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Chocolate Banana Monkey Bars

Children are filled with genius ideas if you listen closely. A few weeks ago, my son was staring longingly into our snow-filled, icicle-rimmed backyard, dreaming of warmer days. And then he exclaimed, Mommy, we should make some monkey bars! In retrospect, he was probably referring to building his own personal playground in our backyard. But, in the moment, as I moved about our kitchen preparing dinner, my mind interpreted his request into a recipe idea. Monkey Bars. Genius!

We paused for a moment to consider the foods which monkeys enjoy. Clearly, bananas were on the top of the list. Chocolate and peanuts decided to tag along for the ride. Our plan came together easily after that. We’d start with a peanut butter cookie crust, topped with our favorite, simple fudgey brownie, mixed with chunks of fresh banana and garnished with crunchy peanuts.

Your monkeys will go bananas for these tasty little treats! Mine sure did!

Chocolate Banana Monkey Bars

Ingredients

  • 15 peanut butter sandwich cookies, crushed
  • 4 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup bananas, chopped
  • 1/4 cup shelled peanuts, coarsely chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray.

Combine the cookie crumbs with the melted butter, until well blended. Press the mixture into the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven.

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate chips and butter until smooth, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat. Stir in the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt until dissolved. Stir in the flour. Add the eggs and stir until well blended. Stir in the chopped bananas. Spread the mixture over the peanut butter cookie crust. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts on top. Bake for about 35-45 minutes, until the brownies appear set and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out mostly clean. Cool before cutting into small squares.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

The big day is finally upon us! The remainder of our holiday house guests and house pets arrived a few days ago and our home is now bustling with activity. The kids (and I) are overflowing with anticipation.

Yesterday evening, Santa made an early visit to my house, dressed as a Home Depot delivery man. He brought me the gift which every Gourmand Mom needs…an extra refrigerator for the garage. Skip the faux furs, glitzy clutch purses, and other sparkly bling that television advertisements will lead you to believe that every woman desires. All this girl wanted was a fridge.

I’ll be signing out for a few days to enjoy this most wonderful holiday with my family, but before I go, here’s one more cookie recipe to add to the collection. These cookies weren’t on the agenda for this year. They were a last minute addition, inspired by those Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies I’d baked and Martha Stewart. The chocolate cookie recipe, adapted from Hershey’s was so delicious, that it left me with the overwhelming urge to bake more chocolate cookies. Then, while flipping through Martha Stewart’s most recent cookie magazine, I ran across a recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies.

The idea was irresistible to me; chocolate cookies accented with a healthy dose of cinnamon and spicy cayenne pepper. It reminded me of a Chocolate Chile Cake I baked several months ago. I had to give these cookies a try. So, I took the Hershey’s cookie recipe and combined it with Martha’s spices to create these delicious Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies. The result is a chewy, rich chocolate cookie, which tastes of fudge on the first bite, but lingers with a kick of cayenne in the background. Definitely worth a try!

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Flour
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 teaspoons Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 2 sticks Butter, softened
  • 1 cup White Sugar
  • 3/4 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract to the butter/sugar mixture. Beat for another minute or two, until well blended. Gradually blend in the flour mixture. Roll the dough into small balls (about 1″ diameter) and place about 1 1/2″ apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 9-10 minutes. Cool for a couple minutes on the baking sheet before moving the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

If you ask my kids, you can’t have hot chocolate without marshmallows. So, for a fun little twist, I wrapped some of the spicy chocolate dough around mini marshmallows before rolling the balls. The marshmallows melted into the cookies and added a touch of extra gooeyness in the center!

Wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season!

Sand Tarts

You’ve heard me kvetching about cut-out cookies in the past. As much as I love to bake, I’ve got very little patience for the flouring, rolling, cutting, baking, and individual decorating involved in making cut-out cookies. And all too often, I just don’t find the results to be worth the effort. But I have one big exception to this sentiment; Sand Tarts.

I found the recipe for these Sand Tarts several years ago, nestled in the back pages of an old Better Homes and Gardens A Festive Christmas cookbook. They are essentially a sugar cookie, accented with lemon and garnished with cinnamon sugar and almonds, which gives them the appearance of perfectly round, perfectly delicious sand dollars.

They are cut-out cookies. They require that floured work surface, rolling, cutting, baking, and individual decorating I have such low tolerance for. But, with these particular cut-out cookies, the end result is worth the work. I make these almost every year.

There is something about the particular combination of flavors and proportion of ingredients in this recipe which produces the most perfectly delicious cookie with the most spectacular texture. They are crisp around the edges with an excellent chewy pull to the center. This recipe is pretty perfect as is, so I’ve shared it almost exactly as it’s written in the cookbook. Give them a try. I think you’ll be happy you did!

Sand Tarts

Very slightly adapted from the Sand Tarts in Better Homes and Gardens’

A Festive Christmas

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) Butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups Flour
  • 2 cups Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon Lemon Extract
  • 1 Egg White, beaten
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • Sliced Almonds

Directions

Beat butter with an electric mixer for a few seconds, until creamy. Beat in half of the flour, the 2 cups sugar, eggs, and lemon extract until well combined. Stir in the remaining flour.

Divide the dough in half, wrap each half, and chill for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Handling one half of the dough at a time, roll the dough onto a well-floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. Use a 2-3 inch round cookie cutter to cut the cookies. Place the cut cookies onto a baking sheet about 1 inch apart. In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar. Brush each cookie with the beaten egg white. Then, sprinkle with a bit of the cinnamon sugar and arrange 3-5 almonds on top. Bake for about 8-9 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.

Makes 4-5 dozen


Cherry Vanilla Drops

My baking equipment is in revolt. I don’t blame it. I outright lied. The proof is in yesterday’s post. I’d promised my baking equipment a small break from this baking madness. It’s served me well these last few weeks. It really deserved a break. And then the cookie mania took hold again. I just had to have those little thumbprint cookies with the marashino cherries. It couldn’t wait a few days. I needed them immediately.

So, moments after I hit the publish button on yesterday’s post, I took three sticks of butter out of the fridge to soften. I’m pretty sure that’s what clued the baking equipment in; those conspicuous sticks of butter sitting on the counter. If I were smart, I would have hidden them in the dining room. But, on the counter they sat. And then, when it came time to mix up the cookie dough, my electric mixer was nowhere to be found. Nowhere.

Now, for anyone who knows me and my not-so-borderline obsessive compulsive tendencies, you’d realize that this is an unusual occurrence. I don’t misplace things very often. Everything has a place. In this case, the mixer’s place is back in its original box, in the pantry, next to the mini food processor. But when I went to said place, there was no mixer. Just an empty box. Befuddled doesn’t begin to explain my reaction. I scanned the kitchen, scanned the pantry, scanned the dining room. No mixer.

After a bit of searching, I finally found the mixer, cord wrapped around it, hiding in a basket in the pantry, under a pile of chocolate chips and marshmallows. That is most definitely not where I would have put my mixer.

My current theory is that the mixer caught sight of the butter on the counter and tried to make a run for it. When it realized it had no legs or other form of locomotion, it simply took cover and hoped for the best. Sorry dear mixer, my best is better than your best. I win. We’re making cookies.

I started with a Martha Stewart recipe for thumbprint cookies, but since my version doesn’t involve any thumb-sized indentations, it hardly seems appropriate to call them thumbprint cookies. So, based on my addition of a healthy dose of vanilla and sweet marashino cherries, I’m dubbing these little guys Cherry Vanilla Drops.

Cherry Vanilla Drops

Adapted from Aunt Maggie’s Jam Thumbprints via Martha Stewart

Ingredients

  • 3 sticks Butter, softened
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla
  • 3 1/4 cups Flour
  • 4 dozen Marashino Cherries

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla. Beat for another minute or two, until well combined. Gradually add the flour, until evenly blended. Roll the dough into balls, about 1″ diameter. Place about two inches apart on a baking sheet. Press a marashino cherry into the center of each ball. Bake for about 18 minutes, until the edges just begin to turn golden. Cool for a minute or two on the baking sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen

Rainbow Cookies

So many family events and special occasions in my life have ended with a great big tray of Italian cookies. You know, those huge colorful platters of pink butter cookies, green butter cookies, butter cookies with cherries, butter cookies with sprinkles, butter cookies dipped in chocolate and butter cookies with jam. And mixed within all of those buttery sweets would be a handful of the premium cookies; the Florentines, the Pirouettes filled with chocolate, and my favorite of all, the Rainbow Cookies. I just love those sweet, little cakey confections.

I can still feel a bit of that panic I felt every time the cookie platter was placed on the table; waiting for the moment when it was appropriate to begin serving myself; worried that the prized gems of the cookie platter would be scooped up before I got my turn at the platter. As I pretended to be engaged in conversation, I watched that cookie platter with eagle eyes for the signal that dessert was officially served. Then, I’d swoop in and gobble up a few of those delectable Rainbow Cookies before anyone knew they were there. Even now, I still feel a possessive panic in the presence of those cookies.

My grocery store sells little plastic containers of Rainbow cookies for a king’s ransom. Every so often, I pick up a container and selfishly hoard them for myself. I just can’t seem to lose that fear that there won’t be enough for me. I’ve been meaning to try my hand at making these beloved cookies for ages and decided that this would finally be the year. After a few initial set-backs, including an epic battle against some Nut Lace cookies, another snow storm, and a broken glass bowl of melted butter on my kitchen floor, I finally managed to whip up a batch of these tasty goodies. The good news is that, as long as you slow down and don’t try to rush the process, these cookies are quite manageable to make and oh, so delicious!

When I began my search for a Rainbow Cookie recipe, I quickly discovered that nearly every source listed practically identical recipes. Apparently, the recipe is fairly standard. The variations were minor, basically addressing the quantity of butter, the length of time to let the layers chill, and the flavor of jam between the layers. I took the middle ground at each decision point and the cookies worked out perfectly.

Rainbow Cookies

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine’s Rainbow Cookies

Ingredients

  • 4 Eggs, separated
  • 1 8-ounce can Almond Paste
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 2 1/2 sticks Butter
  • 1 teaspoon Almond Extract
  • 2 cups Flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • Green Food Coloring
  • Red Food Coloring
  • 1 12-ounce jar Seedless Raspberry Jam
  • 12 ounces Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
  • Chocolate Sprinkles (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease three 13×9 inch baking pans with vegetable shortening.* Line each baking pan with parchment paper, slightly extending the paper on two ends.** Grease the paper with vegetable shortening.

Place the four egg whites into a clean bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Use a fork to break up the almond paste into smaller pieces. Combine the almond paste and sugar in a food processor and grind until no lumps appear.

Transfer the almond mixture to a large bowl. Add the butter and beat until well combined. Add the egg yolks and almond extract and beat until blended. Beat in the flour and salt. The dough will be quite thick.

Stir one third of the beaten egg whites into the dough. This will slightly lighten the mixture. Then, fold in the remaining egg whites until well blended.

Divide the dough into three equal portions. Use the food coloring to color one portion red and another portion green. The remaining portion will remain uncolored.

Use a spatula to spread each portion of dough into the three prepared baking pans.

Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 7-10 minutes, until the cakes are set and the edges just begin to turn golden.

While the cake is still hot, use a knife to loosen the edges. Then, carefully invert the cakes onto cooling racks. Cool completely.

Once cool, carefully move the green layer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread 1/2 of the jam over the green layer. Place the white layer over the jam, then spread the remaining jam on top. Top with the red layer.

Place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the red layer. Then, weight down the layers with a cutting board or another baking sheet and refrigerate for about 5 hours.

Remove from the fridge and trim the edges to create an even rectangle.

Melt half of the chocolate and spread it over the pink layer. Scatter chocolate sprinkles into the melted chocolate, if desired. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, until the chocolate is firm. Then, flip the layers over, melt the remaining chocolate, and spread over the green layer. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm.

To cut, allow the chocolate to come to room temperature. Then, cut into small rectangles or diamonds.

Makes about 4 dozen

*Baking all three layers at once will save you time. If you don’t have three baking pans, use disposable aluminum pans. This will also make your clean up easier!

**For safety reasons, do not allow too much extra paper to overhang the pans; just enough to help you lift and remove the cakes once they’re cooked.

Coconut Macaroons

I had big plans for yesterday’s cookie endeavors. First, I’d whip up some Nut Lace Cookies, then move onto the Rainbow Cookies, and finish with the Macaroons. For a chilly Sunday afternoon, it seemed like a reasonable to-do list. Well, the day didn’t go exactly as planned. I always seem to forget how finicky those Nut Lace Cookies can be. The recipe is deceptively simple, but the execution is ridden with potential for frustration. After fighting with the Nut Lace Cookies, there was no way I was about to embark on the Rainbow Cookie adventure. Thankfully, the Macaroons are a cinch to make. So, I jumped straight to the stress-free Macaroons and finished up the day with some Dark Chocolate Holiday Bark and Chocolate-Covered Spiders.

I love adding macaroons to my holiday cookie collection each year. They’re quick and easy to make and I’m pretty sure that everyone loves them. For the past few years, I’ve been using a recipe from the cookbook, The Great Big Cookie Book by Hilaire Walden. My only adaptation is in using parchment paper instead of the original recipe’s suggested wax paper. I’ve had issues in the past with wax paper sticking to the bottoms of the macaroons. And there’s nothing I hate more than having to pick off tiny bits of wax paper from the bottoms of my cookies! Using parchment paper completely eliminated this issue.

I like to drizzle the tops of my macaroons with melted semi-sweet chocolate. A disposable pastry bag, fitted with a small, round pastry tip works well for this task, but a plastic freezer bag with a tiny bit of the corner cut off would do the trick too. In the past, I’ve dipped half of the macaroon directly in chocolate, but found that amount of chocolate to be overwhelming on the macaroons, even for a chocoholic like myself. Just a little drizzle of chocolate over the top adds the perfect finishing touch.

Chocolate-Drizzled Coconut Macaroons

Adapted from the Macaroons in The Great Big Cookie Book by Hilaire Walden

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 7 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Grease the paper with vegetable shortening. Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the coconut. Add the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Stir until well combined. Drop rounded tablespoons of the mixture about an inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 20 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool.

Once cool, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or over a double boiler. Carefully transfer the melted chocolate into a pastry bag fitted with a small, round pastry tip. Drizzle the chocolate over the macaroons. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 6 dozen

As far as those Nut Lace Cookies go, I think I’m going to hold off on posting that recipe. I’ve got a couple ideas for simplifying the process that I’d like to try first. Stay tuned!

Also, coming up… Rainbow Cookies and Two Chocolately Treats – Dark Chocolate Holiday Bark and Chocolate-Covered Spiders!

Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

When I sat down to make my list of cookies to tackle this holiday cookie season, I started with a few of my standard favorites; Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Sand Tarts, Chocolate Covered Spiders, Macaroons, and Nut Lace Cookies with Chocolate. Then, I started thinking outside of my standards. I knew I’d make the Pfeffernüsse for my dad and I’ve been itching to make Rainbow Cookies for a while. After exploring a few other options, I got the idea in my head to make a Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookie; sort of combining the flavors of a peppermint patty with the texture of a chewy chocolate chip cookie.

I go weak in the knees for chocolate, especially rich, dark chocolate. And these cookies are exactly that; rich and chocolatey, with crisp edges and a chewy center. I started with a basic Hershey’s chocolate cookie recipe and proceeded from there. I went heavy on the cocoa, threw in some semi-sweet chocolate chips, and substituted part of the vanilla for a hefty dose of peppermint extract. The resulting cookie exceeded my expectations. I’ve definitely found a new yearly regular for my cookie collection.

Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Adapted from Hershey’s

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Flour
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 sticks Butter, softened
  • 1 cup White Sugar
  • 3/4 cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 teaspoons Peppermint Extract
  • 1 (12-ounce) package Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until creamy. Add the eggs and extracts. Beat for another minute or two, until well blended. Gradually blend in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips. Roll the dough into small balls (about 1″ diameter) and place about 1 1/2″ apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 9-10 minutes. Cool for a couple minutes on the baking sheet before moving the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies


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