When it comes to holiday goodies, decadent doesn’t have to be complicated, and simple doesn’t have to be ordinary. These brownies—amped up with an extra dose of double dark cocoa and embellished with pieces of peppermint bark—are delightful as they are. But then, because I can’t leave well enough alone, I topped them with a dollop of candy cane-infused whipped cream.
Decadent, simple and way beyond ordinary!
The best part about it (besides the fact that it’s delicious and oh-so-Christmas-y) is that I didn’t have to make a scratch recipe. I used my favorite Ghirardelli dark chocolate brownie mix as the base, and folded broken up Ghirardelli dark chocolate peppermint bark squares into the batter before baking, along with a generous spoonful of double dark cocoa blend from King Arthur Baking Company (but any dark cocoa powder works fine).
Make the brownies as directed, using water and canola oil plus egg to moisten the batter. Gently fold in the broken pieces of peppermint bark and spread it out into a buttered brownie pan.
I considered using the chunkier peppermint bark, with actual bits of candy cane sprinkled on top, but decided on the Ghirardelli-style bark for its smooth, meltable qualities and so that we didn’t accidentally chip a tooth biting into a hidden piece of candy cane. They melted completely into the baked brownies, and offered gooey pockets of pepperminty flavor in each bite. If you don’t mind a little crunchy surprise, there’d be no harm in trying these brownies with the chunky style of bark. The contrast of chewy and crunchy would probably be especially popular with kids. No adjustment is needed to the baking time, and be sure to let them cool completely so they set up for easier cutting and serving.
The candy cane whipped cream is much easier than it sounds—I simply warmed heavy whipping cream in a small saucepan and melted two broken candy canes into the cream. This took about 20 minutes, and I kept a close eye on them to avoid letting the cream reach a boiling point. The candy canes did all the work, providing the sweetness, the minty flavor and the pretty pink color. After a thorough chilling, I used the whisk attachment of my electric mixer to whip it into a creamy emulsion.
Ready to make them? Use the “click to print” card below to save this for your recipe files. Merry Christmas!
These Christmas-y brownies bring together two favorite flavors for a 'simple meets special' holiday treat.
1 box Ghirardelli dark chocolate brownie mix (or your favorite, plus oil, egg and water as directed)
1 heaping tablespoon dark cocoa (I used King Arthur Baking Double Dark Blend)
8 squares Ghirardelli dark chocolate peppermint bark, broken into pieces
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 standard size candy canes
It’s best to make this ahead, so that the candy cane-infused cream has plenty of time to chill before whipping and serving. Brownies should also be cooled for easier cutting.
Preheat oven as directed on brownie mix package, with rack in center position. Generously butter your brownie pan.
Combine dry brownie mix and dark cocoa in a bowl and whisk together. Add ingredients as instructed on brownie mix (this is usually some combination of egg, oil and water).
Gently fold in broken pieces of peppermint bark, and then transfer brownie batter to the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake as instructed and allow plenty of time for brownies to cool.
Pour cream into a small saucepan with broken candy canes, and place pan over medium-low heat. Stir gently and watch this closely to ensure cream does not boil. It should remain at a gentle simmer with steam floating above the pan. When candy canes have fully melted, transfer the cream to a bowl and refrigerate until fully chilled.
Use a handheld mixer (or a whisk, if you have really strong arms) to whip the cream to desired fluffiness. Spoon a dollop of the candy cane whipped cream onto each brownie square and serve immediately.
Ooey-gooey. It’s the only honest way to describe a s’more—with its melty, oozing richness of milk chocolate, warmed and softened by a fresh-from-the-campfire toasted marshmallow and squished between two delicately crispy, honey-sweetened graham crackers. It is a little dessert sandwich that says, “come on, be a kid again!” This beautifully sticky, utterly sweet nostalgic treat is fantastic on its own, but now I’ve just gone and made it even more sinful by baking it into a rich, dark, fudgy brownie.
Why in the world would I do such a thing, when I’m supposed to be watching my calories? One reason: National S’mores Day!
What Goes Into S’mores Brownies?
There’s no campfire required to make these, and you don’t have to get carried away making them from scratch, either. My s’mores brownie recipe (like all my brownie riffs) is based on my favorite brownie box mix, and I am confident that it would work well with your favorite, too. All you need (besides whatever the brownie box says) is a sleeve of graham crackers, a little melted butter, a jar of marshmallow cream, two Hershey’s milk chocolate bars and a smidge of cream cheese.
This would be a fun and tasty activity with the kids, the grandkids, the neighbor kids, the big kid you married or perhaps just the kid in you! There is playfulness in making them, and my hubby even joined the action during assembly—it’s funny how quick he is to lend a hand when dessert is involved, and he was definitely excited about these.
S’mores brownies are excellent when served in their just-cooled state after baking, but (as my husband discovered) they are also great cold from the fridge. My neighbor reports that they are awesome warmed up for a few seconds in the microwave—you know, bringing that melty gooiness back to life. We even tried them warmed with a small scoop of ice cream on top. I think it’s safe to say that there is not a bad way to enjoy a s’mores brownie.
How to Make S’mores Brownies
Did I mention that making them is easy? You’ll find an easy click-to-print recipe at the end of the post. It includes all the measurements and directions I used. But first, some eye candy!
I started with a graham cracker base—the same as I would make for a cheesecake or key lime pie. My graham crackers were packaged in “stacks,” which are basically just pre-halved graham squares for quick and easy s’more making. I used two stacks for the crumb base. Prepare your baking pan with a few swipes of cold butter along the bottom and sides to ensure easy removal of the ooey-gooey brownies, with all its sticky sweet fillings. Add graham crackers to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse several times to break them up into rough crumbs. Then add the melted butter and pulse again several times, until the mixture resembles coarse, wet sand. Transfer the crumbs into the buttered pan and press firmly onto the bottom, but not up the sides. Bake a few minutes to set the crumbs and then let it cool.
For the marshmallow layer, I used the same trick as in my S’mores Ice Cream last year—I used an electric mixer to combine the entire jar of marshmallow cream with a small amount of cream cheese. This knocks out the airy bubbles, making it more manageable for layering inside the brownies. Scoop this mixture into a zip top bag, seal it and set it aside.
Make the brownie batter according to package instructions. If you are obsessed with dark chocolate (ahem, like me), feel free to add a tablespoon of dark cocoa powder to the dry mix first. I planned to use Hershey milk chocolate in the layers (for its ooey-gooey properties), so the addition of cocoa is how I got my dark chocolate fix. Spoon roughly half of the brownie mixture as evenly as possible over the baked graham crust. Don’t try to spread it, as this will dislodge those beautiful crumbs. Just spoon it and let it ooze into place.
Next, snip a small corner off the bag holding the marshmallow cream and gently pipe it all over the first layer of brownie batter. I did my best to keep this layer from seeping to the edges, because marshmallow tends to turn hard and chewy if it cooks too much. My hubby jumped in to help at this point, as he had opened up the Hershey bars and broken them into individual pieces for layering onto the marshmallow cream. He may also have been doing a little quality control for me—a.k.a. taste testing the chocolate bars—and it was fun hearing him describe how he broke the bars into little pieces like that when he was a kid. You know, to make the chocolate bar last longer. 🙂
We arranged the chocolate with a little space in between so the marshmallow had plenty of room to ooze.
The rest of the brownie batter was layered on, and it was tricky to spoon it on evenly without creating a muddy swirl. Next time, I might use a zip top bag to pipe that on as well, but the swirls were not too pronounced. A few broken pieces of extra graham cracker, and our brownies were ready for the oven! My box mix suggested 45 to 50 minutes, and I gave it the full 50. My s’mores brownies were a bit on the “fudgy” side, and I think a few extra minutes in the oven would have been just fine.
As much as I’d love to claim that the calories fell out when we cut them into squares (spoiler alert—they didn’t), I think I’ll just declare that I’m glad National S’mores Day only comes once a year!
There’s no campfire required to make these, and you don’t have to get carried away making them from scratch, either. My s’mores brownie recipe (like all my brownie riffs) is based on my favorite brownie box mix, and I am confident that it would work well with your favorite, too.
1 box brownie mix, plus ingredients listed to make them (usually oil, water and egg)
1 Tbsp. dark cocoa, optional for extra rich chocolate flavor
1 sleeve honey graham crackers (or two “stacks,” if your package is like mine)
3 Tbsp. salted butter, melted
7 oz. jar marshmallow cream (or fluff)
2 Tbsp. plain cream cheese
2 full-size Hershey milk chocolate bars, broken into individual pieces
1 or 2 additional graham crackers, broken into pieces for top of brownies
Preheat oven to 325° F, or temperature recommended on the brownie mix. Place rack in center of oven. Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish.
Break up a sleeve of graham crackers (or two stacks) into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to break them into coarse crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse several more times, until mixture resembles wet sand.
Transfer crumbs to buttered baking dish and press firmly onto the bottom but not up the sides. Use a small, flat-bottomed dish to make this easy. Bake graham crust for about 7 minutes, enough to set the crumbs. Cool to room temperature.
In a small bowl, use an electric mixer or sturdy whisk to beat cream cheese and marshmallow fluff together. Spoon mixture into a quart size, zip top bag. Seal and set the bag aside for now.
Make brownie batter according to package instructions. If using dark cocoa, add it to the dry ingredients before blending.
Carefully spoon about half of the brownie batter onto the cooled graham crust. Do not spread the batter, as this will disturb the delicate crumbs.
Snip a corner of the zip top bag and use it as a piping bag to distribute the marshmallow cream over the brownie batter. Try to keep the cream about an inch away from the side edges of the dish.
Arrange the individual Hershey pieces all over the marshmallow cream. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just aim for uniform coverage with a bit of space in between each piece.
Carefully spoon the remaining batter over the layers of marshmallow and chocolate pieces. I found this easiest by using small spoonfuls, beginning around the edges of the dish first, to keep the chocolate pieces from being pushed to the outside.
Break up about two additional graham crackers (or four, if using the stacks); arrange them randomly over the top of the brownies.
Bake for the full time recommended on the brownie package, until the top of brownies is done to its usual state. (If you’re using a favorite brand, you’ll know what they should look like on top)
Cool to room temperature before cutting and serving.
My taste for chocolate has evolved exponentially since childhood. The candy bars I loved back then—Kit Kat, Snickers, Mounds and Almond Joy were some of my favorites—all fall a little flat now that I have experienced fine, artisan chocolates. After you develop a palate for high quality, single-origin chocolate, it’s tough to go back. But occasionally, nostalgia sneaks in and makes me crave a taste of yesteryear, and that’s what happened when I had to reach past a jar of unsweetened coconut to get to my go-to brownie mix.
Why couldn’t I turn my brownies into a play on an Almond Joy candy bar, I thought, but with an elevated presentation and more texture? I reached for almonds, too, and had only one dilemma—how to incorporate the coconut so that it didn’t get lost into the brownies. I didn’t just want the flavors of an Almond Joy to be present, I wanted it to look kind of like an Almond Joy candy bar, too, and that meant I could not just add coconut to the brownie mix. No, I needed to create a filling that would be enveloped inside the brownie, and I wanted it to be bite size with two almonds, just like the candy bar.
I found a recipe on Pinterest for a coconut filling intended for layer cakes, and as I considered the steps of cooking the milk and sugar together until it was dissolved and thickened, it occurred to me: isn’t that basically sweetened condensed milk, and why not just use that? It was perfect for transforming plain, shredded coconut into a thick, sticky, coconutty filling.
My brownie mix got an extra boost of dark chocolate from a spoonful of dark cocoa powder. I did this because I always wished that the candy company had made a dark chocolate version of the Almond Joy—sort of a Mounds-Almond Joy combination thing. I also gave the almond flavor a boost with a touch of almond extract added to the liquid ingredients used to make the brownie batter.
A few more notes worth mentioning before I dive into a visual walk-through of how I put these fun little treats together:
To keep this from being too sweet, I combined equal amounts of sweetened and unsweetened shredded coconut. The latter is sometimes labeled “dessicated” coconut, and you can find it in the baking aisle of a well-stocked supermarket or online from Bob’s Red Mill (where I get it). This is my preferred coconut for most recipes—cookies, smoothies, muffins, etc.—and I chose to use some of it here because I knew the filling would be sweet enough with the addition of the condensed milk and the amount of sweetened coconut. I pulsed the coconut in the food processor, too, to knock down some of the shaggy texture.
My go-to brownie mix is Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate, but (I can’t believe I’m about to say this) the chocolate chunks included in the mix may not be right for this recipe. If you are making this as mini muffins, as I did, you will find that the melted chocolate bits hinder the work of loosening and removing the brownie bites from the pan. The dark chocolate flavor is great but consider using a brownie mix that doesn’t have chips or pieces of chocolate in it; you’ll have an easier time removing the brownie bites without breaking them.
Finally, and this is important, the amounts of brownie batter and coconut filling exceed what is needed in the 24-count mini muffin pan. I had enough of both left over to make a small skillet brownie, and trust me when I tell you, that was not a bad decision either. If you decide to do this, I’d like to suggest that you eat it warm. Mmm…
OK, preheat the oven to the temperature suggested on your brownie mix, and let’s get this started!
So, was all this necessary? Couldn’t I have just chopped up some Almond Joy candies and added them to the brownies, the way I did with the Leftover Snickers Brownies I made at Halloween a few years ago? Sure, and that would have been tasty, too, but this was a lot more fun. 😊
This is a fun way to dress up a box mix, bringing together the flavors of a classic candy bar with fudgy, soft and chewy brownies.
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 box brownie mix plus ingredients on package to make them
1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder, optional
1/2 tsp. almond extract, optional
24 whole raw almonds
a few pinches flaky sea salt, optional
Note that this recipe will yield more batter and coconut filling than you will need for a single pan of mini muffin-size brownie bites. Plan ahead to use up the rest in a small baking dish or extra mini muffin pan.
Preheat oven to 325 F, or whatever temperature is recommended for the brownie mix. Generously butter the inside of every cup on a mini muffin pan.
Combine sweetened and unsweetened coconuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to make a finer texture. Transfer the coconut to a bowl. Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir until evenly blended. This will be a thick, sticky mixture.
Prepare brownie batter, adding the dark cocoa to the dry mix and the almond extract to the liquids. Fill the mini muffin cups about halfway. Scoop out a small amount of coconut filling and roll it between your hands into a ball about the size of a marble. Press the coconut ball into a muffin cup, letting the batter come up the sides around it. Repeat with the remaining muffin cups, then drop a slight spoonful of batter on top to fully enclose the coconut ball. You will have a significant amount of batter left over. See Step 5 for suggestions.
Place two almonds on each brownie bite and scatter a few small pinches of flaky sea salt over the pan. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes. Allow brownie bites to cool in the pan until they are easy to handle. Run a thin rounded knife around the edges of the brownie bites to aid in releasing them. Let them cool completely on a plate or tray.
With the remaining batter and filling, we made a warm miniature skillet brownie for two. This could also be baked up in a small glass baking dish, or make a second batch of mini brownie bites when the pan is fully cooled. Use the same method of layering coconut filling over about half of the batter, then pour the last of the batter over to cover it. Sprinkle with chopped almonds and bake for 30 minutes. Enjoy warm!
Before we talk about these amazing chocolate-and-spice brownies, let’s clear this up: Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. This has long been the belief of many Americans who assume that all the revelry and celebration associated with the 5th of May must be hugely significant to Mexico’s overall history, but it is not correct—Independence Day in Mexico happens in September. Cinco de Mayo is observed in commemoration of what happened half a century later, in 1862, in one Mexican state.
But the story of Cinco de Mayo is a great tale of triumph by a people whose love for their land outweighed the military might of a wealthy bully, and my brownies pay tribute to their passion. It is a tale so inspiring, it cannot be properly told without an incredible, dramatic anthem, like this one by Ennio Morricone (take a listen as you read). Yes, he is Italian, but Morricone’s composition is perfect for this story of a proud and dedicated people. You may also recognize this stunning piece from the ads for Modelo Mexican beer.
Mexico’s newly elected president, Benito Juárez—who was also the first indigenous political leader of the country—had inherited some economic troubles and overdue loans by European governments, and they were demanding payment. Juárez was able to cut a deal with the leaders of the U.K. and Spain, but the French president at that time wanted to call their loans by foreclosing on the region of Puebla, which was along the main road between the capital of Mexico City and the port city of Veracruz. This obviously did not sit well with Juárez. He rallied the loyal locals to stand with the Mexican Army in holding their ground (figuratively and literally) in Puebla, and when the French troops arrived the morning of May 5, outnumbering the Mexican troops and patriots by nearly 3-1, they were in for a surprise. What the Mexicans lacked in numbers, they more than tripled in might and spirit, and the French troops were forced to retreat by the end of the same day.
It was only one battle in a lengthier saga that later ended with the French taking the land for a short few years, but the story rings patriotic for anyone with a heart for civil rights, which was also playing out in the U.S. during those years. Cinco de Mayo is considered a minor holiday in most of Mexico, but here in the States, someone else’s one-day battle victory has become reason enough to throw a party. This one, not surprisingly, works out especially well for the distributors of Mexican beer. Come to think of it, the Cinco de Mayo story itself should be in one of those Modelo commercials. That would make a lot of sense.
My idea of a party, naturally, always comes back to the food. For Cinco de Mayo, I’ve skipped the obvious margaritas in favor of a sweet treat that honors the Mexican tradition of chocolate, which was so revered by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs that they used it as currency. Today, chocolate continues to play a significant role in the traditional moles of the Puebla region. Chile peppers complement chocolate exceptionally well, so I’ve added a hint of chipotle powder to these brownies, which are also kissed with extra dark cocoa, a good dose of cinnamon and real vanilla. And all the Mexican grandmothers shouted, “amén!”
If these brownies sound a bit too gourmet for your kitchen skills, relax, because this decadent dessert begins with a box of Ghirardelli. I’m all in favor of a shortcut that makes sense, and they are, in my opinion, the best box brownies, but use the one you like. The oh-so-easy ganache is optional, but allow me to tempt you further by mentioning that I spiked it with a splash of Patron XO Café Dark, a coffee- and cocoa-infused Mexican tequila. To keep it humble, I’ve baked it up in a cast-iron skillet, but don’t be fooled—this is a rich and decadent dessert for the ages, and it is worth fighting for. Call it “the ecstasy of chocolate,” if you wish.
1 box brownie mix* (I love Ghirardelli dark chocolate, but use your favorite), plus listed ingredients to make them
1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder (Mine is from King Arthur Baking, but Hershey Special Dark would be OK)
1 tsp. espresso powder*, optional (deepens the chocolate, but does not add coffee flavor)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. pure ground chipotle* (see notes)
1 tsp. real vanilla extract
1/3 cup Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
A few pinches of coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Butter, for greasing the skillet or brownie pan*
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips*
1 Tbsp. Kahlua or Patron XO Café Dark liqueur, optional
The brownie mix I use produces a chewy, fudge-style brownie. In addition to the mix, be sure you also have the ingredients listed on the box for making them.
Espresso powder is a specialty ingredient that I found in the baking aisle of a gourmet supermarket. You could also substitute a good quality instant coffee, such as Starbucks Via brand, or simply omit it.
I am crazy about the combination of chocolate and chiles! Chipotle, which is smoked jalapeno, is especially nice here. You could also use up to the same amount of pure cayenne powder, which is spicier, or pure ancho powder, which is milder and more fruity. Please do not use what is generically labeled as “chili powder,” as these random blends usually also include salt, garlic, oregano and other spices you wouldn’t want in brownies. Check your labels, always.
My decision to use the cast-iron skillet presented a few other adjustments, because a 10.25” skillet means a slightly different distribution of brownie batter. Also, the cast iron is heavy and retains heat differently than my usual 8 x 8 glass dish. I have adjusted the baking time accordingly in my instructions, but please consider your mix recommendations as well as your baking vessel.
According to my digital kitchen scale, 1/2 cup of chocolate chips was only three ounces, which falls short of “equal parts” with the cream. If you don’t have a scale, measure out 1/2 cup, then pile on as many more chips as you can without them spilling, and you’ll be in good shape.
As if the brownies are not decadent enough, believe that the next step makes them even better. If you have ever thought of ganache as “fancy,” you can lay that idea to rest. It is nothing more than equal parts hot cream and rich chocolate. I’ve spiked it with a Mexican liqueur, and it sends these brownies into purely heroic territory.
Pardon me for a moment, as I ponder the best part of Super Bowl LV—I don’t mean the game, though I’m sure that Tampa Bay fans everywhere are still celebrating and bragging on social media about the blowout win. I’m not talking about the fun party, because as much as I love chilling at home with my husband (and making great food together), we were definitely feeling the void and missing our usual houseful of friends and neighbors. Nope, I am calling out the best part. For me, it was these brownies.
I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s diet or anything; just hear me out for a sec on these brownies. Soft and fudgy, peanut butter swirly, crunchy pretzel salty, holy moly, yum. They smelled fantastic while baking, and I don’t feel one bit ashamed for taking a major shortcut—a box brownie mix.
There, I said it. Though I love my time in the kitchen, especially creating fun, new twists on foods everybody loves (pizza, for instance), I don’t make desserts very often because I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. That’s probably what attracted me to these brownies in the first place—they are not only sweet, but also nutty and salty and crunchy. I’ve adapted these from a scratch recipe by Valerie Bertinelli, the actress who now has her own cooking show on Food Network. I considered (for about a second) making them from scratch myself for our quiet, at-home Super Bowl festivities, but the reality is that Ghirardelli does it way better than I do. It was the peanut butter swirl and salty pretzel topping that won me over, anyway.
I gleaned a few bits of wisdom from the reviews for Valerie’s scratch-made recipe, such as using a smaller pan and a lesser amount of the peanut butter swirl mixture, and then I settled in to enjoy a shortcut version of what so many fellow bakers had to say—”best brownies ever!”
1 box Ghirardelli brand “dark chocolate” brownies, + ingredients to make them, which included an egg, 1/2 cup oil and 1/4 cup water.
1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
1/2 cup smooth and creamy peanut butter (not the “natural” variety)
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted to remove lumps
3 Tbsp. salted butter, melted
A handful of salted mini pretzels, broken by hand
An extra sprinkle of coarse sea salt, if you like a bit more of this contrasting flavor
The photos tell the story, but if you keep scrolling, you’ll find a downloadable PDF you can save and print for your recipe files. Enjoy!
Preheat oven to 325° F, with rack in center of oven. Butter a glass 8 x 8” baking dish.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter, confectioner’s sugar and melted butter. I used my handheld mixer for this step, but Valerie mixed it up just fine with a spoon, so do what you like there. Set this mixture aside while you prepare the brownie base.
Add dark cocoa to the brownie mix. Add the egg, oil and water, blending together until all dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in the extra chocolate pieces. Spread batter evenly into baking dish.
Spoon dollops of the peanut butter mixture randomly over the top of the brownie base. You may find that you have a little bit of the peanut butter mixture left over, as I did. But if that’s the case, just follow my lead and eat it straight off the spatula, the beaters, the bowl, and that little bit that spattered on the counter. No problem (it’s delicious).
Use a butter knife blade to drag the peanut butter dollops through the brownies, marbling as much or as little as you like.
Use your hands to break the mini pretzels into pieces, scattering them all over the brownies. Sprinkle on a few pinches of coarse sea salt (optional).
Bake brownies 45 to 50 minutes, according to package instructions. Cool completely before cutting, and try not to eat the whole batch in one evening.
OK, who else got stuck with a bunch of candy after disappointing trick-or-treater turnout? The whole neighborhood was abuzz last week about whether (or how) to participate in Halloween this year—do we go ahead and buy candy? Will there be any kids? Is it even safe to do it this year? Without a pandemic playbook, we were all just guessing, but the consensus was “let’s give it a go.”
So Les and I scrubbed our hands, dumped our bags of candy into a wide bowl with our long-handled BBQ tongs, placed our face masks on standby and flicked on the porch light to signal our intentions. Mr. Bones did his best to draw them in with his spooky presence and vacant gaze. But when the clock showed 9:30, we gave up, having given out exactly seven pieces of candy—all to one adorable little witch princess.
It’s not that much of a surprise, and in some ways I’m relieved because it proves that our community has done a good job of recognizing the safety issues of COVID. Despite our preparation and “no contact” method of distributing the candy, we ended up with nearly as much as we started. In previous years, Les has taken our leftover candy to share with his co-workers, but that standard fallback doesn’t work this year, either.
I guess I had it coming, this big pile of leftover Snickers—just last week, I was re-living the childhood trauma of my father’s annual raids on my Halloween candy, under the guise of a “safety check.” Is this the universe’s clever way of paying me back after all these years?
Though it is true that Snickers has always been my favorite candy bar, there’s a limit to how many of them I can eat before I get bored. I fired up the idea machine in my brain, and these easy-to-make brownies were born. They are the best of both worlds. Rich, dark, soft chocolate-y brownies and sweet, salty, peanut-y candies. What could possibly go wrong?
Ghirardelli dark chocolate brownie mix (or your favorite, plus ingredients listed on the box instructions)
10 fun-sized Snickers candy bars (not the “minis”)
Coarse sea salt
Preheat oven as instructed on brownie mix. Prepare baking pan as directed.
Cut up candy bars into small bite-sized pieces.
Make brownie mix as directed by box instructions.
Fold in candy bar pieces, then spread batter into the prepared baking pan.
Give the batter a light sprinkle of the coarse sea salt.
Bake as directed on brownie mix and cool completely before cutting.
There’s dessert for the sake of a sweet tooth, and then there’s DESSERT, as is the case with this ultra-chocolate-y, cherry-infused brownie bowl, packed with “Cherry Garcia” vanilla ice cream, studded with sweet cherries and dark chocolate chunks. Oh, and I almost forgot, the cherry syrup. Over the top? Obviously! But this was a birthday dessert a few weeks ago for my husband, Les, who is himself a little “over the top” crazy about any and all chocolate and cherry combinations. And for such an occasion, during a year that has given us too much to worry about and not enough to celebrate, I went all in.
Well, almost. I did take one easy shortcut and I’m not ashamed to share my little secret with you—I never make brownies from scratch. I have a favorite box brownie mix that meets all my picky ingredient requirements, so why put forth the effort to make it “as good as” theirs, when they already have a product that is a winner every time? Ghirardelli dark chocolate is my go-to, and though the brownies are terrific as directed on the box, I sometimes can’t help but elevate them with my own “extras” to highlight certain aspects of the brownies’ personality. It’s easier than you might expect.
For these birthday brownie bowls, I’ve substituted cherry juice for the water called for on the package instructions, and I’ve added a tablespoon of dark cocoa powder plus a handful each of chocolate chunks and cut up dried cherries. That’s it. The simplest flavor swaps, resulting in the most decadent dessert my hubby could have ever asked for on his birthday (or any other occasion). Luckily, for our ever-expanding pandemic waistlines, it will be another year before we indulge to this degree. But it was kinda worth it. 🙂
These brownies are super-sized and shaped like a bowl, exactly right to hold a generous scoop of ice cream (which I did make from scratch, but don’t feel pressured to do so). The special shape is courtesy of a fancy-schmancy pan I bought from King Arthur Baking Company. At $30, it was a bit of a splurge, but in this most ridiculous year, I’ve been willing to invest a bit more in kitchen gadgets and ingredients to make our home meal experiences more memorable. Mark my word, it’ll pay for itself by the time the holidays get here, because I’m already dreaming up other ideas.
If you’re not feeling the love for a special pan to make bowl-shaped brownies, don’t stress about it. Make the brownies in a regular pan according to the mix instructions. You can still swap in the special flavor ingredients and have a spectacular dessert with minimal effort. Remember, stressed spelled backward = desserts, and I’m all about flipping things around! 🙂
Ingredients & Instructions
1 box of your favorite brownie mix (make according to package instructions, but adjust as noted below)
Substitute equal amount of cherry juice for the suggested amount of water
Add 1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder to the dry mix (Hershey’s special dark will do, and it’s easy to find)
Add 1/2 cup dried dark cherries, cut into smaller pieces (fold in after mixing)
Add 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks or semi-sweet chocolate chips (fold in after mixing)
Bake as directed on the package, but if you use the King Arthur brownie bowl pan, you’ll want to cut the time in half. My brownies were perfect after 25 minutes.
Fill ‘em up!
Cherry Garcia ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s (or whatever other ice cream rocks your world)
Top ‘em off!
Hot fudge topping, whipped cream, or (if you’re feeling inspired) my quick homemade cherry sauce.
2 cup frozen dark sweet cherries
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla or almond extract (or 1 Tbsp. amaretto liqueur or chocolate liqueur)
1 Tbsp. dark chocolate balsamic vinegar* (optional)
2 Tbsp. corn starch, mixed with 2 Tbsp. ice cold water
Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add frozen cherries and sprinkle sugar over the top. Stir and cook until cherries are softened and mixture is reduced and bubbly (about 15 minutes). Add extract or liqueur and stir. Blend corn starch and water until smooth, and slowly drizzle into the cherry sauce, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to come back up to full simmer, and continue to stir as it thickens further. Remove from heat. Use the sauce warm over dessert or keep in refrigerator up to two weeks.
*This time around, I strained the cherries from the sauce because they went into the ice cream. Half of the sauce was drizzled through the ice cream like a ribbon, and the rest was reserved for spooning over the brownie bowls. It was a delicious labor of love!