M&M Cookies

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When I was little, I always thought that M&M cookies were an entirely different kind of cookie. Just like a molasses cookie or an oatmeal raisin cookie, a sugar cookie or chocolate chip cookie. They are all their own breed. Looking back on this, when I ate M&M cookies in my childhood, they were typically the store bought kind, which are full of artificial ingredients that probably lent that unique M&M cookie flavor! So when I first decided to make M&M cookies from scratch quite some time ago, I learned that they essentially have the same base dough as chocolate chip cookies! I have no idea what I thought could have been that secret ingredient to an M&M cookie but I guess I never really pondered this much when I was younger.

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I’ve made M&M cookies in the past, but have never been fully satisfied with how they turn out. However, this recipe was a winner! I decided to use Cooks Illustrated “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie” recipe as a base, but instead of using all chocolate chips, I used dark chocolate M&Ms and some semi-sweet chocolate chips. I made a few other tweaks to this recipe as well.

This recipe involves browning the butter until it has a nutty aroma and is light brown in color. This extra step results in the cookies having a deep caramelized flavor. The texture of these cookies is crisp on the exterior and soft and chewy inside. Yummm!!

 

M&M Cookies 

Yield: 32-45 cookies, depending on how large you scoop them

Ingredients:IMG_2917

1 ¾cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 ¾ ounces)

½ teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ¾ sticks), divided

scant ½ cup granulated sugar

scant ¾ cups packed dark or light brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon table salt

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

3/4 cup dark chocolate M&Ms

1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Stir together flour and baking soda in medium bowl; set aside.
  2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a skillet or saucepan over medium heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Turn to low and continue cooking, stirring constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma. Be careful not to burn it though. There should be brown bits forming in the bottom of the pan. Remove pan from heat and transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
  3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in M&Ms and chocolate chips until no flour pockets remain.
  4. Scoop cookie dough into balls on cookie sheet. (I make them about 1 ½ TBP, although you can adjust the size according to your preference, just remember to adjust the baking time accordingly).
  5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are lightly browned on the exteriors and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 8-9 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Peanut Butter Blondies

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Peanut butter seems to be one of those foods that either people love or hate. I actually used to hate peanut butter. I remember trying it several times throughout my childhood, but each attempt resulted in that same disgusted, squished up expression on my face. However, my best friend growing up packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day from third grade till twelfth grade and oddly, I was always a bit envious of her sandwich. I yearned to like peanut butter so I could have sandwiches like hers, even though I knew peanut butter and me were not a good match for each other. Even so, something was telling me one day I would acquire this special taste and then I could convert from my obscure cream cheese and cinnamon sandwiches to the good ol’ PB&J.

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And it finally happened when I went to college! Maybe it was the poor quality D-hall food or getting tired of the same food each day or just maybe it was my time to finally click with peanut butter instead of clash! Ever since then, the PB&J has become a go-to meal if I need something super speedy. And of course I began experimenting with PB in my baking adventures.

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These peanut butter bars are soft with some chewiness and melty goodness from the chocolate chips scattered throughout. They are also very versatile in that you can mix in different add-ins based on your taste. I recently tried adding mini marshmallows and some Reeses Pieces, which turned out delicious! They also come together very fast and are great for when you’re baking for a crowd. Have fun experimenting with these!

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Peanut Butter Blondies 

Yield: one 9″ by 13″ pan

Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

3 large eggs

1/4 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups (9 oz) all purpose flour

1/4 tsp table salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 cup of add-ins of your choice (examples include peanut butter chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, Reese Pieces)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 13x9x2 inch baking pan.
  2. Beat butter and peanut butter in a large bowl with an electric beater or vigorously with a fork until well combined. Add sugars and beat well. Then add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.
  3. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, whisking together until well combined. Then add this mixture to peanut butter mixture, mixing thoroughly. Still in add-ins.
  4. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan and bake for 25-40 minutes (depending on your oven), turning half way through baking to ensure even browning. Bake until lightly browned and tester comes out with a few moist crumbs.
  5. Cool completely in pan on wire rack; then cut into squares.

Adapted from Hershey’s Kitchens

IMG_2906The brown circles are the marshmallows puffing out. Although they don’t look pretty, those are the most delicious bites!

Zucchini Bread

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An abundance of locally grown zucchini has consumed farmer’s markets the last couple of months. You can find zucchini in all different sizes, colors, and shapes this time of year, which makes it a fun vegetable to try new recipes with. Even though I’ve made zucchini breads/muffins in the past, I never realized how high the water content of zucchini was until I squeezed the shreds of grated green wetness in the palm of my hand and a deep puddle of water formed in the sink. Apparently, water makes up about 95% of zucchini’s content! Lettuce and cucumbers are only 1% higher at 96%. Interesting stuff..

Anyways, as I hunted around for zucchini quick bread recipes, I wanted something that was low-fat and not too sweet and also used yogurt (since I have a lot on hand right now). I stumbled upon Melissa Clark’s recipe but tweaked it a little, which turned out to have delicious results!

IMG_2891The bread turned out very moist but not dense and lent a summery, fresh flavor with notes of caramel from the brown sugar, offering a richness without being heavy. It’s wonderful on it’s own or with a thin layer of cream cheese spread on top!

Give it a go and let me know what you think!

Zucchini Bread

Yield: one 9 by 5 inch loaf pan

Ingredients:

Butter or cooking spray for pan

1 1/2 cups or 185 g. grated zucchini (squeeze the water out of it before measuring it out)

scant 2/3 cup light brown sugar (if you’re like me and don’t like quick breads too sweet, 1/2 cup might be sufficient)

1/3 cup canola oil or olive oilIMG_2892

1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups (190 g) all-purpose flour

scant 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest (I didn’t add this but think it would be a good addition)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the grated zucchini, sugar, olive oil, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla extract.
  3. In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, soda, lemon zest (if using) and spices.
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing slowly and lightly until there are only a few streaks of flour. Then pour mixture into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes, rotating half way through baking. If the sides become done before the middle, cover with tin foil, and continue to bake in small increments (3-4 minutes) until the middle is cooked through. When tested with a toothpick, it should come out with a few moist crumbs.
  5. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes and then invert bread onto rack to cool completely.

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Banana Ginger Muffins

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While in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia with my family several years ago, we decided it would be fun to check out a bed and breakfast in the countryside. My mom had spoken to the owner on the phone when she was trying to find a place for us to stay. Unfortunately they were booked during the time we would be in that area, but she had been very warm and friendly, inviting us to stop by while we were there to meet her. So we took her up on the offer and decided to embark on a little excursion to her B&B. It resembled a fairytale-like cottage from the exterior as we drove up the pebbled road, with a stone facade, pale blue shutters and a creamy yellow door. She greeted us energetically from the doorway, identifying herself as Rosalee, gesturing us to come inside for a tour and some homemade treats. Entering the house, scents of warm spices and sweet bananas filled the air and I became curious as to what might be baking in the oven producing such a heavenly smell. Rosalee gave us a tour of her B&B and then invited us to sit down for some tea and muffins. “Blueberry buttermilk or banana ginger?” I absolutely love bananas so naturally I chose banana ginger, but wow…it tasted even better than I had expected. Light and fluffy, the poignant ginger perfectly complimented the sweetness of the banana. It was one of the best muffins I’d ever tasted and I was determined to recreate it when I returned home.

I didn’t ask her for the recipe so I did some google research to find a recipe that I thought looked like a solid guide. I found a recipe pretty close to what I was searching for.

These muffins are made with buttermilk, dark brown sugar, ginger, and banana. They are quite simple and healthy, but you’d never know it considering how delicious they taste! Enjoy!

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Banana, Buttermilk and Brown Sugar Muffins

Yields 18 muffins

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 cup buttermilk*
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups pureed banana (as ripe as possible)
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated or finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups (320 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (preferably dark brown)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and put liners in a 18 muffin cups (1 1/2 pans).
  2. After pureeing the banana in a food processor with the blade attachment, add the other wet ingredients and blend on high until very smooth. (If you don’t have a food processor, mash the banana using a fork until smooth and liquidy; then whisk in the other wet ingredients until thoroughly combined).
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir and fold them together. Stir as little as possible to avoid developing gluten which would make the muffins tough. Pour the batter into the muffin cups.
  4. Bake until lightly brown, about 20 minutes (or until when pressed down on the top with a finger, the muffin springs back; watch them carefully and rotate half way through baking time to ensure not over baking, or they will turn out dry).

*Can make your own buttermilk by pouring 1 TBP white vinegar or lemon juice into a measuring cup and then filling the measuring cup to the 1 cup mark with milk

Adapted from http://herbivoracious.com

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Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Bars

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I can’t believe it’s already Fall time! Although it’s almost been a year since I’ve posted a recipe, I’ve continued to bake and cook as much as possible, some of which I’ve posted on my Instagram (rellam2190). So here I am again and my goal is to post recipes more consistently and frequently!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Bars. When I received this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction in my email inbox, I could not just save it to my Evernote and plan to make it “soon.” No, this recipe was one that I could not ignore for more than a day.

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The perfect fall treat. Pumpkin and cream cheese make a heavenly match for each other. I don’t know why I didn’t realize this sooner! The pumpkin layer is soft and pillowy, while the cream cheese layer is smooth and luscious. They are neither too rich or too light tasting.

I brought them into work and several people asked for the recipe and wanted more! They are great for sharing too as they make a big 9 by 13 inch pan. They also keep fresh in the fridge for several days and freeze well too.

There are definitely a few steps to this recipe and it takes some patience and time, but after the batter is put together, they quickly bake in the oven, and then are ready to enjoy! They actually taste even better a few hours after they come out of the oven or the day after they are made.

Thank you Sally!

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Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Bars

  • Yield: 9 by 13 inch pan, about 24 or more bars
  • Ingredients:
  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (228g) pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cream Cheese Swirl
  • 8 ounces (224g) brick-style full fat or low-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment, leaving an overhang on all sides. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl using a hand-held or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on medium speed until completely smooth and creamy. Add the brown sugar and beat on medium high speed until fluffy and light in color. Beat in egg and vanilla on high speed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. On medium speed, beat in the pumpkin until combined. The mixture will look curdled; that’s ok.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt together until combined. On low speed, slowly mix into the wet ingredients until combined. Do not overmix. The mixture will be thick. Spread 2/3 of the batter evenly into the prepared pan; it will be a relatively thin layer. Transfer the rest into the flour bowl if using a stand-up mixer. The rest will be added in step 5.
  4. In the stand-up mixer bowl (or another bowl if using a hand held mixer (no need to wash the mixers before using in cream cheese batter)), beat the cream cheese for 1 minute on medium speed until completely smooth and creamy. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla. Beat on high speed until completely combined. Drop random spoonfuls on top of the pumpkin batter. For me, there seemed to be too much cream cheese batter for just drops, so instead it looked like a full layer on top of the pumpkin layer.
  5. Drop the remaining pumpkin batter on top of the spoonfuls of cream cheese. With a rubber spatula or knife, begin gently swirling the two together. Both mixtures are thick, so go slowly. Jiggle the pan back and forth to get the layers to settle into the pan. Don’t worry if it looks messy; everything will come together in nice swirls as the bars bake.
  6. Bake the bars for 25-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Allow the bars to cool completely at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator for about 2 hours before cutting into squares. Leftover bars can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. They’re SO good on day 2!
  7. Make ahead tip: These bars can be made 3 days in advance and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Bars freeze well, up to 3 months. Simply thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.

Adapted a little from Sally’s Baking Addiction

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Apple Pie

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Apple season has arrived and what better way to use apples but to bake delicious goodies!
I actually have an allergic reaction to apples in their raw form, but fortunately not when they’re cooked. So I go apple picking every year and then bake up a bunch of old and new apple recipes. Luckily, apples have a very long fridge life, so you can pick lots of apples, but not feel rushed to use them all at once.

So far this season, I’ve made two new recipes, one for apple cake and another for apple pie.
Apple pie is one of those classic desserts; although there’s so many variations on it that you can have 100 apple pies and they will all taste different.

Several years ago, I entered an Apple Custard Pie with Oatmeal Crust into an apple pie contest. It was delicious, but very different from your typical apple pie and I think it might have been a little too exotic for the judges; hence I didn’t win. But that didn’t make me stop making it in future years!

The recipe I chose this year was one I had filed in my recipe binder for quite a while, but never got around to making. It’s from a Cooking Light reader who entered an apple pie contest hosted by the magazine several years ago, where she won first prize!
I decided I’d try it out, but use a cream cheese pie crust recipe I’d also had filed for a while and wanted to try out.

The final product? Delicious! Crisp, sweet apples covered lightly in a crumble topping with a warm cinnamon flavor. The apples were slightly gooey, but without the gelatin texture that reminds me of jello in a pie that’s served in many diners.
The crust was super flavorful, having a slight tang from the cream cheese. One thing about the crust is that it calls for a 9 inch pie pan but I used a 10 inch since that’s what the filling called for. So if you don’t adjust the crust proportions like me, you might find the crust to be a bit thin and skimpy and become brown pretty fast around the edges. But I didn’t mind this because the overall pie was just that delicious! I have suggestions below for not running into this snag though.🙂

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Apple Pie with Cream Cheese Crust

Yield: one 9 inch pie

Cream Cheese Crust:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon 1% low-fat milk
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 (4.5 oz) cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cooking spray
  • Directions:
    • 1. Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl; beat well at medium speed with a mixer until smooth. Add milk and egg yolk; beat until well-blended. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to bowl, stirring until well-blended.
    • 2. Press mixture gently into a 4-inch circle on plastic wrap, wrap up and chill for 15 minutes. Unwrap dough and roll to an 11-inch circle. (If dough is extremely sticky, you can roll dough before unwrapping it and stick it in the freezer for 5 minutes until wrap can be removed easily).
    • 3. Coat a 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray or butter. Gently lift the rolled dough and insert into the dish. Center on dish and then press dough against bottom and sides of pan. Fold edges under and flute.
    • Adapted from Cooking Light 
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  • Picture of pie before being baking
  • Apple Filling:

Yield: Makes enough for a 10-inch pie

(since crust is only for 9 inch pan, you can either fill as much as possible and then bake the rest in an oven proof dish (it’ll be a mini crisp), or you can decrease the ingredients a bit; I’m not sure how much though)

scant 1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 TBP all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp salt

7 cups thinly sliced peeled apples (about 7 medium)

cooking spray

Topping:

6 TBP (1 3/4 oz) all-purpose flour

3 TBP brown sugar

3 TBP chilled butter

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. To prepare filling: combine sugar and next 4 ingredients through the salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle sugar mixture over apple; toss well to coat. (If you are concerned about apples turning brown, squeeze some lemon juice over them). Spoon filling into pie pan with unbaked crust.

2. To make topping, combine flour and brown sugar in a small bowl. Cut in 3 TBP butter with a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingers until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle topping over the filling on pie. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees without removing pie from oven and bake an additional 30 minutes or until apples are crisp tender.

*Crust might brown quicker than pie cooks. If this happens, you can cover the pie with fin foil while it finishes baking and/or put pie on lower rack of oven.

Adapted from Cooking Light, Susan Brackett’s First Prize recipe

Perfect Brownies

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I’ve made a lot of great brownie recipes, but each one had at least one imperfection. Either they were too thick or thin, too fudgy and gooey, too firm and fudge-like, or too dry around the edges.

And brownies is one of those desserts that when you decide to indulge in such a rich treat, you want to make every bite worth it. I typically wouldn’t make a low-fat brownie, because why eat a brownie if it’s low-fat and won’t possess that buttery, bittersweet chocolate flavor that defines a brownie? I find some of the really good low-fat brownie recipes are almost there, but I always feel like they’re missing something, and therefore don’t satisfy my brownie craving.

Recently, I happened upon a new blog called Cookie and Kate. When I read the description and recipe for her “Very best brownies,” I decided to give them a go. It was unique in that she instructs the baker to brown the butter before mixing in the rest of the ingredients and her recipe calls for fine grain sea salt. The chocolate used for the substance of the brownies is 100% unsweetened cocoa powder and then some semi-sweet, chopped chocolate is mixed in right before the brownies are baked to enhance the chocolate flavor even more and add another textural element, gooifying the brownies more with those spots of delicious chocolate that aren’t completely melted in.

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I cut the sugar a bit, as usual, which ended up being the perfect amount. I also used all-purpose flour, as opposed to white-whole wheat called for in the recipe. Although it was said you won’t be able to taste the difference in the final product, I didn’t want to risk that wheaty flavor that might taint the brownies🙂

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So when you bite into one of these delicious treats, you will find a brownie that is amazingly chewy, a little gooey, very moist, and fudgy with a glistening top as well as one that has a deep caramelized flavor (from the browned butter), that combines with dark, rich chocolate and hints of sea salt to make a brownie that you will savor until the last crumb.

And the part that made me over the edge happy was that the edges weren’t dry at all! They had the same moist, chewy texture as the rest of the brownies, but had an added bonus: that crusty edge!

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Perfect Brownies

Yield: one 8 inch square pan

Ingredients:

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch slices

generous 1 cup granulated sugar

¾ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted if has become lumpy

½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

¼ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon espresso powder or very finely ground coffee (optional)

2 cold large eggs

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

⅔ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (can also try white-whole wheat flour)

1 to 2 ounces dark or semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped (or ⅓ cup chocolate chips)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with two criss-crossed pieces of parchment paper, making sure that the paper is long enough to go up the sides a couple of inches. Grease the parchment paper.
  2. Brown the butter: Melt the butter in a medium-sized light colored saucepan over medium heat. Continue to cook the butter, while whisking constantly, until it’s a pale golden brown and the particles suspended in it are reddish brown. This will take some time and right when you think it’s just staying the same color, you will notice a ton of little brown bits that have formed underneath the liquid butter. As soon as you spot these, about 10 minutes, take the butter off the heat and make sure it did not burn. If you did this right, you will detect a deep nutty aroma and have a lot of brownish/auburn bits on the bottom and a very light brown liquid. (If you haven’t browned butter before, I strongly suggest giving it a try! It will take your baked goods to a more complex and delicious level than before!)
  3. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the sugar immediately, this is how the crackly shiny crust/top is achieved.  Then add the cocoa powder, sea salt, baking powder and espresso powder. Stir until the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula after each one. When the mixture looks thick, shiny and well blended, add the vanilla extract and the flour. Mixture will be thick and hard to stir. Stir until you no longer see streaks of flour. Then beat vigorously for 50 strokes with the wooden spoon or spatula.
  5. At this point, the mixture should be no more than slightly warm (if not, let it cool for a few more minutes). Fold in the chocolate chunks or chips.
  6. Spread the batter in the lined pan, then use a knife to make light swirls in the top of the batter. Bake on the lower rack for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool the brownies in the pan on a baking rack.
  7. Once the brownies are completely cool, lift the edges of the parchment paper and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut the brownies into 16 or 25 squares.

Adapted from Cookie and Kate blog