Christmas and Chocolate: A match made in Heaven

Christmas Brownies

This week I have been really busy trying to get everything done before Christmas. You know that time of year where you are trying to do all your day to day things, but also trying to buy Christmas presents and organize yourself? I mean I love buying presents for others, but it does take up a lot of time because I take so much pride in when I give to people. Plus, I’m also trying to work out all of my Christmas baking, which is an entirely different undertaking! My sister reminded me that I don’t need to bake for people, especially when it comes to making gingerbread houses! But the truth is I just love doing it, especially because it is such a personal gift! So I guess it isn’t really a question that I’m going to be spending a lot of time in the kitchen gearing up to Christmas. And why wouldn’t you want to me? I mean I know it is really hot, being summer here, and sometimes the oven is a bit much, but there’s just something so awesome about Christmas baking. As you know I love the flavours, but its more the variety of baking there is to do. Everyone loves a good Christmas recipe, and there is the volume of recipes online to match! So I figured it was about time I started testing some out for potential contenders for my Christmas presents.

Christmas Brownies

I have had this recipe sitting around for a while and it caught my eye as one to give a try this week because it combines two of my great loves: Christmas and chocolate. Who doesn’t love a good brownie, especially one where when you bite into it you get delicious Christmas flavours! I figured that there was no time like the present to try this one out and see how it went. I had all the ingredients on hand, along with some Lindt chocolate, so I figured I could put it to good use and upgrade it beyond its chocolate bar origins. It was funny because it’s been so hot in Brisbane lately that I didn’t even need to melt my chocolate, it was already melted for me thanks to sitting out all day!

Christmas Brownies

I have to admit, when I looked at the actually directions for this recipe, I was a little skeptical. Part of the appeal of brownies for me is that they are so easy to make. You melt the chocolate and butter, add all the other ingredients, bake and then you are done! They have to be one of the easiest things to bake, and quickest to wash up (one bowl, one pan). But this recipe called for a lot more steps than what I would usually put into a brownie, as well as a lot more ingredients. I mean when I start having to whip things for a certain amount of time on a weeknight, sometimes I just cannot be bothered. I guess that is why I am always after quick and simple recipes, because sometimes you just want to be able to whip something up nice and easily, and have a finished product in under an hour. Is it too much to ask? But I told myself, even though I was feeling stressed and tired, that I needed to bite the bullet and try out this recipe. The promise of how delicious it would be at the end kept me going, and in the end it ended up making me feel a lot less stressed anyway!

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Don’t be disheartened by the slightly more complicated method in making these brownies, or how long they take to cook. Even though it seems a little more painful than a regular brownie, these were anything but regular brownies! The finished product I was a little skeptical of because they didn’t turn out like brownies I would normally make, but the finished product was absolutely delicious! These brownies are seriously good, so all that time in the kitchen is well worth it for the finished product! If you are after gooey, dense brownies with a perfect crunchy top and a little flavour twist, these are your brownies! So I urge you to not get frightened by the unusually large process behind these brownies, because they pack an amazing Christmas flavour and are well worth the extra effort.

Christmas Brownies

Christmas Brownies

Adapted From The Moon Blush Baker
Preparation Time 25 minutes
Cooking Time 45-55 minutes
Serves 16 brownies

Ingredients

·         175 grams of Unsalted Butter, cubed

·         125 grams of good quality Dark Chocolate, chopped up

·         275 grams of Caster Sugar

·         2 eggs

·         2 egg yolks

·         1 teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

·         100 grams of Plain Flour

·         1 teaspoon of Ground Ginger

·         1 teaspoon of Cinnamon

·         ¼ teaspoon of Ground Nutmeg

·         ½ teaspoon of All Spice

·         ¼ teaspoon Ground Cloves

·         ¼ teaspoon of Black Pepper

·         Pinch of Salt

·         ½ cup of Walnuts, roughly chopped

Method

1.       Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with baking paper and set aside.

2.       In a medium heat proof bowl melt chocolate and butter together over a pot of simmering water. Continue to stir until combined and then remove from the heat. Set aside for 10 minutes.

3.       While chocolate is cooling, whisk eggs, yolks, vanilla extract and caster sugar with an electronic whisk until very light and fluffy. This took about 5 minutes for me, and once you’re finished set aside.

4.       In a small bowl, mix together the flour, spices, salt and pepper until combined, and set aside.

5.       Roughly fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until completely combined. Ensure you scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure the chocolate is fully mixed.

6.       Add the flour mixture to the rest of the batter and mix until completely combined. Add the walnuts and fold through to mix evenly.

7.       Pour the mixture into the tray and place in oven. Bake for 45-55 minutes. I left mine in for 53 minutes and they were still really gooey but had a delicious crunchy top.

8.       Allow to cool in the tin and then transfer to the fridge to cool overnight before cutting.

Christmas Brownies

Now I look at it, it really isn’t that bad at all. I think it’s just because brownies are normally a one bowl, simple recipe, and this is a little more complicated. But you will be rewarded for your efforts with these ones! I was surprised by how hard the top ended up being, and the brownies themselves deflated a lot while they cooled. But this ended up making the brownies really dense, which was amazing! I was surprised by how dense they ended up being giving how much the eggs and sugar were whipped. But that’s what I love about trying new recipes, they always surprise you.

Christmas Brownies

These brownies had a delicious hint of Christmas in every bite, as were perfectly spiced with those gingerbread sort of flavours that I love! I also think the walnuts really added something to the brownies, because it meant that they had a little extra crunch. They would make for the perfect gift for those special people in your life, or something to bring along to your Christmas party when you’re asked to bring a plate. They are sure to bring the festive cheer, and everyone loves chocolate!

Christmas Brownies

I took these brownies to work and they were a hit! Which is surprising, given how many of the girls in our office are on diets at the moment. Luckily I saved a couple at home for later because they were gone so quickly! I might need to share the love a little though, because I need to be able to fit into my bikini come Christmas time if this weather keeps up!

Christmas Brownies

Until next time, happy baking!

Ella xx

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The ‘Better Than Everything’ Brownies

Cheesecake Brownies

I am so sorry that I haven’t posted in so long, I feel terrible. I have been away on a month long whirlwind trip of America, which was so very amazing. I had the best time, and I am kind of sad to be back now, getting into the swing of normal routine and heading back to work. However, I guess you have to come back to normal life so that when you do go away it makes it that much more amazing. And I can start planning the next one to try and ease the crippling travel depression I feel looming.

Anyway, before I left I was aiming to write a post about these brownies but it just didn’t end up happening unfortunately. But better late than never, because I can assure you that these brownies are well worth the wait! I stumbled upon this recipe on Pinterest a few years ago, in fact they were one of my very first pins. I made them for my friends on Valentines day of 2012, and in 2015 I made these very same brownies for my work colleagues and my boyfriend.

These brownies are the best brownies I have ever eaten. Hands down. They are soft and gooey, rich and delicious. They are also super simple to make, but yield amazing results. If you are going to make anything from my blog, please make these brownies. You will not be disappointed, and neither will anyone you share them with (if you can give them up, you might want to eat the whole lot).

For this recipe, you basically make a brownie mix and a cheesecake mix, and put them together. Rather than using the brownie mix from the original recipe, I use a recipe, which has been in my family since my sister was quite small. Seriously, the only copy we have it on old, chocolate stained, Whinny the Pooh stationary. She got it off one of her friends, and it makes the best brownies I have ever eaten. In fact, the brownie recipe on its own is amazing, but adding cheesecake makes it out of this world. I am not sure if anyone realises how special it is that I am publishing this recipe, as it is a bit of a trade secret of my sisters. So use it carefully, and enjoy!

Better than Everything Brownies

Yields 16 delicious brownies

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

Brownie Batter

125 grams of butter

185 grams of Dark Chocolate – I usually use the whole block

1 cup of caster sugar

2 teaspoons of vanilla essence

2 eggs (slightly beaten)

1 cup of plain flour – you can use a gluten free flour mix instead of plain flour, and we have found that this works just as well.

Cheesecake Batter

225 grams of cream cheese – leave this out of the fridge to make it soft before using.

1/3 cup of caster sugar

1 large egg yolk

¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract

½ cup of chocolate chips, or raspberries depending on your preference (you can also leave these out. I’ve done milk, dark and white chocolate chips and all of them are good)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius, and put the wrack in the middle of the oven.
  2. Get a nice square baking pan and line it with baking paper. The recipe recommends buttering the baking pan instead of this, but I find baking paper so much easier and less messy at the end.
  3. Break the chocolate apart and cut up the butter, placing in a microwave safe bowl. Then melt this mixture in the microwave until soft. I usually do this in 30-second intervals, stirring occasionally to avoid burning the chocolate. You could also do this over a saucepan with water in it over the stove, if you want to get fancy. But I’ve done it in the microwave for years and never had an issue.
  4. Take the bowl out of the microwave and stir in the sugar, eggs and essence. Cheesecake brownies
  5. Sift the flour into the bowl and voila! You have the most amazing brownie mix known to man. It should look similar to this: IMG_5857
  6. In another bowl, use a whisk to mix together all the ingredients for the cheesecake batter until smooth. Pretty simple.
  7. Get your brownie batter and pour into the pan, smoothing out with a spatula so that its nice and even, like so: IMG_5860
  8. Next, pour the cheesecake batter over the top of the brownie mix. I then get a butter knife and swirl the cheesecake batter through the brownie mix so that it gets a cool swirled pattern on the top. Just use the knife to essentially pull the brownie mixture into the cheesecake mixture until you like how it looks.IMG_5861
  9. I then usually get my topping and submerge the chocolate chips and/or raspberries into the mixture, leaving some on the top. I find putting them in the mixture makes it even better. You might need to reswirl the pattern to make it look pretty again, or you could do this before swirling, it just depends on how you feel. In the end it should look like this:IMG_5863
  10. Cook the brownies for 30-35 minutes or until golden on the top. The mixture will be very gooey in its nature, and is always better when it comes out gooey and then is left to sit. So just watch the top and then leave it out for a bit until it firms up.
  11. Cut into even pieces once cool (if you can wait)

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And there you have it! A super simple recipe that yields wickedly delicious results! I highly recommend making these for loved ones to show them you care, if you are having a bad day and need something to make you feel better. But who am I kidding, you don’t really need an excuse to make these delicious brownies. Just do it!

The Gingerbread House Mission

I know that I’m reminiscing through pins a little too much about Christmas baking, but its just so much fun! And I really would love to share with you my mission to make Gingerbread houses. It really was a bit of trial and error, and so if I could make it a little easier for some of you, or inspire you to endeavour on this challenge, then I would be happy!

I decided that I wanted to make Gingerbread houses as presents for the people I work most closely with in my team at work (Obviously I would have made them for everyone if I had the time/patience/was a God of baking, but I had/am none of these on my side). I felt like this would be a nice gift, as it takes a lot of effort, which I think those special people around you deserve, and are really appreciate of the gift! They look really nice when you finish them, and the person you give them to can take them home and eat them when they feel like it, as they keep well. And just look at the finished product:

Small Gingerbread Houses

It took a lot of planning to make the 4 houses. But I decided from the start I would make smaller ones just to make it a little easier on me. I looked up ideas of lollies, layouts, designs and methods to make them the best way I could. I also didn’t practice, which meant that I needed to make it work first time! I really had all the odds against me. The last gingerbread house I made was more like a fort with my partner. We didn’t think through the layout completely so as a result it ended up being a sieged castle that had been overrun by gummy snakes (always remember that artistic license is important when making gingerbread houses). But it was a bit of fun, and I think that’s how you need to approach it! If you get to serious, I swear the gingerbread knows and buckles, or doesn’t bake properly. So just relax, and enjoy the process. And spread it out over a few sessions, like I decided to do, as it really helps you keep your sanity.

I’ll split this post into 3 parts: Making the dough, cooking the gingerbread, and assembly. This should give you a step-by-step, easy way to make 4 gingerbread houses. Feel free to adjust as you see fit. As I said, there is no real right or wrong way to decorate your gingerbread house, so you might want to change the way you do it to what I did. But I’d love to see the result if anyone recreates it!

The Gingerbread Dough

I used my favourite gingerbread recipe, which is super simple to make and hasn’t let me down in the past few years! I got a lot of comments about how delicious it was when I gave out cookies along with the gingerbread houses, and so I’d highly recommend it for simplicity and tastiness!

The only problem was that when I rolled out my batch, I soon realised that I didn’t have quite enough dough (I was only one roof piece short!). So I made another whole batch of the gingerbread, which I used to make gingerbread cookies for everyone else. This could be a good way to do it, as you will have excess for this, or in case of emergencies/baking disasters. However, for the sake of the blog, I’ve recreated the recipe I used for 1.5 batches of the original, which should still give you plenty left over to have some fun with!

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Basic Gingerbread Dough

Recipe from Taste.com

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 cups self-raising flour
  • 1 ½ cups of plain flour
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar – I used dark brown sugar to make the gingerbread taste a little more syrupy
  • 280g butter at room temperature, chopped
  • ¾ cup of golden syrup
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flours, ginger, cinnamon, sugar and butter with a beater (If you don’t have a beater, I’ve used a food processor before). Do this until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and the golden syrup in a jug until combined.
  3. While the beater is still running (the benefits of using a food processor), add the egg mixture to the dry mixture until it just comes together. You might need to stop and push the sides down with a spatula in order to ensure everything gets mixed correctly.
  4. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and kneed until smooth (this will take a couple of minutes.
  5. Cut the dough into 3 sections and cover in plastic wrap. Pop this in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

I chilled my first batch for a few days and my second one just overnight. I have to say it was better only chilling it overnight; the dough was much easier to work with and wetter, which is what you need for rolling it out.

The Baking

When you are ready to bake your Gingerbread, you will firstly need to find a good template. Luckily, I have already had a look through Google and found one I was happy with. It worked really well in the end, as I found that a lot of them were either far too small (like those cute ones that sit on your coffee cup!) or too big. Eventually I found one I was happy with, and it was a perfect size to fit on the plates that I had bought to put the houses on. Find the template here. I used the template for the roof, the sides and the front and back. You can do the chimney if you want, but I thought it might be too fiddly.

Once you are happy with the template, cut it out and get ready for cutting out the dough.

Method: Cutting out the dough

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 Degrees Celsius.
  2. Get your dough out of the fridge and let it sit for a bit (if you are in Summer it should take no time at all for the dough to heat up). I just found it a lot easier to manipulate once it wasn’t so cold!
  3. Take each portion and place it between 2 pieces of baking paper. Use a rolling pin or other suitably round object to roll the dough out into 5mm thick pieces. Alternatively you can flour up your bench and do it without baking paper. If you do this remember to flour the rolling pin. My dough got a little dry so I used a little water between rolls to soften it up (this is what I needed to do with my first batch to get it to come together a little better).
  4. Using your trusty template, which hopefully by now you have cut out, use a knife to cut through the dough in the shapes that you need for the houses. I needed 4 of each piece of the template, so make sure you don’t forget any pieces!
  5. Carefully place these pieces on a baking tray lined with baking paper. I used a wide spatula to transfer the gingerbread across to prevent it from warping too much.
  6. For the little hole that you see in the template, sort of like a window on both sides, I did something that ends up looking awesome. You can get finely crushed hard-boiled lollies and crush them up finely to make a neat little stained glass window. Place the crushed candy in the window hole, and then bake as normal. The candy will melt and fill the space out. When the gingerbread cools it will harden again, making a great stained glass looking window! I used red candy to keep it Christmassy, but you could use any colour, or even mix them up if you want! I did this on the side of the gingerbread without the door, but you could do it on both if you wanted. I only did this on one of the houses, as I was worried it might affect the structural integrity of the house, but it seemed to hold fine!
  7. Bake the Gingerbread for 10-15 minutes. I only needed 12, as at 12 minutes the dough was a darker golden colour, and verging on firm, but was still soft when I took it out of the oven. This meant that it as it cooled it hardened up perfectly for the house. I prefer my gingerbread soft, so this was good for how I liked it. You could leave it in a little longer if you want it harder, but just make sure you keep watching it to stop it from burning!
  8. Place on a wire wrack until cool.

I actually cooled my gingerbread components, counted them a few times to ensure I had enough, and then placed them in a container. I did this so that I could leave the assembly until the following day, so that I was in a more creative mindset. If you are ready to keep going, feel free to, but just make sure that the gingerbread is 100% cool. Otherwise leave the assembly until you are mentally prepared.

Once you are in a creative mindset, gathered your lollies and have psyched yourself up with a good pep talk, you are ready to decorate!

The Assembly

This step is the most fun out of the whole process. But I think rather than calling it the assembly step, it should be called the “glue the house together and pray it doesn’t fall apart” step. Up until now, it’s pretty simple. This is the step that separates the mice from men, the bakers from the imitators. Well, I shouldn’t get too ahead of myself, but you get the idea.

I will list the ingredients I used for my gingerbread houses, but it’s really up to you what you want to put on it. I looked up a few sites and was able to find some really good inspiration. So feel free to use mine as a guide, but take a look in your supermarket and come up with your own ideas. That’s the best part!

Firstly, you will need to make a glue to stick the houses together. And I don’t mean clag glue, I mean royal icing glue, which I can guarantee will be far more delicious than the real thing.

Royal Icing Ingredients

  • 2 egg whites – lightly beaten
  • 3 cups of pure icing sugar

Method

  1. Beat the egg whites using an electric mixer until soft peaks form.
  2. Gradually add icing sugar, and beat until the mixture goes thick

To assemble the gingerbread houses, I first got some Christmas themed cardboard plates to use as the base. I then set out to glue the pieces of my gingerbread together into a house, which is the hardest part of the whole process.

I firstly attempted to glue the houses together by putting the icing into a piping bag and using this to draw really neat lines between the joints of the house. However, the issue was that I couldn’t get enough icing to really solidify the joints, and so the houses ended up not staying together, which is clearly not ideal.

I then had a look at this recipe from Raspberri Cupcakes and she had the great idea of throwing neatness to the wind in favor of getting enough icing on the pieces of gingerbread to get them to stay stuck. It was quick, easy and when you are decorating the houses anyway, I think it’s more important to make sure that the houses stay together than making this part of them look pretty.

Grab your bowl of icing and dunk the pieces of gingerbread into the icing, ensuring that you get a good amount on the sides. Start with the four wall pieces, sticking them all together and using cans from your pantry to keep them upright if needed. I found I didn’t actually need to do this as the icing was nice and strong, but it will just depend on the consistency of your icing.

I found I needed to leave the houses for about 20 minutes to ensure that they were nice and firm. So set these aside and play the waiting game. If you come back to them and the icing isn’t completely dry, leave them for longer. It’s really important that you don’t move them until they are really dry.

Next, set out gluing them to the plate. I used the piping bag to do this so that I got a really neat line. I used the roof piece template and drew this onto my plate to give me a guide of where to pipe (you’ll find this will pretty much give you the right size). I then stuck the gingerbread house down; using my piping bag on the inside to make sure any joints that weren’t covered in icing yet would stick. Leave this for 30 minutes at least. They should look something like this:

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Next is the hardest part, as you will have gravity working against you: the roof. Make sure you have some suitably sized props for the roof pieces ready to go. Then pipe some icing onto the top of the gingerbread house walls (make sure you use a lot). Dip the sides of the roof that will come together at the top in the icing and stick down. I held these on for a few minutes just to help it start to dry. I then put the props in place to make sure the roof stayed put. After it was all secured, I went around with the piping bag and added the icing into any holes that were left. Mine looked like this:

gingerbread houses

Leave this for about 20-30 minutes to ensure that the whole thing is really dry. I know this seems like a long process but it’s worth it to make sure that you don’t wind up with a broken gingerbread house at the end, crying in despair. I only had one mishap where the roof started sliding, which I thought was a pretty good success rate.

The fun part: The candy

The next step is the best part – you get to decorate your pretty little houses! Use artistic license here, I mean who am I to tell you how to decorate your house? As you can see in the photos, I opted to do 4 different houses so that each recipient was getting something different.

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Ingredients

  • 1 packet of sour straps – These are great to use as they are a. delicious b. take up a lot of space on the house, so are a really good gap filler. I used these on the sides of my houses and on the roof of one.
  • 1 – 2 packets of lolly raspberries – There seemed to be some shortage of raspberries when I was shopping (it seemed like everyone else had the same idea) but these lollies are great on the roof of your gingerbread house, or as additional festive decorations on the walls.
  • 1 – 2 to 5 packets of freckles. These look really nice on the roof of the gingerbread houses, and I didn’t have enough. Buy as many packets as you can, as these are a classic decoration and you will want to eat a couple as you go/there will be broken ones in the bags
  • 1 packet of chocolate covered liquorish bullets – I really don’t like liquorish, so I used raspberry flavoured ones to make it more delicious. These look great stacked up on the side to make the gingerbread house look like a log cabin, or along the joins of the house.
  • 1 packet of musk sticks – and obvious staple, these look great to hide any messy gluing work
  • 1 – 2 packets of jubes – You need a few packets of these if you want to go super festive, as you can pick out the red and green ones from the packet and just use these. For the rest of the colours, I suggest eating them.
  • 1 packet of Christmas themed lollies, or lollies of some other description – I found great Christmas lollies in my supermarket which had all kind of cute shapes. These I stuck all over the house walls.
  • 1 packet of candy canes – I broke these off to use in the doors, and used them in the joints.

Optional extras: These are things I was going to do but didn’t

  • Making a snowman out of marshmallows for the front of the house
  • Using boiled lollies to make a path up to the house
  • Using a chocolate as a chimney on the house

I think ideally I would have liked more freckles and jubes to use on the roofs, but you have to make do with what you have! I found that my houses had really low walls in the end as well, so I didn’t find the need to put windows in. Instead I covered the sides with chocolate logs to make them look like cabins, or sour straps because they were just about the right size when I cut them up.

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A great idea that I used from the Raspberri Cupcake post was to cut the top off the candy canes and use these around the doorways. I then used the bottom straight bit of the candy canes on the roof beams. I think this made it look especially festive. Chuck on a couple of festive themed lollies and hey presto! You have your gingerbread houses!

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I then wrapped these up in cellophane, tied a ribbon around them, and added gift tags. I think that these made really great Christmas gifts, and I don’t think it was too difficult when you split the process up over a few days. Just be patient, and you should be fine! And even if they are a little rough around the edges, Gingerbread houses are just impressive when they stay together, so they are sure to be a hit! And here’s a shot of me with the finished product:

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Until next time, happy baking!

Ella