Fudgy Chocolate Ricotta Muffins

Every January 1st, I make sure to have a special breakfast. It’s a relic of childhood tradition–and a delicious tradition, at that. Growing up, we went to the Rose Parade every single New Year’s Day. We’d get up at the crack of dawn and drive to Pasadena to make sure we got a great spot on the route. The parade is a fabulous spectacle of floats and entertainment. The floats are an incredible sight: often quite complex, and completely decorated with seeds, nuts, fruits and plants.

Our tradition didn’t stop at the parade. Naturally, there were traditional foods, too. Every December 31st my mom would bake up a storm so we’d have plenty of treats to enjoy the next day. The annual menu included zucchini bread, applesauce bread and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. We’d start nibbling on the goods as soon as we sat down at the parade route, and it definitely helped time fly by as we waited for the parade to start. Beautiful floats, great bands and cookies. What’s not to like?!

 

I haven’t been to the Rose Parade in years, but I still think January 1st deserves a special breakfast. This year, it’s going to be these delicious, fudgy chocolate muffins. They’re img_2245-2simple and don’t require any special equipment… so you could probably make them even if you’re in a, well, less than perfect state come the morning of January 1st. Or, make them the day before! These keep pretty well thanks to the moisture ricotta brings to the batter.

These muffins definitely don’t fall into the genre of “muffins pretending to be healthy” (though they do use whole wheat flour). They taste a lot like cake, and look a lot like cake too. They’re dense, fudgy and moist. You add ricotta right into the batter, along with a heap of cocoa. And a streusel topping adds a crumbly bit of sugar and cinnamon to every bite.

If you can’t get to these for January 1st, fear not. They’re a great “just because” breakfast whenever you have the craving for something a little special to start your day.

Fudgy Chocolate Ricotta Muffins

Original recipe: Vegetarian Adventures. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~24 muffins. The original recipe says it yields 16 but I got way more muffins out of this! 

Total Time: ~45 minutes 

Cook Time: 17-20 min

Ingredients

Batter 

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup whole ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Streusel topping 

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Dash of salt
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

Directions

Get ready

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Line a couple muffin tins

Make your batter 

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together your flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder
  2. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. That means you want to create a little crater in the middle, so you can pour other ingredients in there–see pic below
  3. Fill your well with the melted butter, ricotta, eggs, milk and vanilla
  4. Whisk the wet ingredients within the well, until they’re mixed together
  5. Then, slowly start whisking your wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Definitely pay heed to the “slow” direction here so cocoa doesn’t land all over your counter! Whisk just until the ingredients are mixed–overmixing leads to tough muffins (which sounds like a great rock band name, but you don’t want actual tough muffins)

Make your streusel 

  1. Whisk together the brown sugar, cocoa powder and salt
  2. Using your hands, work the butter into the dry ingredients until a wet crumb has formed. The mixture should be wet and crumbly when you’re done mixing

Bake your muffins 

  1. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full with batter
  2. Sprinkle topping onto each muffin. I didn’t use all of my streusel but you definitely could if you put more streusel per muffin than I did
  3. Bake your muffins for 17-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of a muffin. Mine took 17 minutes
  4. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before you eat them. I liked these a lot better cooled vs. hot because the texture and taste settled a bit

 

Gingerbread Brownies

Looking for something a little different for your holiday dessert tray? Have I got the treat for you!

These Gingerbread Brownies combine the best parts of their namesake baked goods. You get the molasses depth of gingerbread, and the richness of chocolate. This is basically a brownie recipe, with molasses and brown sugar in there to create a new take on gingerbread. It’s a simple recipe, too: you just use a single saucepan to create these beauties.

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Remember how I waxed poetic about the spicy dough in last week’s gingersnap recipe? This recipe is pretty much the opposite take on gingerbread: molasses is now the star. The molasses flavor is pretty intense, so be warned if you don’t actually like how molasses tastes! You can use light brown sugar instead of dark to tone it down a bit, if you want… but I didn’t. Mine turned out super chewy and dense with an amazing chocolate start, and a deep, molasses finish.

I made these the night before a holiday event, and they kept just fine in an airtight container. The flavor got more intense over time. I didn’t mind that, but you might want to make these the same day you plan to serve them (or freeze them ’til you’re ready to enjoy!). While these aren’t cookies, you could probably get away with bringing them to a cookie exchange with some sort of logic about how gingerbread often IS a cookie. I don’t think people will reject your logic once they take a bite!

Gingerbread Brownies

Original recipe:  I heart eating. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: 16-25 depending on how you cut your brownies

Total Time: ~55 minutes

Cook Time: 30-35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/3 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed (dark brown for more intensity, light brown if you want to dial down the flavor a bit) 
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Use a large saucepan to melt your butter and chocolate together. Use low heat for this, and stir the mixture frequently so it’s properly mixed
  3. Once it’s fully melted together, remove the saucepan from the heat
  4. Add in your molasses, granulated sugar and brown sugar. Try to use a whisk, but be careful not to scratch your pan! I used a rubber whisk to play it safe and you’d probably be fine with a wooden spoon, too
  5. Whisk in your eggs until fully combined
  6. Add your flour, salt, cinnamon and ginger, then whisk again until the dry ingredients are just incorporated
  7. Grab a 9-inch square pan and grease it so your brownies don’t stick
  8. Pour your batter into the pan
  9. Bake for 30-35 minutes, depending on your oven
  10. Let cool fully in the pan
  11. Dust with powdered sugar right before you serve the brownies. If you do it too early, the sugar will dissolve and you won’t even see it!*

*I literally carried around a bag of powdered sugar all day so I’d have it to dust my brownies right before putting them out at an afternoon party. The things I do for baked goods…

 

Cookie Swap Tips and Tricks

Cookie swaps are one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. What’s better than seeing friends and eating cookies at the same time? I’ve hosted a few cookie exchanges over the years, and hope the tradition continues. But this isn’t Martha Stewart’s cookie swap: my take on this classic event is light on rules, and heavy on flexibility.

I host a few potluck-like events every year and my approach is pretty much always the same. I want to make it as easy as possible for people to come, enjoy themselves and want to come again. I’d rather someone show up to my party than worry about bringing the right dish for a theme, or following the right rules for cookies. So, I keep it simple.

Here are my tips for a fun holiday exchange with less stress… but lots of dessert.

It’s about nibbling, not gifting: Martha tells you to bring a dozen cookies per swap attendee so they can take home lots of cookies, and maybe even re-gift them later. That’s a lot of batches! Instead, I tell people to simply bring 1 batch of whatever they decide to bake, regardless of the yield. Trust me: there are always enough cookies to go around. And there are always extra cookies, too, which usually end up at my office the following Monday (you’re so welcome, team!).

old-cookie-swapMake it easy to contribute: I make sure to clarify that any kind of treat will do: homemade, semi-homemade or even purchased. No snobbery allowed! For some people, this is the only time they bake all year and they get really excited. Other people think baking sounds terrible, or they just don’t have the time– and I want them to come, too.

Label your goods: I put out paper so people can label their cookies. I don’t write out the full ingredient list, but of course you could. I do write if something is allergen-free, though, so those people know what’s safe to eat. This year we had a couple people who don’t eat dairy so I made these rosemary chocolate chip cookies with dairy-free chocolate, and labeled the batch “dairy free.”

swap-meat

Tons of cookies… and meat

Ask some people to NOT bring cookies: My first year hosting a swap, I only bought one party-sized bag of Chex Mix to accompany all the cookies. Rookie mistake! You need to have some savory snacks on hand to balance all the sweetness. This year we specifically asked people to sign up for savory things to make sure we had a good mix–and people brought everything from jicama to hummus.

Help people get their cookies home: I’ve been providing baggies so people can take cookies home, but I do think Martha is right here, and boxes are better. Next year I’ll get boxes so the cookies aren’t smushed in transit.

Eat lots of cookies: This is obviously the most important rule! You don’t have to eat a full cookie of every single type. We usually end up cutting cookies into pieces and sharing them so we can try more varieties.

And one extra tip if you plan to bake a lot–plan, plan plan: Whenever I host an event, I contribute a lot of food. I made 5 different recipes for this year’s cookie exchange, so I carefully planned ahead. I am super organized about it, and think through the right order of operations  based on things like equipment needed, time to bake, prep needs, etc. I also look at which doughs have to chill, which cookies can be made the night before, etc.

Here are the recipes I made for this year’s cookie exchange, plus some past favorites:

And if you want even more recipe ideas, check out my Cookie Swap Season board.

swap-image

This year’s bounty

Nutella-Stuffed Gingersnaps

This is my all-time favorite gingersnap recipe. Yup, I said it: I’m playing favorites.

img_2578I’ve made many ginger cookies over the years, but this one takes the proverbial cake (cookie cake, maybe?). Because when it comes to gingersnaps, I like ’em spicy. And thanks to a generous dose of fresh ginger, this gingersnap gives a good bit of bite in every, well, bite. Fresh ginger, cloves and cinnamon work together for a truly excellent dough. Then you roll these cookies in sugar and ground ginger so they get a nice crackly top.

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Check out that Nutella center!

All that goodness… and we haven’t even talked about the Nutella middles yet! The gingersnap dough would be great on its own, but Broma Bakery blogger Sarah didn’t stop there: she also stuffed the dough with balls of Nutella. So every time you chomp into a cookie, you get your spicy ginger base and then a surprise wallop of hazelnut, chocolatey goodness.

Now, if you read this blog regularly, you know I love stuffing cookies. I’ve stuffed cookie butter, caramelsThin Mints–all winners! And yet, this Nutella-Stuffed Gingersnap is one of my favorite cookies of 2016. I brought these to a cookie swap last week, and my friends commented that it’s an unusual combo, but just makes so much sense when you think about it. So why don’t you think about it for a minute… then race to the store for some fresh ginger, and make these cookies!

Make sure to follow the step where you freeze your Nutella for a bit. This makes it much easier to stuff the cookies, since room temp Nutella can be a nightmare to work with. You can play around with the size of Nutella balls to achieve your desired cookie/Nutella ratio.

One last tip: If you have extra ginger when you’re done with these, go make these Chocolate Ginger Cookies next. You’ll be the hit of your next cookie exchange!

Nutella-Stuffed Gingersnaps

Original recipe: Broma Bakery. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: 18 cookies if you use 1/2 tablespoon of Nutella per cookie. Depending on your cookie/Nutella ratio, you’ll get a different number of cookies out of this. 

Total Time: 50 minutes, including the time to freeze your Nutella balls

Cook Time: 9-10 minutes 

Ingredients

Dough 

  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp Nutella
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup dark molasses
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp chopped, peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cloves

Topping 

  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger

Instructions 

Prep your Nutella 

Line a flat plate with parchment paper. Scoop 1/2 tablespoon balls of Nutella onto the cookie sheet, squishing down each ball a bit so it’s a little flatter. Repeat until you’re out of Nutella. Put your plate in the freezer at least 15 minutes, until the balls are fully firm.

Make your cookies 

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Prep your ginger: peel it, then chop it into tiny bits and measure it out
  3. In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, molasses, egg, vanilla and fresh ginger
  4. Use a separate bowl to mix your flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and cloves
  5. Fold your dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon until combine
  6. Take out your plate of Nutella balls, and let’s start stuffing!
  7. Scoop out about an ounce of dough and break it apart into two halves, then put the Nutella ball inside. Pinch around the edges so the Nutella is totally sealed in the middle. You might need to “patch” your dough with additional dough to get the Nutella totally sealed in there. Once it’s sealed, roll it in your hands a little to make sure it’s round. Then, place the dough mound on your cookie sheet and press down flatten it slightly. Each mound should be about 3/4 inch thick
  8. Repeat this process until you’re out of Nutella or dough… whichever comes first. I got 18 cookies, but had a couple extra Nutella balls because of the dough/Nutella ratio
  9. Mix together your sugar and ground ginger topping
  10. Dip each flattened cookie into the coating, then place it back on your prepared baking sheet. Try to do 1 cookie sheet at a time so your cookies crack properly
  11. Bake each sheet of cookies for 9-10 minutes. Mine took 9. Watch your bake time so the cookies stay soft!

Straight out of the oven, the Nutella is warm and gooey. These keep really well–the Nutella firms up a bit over time, but you can always pop it back in the microwave for a gooey center. These also freeze nicely so you can keep a few around for later!

I’ll share more cookie ideas next week, but you can check out my Cookie Swap Season Pinterest board in the meantime!

Web-Hopping vol. 25

I love holiday baking season. The gingerbread, the peppermint, the beautifully decorated cookies. There’s just so much to bake and taste!  I’ve already started digging into my holiday recipe collection. Some of these are really easy recipes… others, not so much. I know I can’t make it to everything on my list, but I’ve definitely set some priorities for where to start. Here are a few of the holiday baking recipes I’m most excited about this year, from complex desserts to easy breakfast treats.

Ginger apple molasses cake with mascarpone frosting: What an incredible flavor combo! This cake would be the perfect cake for a festive holiday meal. I just tried my first recipe from the Broma Bakery blog today and it was fabulous, so I’d definitely trust this cake recipe too.

Ginger cakes: The first time I tasted gingerbread was at Colonial Williamsburg, funnily enough. It was this soft, pillowy, cakey cookie and I’ve dreamt of it for years, but have never found gingerbread that comes close to that texture. So obviously I have to give this recipe a shot!

christmas_shortbread_bites

From Cooking Classy

Funfetti shortbread bites: These adorable little cookies are ALL OVER Pinterest. I’m on Pinterest all the time for work (so tough, right?) and I just keep seeing these beauties pop out at me. So clearly they need to happen soon.

Fudgy mint brownies: I impulse bought mint Oreos the other day, and now I know what I’m going to do with them! Tossing them into brownie batter sounds awesome.

white-chocolate-peppermint-cookies-3

From Baked in AZ

White chocolate peppermint crunch cookies: These would be fabulous for a cookie exchange! I love peppermint, and it goes so nicely with white chocolate.

Pumpkin gingerbread: I’ve actually made this before, but it’s been a few years so it is back on my list. Pumpkin and gingerbread go really nice together and this is a perfect breakfast treat.

Want more holiday recipe inspiration? Check out my Cookie Swap and Holiday Baking boards on Pinterest!

 

Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter Chippers

This easy recipe puts a pumpkin spice twist on the classic chocolate chip cookie. The recipe calls for a rather standard list of ingredients–with one very important, very notable exception. What’s that, you say? Why, Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter of course.

I’m obsessed with Trader Joe’s pumpkin-flavored cookie butter because it combines so many wonderful things: nutmeg, pumpkin and little bits of cookie, to name a few. In this recipe, the cookie butter gets mixed right into your cookie dough. It adds a really satisfying complexity with nuanced flavors.This is a pretty cakey chocolate chip cookie, so the insides are soft and delightful. Like most things “pumpkin spice,” you’ll taste the cookie butter’s spice mix more than its pumpkin.

img_2396I’ve baked up many cookie butter recipes in the last couple years, from Cookie Butter-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies to Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter Blondies. I’ll take cookie butter any way you want to serve it… but I definitely prefer using it in base doughs rather than using it as a filling. It’s an easy way to amp up the flavor in simple recipes!

For these Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter Chippers, I started with a recipe for Biscoff cookies, and simply swapped in the seasonal cookie butter flavor. I bet these would be delicious with standard cookie butter, too! You could try that same trick with other cookie butter recipes, like these Cookie Butter Bars with Nutella Swirls.

Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter Chippers

Original recipe: Sally’s Baking Addiction, with a cookie butter flavor swap. I’ve written things a bit and added commentary, too. 

Yield: 20 cookies 

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 45 minutes for the recipe, total of 4 hours including chill time 

Cook Time: 9 minutes 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (you can swap in dark if you need to)
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter
  • 2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 and 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Step by Step Directions

Make your dough 

  1. Use your mixer to beat the butter for a minute on medium speed until it’s smooth and creamy
  2. Add your granulated sugar and brown sugar, then beat the mixture on medium-high until it’s fluffy and light in color
  3. Beat in the egg, extra egg yolk and vanilla on high speed
  4. Beat in the cookie butter until your entire mixture is completely combined
  5. Use a separate bowl to whisk the flour, baking soda, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt until combined
  6. Turn your mixer to low speed, then slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients
  7. Switch the mixer to high speed to beat in your chocolate chips
  8. Cover your dough tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and chill for at least 3 hours, and up to 3 days. Chilling gives the dough great flavor, so don’t skip this step. You can also freeze dough balls if you want to bake the cookies later on

Bake your cookies 

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Let your dough sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes so it’s easier to scoop into balls
  3. Start scooping doughs of ball onto your lined baking sheets
  4. Bake the cookies 9-10 minutes (mine took 9 minutes on the dot!). They’ll look pretty undone in the centers and really soft-but they’ll finish firming up as they cool, so don’t worry about it!
  5. Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes on their baking sheets, then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely

These will keep for up to a week if you store them in a covered container, or in your fridge.

 

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Apple Cookies

There are only two ways I’ll eat green apples: baked into something delicious, or smothered in peanut butter. This recipe checks both boxes in one delightful cookie.

img_2179-1These cookies have an oatmeal peanut butter base that’s nutty and satisfying. You mix in little chunks of apple, which soften up in the oven. Cinnamon and allspice add the perfect hint of spice, a bit like what you’d find in apple pie. It’s a sweet, nutty, hearty combination, with a complementary mix of flavors in every bite. I picked this recipe to use up the last of my giant bag of Granny Smiths. Now that I’ve tried these cookies, though, I think the reverse is going to happen: I’ll start buying green apples just to make another batch of Oatmeal Peanut Butter Apple Cookies

Since these cookies use fresh apple, they’re best eaten the day you make them. The apples get mushy over time and make your cookies a bit mushy. These still got rave reviews for flavor on Day 2, but the texture was much better on Day 1. By the time I put these out for the lunch crowd at my office, they’d already lost their shape and were falling into soggy pieces. Very delicious, very peanut buttery pieces.

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Apple Cookies

Original recipe: Two Peas and their Pod. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: 20 cookies

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 35 minutes

Cook Time: 11 minutes 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup diced apple, peeled

Step by Step Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together your flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt
  3. Use your mixer to beat the butter, sugar and brown sugar together until it’s smooth and creamy
  4. Add in your peanut butter and mix it all again until it’s smooth
  5. Add your egg and vanilla, then mix the dough again
  6. Turn your mixer to “low” and add in the flour mixture bit by bit. Mix until it’s just combined
  7. Stir in your oats and apples by hand with a spoon
  8. Roll the dough into tablespoon sized balls and place them on a lined cookie sheet. Make sure to bake the dough right away–if you let it sit out, it will get really runny because the apples add moisture!
  9. Bake the cookies 11-12 minutes, or until light and golden brown around the edges
  10. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Make sure they’re actually, really, truly cool before you try moving them again… or else they will fall apart.