Holiday baking means cookies. Lots of cookies of various styles, shapes and sparkles.
At least that's what I thought before my life became a carnival. It's not that I don't like to bake, but I no longer have the time to pull all my favorites from the recipe box, clip new recipes and spend the weekends leading up to Christmas elbow deep in flour and butter.
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Yet I still love to be able to put out a festive spread of treats for guests, or wrap up a nice platter to share with teachers, co-workers and friends at holiday gatherings.
So to simplify things this season, I looked to my favorite year-round treat: brownies.
Now I'm in the camp of those who firmly state that chocolate chip cookies do not count as holiday cookies. But brownies, now that's a different story. There are so many ways to dress up brownies. My brownie bites are a simple treat that can be adapted for a number of taste preferences and will surely add sparkle to any holiday dessert lineup.
I start with basic brownie batter. You can use your favorite from-scratch recipe that makes a 9-by-13-inch pan. But to simplify things, which is what these are really all about, I use a boxed mix.
To create the bites, scoop the batter into greased mini muffin pans and bake them 20-plus minutes. The baking time will depend on the size of the pan; some muffin cups are deeper than others.
Once they come out of the oven, use a wooden mini-tart press to form the brownies into a cup shape. If you don't have this handy gadget, use the bottom of a shot glass to gently press down.
I like the cup shape because it allows me to fill the brownie with mousse, caramel or other toppings that aren't as stiff as traditional cake frosting.
For a brownie buffet, I recommend a mix of dark chocolate and milk chocolate bases. The filling/frosting recipes I've included can be mixed and matched.
The fillings themselves also can be altered. So if you are afraid people won't go for bacon crumbles and caramel, sprinkle yours with Heath Bar bits or chocolate jimmies. Make chocolate mousse instead of white chocolate mousse. Garnish with strawberries, candied orange peel or kiwi instead of raspberries. I don't like peanut butter with chocolate, but I know there are those who do, so I've included a Betty Crocker recipe for a peanut butter brownie cup that could certainly be part of the spread.
In a few short hours. you can have dozens of festive brownie bites ready for the neighbor's holiday open house or church cookie walk. Edible gifts for those you love and, for you, the gift of time.