Sweet and rich and decadent – and a wonderful treat in the midst of the dark winter months. These caramel frosted brown sugar bars are a favorite of mine. I tend toward caramel. I love chocolate, of course, but if given the choice I’d choose caramel. So these are a nice deviation from a traditional chocolate brownie, packed with sweet caramel flavor. Share these with friends if you want to earn some brownie points, but make sure you save one or two for your ownself.
Double Caramel Bars
For the Brownies:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 cups light brown sugar
¾ cup flour
1 Teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
For the Frosting:
¼ cup butter
½ cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
For the Brownies:
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 8 by 8 inch square pan with non-stick foil or parchment, or spray with cooking spray.
Beat the butter in an electric mixer until light. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour, baking powder, vanilla and salt until well combined and smooth.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, just until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely.
For the Frosting:
The brownies must be completely cool, or the frosting won’t set.
Cut the butter into cubes and place in a saucepan with the brown sugar, cream and salt. After everything melts together, bring to a full, rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. When it reaches that boil, count to 60 Mississippi, then pull it off the heat. Leave the pan to cool for about 5 minutes, then vigorously beat in the powdered sugar until smooth.
Spread the glaze over the brownies. Leave the glaze to set, then slice and enjoy. Covered tightly, this cake will last a few days.
Makes 16 bars
I adapted this recipe from an old community cookbook, modernizing and stream lining it a bit, but I can’t imagine its origins. Maybe Scandinavian? Or a take on a French quatre epices? A Byzantine tradition? I don’t know, but the unusual spice combination lightly sweetened with honey really sets this bread apart. I want there to be some story that this is symbolic of the Three Kings riding in from the East, with the whiff of exotic spices. Though that is just my fanciful imagining, there is something mysterious about the flavor of this alluring loaf.
I love this bread warm with honey butter, on a cold morning, with a cup of warm tea or hot chocolate. But it is also rather intriguing beside a bowl of creamy soup. The honey butter, of course, has more uses than I can list here.
Holiday Spice Bread with Whipped Honey Butter
¼ cup warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
1 cup milk
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) Tablespoons butter, divided
½ cup honey
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
4 – 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Place the warm water in the large bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle over the yeast. Leave to become foamy and bubbling.
Pour the milk into a 2 cup glass measuring jug or small bowl and add 6 Tablespoons of the butter cut into pieces. Microwave in 20 second bursts until the milk is just warm and the butter is melted. Stir well.
When the yeast has foamed up, add the honey, milk mixture spices and salt to the yeast in the bowl. Beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until everything is just blended. Add the flour slowly, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. When you have added 2 cups of flour, beat in the egg, then continue adding the flour until you have a shaggy ball of dough, most of which clings to the paddle in a ball, but all of which you can easily scoop into a ball.
Butter a large bowl well, scoop the dough into a ball and transfer to the bowl. Turn the dough ball around in the bowl so it is buttered on all sides. Cover the bowl with a towel and place in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.
Punch down the dough and knead it 3 – 4 times, then place in a well butttered 9-inch round casserole dish. Cover and let rise for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake for 1 hour or until golden, firm and it makes a hollow sound when you knock on it. You can tent the loaf lightly with foil if it starts gets darker than you prefer.
Melt the remaining butter (after using some to grease the bowl and the casserole) and brush over the top of the hot bread. Cover with a tea towel and cook in the pan (covering the bread keeps the crust soft).
Makes on 9 – inch loaf
Whipped Honey Butter
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
¼ cup honey
¼ teaspoon vanilla bean paste, vanilla seeds or vanilla extract
Beat the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment to smooth it out. Add the honey and vanilla and beat on high speed, scraping the sides of the bowl a couple of times, until the butter is light and fluffy. Scoop into a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
Makes ½ cup
It is always nice to have a simple, quick party recipe in you back pocket during the holidays. Something you can whip up quickly and without too much pre-planning and take to the party of gathering you forgot about – you know, you volunteered a month ago to bring a snack, but completely let it slip your mind. And this is it.
Good ingredients make a good recipe, and by using a good bottled chutney and curry powder, you get a sprightly punch of flavor with little effort. I have always loved this spread and I promise it is a hit at parties. I always get recipe requests when I take this somewhere. The unusual and slightly exotic taste makes it seem much more complicated and labor intensive than it is. And it is easy to make it look elegant by molding it into a nice round dome. Put it on a pretty holiday platter with some crackers and you are ready to go. It needs a couple of hours in the frideg to firm up, but can be made days ahead. And any leftovers are pretty great as a sandwich.
Cheddar Chutney Spread
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
4 ounces cream cheese
1 (8-ounce) jar good mango chutney (Major Grey style)
4 green onions, chopped
1 Tablespoon mild curry powder
1 chopped green onion for garnish
1 handful of roasted peanuts for garnish
Use the grating blade on the food processor to grate the cheddar cheese. Switch to the metal blade, then add the cream cheese, chutney, green onions and curry powder. Blend until smooth.
Now you can go simply scrape the spread into a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate for several hours until firm and serve sprinkled with green onions and peanuts. Or do what I do to make it a little fancier. Line a nice round bowl with plastic wrap, smoothing it out as much as possible, then press the spread into the bowl, compacting it as much as possible. Pull the ends of the plastic wrap to cover the top and refrigerate for several house or overnight until firm. Unwrap the top of the spread and invert it onto a plate. Remove the plastic wrap and smooth the top with a knife. Sprinkle over chopped green onions and peanuts.
Serve with buttery crackers. Can be made several days ahead.
I can’t make it through the holiday season without the flavor of eggnog. I cook and bake with eggnog in all sorts of ways, from Overnight Eggnog French Toast Caserole to Eggnog Pie and I fall for all the eggnog seasonal flavors on the grocery shelves. That perfect holiday richness with the whiff of nutmeg really puts me in the holiday spirit.
These simple bars are a perfect take-along to a party or great wrapped up as a gift. I like them with a mug of eggnog or steaming cup of hot chocolate.
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup refrigerated dairy egg nog
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon nutmeg, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup white chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line an 8 by 8 inch pan with nonstick foil or parchment paper with some overhang on each end, which makes it easier to remove, then slice the bars.
Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add the egg, beating well, then add the eggnog and vanilla. Beat until thoroughly combined. Don’t worry if the mixture looks a little curdled.
Add the flour, baking powder and nutmeg and beat until the batter is completely incorporated and smooth. Stir in the white chocolate chips. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer. Sprinkle a bit of nutmeg over the top of the batter. Bake the bars for 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
Cool the bars in the pan for 10 minutes, then gently lift them out using the overhanging foil and palce on a rack to cool completely. Cut into small squares.
The bars will keep for 2 days in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper.
Makes 16 bars
Christmas is the perfect time for red velvet. It’s the festive color of the season, and it is just so fun. I’ve made Red Velvet Polka Dot Cookies and Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes, and experiment with even more ideas. But this may be the most practical. Pound Cake is such a holiday staple – it’s easy to make, keeps well and freezes beautifully. Serve hefty slices with whipped cream or ice cream and some festive sprinkles for a dessert, or smaller slices on a buffet. Wrap a loaf in plastic wrap with pretty ribbon and it makes a beautifully fun, festive gift. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it would be lovely baked in those little decorated paper mini loaf pans as a gift.
I’ve added a simple glaze (skip it for freezing or wrapping) because it adds a lovely snowy top, but the cake is rich and lovely without it. I’ve even sprinkled the glaze with sparkling sanding sugar to give it a real winter wonderland effect.
Red Velvet Pound Cake
½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ Tablespoons red food coloring
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
a pinch of salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar
½ cup buttermilk
For the Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon buttermilk
Preheat oven to 325°. Lightly grease and flour a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan or use baking spray like Bakers’ Joy.
Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and food coloring on slow speed.
Sift the flour, salt and cocoa together in a bowl. Dissolve the baking soda in the vinegar and add to the buttermilk in the measuring jug. Beat the dry ingredients into the butter and egg alternately with the buttermilk in three additions, mixing well after each and scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently.
Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to release air bubbles. Bake for about 50 minutes or until cake is done and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan about 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the Glaze:
Whisk together the powdered sugar and buttermilk until you have a runny galze (use a bit more buttermilk if needed. Pour the galze evenly over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides.
In the kitchen, surrounded by a surfeit of holiday baking supplies, I had a sudden craving for Hello Dolly Bars. I love Hello Dollies (or Seven Layer Bars or Magic Bars, whatever you call them), but they are not something I generally make, because I have lots of friends for whom it’s their standard recipe for to parties and weekends away. So I generally rely on others for my dolly fix. But standing there, with that craving, I suddenly thought I could get a little creative. I simply substituted warm, spicy speculoos cookies in the crust and added cinnamon chips to the butterscotch. I left out the coconut, because I don’t love it, but also because I think it takes away from the unique spicy note of this version of the classic.
Spiced Dolly Bars
2 (8.8 ounce) packages Biscoff cookies (about 60 cookies)
½ (1 stick) cup butter, melted and cooled
1 (14 – ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (11-ounce) package butterscotch chips
1 (10-ounce) package cinnamon baking chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 13 by 9 inch baking pan with foil, with the edges overhanging. Use non-stick foil if you can, spray it well with cooking spray if you can’t.
Break the cookies into the bowl of a food processor and girnd to crumbs. Add the melted butter an process until themixture comes together. Press the crumbs in a layer on the bottom of the prepared pan, making sure there are no holes. Pour the condensed milk over the crust, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle the butterscotch and cinnamon chops over evenly over the crust, then the walnuts. Gently press the chips and nuts into the condensed milk.
Bake the bars for 25 minutes, until everything is bubbly. It will look a little liquid, but will firm up as it cools. Cool the bars completely, then lift the whole thing out of the pan using the overhanging foil.
Makes 16 bars
My mother used to make a dish she called Hot Browns on cold nights when we were kids. I loved hot brown nights. I didn’t know that Hot Browns were a real dish, something with a history and many fanatical supporters and traditionalists, I just thought it was something yummy my mom invented, specific to our house. I have to admit that my mom’s version was not traditional. It involved sliced turkey, ham and cheddar cheese soup from a can. My mom always made them in these white porcelain dishes that I think of today as Hot Brown dishes.
As an adult, who cooks the vast majority of the Thanksgiving meal, I have asked my mom to make Hot Browns with the leftover turkey. So it occurred to me some years ago that I should develop a recipe for this favorite treat. In researching the idea, I discovered how serious the discussion of the Kentucky Hot Brown is, with fervent camps for versions with sliced tomatoes, and those without. I even had a Hot Brown in Kentucky that had potato chips piled on top. But I didn’t necessarily want to share the classic recipe, but to re-create the memory from my childhood. So I call these Tennessee Hot Browns to stay out of the battle. I like lots of cheddar cheese, and no tomatoes, but crispy bacon is always a good thing. The sandwiches are hot and cheesy and comforting and perfect for a long weekend.
Tennessee Hot Browns
½ cup butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
6 Tablespoons grated cheddar cheese (plus a little for sprinkling)
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
8 slices white bread
About 2 pounds sliced roasted turkey
8 strips bacon, cooked until crispy
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then whisk in the flour until smooth and pale in color. Whisk in the milk, cooking until the sauce is thick. Whisk in the cheese and nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat the broiler of your oven. Lay a slice of bread in the bottom of each of four oven proof dishes. If you don’t have individual dishes, lay the bread in a 13 by 9 inch dish. Layer the turkey on top of the bread, then pour the sauce over the top. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the top of each sandwich. Broil the hot browns until the tops are speckled brown and bubbling, about 5 minutes – but watch carefully. Lay the bacon slices on top of the hot browns and serve immediately.
Makes 4 sandwiches
I have been making a version of caramelized onion dip for ages. I take it to parties, lake weekends, family gatherings and football watching events. I get requests for it, and it is always absolutely vacuumed up.
But when you are an avid cook, you want to constantly challenge yourself. So after years of making this dish, I set out to rev it up a bit, change things. And now that I’ve hit on this recipe, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it ages ago. It combines some of my favorite flavors – sweet caramelized onions, smoky bacon and bourbon with amazing results. This dip is decadent; it is unquestionably rich. But It will blow those you serve it to away. The bourbon adds this little zip and edge of sweetness. It is delicious hot and bubbly, but also pretty darn good cold (that’s how I serve my regular onion dip). Its great spread on crackers or served with big corn chips.
Bourbon-Spiked Caramelized Onion and Bacon Dip
8 strips of bacon
2 medium-sized yellow onions, finely diced (about 4 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon bourbon
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
generous grinds of black pepper
Cook the bacon strips in a large skillet until crispy. Remove to paper-towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Leave the bacon grease to cool, then pour it into a bowl or jar. Wipe out the skillet to remove any browned or burned bits.
Pour 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease back in the skillet and return it to medium heat. Add the onions and salt and stir well to coat. Cook until the onions are soft and glassy, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Keep the heat at medium to prevent the onions from scorching. When the onions begin to turn a slightly toffee color, add the bourbon and brown sugar, stir well and cover the pan. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are amber brown, the color of a good bourbon. If at any point the onions start to catch on the bottom of the pan, add a splash of water and stir well. Leave the caramelized onions to cool.
When the onions are cool, beat the cream cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream in the bowl of a mixer until smooth. Add the onions and bourbon and mix until combined. Chop the bacon into small pieces and add to the dip, stirring to combine. Season well with plenty of black pepper.
Spoon the dip into a 2 quart baking dish, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to allow the flavors to blend.
When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the dip for 20 minutes until it is warmed through and bubbling.
Here’s a fun fall snack that features beautiful green apples and nutty gruyere cheese. A great spread on hearty wheat crackers, this also makes a wonderful sandwich filling that’s particularly suited to rye bread. In fact, those little square slices of party rye are great for an appetizer or little tea sandwiches.
This is a basic blueprint that is fabulous on its on, but feel free to stir in some pecan or walnut pieces, or some dried cranberries.
Apple Gruyere Spread
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces of gruyere cheese, grated
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled
Beat the cream cheese until it is soft, then fold in the gruyere, mustard and chives and mix until combined. Grate the apples with their peels and immediately add to the cream cheese mixture and fold into to completely combined. Make sure the apples are covered by the cream cheese to prevent browning. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors blend. The spread will keep a few days in the fridge.
Makes about 1 ½ cups
My house is slowly being taken over by my collection of cookbooks. There are parts of the house that are not open to the public because of it. And in one of those piles of community cookbooks, I dug out this little piece of Southern ephemera: Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor. It’s been awhile since I looked through it, but I immediately sat down to peruse it again. Published in 1942 (with proceeds going to British war relief), it is much like any Southern community cookbook – no really innovative or unique recipes. Just good down home favorites like fried chicken and spoon bread.
Wallis Warfield (later Simpson, later still Duchess of Windsor) was born in Maryland and took her Southern upbringing very seriously. She was a housewife before she moved into the realms of London society and during her childhood, her mother ran a boardinghouse. So to be fair, I bet she really did know how to cook, and maybe got nostalgic for it surrounded by servants and a husband who was a famously picky eater.
At any rate, I settled on Wallis’ recipe for Feather Molasses Cake. I’ve streamlined it a bit for modern cooks and kitchens, and used sorghum, my favorite Southern sweetener. This is wonderful warm with thick spread of butter for breakfast, but I can easily see the Duchess enjoying this with a good English afternoon tea.
Wallis’s Southern Sorghum Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup sorghum
1 cup (1 8- ounce container) sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a large loaf tin.
Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and ginger in a small bowl. Beat the butter in an electric mixer until creamy, then slowly add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sorghum. Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and ending with sour cream. When the batter is smooth and combined, scrape it into the prepared loaf pan.
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan, then turn out on a wire rack to finish cooling.
Makes one loaf