Holiday Cookies – Magic Bars

This recipe started with a book I wrote recently about cookies. While conducting research, I came across this recipe for Magic Bars.

Magic BarsMagic bars are one of those things I know I must have had at some point, but don’t specifically remember when or where. Still the combination of such great flavors — a Graham cracker crust, chocolate and butterscotch chips, and coconut — sounded, well, magical.

The minute I read it, I knew I had to make it. Then, like most things that inspire me, I completely forgot about it.

Until this weekend, when Sandi and I found ourselves at Trader Joe’s doing some holiday shopping. TJ’s has a surprisingly diverse and affordable wine offering and this year’s gift giving is all about wine.

I came across a package of coconut flakes and instantly recalled that I wanted to make Magic Bars.

Flash forward to later that afternoon, and these temptingly delicious and easy-to-make cookies were cooling on my stovetop.

It’s a testament to how delicious these Magic Bars were that Sandi made sure I gave them away as quickly as possible. I don’t think she wanted the temptation of of these super-sweet cookie bars hanging around for a moment longer than they had to.

For the remainder of the weekend, Sandi was recommending people who would really like these cookies. She herself admitted that they were pretty darn good, even though she “doesn’t like coconut.”

Coconut is one of those divisive ingredients that turns the world into a black and white place. There are those people who like coconut and those who don’t.

In other words, you are either an Almond Joy person or a Mounds person.

Personally, I don’t like coconut, either. I would always choose Ho-Hos over Snowballs, and I don’t like Pina Coladas (or getting caught in the rain, for that matter).

But coconut tasted incredible on these cookies, possibly because it was toasted during the baking process. More likely, however, it was because the coconut was swimming in the sickeningly sweet condensed milk.

By Sunday night, nearly all of the Magic Bars had magically disappeared, having been packed off with anybody and everybody who showed even the slightest interest in them.

Magic Bars

1-1/2 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs

1/2 cup (1 stick) Unsalted Butter, melted

14 oz can Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 cup Butterscotch Chips

1 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

1-1/3 cup Coconut Flakes

1 cup Walnuts, chopped

0271. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 13″x9″ baking pan with aluminum foil, including the sides. Spray the foil with pay spray.

2. Combine the melted butter with the Graham crackers and mix well then press into the bottom of the baking pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, nuts and coconut even over the crust. Pour the condensed milk even over the top of everything.

3. Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely in the pan. Life up the edges of the foil to remove the Magic Bars from the pan. Cut into squares and lift each cookie off the foil.

By Monday morning, they were all gone!

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Holiday Cookies – Pecan Sandies

Well, my intention was to start a new series featuring different holiday cookie recipes. But seeing as that it’s already less than two weeks until Christmas, that idea is pretty much shot. At least for this year.

019Unfortunately, my ambition got ahead of my common sense, so my cupboard is stuffed with cookie ingredients such as butterscotch chips, different kinds of nuts and sprinkles.

My enthusiasm also was dampened after one of my experiments failed: I thought I would make those peanut butter cookies that have the Hershey kiss stuck in the middle, but all I had were those red and white swirled candy cane flavored kisses.

Take my advice: Don’t ever try this. Peanut butter and candy canes don’t go together! Plus, the candy cane kisses have much lower melting temperature than the chocolate kisses, so it ended up being kind of a red and white striped blob.

Every year, I forget how busy December gets. There are so many things going: Holiday shopping, parties, other obligations. Plus, work always seems to pick up just when you the other parts of your life require more attention.

That’s why many people set aside one day or a weekend to cook all of their holiday cookies, rather than making a batch here and a batch there. I should try that next year.

At least this recipe for pecan sandies has the benefit of  being fast and easy. It’s basically a butter cookie recipe with chopped pecans added in. And I stuck an uncut pecan peice in the middle for decoration.

Unlike the peppermint kisses disaster, they were delicious.

Pecan Sandies

1 stick unsalted butter

1/3 cup Powdered Sugar

2 TBS Light Brown Sugar

1 tsp Vanilla

3/8 tsp Sea Salt

1 cup plus 2 TBS All-Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Toasted Pecans, chopped medium fine

Plus a few Pecan peices for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Using a Kitchen Aid or hand blender, cream the butter and sugars together until smooth. Mix in the vanilla and salt. Then slowly add the flour and pecans and mix on low until a stiff dough is formed.

2. Using a melon baller or just two teaspoons, scoop the dough into a ball and place on an greased baking pan.

3. Dip the bottom of a glass in flour then use it to flatten out the cookies. Stick the pecan garnish in the middle of each cookie and bake about 15 minutes or until the cookies are set and just starting to brown on the sides.

Cool the cookies completely on wire racks. Store in an airtight container. This recipe makes about 24 cookies.

Meat Free Mondays — Apple Oatmeal Muffins

I swear I’m going ban myself from the blog How Sweet It Is. Everytime I read it, I find something I just have to steal make, such as these Apple Oatmeal Muffins

I am totally in awe of Jessica, the blog’s author. In addition to being a great cook, Jessica is also an amazing writer and one of the best food photographers I have ever seen. Everything she makes looks and sounds delicious, without exception. She inspires me on every level.

These Apple Oatmeal Muffins are only the latest recipe I’ve borrowed from her and used in my own blog. In recent weeks, it seems like every couple of days I’m ripping off from How Sweet It Is. Even my wife, Sandi, has subscribed to Jessica’s blog and I can barely get her to read mine!

This recipe turned out fine, but I took a few shortcuts  and made a couple of mistakes, so it could have been better. First, J’s recipe called for whole wheat pastry flour and I only had whole wheat flour an I was too lazy to drive to the store to buy the real deal.

Pastry flour is a finer grind than the whole wheat flour and results in a smaller crumb and fewer gluten strands. As a result, my muffins didn’t rise as well as they could have and were more dense.

Second, I didn’t have any apple cider — I haven’t seen any in the stores yet this year — so I used apple juice. They aren’t the same thing. Basically, cider has pulp and apple juice does not. While the flavor of the muffins was good, the muffins would have had a richer, smoother texture had I used the cider.

Finally, I didn’t have any cardamon so I left it out altogether, so the flavor wasn’t as complex as it could have been.

In short, Jessica doesn’t have anything to worry about. She’s still the best.

I only iced half the muffins because asked me to leave some plain so she could eat them without having to worry about the exra calories from the icing. What’s the fun of that?

Apple Cider Oatmeal Muffins

2 Honeycrisp Apples, small dice

3 TBS Apple Cider (or apple juice)

1-1/2 cups Whole What Pastry Flour

1/2 cup Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats

1 tsp Baking Soda

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

1/4 tsp Sea Salt

1/4 tsp Cardamon

1 pinch Nutmeg

1 large Egg

1/3 cup Brown Sugar, loosely packed

1-1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2 cup Unsweetened Applesauce

4 TBS  Brown Butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup Apple Cider (or juice)

For the Apple Cider Brown Butter Glaze

4 TBS Brown Butter, melted and cooled

1-1/2 TBS Apple Cider

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2 to 1/3 cup Powdered Sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Heat a small skilled over a medium-low heat, add diced apples and 3 TBS apple cider, a pinch of cinnamon and salt. Cook until apples are brown and soft, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. In a bowl, mix together flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Set aside. Linea muffin tin with liners.

3. In a Kitchen Aid mixing bowl (or just a large bowl), whisk together the egg and brown sugar until creamed. Add vanilla extract, butter, apple juice and 1/3 cup apple cider and mix until smooth. Then gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Don’t overmix or gluten strands will form and your muffins will be more like bread. Fold in the diced apples, then use an ice cream scoop to fill each muffin liner about 2/3 of the way full.

4. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until tops start to brown.

To make the glaze, mix together the brown butter, cider and vanilla, then mix in the powdered sugar until it reaches the proper consistency. Spread the cooled muffins with the glaze using a butter knife, or dip the muffins into the glaze and twist while pulling up.

By the way, brown butter is simply whole butter that you cook over a low heat until it begins to turn a golden brown, stirring constantly. It has a more caramel-like flavor than plain melted butter. But be careful to take it off the heat the minute it starts to brown. The difference between brown butter and burnt butter is about 30 seconds.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

If I were to guess, I would have said that the pineapple upside down cake became popular during the 1950s, when Hawaii became a state and all things Hawaiian were all the rage.

In reality, this decorative and delicious cake has been part of American culture for much longer than that. In fact, the concept of cooking a cake in a cast iron pan then inverting it onto a plate has been around since the Middle Ages.

Originally, nuts and chopped fruits such as apples and cherries were placed on the bottom of the pan, but pineapple slices became the norm around the turn of the 20th Century after Jim Dole, owner of th Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole Pineapple) perfected a way to tin sliced pineapple so they could be shipped back to the mainland.

In an effort to popularize the super sweet fruit, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company sponsored a recipe contest, asking people to submit creative ways to serve pineapples. After the company received more than 2,500 recipes for pineapple upside down cake, it launched a national ad campaign to promote the cake and an American icon was born.

There are two ways to make pineapple upside down cake: the easy way and the hard way. With the easy way, you use a yellow cake mix. For the hard way, you make the cake yourself, which is the route I took.

You can buy special pans with rounded bottoms that are made exclusively for pineapple upside down cake, but because this was only the second time I’ve made this cake — and the first time was in culinary school — I decided to go with my tried and true cast iron skillet. Besides, it was more old school.

Pineapple upside down cake is by no measure a healthy dessert. It’s chocked full of butter, brown sugar and eggs. Not to mention the psychdelic-red maraschino cherries. Those things can’t possibly be good for you.

Still, a little decadence is good for you occasionally. At least that’s whay I’m going with.

 

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Sandi enjoying her Pineapple Upside Down Cake as Isabel and Bud look on expectantly.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

1/4 cup Butter (1 stick)

2/3 cup Brown Sugar

20 oz can Pineapple Slices, undrained

Maraschino Cherries

2 Eggs, separated

3/4 cup Granulated Sugar

3/4 cup All-Purpose Flour

1/8 tsp Salt

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1. Melt the stick of butter in a cast iron skillet over a low heat. Remove from heat and spread the brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the skillet. Set aside.

2. Drain the pineapple, saving the juice. Arrange the pineapple slices in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Place a maraschino cherry in the center of each pineapple slice. Set aside.

3. Beat the egg yolks on medium speed until thick, about two minutes. Gradually add the granulated sugar, beating well.

4. Heat 1/4 cup of the pineapple juice over a low heat. Gradually add the juice mixture to the yolk mixturre, beating until blended.

5. In a mixing bowl, combine the AP flour, salt and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the yolk mixture, beating at low speed.

6. Beat the egg whites on medium-high until stiff peaks form, about three minutes. Fold beaten egg whites into the batter until combined, then spread the batter over the pineapple slices.

7. Bake at 325F for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool cake in the skillet about 30 minutes, then invert onto a plate. Make sure the surface of the plate is larger than the diameter of the skillet.

If you make your pineapple upside down cake using the easy way, follow steps 1 and 2, and then just follow the directions on the cake box.