Homemade Granola Bars

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Granola bars are my latest breakfast. They’re also one of my children’s favorite snacks, so we go through a lot of them. I wanted to try to make some myself so I didn’t have to keep buying them all the time, and so I could make a slightly healthier alternative than the sugary processed kind. But it’s not easy to replicate the chewy texture that still sticks together as a proper granola bar. I’ve tried making them before and they either fall apart or they’re more like a dessert.

Finally I found this recipe, which has great ingredients such as whole oats, nuts, honey, and healthy add-ins like shredded coconut. It uses a little butter and sugar, which is not ideal for a totally healthy granola bar, but it helps to make it all stick together. And it does stick together.

Thanks to the blog with the great name Bless This Mess Please for the recipe (which I only slightly adjusted).

2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cups total extra mix-ins (such as coconut flakes)

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C degrees. Line a 9- or 8-inch square baking dish with lightly greased parchment or foil.

Place the oats and nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly toasted. Place the nuts and oats in a large bowl.

While the oats are toasting, put the honey, butter, and brown sugar to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. When butter mixture is ready, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt.

Pour this mixture over the oats and nuts and stir to combine. Add any extra ingredients and stir to combine. Make sure none of the oats are dry.

Place in prepared pan and use a rubber spatula or the back of a greased spoon to press mixture into the pan. Put in refrigerator for at least two hours, then cut into bars.

Other suggested mix-ins include dried fruit, miniature chocolate chips, and sunflower seeds, but you can play around with ingredients and add whatever you’d like.

Easy Dessert Recipes for When You’re Stuck at Home

Cooking is a great activity while we’re all stuck at home these days, trying to find things to do. Learn some new recipes, make some comfort food, or spend time cooking with someone. If you have children, cooking can be a fun activity together. Food is one way we can help ourselves feel better during this crazy time.

I looked through my dessert cookbook and found four recipes that are easy and require five ingredients or fewer, mostly with items you’re still likely to find at the store (though we had a hard time finding eggs the other day). These are favorites of mine.

Coconut Macaroons
1 14-oz. package sweetened shredded coconut
2/3 cup sugar
6 Tbsp. flour
¼ tsp. salt
4 egg whites
And I always include this, but you can make it optional: 1 tsp. almond extract

Heat oven to 325F (about 160C) degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet. Mix everything but the egg whites in a large bowl. Stir in the egg whites, and the almond extract if using, until blended. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking sheet and bake 20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

And to use up the yolks, make this next recipe! (You don’t even have to bake it!)

Key Lime Pie
1 pre-made graham cracker crumb crust
4 egg yolks
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup + 1 Tbsp. key lime juice

Beat the egg yolks until lemony (you’ll notice the color change to more of a yellow color), then add sweetened condensed milk and continue beating for 3 minutes. Pour in the key lime juice and beat until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Pour into prepared shell and refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving.

Tip: Whipped cream is great to have on top when you serve it.

Easiest Cookies Ever
1 box of cake mix – any kind is fine, but I use white cake mix
1 stick of butter, softened
1 egg

Mix everything in a bowl, form into balls, and bake on greased baking sheets for 10 minutes at 350F (175C) degrees.

Frozen Lemonade Squares
9 graham cracker rectangles
¼ cup butter
1 quart (4 cups/1/4 gallon) frozen vanilla yogurt, softened
6 oz. (half a can) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed (make lemonade with the rest!)
Optional: Blueberries

Finely crush graham crackers. Melt butter and mix with crumbs. Press into bottom of 9-inch square metal pan. Thoroughly mix yogurt and lemonade concentrate. Spread over crust. Freeze 4 hours or until firm. Serve with blueberries on top.

Dark Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Cookies

For Halloween, I wanted to make some dark cut-out sugar cookies so I could decorate them with white icing that would stand out. I knew exactly what I wanted — flat cookies that I could roll out and cut into shapes. They needed to be very dark (it’s for Halloween, after all), not just kind of brown. I had cut out a picture of the ghost cookies a while ago (I forget the source) and wanted to copy them.

A search turned up this recipe from the American Butter Institute, of all places! (Something about their name seems very trustworthy for a cookie recipe.) The picture of these cookies on their site was beautiful. I’m glad I tried it — the cookies were delicious and just what I was looking for.

These would make nice chocolate wafer cookies if you roll them thin enough and watch them closely in the oven to make sure they don’t burn. They’re also just a nice twist on regular sugar cookie cut-outs. The institute’s site shows them in snowflake shapes, for example.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder (dark, if possible)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating well until combined. Add flour mixture and beat until dough is smooth.

Form dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate one hour or until firm enough to roll.

Remove dough from refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out to 1/4-inch thickness. (Tip: If the dough sticks to the rolling pin, don’t use flour to make it not stick — dust it with cocoa powder so the dough stays brown!) Use cookie cutters to cut desired shapes; transfer cookies to non-stick baking sheet or baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Return to refrigerator for another 10 minutes. Turn oven to 350F (175C) degrees.

Remove cookies from refrigerator and bake 12 minutes, or until firm around edges. Let cookies cool on baking sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

FOR ICING: It’s easy! Put some confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar) in a small bowl. Add a few drops of water and mix with a spoon. Keep adding only a few drops at a time until it’s a good consistency for piping — you don’t want it too watery. If you’re not sure, then thicker is better than thinner. Spoon the icing into a plastic sandwich bag and snip off a very tiny corner. Then you can pipe it onto the cookies.

Nutella Brownies

When I posted the recipe for Nutella pancakes a few weeks ago, I mentioned Nutella brownies. I’m finally posting the recipe, which I’ve had for a few years now and is the only homemade brownie I will ever make.20190807_142943

Nutella brownies are as good as they sound! They are chocolatey and moist — not dry and cakey. They also bake to a nice height. Sometimes when I’ve sought a fudgy brownie, they come out flat and chewy. Not these. And just like Nutella on a spoon, they are irresistible.

I found this recipe on a site called Life in Pleasantville that I’m really enjoying. (It has some recipes I’m eager to try.) No tweaks are needed, but self-control definitely is. Seriously — what do they put in Nutella to make it so unbelievably delicious?

4 large eggs
1 large egg white
725g container Nutella
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees. Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Blend in Nutella, butter, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to chocolate mixture and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.

Spread mixture into baking pan and bake 30-40 minutes. Brownies will appear slightly underbaked in center. Let cool. For your brownies to look their best, refrigerate the pan overnight before slicing — otherwise they’ll be crumbly.

M&M Cookies

thumbnail_20180203_130745It’s hard not to love M&M cookies — easy, fun, and just plain yummy.

Years ago in a magazine was a recipe for “cookies by the stack” — a single cookie dough recipe that could be used with any number of mix-ins, from coconut flakes and chopped nuts to dried fruit or chocolate pieces. I glued the entire magazine page into my cookbook because it was so useful. I’ve made some of the variations on the page, but I use the recipe most often for chocolate chip cookies (see below).

These are going to taste good no matter what. It’s hard to mess them up! But if you want them to look good, too, there’s a trick: Mix only half of the M&Ms into the dough, and put the rest on by hand before they go in the oven. If you don’t, they won’t show up very well, as you can see here:

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The cookies on the right had all the M&Ms mixed into the dough. The cookies on the left had only half mixed in, with the rest put on by hand.

The food scientist and cookbook author Shirley Corriher, in her terrific book “Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed,” explains how shortening and butter can affect the spread of the dough and give you either a flat, crisp cookie or one that holds its shape. Butter melts over a narrow temperature range, so if you use all butter in the recipe, the cookies will spread soon after they go in the oven.

Shortening, on the other hand, stays the same texture over a wide temperature range, she says — so cookies made with part butter and part shortening will hold their shape better than if you use all butter. This recipe uses both in an equivalent ratio. Knowing the difference in fats, you can tweak the recipe how you like — if you want a crisper cookie, use more butter, for instance.

I mentioned chocolate chip cookies earlier. If you’d rather make those, just replace the 2 cups of M&Ms in this recipe with 2 cups of chocolate morsels (semi-sweet). Three other variations are below.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour

Set oven to 375F (190C) degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the shortening and butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the two sugars and baking soda and beat until fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in flour by hand, then add half the M&Ms.

Drop dough by slightly rounded tablespoons 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, then place reserved M&Ms on top (crowd them together for best results). Bake 10-12 minutes or until the edges are light brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

*The dough can be kept for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator, or frozen for up to 6 months (thaw overnight before baking).

Variations:

PEANUT BUTTER-CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Replace the M&Ms with 1 cup peanut butter morsels and 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels. Mix it all in the dough.

COCONUT-WALNUT COOKIES
Replace the M&Ms with 1 cup coconut flakes and 1 cup chopped walnuts.

FRUIT AND OATMEAL COOKIES
Substitute 1 cup rolled oats for 1 cup of the flour. Stir in 1 tsp. ground cinnamon into the flour mixture. Stir 6 oz. of dried fruit bits into the dough.

Cookie Frosting

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Adapt the decoration on your cookies, or the color of the frosting, for any holiday.

This creamy frosting is a fun, easy way to decorate cookies. It’s not as fancy or sophisticated as icing, which is smooth and glossier, but it’s simple and yummy, and decorations like sprinkles stick to it easily. It’s especially perfect for spreading on sugar cookies.

I got this recipe years ago from a Williams-Sonoma booklet on making Christmas cookies. I keep that booklet in the front pocket of my dessert recipe binder and refer to it often when making any kind of cookie that needs decorating.

This makes about 3/4 cup, or enough to frost 2 dozen regular cookies (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter).

With the brown vanilla extract, the frosting comes out an off-white color. Try a clear extract if you want it pure white, maybe playing around with some flavors of extract to see how it turns out. This can also easily be tinted with food coloring.

2 cups confectioner’s sugar (powdered or icing sugar)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
Food coloring, if desired

Sift the confectioner’s sugar into a large bowl about 1/2 cup at a time. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and cream. Using an electric hand mixer, beat on medium speed until creamy and spreadable.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

Forget any thoughts of those cookie cakes at the mall, because the only thing they have in common with this recipe is the name. Rather than looking simply like one big cookie (as delicious as that sounds), this is a cookie in a cake pan — thick and chewy in the middle with a crispy, buttery straight-sided crust. The slices could even be eaten with forks. (But don’t do that. Cookies are too much fun to be eaten with utensils.)

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The recipe comes from a recent issue of Southern Living magazine, where it was called a “skillet cookie,” baked in a cast-iron skillet. I swapped the skillet for a 10-inch springform pan, greased it well with butter, and followed the recipe as written.

 

If you ever want to serve cookies for dessert, this is how. And there will be no quibbling about who gets how many.

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 oz.) butter, softened
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups (about 9 oz.) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided

Preheat the oven to 325F (160C) degrees. Lightly coat a 10-inch springform pan with butter.

Beat brown sugar, granulated sugar, and butter with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, beating until bended.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Add to butter mixture gradually, beating at low speed until combined.

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Add 1 cup of the chocolate chips, beating until combined.

Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Top with remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips.

Bake in preheated oven until golden and set, about 50 minutes. Let stand at least 15 minutes before cutting into wedges.

Peanut Butter Oat Bars

This is like a peanut butter version of blondie brownies, but it’s slightly thicker thanks to the peanut butter. It uses natural, unsweetened peanut butter and whole oats, so you could kind of convince yourself it’s healthy — despite the chocolate morsels! Like brownies, it slices better and holds together better the next day, especially when it’s been stored in the fridge.Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars

It’s easy to make — you need only two bowls — and although you could use a mixer to cream the butter and sugar, it worked just as well to mix by hand.

Makes one batch in a 9×13-inch pan.

1 1/4 cup plain all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
16 oz. jar natural unsweetened peanut butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups whole oats
1 cup chocolate morsels, divided

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar, and peanut butter. Beat in eggs and vanilla, stir in flour mixture, oats, and half the chocolate morsels.

Place in an ungreased 9×13-inch pan and press down slightly to fill the pan. Sprinkle the remaining half of the morsels on top. Bake 15-17 minutes, until just golden around the edges.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

This mound of a cookie is a peanut butter and chocolate lover’s dream. It’s a thick peanut butter cookie loaded with bits of peanut and chunks of chocolate. They actually taste best when warm, right out of the oven.

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Makes about 2 dozen

2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup (4 oz. or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup creamy natural (unsweetened) peanut butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 bag (11 oz.) semisweet chocolate chunks or jumbo morsels
1 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped

Heat oven to 350F degrees. In a medium bowl, blend flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

Cream together butter and peanut butter until smooth. Add both kinds of sugar and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. On low speed, beat in vanilla.

Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Stir in chocolate chunks and peanuts. Drop by scant 1/4 cupfuls onto baking sheets. Bake for 18 minutes and let cool on wire racks.

Note: If you miss your chance to eat them warm, you can microwave them on a paper towel for 15 seconds.

This recipe originally appeared in Family Circle magazine.

S’mores Bars II

20150303_144157[1]Back in 2011, I published a recipe for S’mores Bars using Golden Grahams cereal. It’s a no-bake recipe that was very popular. I recently came across this s’mores bars recipe in my binder from about 15 years ago. Like the other one, this recipe uses marshmallows and chocolate — but instead of using the cereal as a shortcut, it has a baked graham cracker crust. You add melted chocolate and marshmallows, then briefly brown them in the oven.

The two recipes end up having the same s’mores taste and are equally scrumptious. I’m not sure I have a favorite, so which one I make will probably depend on how much time I have (baking or no baking?) and what kind of dessert I want — big, crunchy squares in the style of Rice Krispie Treats, or crumbly layer bars with toasted marshmallows. Which one would you pick?

14 graham cracker rectangles, crushed finely
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 lb. semi-sweet chocolate (do not use milk or dark chocolate)
4 heaping cups mini marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C degrees.

In a bowl, mix together the first four ingredients, then press into the bottom of a 9×13-inch pan with the back of a spoon. Bake for 12 minutes. Let cool.

Heat oven to 450F/230C degrees. Melt the chocolate and spread over the cool crust. Cover with marshmallows. When the oven is ready, place the pan inside and bake until the marshmallows are just browned, about 5 minutes.

Important: Let cool completely — preferably overnight — for the best taste. It’s not easy to wait, but it’s worth it!