It will not come as a shock to you that one of my favorite aspects of the holidays is the food. My family has its own holiday traditions – almost all of which involve food. My mom makes mulligatawny soup every year on Christmas Eve. My dad makes a mouth-watering spice roast and his special steamed broccoli with lemon for Christmas Day. My mom makes a variety of cookies (my faves are the gingerbread cookies). And my father and I always made chocolates, which my mom would then arrange in adorable little boxes or on holiday plates and we’d distribute them to friends.
Tangent: Food is a very normal thing to give as a gift. But I grew up with parents and friends who made the dish part of the gift. So we always had a little stack of pretty glass or porcelain plates in the pantry, in case we needed to whip up a batch of cookies or mini-spanakopita to bring as a hostess gift. But we never intended to get the plate back. I always thought that was normal. But my mother in law seemed a little surprised when I brought her brownies and didn’t want the dish back. She told me that she’d always operated like so: Get a gift of food, and then make some food item of your own and return it on the same dish. Is either of these things normal for you?
Anyway. This year I am feeling definitely homesick for my parents. (First Christmas away from home EVER.) So I am trying to fill the void with food.
Today, in fact, I’m making Non-Denominational Holiday Cookies* to give to our apartment complex’s staff.
But last Saturday – while my husband was at the hospital, on our anniversary – I made Holiday Brownies. And if you are looking for something festive to bring to an upcoming holiday party, I highly recommend them. While they may not be the chocolatey-est brownies I’ve ever had, they are fudgy and the peppermint gives them a nice wintry taste.
The recipe is for “Ultimate Fudgy Brownies” from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (which is awesome, by the way). The “holiday” part of the recipe comes from my imagination.
A big bag of peppermint candies. I just grabbed a few handfuls from the bulk candy section of our grocery store. More is better.
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1.25 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
.5 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1. Unwrap all the peppermint candies. Put all but a few of them into a Ziploc bag and beat the hell out of them with a hammer. But, you know, be gentle. Go for small pieces but not dust. Like so.
2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, then coat lightly with vegetable oil spray. Melt the chocolates, butter, and cocoa in the microwave, stirring often, 1 to 3 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly.
3. Whisk the sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt together in a large bowl until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until smooth. Stir in the flour until no streaks remain.
4. Spread the peppermint candy pieces in an even layer over the bottom of the pan. Make it as thick or as thin as you want. But keep in mind that it can be, um, kind of hard to cut the brownies when the layer is too thick. I speak from experience.
5. Scrape the batter onto the layer of peppermint and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes.
6. Let cool completely on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, before removing the brownies from the pan and cutting into squares.
7. Sprinkle some of the remaining peppermint candies on top of the cooled brownies to make them photo-worthy.
To Make Ahead
The uncut brownies can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Do not cut the brownies until ready to serve or they will dry out. Listen to the Test Kitchen people, Internet. I KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE THAT THEY ARE RIGHT. I ignored this last little bit and cut the brownies into pieces (mainly for the photo op). Then I stored them in an air-tight container on top of our kitchen cabinet. They lasted for a week. But the edges did get pretty dry and – worse – the peppermint candies got a little moist. If you put them in the microwave for 15 seconds or so before eating, these side effects go away. But still. Ew.
* As in, Betty Crocker sugar cookies with multi-colored sprinkles mixed in. Yummy and totally inoffensive. I hope.