It’s the holidays. You’ve been nonstop busy for the last month. Christmas is just days away and you’re frantically trying to fit in all the errands, gift wrapping, visiting, you-name-it that’s still left to do. At times you stop and wonder why you do this to yourself, is this really worth all the hassle and stress, lalala… If this describes you, that’s just a coincidence because I’m talking about myself here. Is it just me or does it seem a little paradoxical to eagerly anticipate every year a season that always promises good cheer but instead delivers great stress? This past weekend as I made my “yet to do/buy” list, I began to feel the pressure mounting inside and once again, I had to stop and remind myself that this isn’t what Christmas is about. Stress and a to-do list shouldn’t define a joyful time of year, yet somehow, if we let them, they not only define it but become masters of and overtake all the good that Christmastime promises. Next year I plan to begin my Christmas planning early, accomplish my shopping early, even pack early so that on Christmas week I can relax with steaming cups of Peppermint Bark tea while cookies and brownies bake in the oven and Christmas carols play in the background.
Joy, cheer, being with the people we love and simply taking the time to soak in all the beauty, tradition, and thousands of years worth of song and story that float over and around our lives at this time of year should be what defines this season – but it can only happen if we let go of our lists and ignore the retailers’ pressure to buy, buy, buy while you still have time. Next year I plan to conquer the material part of Christmas early, rather than having it conquer me again, as it did this year.
Baking is my stress-relief and my ultimate expression of cheer, so it was no surprise then that I ended up in the kitchen this past weekend, whipping out a batch of brownies that was not only easy and quick, but so decadent in taste that the result totally belies its ease of preparation. If you need a last-minute dessert for a party or perhaps a sweet something for unexpected guests dropping by, I recommend these brownies for a quick, homemade treat that everyone will love.
I made a change to the original Epicurious recipe by adding espresso powder to enhance the cocoa, and for a festive touch, decided to add some Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips. You can’t go wrong having a bag of this stuff around, as it can be added to cookies, cakes and brownies for a delightful Christmas addend to regular recipes.
Peppermint Crunch Brownies
adapted from Epicurious, 2013
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup Scharffen Berger natural unsweetened cocoa powder*
1 tsp espresso powder**
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4-1/2 cups Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips, depending on taste (1/2 cup gives it a strong peppermint flavor). Reserve a few for garnish!
Preheat oven to 325 F. Spray an 8x8x2 pan with vegetable spray, completely coating pan.
Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let cool slightly. In the meantime, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and salt. Pour butter over mixture in a steady stream, whisking to combine. Add vanilla, whisking until mixed in. Add eggs one at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. Add flour and stir until just combined (but don’t overmix). Gently fold in desired amount of Andes peppermint crunch chips. Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top.
Bake until top begins to crack and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 25-30 minutes. If you like super-fudgy brownies, I recommend taking out a teeny bit early.
Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cool completely before cutting and serving. Makes 16.
*I used Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder in a pinch and it worked great.
**NOT instant coffee granules, but espresso powder. It may be hard to find, but it’s well worth tracking down. I like Williams-Sonoma’s as it is a good quality and amount for an affordable price.
Happy Baking, dear friends… xo