I know the experts all tell you to fight the winter blues through exercise and healthy eating, but that hippy crap only gets you so far. At some point during the great Minnesota deep-freeze it becomes necessary to hibernate a little, shut yourself in with a Costco pallet of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food and every extended edition “The Lord of the Rings” on DVD.
Turning on and tuning out is a stellar way to not remember the void between Christmas (or whatever solstice-aligned holiday you celebrate) and New Year’s, but it also carries the risk of angering your family as they try to drag you into Scattergories and caroling with their church friends. Do not fret, though, because there’s one surefire method to placate any overeager elf: Give ’em a steaming hot pan of home-baked dessert. Who knows, if you are sly about it they might just chill out enough to forget caroling and watch the iTunes visualizer with you for the rest of break …
Fresh out of A&E’s test kitchen, here are a couple of seriously munchable holiday desserts.
Butter is the physical embodiment of deliciousness and here it is so prevalent that you might just feel yourself becoming one with the couch.
2/3 cup butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Start your oven preheating at 350 degrees.
On the stovetop over low heat melt the butter and chocolate, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat, and let cool.
Stir sugar into the cooled butter-chocolate mixture, and add the eggs, stirring in one at a time until everything just barely combines. Stir in vanilla; set aside.
In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour and baking soda. Then add that mixture to the chocolate mixture, and stir together. Grease (with butter or Pam) a brownie pan, and pour the batter in, spreading evenly.
Put in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until a fork stuck in the middle comes out clean. Let cool in the pan, then devour!
Baking is a precise art, so there isn’t much room to maneuver here. Replace the butter with any vegetable oil (except sesame and olive oil, unless you’re really daring or desperate), though it won’t be quite the same. Add grated citrus zest from any fruit (a teaspoon or two will be fine) or top with a simple frosting (whisk together butter and powdered sugar over super low heat).
One way to blow minds with any desert without changing its well-balanced cooking chemistry is the addition of flavored butters. There are a number of delicious herbs that can be added to the recipe, but their physical presence would upset the structure and taste of the desert. Here’s how to avoid that: melt a couple sticks of butter on extra-low heat in a saucepan, and add your leafy flavoring of choice (mint, basil, tarragon, even juniper needles for a gin-like vibe). Stir around for a while as you bring a larger pot that’s about 1/3 full of water to a boil. Place the smaller saucepan inside the larger pot, floating on the water (this is called a double boiler, and is great for cooking at a controlled low temperature), making sure to keep the water from bubbling over into the butter. Let the mixture cook for as long as possible (up tofour or five hours, but much less if you don’t have time), refilling the water in the double boiler as necessary. When you deem it done, pour the butter through a coffee filter or cheesecloth, squeeze out the herb dregs and refrigerate until needed. Be careful if you chose to add a lot of flavoring to the butter—eating too many minty green brownies could make you sick.
A great and simple dessert that has apples in the title but can be made of pretty much anything imaginable.
1 stick butter (flavored, if you desire — see brownie variations)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Start your oven preheating at 375 degrees.
Core and chop the apples into thin slices, peeling if you so desire. Place in a bowl and toss with 1/2 cup sugar. Spread into a (pregreased) square or round baking dish with deep sides and let sit.
Combine flour, baking powder, a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup sugar and mix well. Melt the butter in the microwave or on the stove top and stir it into the mixture. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
Drop the flour-sugar mixture onto the apples. There’s no need to spread it evenly; simply dollop it about.
Bake until the flour mixture just starts to turn brown, about 35-45 minutes. Serve hot!
Pretty much any fruit you can think of. Seriously, try anything; you really can’t fail. Add spice mixtures to different fruits (when you toss them with sugar) for different effects: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cardamom, even ginger can really liven this up. Try adding 1/4 cup brandy or rum to the sugar mixture as you toss it with the fruit, or adding dried fruit to the mix. As with the brownies, this recipe is great with a well-flavored butter, just make sure to practice good portion control. I don’t want to be blamed if you get lost somewhere in Middle Earth.
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