Mint M&M Brownies

I debated saving this recipe for another day since my last post was also a chocolate mint recipe. But, thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, I kept seeing minty green treats pop up all over my feeds. And every time I did, I started thinking about these brownies again. So, I think it’s only fair I share these brownies today, while mint and shades of green are on your brain.

IMG_3308Mint M&Ms are pretty incredible. They taste a bit like Andes Mints, and a bit like those pastel mint candies some restaurants keep in a dish at the hostess table. They have a nice crunchy shell, and then a deliciously smooth, chocolate mint center. Plus, they come in a variety of green hues, so they add a fun bit of color when you bake with them.

I bought these M&Ms a while ago without a real plan, and decided they’d taste great mixed into brownies. I turned to a trusty brownie recipes from Sally’s Baking Addiction and simply mixed in my M&Ms instead of chocolate chips. These are very fudgy, dense brownies, with a rich chocolate base. They were the perfect base for Mint M&Ms!

These are a one bowl recipe and pretty quick to whip up, so they’re a great “brownies on a whim” recipe too. And if you don’t happen to have Mint M&Ms on hand, you could just use chocolate chips or swap in any other baking bits you like. I bet you Reese’s Pieces would be awesome–or caramel bits!

Mint M&M Brownies

Original recipe:  Sally’s Baking Addiction. I’ve made some swaps and rewritten things a bit. 

Yield: 30 brownies

Total Time: ~50 minutes 

Cook Time: ~30-36 minutes 

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 oz of a semi sweet chocolate bar, coarsely chopped (you need 4 ounces total, but add the chocolate in two increments at two different points!)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unsweetened natural or dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 oz of a semi sweet chocolate bar, coarsely chopped
  • 1 and 1/4 cups Mint M&Ms, chocolate chips or any other mix-in!

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Grease a 9×13 pan with foil or parchment paper, leaving a little hanging over the sides so it’s easier to pull them out later
  3. Use a microwave safe bowl to melt your butter and 2 ounces of chopped chocolate. Melt in 30 second increments, whisking after each increment to make sure the ingredients to make sure the ingredients are mixed together. Do this until your mixture is smooth but be careful not to go too far–chocolate can burn!
  4. Whisk in your sugar until the mixture is completely combined
  5. Whisk in your eggs and vanilla. At this point the batter will be light brown
  6. Add in your cocoa powder, flour, salt and the other 2 ounces of chopped chocolate. Fold it all together with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula
  7. Mix in your M&Ms or other baking bits. Do this gently with your spoon or spatula, and be careful not to overmix the batter
  8. Pour your batter into the prepared pan. It will be super thick so you’ll need to use your spatula to spread it around and even it out
  9. Bake your brownies for about 30-36 minutes. Check on them as soon as you smell that telltale smell of brownies float through your kitchen, even if it hasn’t been 30 minutes yet. Use a toothpick in the center to check if they’re done. You’re looking for a few moist crumbs on the toothpick. If there is still wet batter on the toothpick, keep the brownies in the oven a bit longer. Mine took 35 minutes altogether
  10. Let the brownies cool completely on a wire rack before you cut them. If you try to cut brownies before they’re cool, they tend to crumble all over the place!

These will keep in an airtight container for about a week. Or, freeze them!

 

 

Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: gooey butter cake is one of America’s most underrated desserts. Its name actually makes total sense: the bottom layer is cakey, and the top layer is gooey. That texture combo makes every bite interesting… and the ingredient list makes every bite yummy, too. Gooey Butter Cake definitely lives up to its name, and you just have to try it to understand.

file_0032And then once you try it… what’s next? Experimenting with flavors and mix-ins, obviously. I found this Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake recipe by a stroke of luck. I was planning to bake for a birthday and someone suggested I use cookie butter. I do that pretty often and didn’t want to make a repeat, so I turned to Pinterest for some new ideas. Up popped this recipe that marries my love of cookie butter with my love of gooey butter cake.

There are a few types of Gooey Butter Cake recipes out there. This one uses a pretty standard cake base, and I liked it more than some yeasted versions I’ve tried in the past. You mix cookie butter straight into the “gooey” layer, giving it that signature almost-caramelized, sort-of-gingery taste. Every bite rewards you with a decadent gooey start and a soft, cakey finish.

Biscoff Gooey Butter Cake

Original recipe: Butter Baking. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary. 

Yield: ~30 bars

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: ~1 hour

Cook Time: 35-40 min

Ingredients

Cake layer:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Gooey layer:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten (beat them before you even use them!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup Biscoff spread, or other brand of cookie butter (ex. Trader Joe’s sells one)
  • 16 oz powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350F
  2. Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper
  3. Start with your cake layer: mix your flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl
  4. Add your egg, butter, milk and vanilla, then stir until it’s just combined
  5. Pour your cake layer into the prepared pan, and smooth it out so it’s nice and even
  6. Then comes the gooey layer. Start by beating your cream cheese until it’s smooth
  7. Add eggs, Biscoff and vanilla, then beat it again until it is completely smooth and looks creamy
  8. Add your powdered sugar in small batches, a bit at a time. Beat each batch at a low speed until it’s combined
  9. Pour your gooey layer over the cake layer, and spread out evenly
  10. Bake for 35-40 minutes (mine took the full 40 minutes). Your edges will look golden. The center may look a bit underdone, but it will set as the pan cools. The top should look a bit shiny–mine ended up flaking quite a bit, but it didn’t affect taste at all!
  11. Once the pan is cool, cut it up into bars

My San Francisco Favorites

People often ask me about the best bakeries and ice cream shops in San Francisco. Friends joke that I’m like a walking encyclopedia to San Francisco’s best desserts: name a neighborhood or dessert type, and I’m sure to have a tip. I’m always happy to help other people experience SF’s best. So after quite some time of planning to do this but not actually doing it… I finally built my own San Francisco Treat Map.

This handy map plots out my top picks for baked goods, ice cream and coffee. You’ll find a mix of celebrated gems and places that don’t seem to get much press–but should. You can find the full map at the bottom of this post or over on its dedicated page. Click on the map markers to see menu tips and other notes.

And just in case you don’t feel like clicking all over a map… here’s a quick guide to my San Francisco favorites:

Where to find the best…

Cookies: Nob Hill’s Batter Bakery is my go-to for delicious cookies with a great texture. I love the cherry ginger, and they’re directly responsible for getting me hooked on herbs in cookies (their lavender sea salt shortbread is incredible). They’re known for their “sand angel,” a sort of molasses/snickerdoodle hybrid. Bonus tip: they do a cookie happy hour every day from 3-6 PM.

Croissants: Neighbor Bakehouse is one of my favorite 20160327_105821bakeries in the city, and their croissants are incredible. Imagine layers of the perfect buttery croissant dough, complemented by flavorful fillings. My favorite is the pistachio, which also includes a layer of blackberry jam. Their savory tarts are incredible too. (Review here)

Scones: Arizmendi is a co-op with locations scattered around the Bay Area. I’m particularly partial to their scones: they have the best crusty top and fluffy interior. Their mixed berry scones are my #1 pick. Their menu rotates, so if you’re lucky enough to visit when they’re offering chocolate cherry sourdough, make sure to scoop it up!

IMG_1957.jpgSticky buns, morning buns, etc: Marla Bakery is one of my favorite spots in the city thanks to their delectable baked goods, laid-back atmosphere and stellar brunch. Start your brunch with a sticky bun, or whatever morning pastry is on offer that day. (Review here)

Cake: Alright, my answer here depends on what you’re looking for. Seeking slices of American cake-and-frosting classics? SusieCakes is your place, and you should get the Celebration Cake or red velvet. Looking for more of a Euro-style cake that pairs spongey cake with denser fillings (jam, pastry cream, etc.)? Go to Moscow & Tiblisi Bakery and pick up the Sunshine Cake. And for cupcakes, make your way to Sift Dessert Bar in Pacific Heights, where the almond cupcake makes me swoon.

10474609_10100721491442192_1525715483481751452_nIce cream: Swensen’s opened at the corner of Union and Hyde in 1948. They’ve since expanded into an international chain but this location is the classic, and way old-school. My favorite flavors are the Swiss Orange (chocolate orange) and the peppermint that appears during the holidays.

Gelato: Lush Gelato has a few locations around the Bay Area. Their gelato tastes very fresh and you can tell they use high quality ingredients. They offer a range of classic and edgier flavors. I especially like their cheese flavors: mascarpone, ricotta and the like.

Macarons: Chantal Guillon, without a doubt. They offer everything from chocolate to Persian rose to seasonal flavors like yuzu hazlenut. The shells have just the right amount of crisp, and all the fillings are balanced and delicious.

Bread: The Mill, which gets extra points because their lead baker’s name is actually Josey Baker. Mondays and Wednesdays are pizza nights, so you can grab tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s bread in the same fell swoop.

IMG_3047.JPGCoffee: I spend a lot of time at coffee shops, and Contraband Coffee Bar is my favorite. I get the Black Market every single time–it’s a medium dark specialty drip. Friends go gaga for their espresso. Contraband also gets bonus points for being the first place I tried a Neighbor Bakehouse pastry!

Avocado toast: Avocado toast is a strangely contentious category in these parts, and my vote goes to Cafe St. Jorge near Bernal Heights. Wheat toast is topped with a generous helping of smashed avocado, chili and lemon. Mmmm.

Spin on s’mores: Yes this deserves its own category, and the honor goes to Dandelion Chocolate in the Mission. Their version includes a homemade graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate ganache. They toast it to order, too!

Think I’m missing somewhere special? Drop me a line at culturecookies@gmail.com.

Sour Cream Cut Out Cookies

There’s something so delightful about cut out cookies. The mere act of using a cookie cutter gives cookies a little something extra–a dash of personality, if you will. I always want to buy cookie cutters, but tell myself it’s a bad idea since my kitchen is already crammed to the brim. For now, I own exactly two cutters: a heart and a bow, both pilfered from my mom. Since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, it seemed like the perfect time to take out my cutters and whip up some cut out cookies.

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I’ve tried several cut out recipes over the years, including one that I tracked down from my 5th grade teacher. The recipe I’m sharing today is pretty standard. They’re basically sugar cookies, but sour cream adds moisture and makes the cookies especially soft and chewy. This frosting is pretty sweet, so I used a thin layer rather than slathering it on thick. You could swap in a different frosting, of course…. I won’t tattle.

Make sure to allow at least six hours for your dough to chill before you bake. The recipe says you can freeze unfrosted cookies, but I preferred these fresh out of the oven. It seemed like something changed texturally when I froze extra cookies.

You can obviously use any cutter you’d like, for any occasion. I especially loved my heart cookies (the bows were a little puffier than I expected). They’re perfect for school parties, your Valentine… or a little self-love for yourself.

Sour Cream Cut Out Cookies

Original recipe: Chocolate with Grace. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: About 50 cookies (original recipe says 60 but it obviously depends on your cookie cutter)

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 2 hours to make the cookies, at least 6 hours to chill the dough 

Cook Time: ~12 minutes

Ingredients

Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup sour cream

Frosting

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-4 tsp milk or heavy cream, at room temperature

Directions

Make your dough 

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until it’s light and fluffy
  2. Beat in the eggs and vanilla
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk your flour, salt and baking soda
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, alternating each dry addition with some of your sour cream. This is when things got messy, so I recommend using a mixer guard if you have one
  5. Stir the ingredients until they’re fully combined
  6. Chill your dough at least 6 hours–overnight is better if you can!

Bake your cookies 

  1. Preheat your oven to 325F
  2. On a well-floured surface, roll out your dough to about 1/3 inch thick. Make sure to keep things floured up, since this is a pretty sticky dough. Keep extra dough in the fridge until you’re ready for it
  3. Cut out your cookies, and place them on a lined cookie sheet
  4. Bake your cookies 9-14 minutes. Bake time will depend on your cutters: my hearts baked quicker than my bows. The cookies will still be a little pale when they’re done, so be careful not to overbake
  5. Let the cookies cool for a minute on the sheet, then remove them to a rack so they cool all the way

Frost your cookies 

  1. Beat your butter 2-3 minutes, until it’s fluffy
  2. Beat in the powdered sugar and vanilla, plus enough milk or cream to achieve your desired consistency. I used two teaspoons of milk
  3. You can tint your frosting if you’d like, but I chose not to
  4. Frost your cookies and decorate as you’d like!

Gingerbread Waffles

Chances are good that you have some extra molasses sitting around from holiday baking. Molasses keeps for a while but… why let it crowd your shelf? Why not make gingerbread waffles instead?

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I’m a big believer in gingerbread, and think its flavors work everywhere from breakfast to dessert. In this recipe, molasses is the star. You add a good number of spices, but the final waffle really gives off a rich, molasses taste. It’s intense, and satisfying, and delicious.

You’ll need to play around with your waffle iron a bit to figure out the right combo of settings and timing. My iron has 6 heat settings, and I turned it to 3.5 for these beauties. I also discovered that the waffles crisp up as they sit, so don’t worry if your waffles don’t look fully cooked when you take them out.

Gingerbread Waffles

Original recipe: Smitten Kitchen. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: We got 5 waffles out of this. Use my pictures for reference, since every waffle iron is different and the iron affects yield.

Total Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: Depends on your waffle iron and your yield! I spent about 15 minutes cooking these up

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt or table salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (Or use dry buttermilk, like I did. If you use dry buttermilk, make sure to follow the measurement directions on your specific package)
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus extra for brushing waffle iron

Directions

  1. Use a large bowl to whisk your flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda and salt. If you’re using dry buttermilk, this is when you’ll add your powder, too.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk your buttermilk, molasses, brown sugar, granulated sugar, egg and butter. Whisk until it looks fully combined. Your butter might firm up a bit and make white splotches in the batter–don’t worry about it!
  3. Pour your wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined. Make sure to check the bottom of your bowl before declaring yourself done: dry ingredients like to hide down there
  4. Heat your waffle iron to a middle eat. For me, that meant heating level 3.5 out of 6
  5. Spray your iron lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Don’t skip this step, or you won’t be able to get your waffles out later
  6. Fill your iron about 3/4 of the way full
  7. Cook according to your iron. My iron beeps when it thinks the waffles are done, and it’s usually pretty spot-on. The waffles crisped up a bit more once I took them out
  8. Open your iron, and let the waffles sit for about 30 seconds so they steam off a bit. Use tongs or a spatula to get the waffle out of the iron. They might stick a bit, so be patient and move slowly
  9. Use a separate plate for each waffle so they don’t stick together

You can dust these lightly with powdered sugar, or dunk them in maple syrup. They really don’t need any topping at all: they’re so delightfully rich and flavorful on their own!

The 2016 Baking Roundup

2017 is fresh out the gates! But before we kick off a new year of Sugarsmith, let’s take a look at what happened in 2016. Every year I write an “annual report” to sum up key facts and stats. I started doing the same thing for Sugarsmith last year–except here, it’s all about baking. Since I keep a super detailed log of everything I bake, it’s pretty simple to pull the numbers.

In 2016, I baked 68 times, including 60 new recipes. When I looked back at my 2015 report, I was sort of shocked that I only baked 39 times in 2015. That’s a 74% increase year-over-year! I wondered when all this baking happened, so I took a closer look at the dates in my baking log. Sometimes I bake in spurts: for example, I made 7 recipes for my birthday. But usually, I make one recipe at a time. How did that add up to 68?

Well, up until August I made 33 recipes. From August-December, I made an additional 35. That means I seriously picked up the pace in those final 4 months. And it makes total sense: I switched jobs in August and stopped traveling for work. Of course! If I’m home more, I bake more.

baking-chart

My baking always skews to cookies and bars, because they’re easiest to transport and easiest to share. Every year I declare I’m going to make more breakfast and more cakes–but then it just doesn’t happen. Let’s hope for a step-change this year, at least.

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I was surprised that my cakes trended toward non-chocolate flavors. But then I remembered those amazing strawberry cupcakes, and the stellar buttermilk cupcakes I still haven’t shared with you (sorry!). I’ll never say no to chocolate in a cake… but I definitely don’t need it, either.

Top Posts on Sugarsmith for 2016 

My Personal 2016 Favorites

2016 Fun Facts 

  • Baking-related events I hosted: 3
  • Times my log mentions bringing baked goods to a social event I was NOT hosting: 17
  • Bags of chocolate chips currently in my cupboard: 10 (whoops)
  • Recipes made where I stuffed one thing into another thing: 10 
  • Baking fails recorded in my log: 6 (that’s 9% of the recipes I made!)
  • Favorite bloggers I got to interview: 1 (Molly Yeh, and it was awesome)

2017 Baking Resolutions 

  • Master my newly acquired springform pan (thanks, Jen!)
  • Play with matcha as an ingredient
  • Stop pantry loading specialty ingredients before I really need them (Only because I lack an actual pantry. If you have one, I strongly encourage pantry loading.)

Thanks for a wonderful year, dear readers! 

pickmonkeekekeke

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