Better Than the Box Brownies

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I know.  There are a plethora of brownie recipes on this website.  But until I find the perfect one, the search continues.  I found this one when both the Pie and I had meetings on the same day (which meant we had to change out of our pyjamas and actually go to work).  The Pie’s boss (and his family) had been complaining for a while that there had been no baked goods delivered, and my boss was doing the same.  So I whipped up a double batch of these in the hopes that they would shut up for a while be pleased.  These are more adult brownies, as they’re not as sweet as some recipes that use melted chocolate.

Start by preheating your oven to 325°F and line a 8″ x 8″ baking pan with parchment paper such that you end up with two handles out the sides.

Better Box Brownies 1

Find a heat-proof bowl and dump in 10 tablespoons butter (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons), 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder.

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Set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and let the butter melt until the whole thing is a gooey, grainy mess.

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Remove from the heat and allow it to cool so it’s just warm to the touch.  Add in, one at a time, 2 cold eggs (if the mixture was hot you’d cook the eggs and that would be bad).

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Add in as well 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat the whole thing for a little bit until it’s nice and smooth.

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Now you’ll want to stir in 1/2 cup all purpose flour.  Stir that in really well, until it’s totally combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

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Continue to beat the batter until it’s smooth and glossy again.  This is very thick batter for brownies, so don’t be shocked if it takes you a bit of effort.

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Now, if you want, you can tip in 2/3 cup nuts of your choice.  The recipe calls for chopped walnuts, but I find them too bitter so I used pecans.

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Pour the batter into your parchment-ed pan.

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You’ll have to put some effort into smoothing it into the corners.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the centre is completely set, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Some people making this recipe had to cook it for an additional ten minutes but mine was done after twenty (I’m using a convection oven).  Let it cool completely on a wire rack before lifting out and cutting into small pieces. I don’t have any pictures of the cut up brownies for you because I forgot and by the time I remembered they’d already been eaten.  Sorry!

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Breakfast Brownies

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When Atlas posted this recipe to my Facebook newsfeed and suggested I make it for the next time we went over for dinner, I knew it wasn’t really a suggestion.  I didn’t have some of the ingredients on hand (because as we all know I’m a huge fan of butter, eggs, and refined sugar, and that’s not likely to change any time soon), so I did make some substitutions.  If you’d like to go for the original version, just check it out at Eat Drink Love.

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Start by preheating your oven to 350°F and spray a 8″ x 8″ baking dish.  Line the dish with parchment paper so that you have two little handles sticking out.

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Grind up about 2 tablespoons flax in your coffee grinder (wipe it out before and after of course, or use a separate one). Flax is amazing for you, but it will do you no good if you don’t grind it up first.

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Add the flax to a bowl with 3/4 cup oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/4 cup cocoa.

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Give that a good stir.

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Find a lovely ripe banana and smush it up with a fork.

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Add that to the oat mixture, along with 1/4 cup coconut oil, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup honey, and 1/2 cup milk.

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Stir that around and then slop it into your prepared pan.

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I forgot I was supposed to stir these in and so I sprinkled 1/4 cup chocolate chips on top.  Very decorative.

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Bake for 17-20 minutes, until the centre is solid and tests clean with a toothpick.  Set on a wire rack to cool completely.

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After cutting the brownies into little pieces, store them in the fridge.

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To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of this recipe.  I don’t like baking with coconut oil as I find it too heavy and greasy, and so that’s all I could taste, but everyone else seemed to like them just fine.

Nanaimo Bar Cupcakes

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Yup.  ANOTHER cupcake recipe.  If you think that’s ridiculous, you’re gonna laugh at what I have planned for Friday.  This recipe has been stored in my Evernote for forever, but I keep seeing the photos pop up on Facebook. I think it’s a not-so-subtle hint that I should probably make them.

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Start with 1 1/2 cups blanched slivered almonds (I used flaked) and mix them with 2 cups dessicated unsweetened coconut in a bowl.  Set that aside for now.

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Toast a wee pinch of the coconut and almonds (I popped mine in the toaster oven) and set that aside as well.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a standard muffin tin with cups.  I like how cheery these are.

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In another bowl, whisk together 2 cups cake flour, 1 cup cocoa, and 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

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In yet ANOTHER bowl, ideally the one in your electric mixer, cream together 3/4 room temperature butter, 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar for about 3 minutes until pale and cohesive.

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Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time.  Ideally they are also room temperature.  Pour in 3 teaspoons vanilla while you’re at it.

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Now you can start adding your flour mixture in, alternating with 1 1/2 cup buttermilk until it’s all smooth and combined.

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Then you can fold in all your almonds and coconut.

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Scoop the batter into your cupcake cups until they’re’ about 3/4 full.  Now, the recipe didn’t tell me how many this made and so I assumed that it was only 12.

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I WAS WRONG.  AND I WAS OUT OF CUPCAKE LINERS.  So I used the last four I had, then put the rest of the batter in a disposable loaf pan.  I figured it’d make a nice cake to freeze.

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Anyway, bake your enormous number of cupcakes for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre cupcake comes out clean, then you can let them cool completely on a wire rack.

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The Nanaimo-bar-y-ness of the icing comes from using custard powder.  The custard is what makes a Nanaimo bar a Nanaimo bar. Nah-NYE-mo bar.  I love the word Nanaimo.  I may have a problem.

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Right.  Icing.  That’s what we were doing.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip together 1 cup room temperature butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 4 cups icing sugar, and 4 tablespoons custard powder.

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When that’s all combined, pour in as well about 3/4 cup whipping cream for smoothness.

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There, that’s lovely.

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Pipe it onto your cupcakes, and then sprinkle with the toasted almonds and coconut.  That’s it.

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Then you eat it and then it’s gone.  So satisfying.

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Sexy Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

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Check out these sexy puppies.  I made them as a killing-two-birds-with-one-stone for both Valentine’s Day and Mags’ and Papa John’s joint birthday.  So very very good.

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For the cupcakes, preheat your oven to 350°F and line a 12-capacity muffin tin with cupcake liners.  I used fancy schmancy pink polka dot ones.  Because I am that cool.

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Drain a 375mL jar of maraschino cherries, reserving the juice.  Let the cherries dry a bit on a paper towel before roughly chopping them.

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In a large bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 cup fine cocoa.

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In a smaller bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons cherry juice, 2 eggs, 3 teaspoons vanilla extract, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup milk.

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Add the flour mixture to the liquid and beat until smooth.

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Fold in the chopped cherries.

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Drop into cupcake cups until about 3/4 full and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the centre cupcake comes out clean.  Let cool slightly in the pan and then remove to a rack to cool completely.

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I ended up having enough after my doubled recipe to make a wee sheet cake as well.

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For the ganache, in a double boiler, melt together 2 ounces chocolate (your choice) with 1/4 cup whipping cream.  Whisk until fully combined and chill for 30-40 minutes (any longer and you might have trouble spreading it).

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For the icing, we’re going with our old favourite.  Beat together 1 cup room temperature butter with 1 250g package room temperature cream cheese until fully combined and un-lumpy.

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Slowly add in about 2 cups icing sugar (more if you want it more stiff) and a few tablespoons cherry juice (from the jar of maraschinos).

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For the garnish, take 12 cherries, fresh or maraschino (but with stems if you can) and dip them in a couple ounces melted chocolate.

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Let those cool on a sheet of waxed paper until solid.

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To put it all together, take your cooled cupcakes and spread a little ganache on top as a chocolatey base.

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Chuck them in the fridge for a few minutes to set.

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Shove your cream cheese icing into a piping bag and squeeze it out all over your cupcakes.

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Save yourself some heartache and buy a decent bag, too.

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I’m sure you can do a more artistic job than this, but I’m also sure it will taste the same regardless.

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Top with a chocolate-dipped cherry and serve.  SO AWESOME.

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And here’s the sheet cake with the leftover icing.

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Rusty’s Diamond Cake

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It was Rusty’s birthday on the 4th and we cooked up a plan for a really epic baseball-themed cake.  The cake recipe itself came from Delish, because I needed a three layer cake in order to have enough batter to fill my 16″ pan.  As it stands, the batter was so good that I’m keeping the page bookmarked so I can actually follow the recipe at another time.

First thing’s first: preheat your oven to 350°F and then butter your cake pan.  This is my 16″ round pan. I got it at a cake store when I made the Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake.  Once you’ve buttered it, line the bottom with parchment paper and butter that, too.

Rusty's Diamond Cake 1

Now, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together 1 cup softened butter and 3 cups packed brown sugar until they’re as fluffy as humanly possible.

Rusty's Diamond Cake 3

In a separate bowl, whisk together 4 large eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Rusty's Diamond Cake 2

Add the eggs to the butter and beat until it’s all incorporated.  Scrape the bowl down and give it a good beating for about a minute.

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In yet another bowl, sift together 3/4 cups cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon baking soda, and 3 cups flour.  Or you could whisk it with a fork, which is obviously what I did.  It’s all lies, what I tell you.  All of it.  LIES.

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Grab 1 1/2 cups sour cream and alternate adding that with the flour to the batter until they’re all gone.

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Finally, while mixing, slowly add in 1 1/2 cups hot water to the mix.

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Smooth your batter into your cake pan and bake for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  For some reason I don’t understand, a giant cake takes just as long to bake as three little ones.  Let the cake cool almost all the way in the pan before tipping it out onto a cooling rack.

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While that’s doing its thing, you can whip up some icing.  Despite the ill-fated nature of Rusty’s birthday cake last year, we have found that the icing recipe for that thing is the best one out there.  Because of the size of this cake, I doubled it, and only had a little left over.

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So.  In a bowl, cream together 2 250g packages plain cream cheese (room temperature — very important) and 2 cups butter.

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Then, bit by bit, and using a flour shield if you’ve got one, add in 6 cups icing sugar.

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Beat that until it’s all mixed and lovely.  Add more sugar if necessary.

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I scooped out a small amount of plain icing to use in drawing bases and baselines.

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Another chunk I dyed astroturf green with some gel food colouring (this stuff will give you the bright colours that are lacking with traditional liquid food colouring, which you can see in the background of the first photo).

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And then another hunk I coloured brown with some gel food colouring and a touch of red liquid stuff, to emulate the clay.

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Then I took a look at my cake.  I cut off two “corners” to form the shape traditionally associated with a baseball field.

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Then I traced a bit of a design with the back of a knife to indicate where the infield went, and crumb coated the sides of the cake with brown icing. Later on, when I had extra icing, I piped more brown around the edges to finish it off.

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I shoved the icing into Ziploc bags and cut off the corners to do my piping, because all my cake decorating stuff is still in storage.  Here is the initial layout of the clay infield.

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After smoothing it out (I “raked” it later with a fork), I started on the grass, which I wasn’t going to flatten.  I wanted it to look like it had been groomed.

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Continuing with the outfield.

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Then the infield and pitcher’s mound, which is raised (by dint of extra icing).

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Here I took a break to sample my wares.

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With the Pie’s instruction, I drew on the bases and base lines.  They’re not accurate (because I’m not good at listening and the Pie isn’t good at giving useful instructions), but it’s a cake.  Sue me.  This is the view from home plate.

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The Pie insisted on adding that plastic baseball.  Rusty loved (and ate) the whole thing.  Except the baseball. I hope.

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Double Chocolate Cranberry-Orange Cookies

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I had no idea that when I came up with this recipe the result would taste almost exactly like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.  If that’s a thing that you like, then you will like these, guaranteed.

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Preheat your oven to 375°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Take an orange and zest it.

Double Chocolate Cran-Orange Cookies 2

Enjoy that fragrance.

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Eat the orange.  It’s good for you.

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In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup all purpose flour, 1/3 cup cocoa, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

Double Chocolate Cran-Orange Cookies 1

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and 1/2 cup brown sugar, until fluffy and pale (like a vampire corgi?).

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Beat in 1 egg and the orange zest.

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The reason you see two yolks is because I doubled the recipe for my own wicked reasons. I’m not trying to hoodwink you.

Slowly add in the flour/cocoa mixture. Beat on low, or you will end up with flour and cocoa up your nose. Guaranteed.

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Dump in 1 cup chocolate chips and 1 cup dried sweetened cranberries and stir to combine.

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Drop the cookies from a tablespoon onto your baking sheets (or freeze them in balls for later, which I also did).

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Bake for 8 minutes, rotating halfway through, until just set in the centre.  Allow them to sit on the baking sheet for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  And then of course you will need to eat them.

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Bookmark Brownies

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This recipe comes from a laminated bookmark I received as part of a promotional package from Chatelaine magazine.  While I was not so struck by this unsolicited mail that I wished to subscribe to the magazine, I kept the bookmark because the brownie recipe on it was gluten free with an interesting twist.  Actually this is a lie.  As soon as I’d typed in the ingredient list into this entry, I threw it out.  And was annoyed that it was unrecyclable.

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Below is the original recipe for one pan of brownies.  I tripled this because I was baking for work, so ignore my photos involving massive amounts of baking materials.

First, separate 4 eggs, and bring the whites to room temperature.

Bookmark Brownies 1

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line an 8″ square pan with parchment paper, letting the paper hang over the sides of the pan (you’re going to use these as handles later, see?).

Bookmark Brownies 2

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups icing sugar with 2 cups ground almonds (I used almond meal), 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, and a pinch of salt.

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Add to that your egg whites and 2 teaspoons vanilla and mix well.

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Pour that thick loveliness into the prepared pan.  And by thick I mean that this stuff will suck you into oblivion if you’re not careful.

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Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is shiny and crusty and a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean.

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Use the parchment handles to carefully lift the brownie out of the pan (you don’t want it to suddenly sag and break in half, for instance) and set the brownies on a rack to cool completely.

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What this recipe doesn’t tell you (because I guess the bookmark was too small) is that these things are next to impossible to cut cleanly.  I thought mine weren’t cooked enough and ended up putting them back in the oven for another fifteen minutes and they were still ridiculous, sticking to the knife and crumbling everywhere.  Warm, cold, didn’t matter.  Crumbles all over the place.

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But they tasted like brownies.  So that’s that.

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Have You Tried Banana “Ice Cream”?

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No?  You probably should.  It’s like all the good things about ice cream, but it’s also gluten-free, vegan, and pretty darned good for you.  I feel like world peace could be achieved if everyone could have some of this ice cream (except for people who are allergic to bananas — they will just have to negotiate peace on their own terms).

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So basically, you take some bananas.  Ripe ones, with a few brown spots.  You want them soft and squishy and very sweet.

Banana Ice Cream 1

Then you peel them and slice them into disks.  And then you freeze those.  In the freezer.  Or outside, if you live in Central or Eastern or Atlantic Canada.  Or Northern Europe.  Or Siberia.  Or Antarctica (actually, then they’d probably be too cold.  Your freezer is probably warmer than Antarctica).

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Then you take them out of the freezer.  And you plop them in your food processor.

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AND YOU GIVE IT A WHAZ.  Which is what Jamie Oliver would say.  And the Pie and I love him, so that’s one of our new favourite phrases.

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And when it’s all gooey and soft and smooth, you can eat it!

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If you prefer your soft serve a little more firm, you can chuck it back in the freezer for a bit.  I like the fact that when it thaws, because it’s banana, it doesn’t get all soupy.

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And you can flavour it as well!  Add peanut butter, Nutella, chocolate chips, cocoa, vanilla … you name it (I added Nutella and vanilla).

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The only limit is your imagination — and what you have to stuff in there.  GO BANANAS!

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The Baseball Cake

Baseball Cake
Jealous?

It was Rusty’s birthday, and that man is the biggest Toronto Blue Jays fan that has ever existed.  I received this ridiculous cake pan for Christmas, which would supposedly create a cake in a cupcake shape, so we figured we’d experiment with Rusty’s baseball-themed birthday cake.

Baseball Cake

Now I want you to be prepared for the absolute awesomeness that is about to follow, and hold back your tears of joy when you see our massively amazing cake decorating skills. Just try to contain yourself. We are that good. Yes, it’s true. And that pan aside, we had some awesome tools to work with, like this nifty new whisk/spatula designed specifically for making batter. What could go wrong?

Baseball Cake

Because the Blue Jays’ colours are red, white, and blue, the Pie and I decided to make Rusty a red velvet cake, and we went with Bakerella’s recipe for the same, because it seemed to produce a rich red crumb (we later figured out that this was at the sacrifice of the chocolatey goodness for which red velvet is famous but it was still good nonetheless).

So, first we preheated the oven to 350°F and then buttered and floured our cake pan.

Baseball Cake

In one bowl, we mixed together 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 measly tablespoon cocoa. If you want a more chocolatey-tasting cake (because it is a chocolate cake after all), then feel free to add more cocoa, and maybe some melted chocolate. Mmmm ….). Anyway, whisk that up and set it aside.

Baseball Cake

In another bowl plop 2 eggs.  Without their shells would be good.  They never really specify that in recipes, but you should always crack eggs before you add them to cake batter.  Just a fun fact for your information.

Baseball Cake

Use a nifty whisk to beat ’em up.

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Add in as well 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil, 1 cup buttermilk, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 2oz red food colouring.

Baseball Cake

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until well-combined. Holy cow is that ever pink.

Baseball Cake

Pour your batter into your prepared pans, scraping the sides of the bowl, and tap the filled pans on the counter to release any air bubbles.

Baseball Cake

Bake the cakes for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Ours took a little longer due to the construction of the pan. Remove them from the oven and let them sit for about ten minutes before emptying onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Baseball Cake

While that’s cooling, you can whip up your cream cheese icing. In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat an 8oz package of room temperature cream cheese with 1 cup room temperature butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla until smooth. Slowly beat in 6 cups icing sugar. Then take half of that icing out and set it aside.

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To the remaining half, add blue food colouring until you achieve your desired colour.

Baseball Cake

So now we have blue icing to frost the “cupcake liner” half, and white for the top, to resemble a baseball.

Baseball Cake

With the design of this cake, you need to “glue” the two halves of the cake together (but you’d have to do that with two layers anyway).

Baseball Cake

Baseball Cake

The bottom half was so heavy and dense it started to crack under its own weight, so I patched it a bit.

Baseball Cake

Then I iced up the bottom. I tried to make it resemble the corrugations of a cupcake liner. You can see that I succeeded in a masterful fashion.

Baseball Cake

Then I did the top. I tried to smooth out some of the natural swirls in the structure of the cake to make it more round, like a ball. As you can see, the results were epic.

Baseball Cake

Then I put the pie to work with a tube of red gel piping to make baseball seams in the cake. Oh man, admire that steady hand.

Baseball Cake

Smooth, even stitches.

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Crowing in glee at his own mad skills.

Baseball Cake

And our final product, a majestic confection which tasted great, despite not being a chocolate cake, a baseball, or a cupcake.  Rusty loved it.

Baseball Cake

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Potluck
Potluck insanity. Too many tall friends.

Every year during the winter holidays we get together with our Ottawa friends and have a potluck.  We started doing this when we were all students because it was the one day we could guarantee that we were all in town at the same time and we could spend some time together.  We even get fancy with the planning, starting with a Doodle scheduler to pick the right date (if you’ve never used their free software to make an appointment, check it out).  Then we set up a Google spreadsheet to figure out who is bringing what, to ensure that not everyone arrives with chips and dip and that the people who are bringing appetizers don’t show up just as we’re starting dessert.  Inevitably the spreadsheet gets hacked by someone (or everyone) and chaos ensues.  Graphs and pie charts and graffiti abound.  It’s madness.  But fun.  This year the Pie and I decided to host, and as each person brings a dish, this was the Pie’s contribution to the festivities: Baked’s Root Beer Bundt Cake.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

He’s made it before, for my birthday, and it’s always a favourite.  Anything Baked does is a favourite with us.  The problem is that because I was busy doing my own thing and making a superb leek and leftover turkey pie (which I will save as a post until the next turkey-related holiday), I didn’t actually get a chance to photograph the finished product.  So you’ll just have to guess as to what it looked like.  Sorry.

Now, the recipe calls for 2 cups root beer to go into the batter.  Don’t you dare use diet root beer — you’ll regret it enormously.  Use a stronger-tasting brew like Dad’s or Stewart’s or even Barq’s to get the best flavour, and feel free to replace some of the liquid with a root beer schnapps or even a tablespoon or two of root beer extract.  Not having any of these things, however, the Pie decided to make himself a root beer concentrate.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

He started by pouring two cans of root beer into a pot. Then he simmered it for about half an hour to boil off the water and reduce the liquid.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

The resulting fluid is dark and opaque, and we hoped it would enhance the flavour of the cake when added to the regular root beer.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

While you’re doing that, preheat your oven to 325°F.  Generously butter a large bundt cake pan.  Dust the inside with flour and knock out the excess.  If you don’t have a bundt pan you can make this in an angel food pan.  If you have to make it in a pan that doesn’t have a hole in the middle you will need to cook it a bit longer and keep an eye on it so the bottom doesn’t burn.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

In a small saucepan, melt together 2 cups root beer, 1 cup cocoa, and 1/2 cup butter and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Add in 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar and whisk that until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Remove that from the heat and allow to cool a little bit. You want it to cool a bit (enough that you can poke your finger in it and it will be nice and warm but not hot) because you’re about to add in 2 lightly beaten eggs. And if you add the eggs in while it’s still hot they will cook on their own and that will be super gross.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Add the eggs in and whisk thoroughly.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

In a big bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour with 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Gently pour the chocolate mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

You don’t want pockets of flour or anything but you want the batter to still be a mite lumpy.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Pour that into your prepared bundt pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until you can stick a skewer into it and it comes out clean.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Set that puppy on a rack to cool completely.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

In the meantime, you can make your root beer fudge frosting. In another bowl, whisk together 2oz melted dark chocolate and 1/2 cup room temperature butter. Add in as well 1/4 cup root beer, 2/3 cup cocoa, and 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s (icing) sugar and beat until smooth.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

When you cake is cooled, plaster on that icing in a haphazardly charming manner and eat it all up. Cover what’s left over in plastic wrap and keep up to a week at room temperature.  Sorry again that I have no pictures.  It disappeared! Instead you can have a picture of Gren in the Christmas hat that he hates.

Gren on Couch