU, not GMU), give these a try.

Now to figure out a treat to honor my own alma mater–Brigham Young University. I’d love to see the two play in the final game, but we’ll see…

Recipe

Prep time: 10 minutes + baking

Ingredients

1 family size box brownie mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
1 cup peanuts
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup peanut butter

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat a 9×13″ pan with baking spray.
  3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine the brownie mix, eggs and oil.
  4. In another bowl whip together the condensed milk and the peanut butter.
  5. Spoon the brownie batter onto the pan (it will be thick).
  6. Sprinkle the brownie batter with the nuts (the original recipe uses chopped nuts, I like them whole).
  7. Pour the milk mixture on top and swirl together using a fork or spatula.
  8. Bake for around 20 minutes or until cooked through.
  9. These are best on the second day–so chewy!
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