Musical Brownies

Is this some sort of strange version of musical chairs, where everyone runs around in a circle and when the music stops you must eat a brownie or else you’re out – except there are fewer brownies than people, and each time new brownies are added in smaller and smaller numbers, so the goal is to stay in the longest and therefore get to eat the most brownies?

music note brownies

No, it’s not. I’m really sorry.

white chocolate brownies

But if that is ever made into a game, I promise you: I will win.

Particularly if they are these brownies.

treble clef brownies

Remember the “omg drool just-like-box-mix” cocoa brownies I told you about earlier? Well, this time they’re getting an upgrade. Same amazing brownies, but topped with buttercream frosting and chocolate musical note garnishes. Although you really should be thinking “Brilliant!! I must make these immediately!”, if you are instead wondering why I would ever do this, then 1) stop questioning my genius ideas, and 2) my reason is that I needed to bake something for a blues dance. Blues → blue frosting, dance → music → music note garnishes. Compris?

music note dessert

I might just encourage (*ahem* force…) my future children to join band PURELY so I can sell these at band bake-sale fundraisers. Because, let’s be honest with ourselves here: who could avoid these temptress brownies?! That’s right. No one. You’re welcome, future child’s band, for all the money I will raise for you. You’re welcome.

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MUSICAL BROWNIES

Cocoa brownies:

Recipe (barely adapted) from Smitten Kitchen, which Deb adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet

10 tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup + 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs, cold

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Buttercream frosting: 

Adapted from: Gale Gand, on the Food Network

6+ cups powdered sugar (add until you’re satisfied with the consistency)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. half-and-half (vary based on how much powdered sugar you have and what consistency you like)

Gel food coloring (blue for these; any color would work)

Chocolate garnishes:

6 oz semisweet chocolate (or milk or dark)

6 oz white chocolate

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1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Push a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) into an 8×8-inch square baking pan; it won’t stay very well, but that’s fine – just make sure the edges and bottom are all covered. When you add the batter later, it’ll push the parchment paper into place.

2. Combine the butter, sugars, cocoa, and salt in a medium bowl (heat-safe) and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir together gently until as well-mixed as you can get it, then microwave an additional 15 seconds. Stir together until thick and completely mixed. The batter should be warm to the touch; additional, short bursts of microwave time (don’t burn it!) may be necessary to get the batter warm.

3. Stir in vanilla extract then add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously. When the batter is shiny and well-mixed, add the flour. Stir until it’s all mixed in, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes (incorporating air gives your brownies some “lift” and ensures they aren’t too flat/dense).

4. Pour into the parchment paper-lined pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out just slightly moist with batter.

5. While the brownies are cooking, make the chocolate garnishes. Lay wax paper down on a moveable flat surface (cookie sheets, cutting boards, etc.). Place chocolate in a microwave-safe plastic bowl (not glass). Microwave in 10-second bursts, stirring after every burst. Between 3-5 rounds, you should be able to stir until smooth; you can microwave for additional 5-second bursts once it’s smooth, but do not over-heat! You want the chocolate to stay “in temper” as much as possible. This video by How To Cook That provides a fantastic tutorial for this process (note that I used chocolate chips instead of chocolate shavings; it still worked). Put the chocolate in a plastic bag and snip off just the tip (don’t cut off too much). Pipe different music notes, treble clefs, etc. onto the wax paper, making sure to add a thick “stem” to the bottom (at least 2 cm) that will stick in the brownie and hold the design up. Put chocolate garnishes in the refrigerator to harden up.

6. When the brownies are done cooking, cool them completely (I put mine in the freezer for about 30 minutes) and then lift the paper + brownies out and set aside.

7. Once the brownies are completely cooled, make the frosting. Beat together half of the sugar and all of the butter. Start on low speed until well-blended and then gradually add in more sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream or powdered sugar as necessary to reach spreading consistency. Gel food coloring should be beat or stirred in as desired to reach the color you’re looking for. Put the frosting into a piping bag with any decorating tip you like.

8. Cut the brownies into ~25 small squares and then pipe frosting onto each brownie. Gently inset a music note into every brownie, holding the garnish by its base so you don’t snap the top off while you’re pushing it down.

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white chocolate musical brownie

I was so smitten with the way these turned out, I took them up to our balcony for a mini photo shoot. Here you can see our incredible view (and more brownies, of course):

musical brownies balcony

sunset and brownies

 

In case you’re curious, these were a huge hit and did not last long before every last one was snatched up by a happy dancer. Not bad for something that’s super easy to make in under two hours! You could easily top them with any other garnish (stars, hearts, simple logos, etc.). Get creative!

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St. Patrick’s Day Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosted Brownies

baileys brownie

My friend, Matt, is visiting from Cornell this weekend. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by making this AMAZING Guinness Chocolate Cake with Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosting. Seriously, check it out because that cake is delicious! We had the brilliant last-minute (read: poorly thought out) idea to add chocolate ganache in between cake layers… which oozed out everywhere, got all mixed up in the frosting, made the top layer slide, and rendered our delicious cake TUTP (“too ugly to post”). I still think a chocolate layer would take this cake over-the-top, so if you make the recipe, I recommend looking around for a good, thick ganache filling recipe (maybe this one?). Let me know if you can get it to work, because I’d love to successfully make this cake with a chocolate layer someday!

We were left with extra frosting from that adventure, so Matt whipped up this tasty, fudge-y brownie recipe from AllRecipes and we covered it with the leftover Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosting. This is quite a decadent pairing, and so perfect for St. Patrick’s Day. Cut small pieces because it’s insanely rich. If you’re just making the brownies and not the cake, only make a quarter of the frosting recipe. All recipes are provided at the links, so I won’t repeat them here. Enjoy!!

Chocolate Mint Hearts

chocolate mint hearts

In case you don’t have a bunch of friends posting pictures of the recent blizzard that attacked New England, let me bring you up to speed: Nemo found us. He left piles and piles and piles of snow EVERYWHERE. It’s a winter wonderland out there! It’s gorgeous and fairytale-like, perfect for playing and exploring and gawking at the whiteness that covers absolutely everything. That said, something about bundled up people treading slowly down the center of car-less streets (the cars are all completely covered in snow, not to mention there was a travel ban) with huge mountains of snow everywhere lends a bit of an eerie, post-apocalytpic vibe to the wonder. It’s a strange world, my friends, and a bit disconcerting in all its magnificence. What better way to bring back some normalcy than with homemade treats?

I knew I wanted to use powdered sugar in honor of the blizzard. With Valentine’s Day coming up, the heart sprinkles were a natural choice. My labmate is a wizard in the machine shop and helped me make a small heart-shaped cookie cutter last week. (Translation: he made it, I hovered around taking up space. More on that later, since the cookie cutter is actually for an upcoming project you’ll hear about soon!) Finally, I had a box of Junior Mints from Christmas that were begging to be used in some way. Some searching later, I found this Food.com recipe that looked perfect for adapting. Thus, meet these darling treats! These would be oh so cute in little cellophane bags tied up with cute pink, red, and white ribbons to give away to friends for Valentine’s Day. These hearts are somewhere between a cookie and a brownie, come in a sweet bite-sized heart shape, pack a delicious minty chocolate punch, and, according to my friend, “could put Girl Scout Thin Mints out of business.” I don’t know if I’d go that far (don’t kill me, Thin Mint fanatics!), but these are very addicting. And the best part is how easy they are to make!

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CHOCOLATE MINT HEARTS

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup cocoa

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 cups granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 package (~4oz) Junior Mints

Heart sprinkles

~1/2 cup powdered sugar

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1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking tray that has edges/walls (about 12×15×1-inch) with parchment paper, so that the parchment paper goes up over the edges. Do not a use flat sheet; if you don’t have a walled baking tray, use a pan or something else with walls (you might have to divide the batter between pans).

2. Stir/whisk the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together well. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, vegetable oil, and sugar together until soft and fluffy.

4. Add the eggs individually, beating well after each one. Beat in the vanilla extract.

5. Gradually add the dry mixture to the wet one, beating in small scoops at a time. The mixture will be fairly thick.

6. Add the Junior Mints and beat a few times so the mixer crushes up the mints and mixes them throughout the batter.

7. Spread onto the baking tray. Press the dough into a flat rectangle, leaving about a 1-inch clearance to the edges of the tray. Spread heart-shaped sprinkles all over the top and press them gently into the batter so they stick. Bake for about 16 minutes, then remove and cool on the tray.

8. When the dough is cooled, use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many cookies as you can. (Oh darn, look at all those leftover pieces… You know what to do. Grab a glass of milk and you’re good to go!) Lightly dust with powdered sugar. Voilà! So cute!

NOTE: If you don’t have a small heart-shaped cookie cutter, or if you want to make something else, any cookie cutter shape would work. You could even cut them up into squares to save time. Similarly, you could use any kind of sprinkles, so these could be decorated for different holidays or just everyday fun. Have fun playing around with these!

Better-Than-Box-Mix Cocoa Brownies

1 brownies stacked

I have grand plans for these brownies. In fact, I wasn’t even going to share them as-is because they are just a stop along the way to potential greatness. But then I tried one and, well, let’s just say you need these in your life. It would be cruel of me to not share these immediately. This is just the beginning for these babies, but while you wait for what’s coming, make a batch of these delicious (and oh-so-easy) brownies. They’re just like box-mix brownies but better. Which I didn’t think was possible, because I am total box-mix brownie lover. But I think this could convert even the biggest box-mix brownie fan: they have that perfect moist, dense texture with an incredible rich cocoa flavor. And best of all, start to finish takes less than an hour. What are you waiting for? Get baking!

Recipe (barely adapted) from Smitten Kitchen, which Deb adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet.

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BETTER-THAN-BOX-MIX COCOA BROWNIES

10 tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs, cold

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

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1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Push a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) into an 8×8-inch square baking pan; it won’t stay very well, but that’s fine – just make sure the edges and bottom are all covered. When you add the batter later, it’ll push the parchment paper into place.

2. Combine the butter, sugars, cocoa, and salt in a medium bowl (heat-safe) and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir together gently until as well-mixed as you can get it, then microwave an additional 15 seconds. Stir together until thick and completely mixed. The batter should be warm to the touch; additional, short bursts of microwave time (don’t burn it!) may be necessary to get the batter warm.

3. Stir in vanilla extract then add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously. When the batter is shiny and well-mixed, add the flour. Stir until it’s all mixed in, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes (incorporating air gives your brownies some “lift” and ensures they aren’t too flat/dense).

4. Pour into the parchment paper-lined pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out just slightly moist with batter.

5. Cool completely, then lift the paper + brownies out and cut into squares. Easy, right?! Enjoy!

If you leave extra parchment paper hanging off the sides, it'll be a cinch to remove the brownies from the pan later - simply lift out!

If you leave extra parchment paper hanging off the sides, it’ll be a cinch to remove the brownies from the pan later – simply lift out!

Good-Luck-on-Quals Brownies (or, Seven-Layer Bar Cookies Baked into Fudgy Brownies)

Do you think they got the "good luck" message?
Eleven students in my department recently took their qualifying exams (“quals”). Quals consist of five very open-ended, difficult questions written by five different professors. You have three days and three hours to complete the take-home exam, using any books, notes, the Internet, etc. that you want – you just can’t discuss the questions with anyone. Remember open-note exams in college? And how they were often more difficult than close-note exams? Well this is like that… but a million times harder. You have to pass quals to become an official PhD candidate, and you only get two chances. Yikes!

I’ll be taking this monstrous exam in a year, but this time around, I got to be on the “good luck” committee! Which doesn’t exist. I invented it. But it ought to exist. Because who doesn’t want a good luck brownie when they’re going into a three-day exam?!

While all the quals kids suffered, you can 1) be thankful that you are not in their shoes, and 2) consider making this recipe of fudgy, sugary ridiculousness. These brownies were inspired by a recipe from the book “Bake it in a Cupcake” by Megan Seling, which my best friend gave me for my birthday. This cookbook contains a bunch of fantastic desserts baked into various flavored cupcakes for double the awesomeness. I adapted the Seven-Layer Bar Brownie Cupcakes and made a tray of brownies instead. I increased many of the ingredients, added toffee bits to the brownies, and went bonkers over the crazy increase in baking time. These brownies are almost like fudge on the inside, they’re so gooey and sugary.

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SEVEN LAYER BAR COOKIES

6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) butter, melted
1 1/5 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup toffee bits
1 ¼ cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 ¼ cup chopped pecans
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

BROWNIES

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken or chopped into small pieces
1 1/8 cup (2 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

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1. Make the seven-layer bars first. Preheat oven to 350F, spray a 9”x13” baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Stir the melted butter & graham cracker crumbs together until all crumbs are moist; press them into the bottom of the pan. Evenly layer the rest of the ingredients, in the order listed, over top of the crust. Pour the condensed milk over the top and bake for some crazy amount of time. The book says 25 minutes; mine took 35+. You want the edges to be bubbling and the coconut starting to turn golden brown, but the inside of my bars was still a bit gooey at this point so I ended up cooking an extra 10+ minutes. Cool completely before cutting (but be sure to sample the corner while it’s warm, accompanied by a glass of milk!).

2. Make the brownie batter once the seven-layer bars are cool. Place the chocolate and butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 90 seconds, stopping halfway through to stir the butter and chocolate together. Continue stirring until everything melted together – you can microwave a tiny bit more as necessary, but be really careful you don’t burn the chocolate. It’s much better to stir and wait for the chocolate to melt slowly. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the granulated sugar until it’s well-mixed. Stir in the eggs, one at a time until the mixture is smooth. Add the salt and vanilla and stir for 30 seconds, until they’re both well-mixed. Mix in the flour until just combined – don’t overstir!

3. Finally, assemble the brownies. Cut up the seven-layer bars into 1.5-2 inch squares (it doesn’t matter how neat these squares are) and move to a different plate/container. Wash the 9-inch by 13-inch pan, dry, and spray again with nonstick cooking spray. Pour about half the brownie batter into the tray, gently place squares of the seven-layer bars on top so they’re almost touching each other, and pour the rest of the brownie batter on top. Bake for goodness knows how long. I think I ended up baking for 50+ minutes. Keep testing the brownies with a toothpick. The edges and top will be very crusty, but the inside stays oh-so-gooey, so pull them out when there’s just a tiny bit of dough sticking to the toothpick. Allow them to cool before cutting (you can refrigerate them after 15 minutes if you want to speed this step up).

If everyone fails quals because they OD on sugar, this recipe never happened