Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: The Infallible Brownie Mix

Did you think I left? Stuff  happens and before I knew it, it was Labor Day weekend! I am back with ideas to share.

A box of brownie mix should always in be in your pantry. Now, if you can whip up your own brownies without a mix, well aren't you just a little show off - - but seriously - - a brownie mix has always been my little secret.  

While I enjoy my time in the kitchen, especially for loved ones, I don't enjoy baking as much as I enjoy cooking. I think it is the perfect measuring I don't care for, as with the majority of cooking, it is a "pinch of this ... a pinch of that ..."

Now, even though baking isn't my favorite thing to do, I stand rather proud, that when it comes to cookie, cakes, and pies, I always bake those from scratch. Cookie mixes and pre-made cookie dough are a bit too sweet for me, and if I am going to eat cake - - give me the real thing. When raising kids, I made cakes from scratch, especially Red Velvet and Carrot cakes. I probably made more pies than cakes, because once again, you don't have to be so precise in measuring like you do with cakes. 

I once asked a pastry chef about her brownie recipe, and I was pleasantly surprised when she told me she used a mix. GASP! However, she was quick to point out the brownie mix was her base for her creativity. She confirmed everything I was already doing - - I felt righteous! 

One early morning, I was headed out of town for the night, but wanted to bring a baked good with me for my hosts. I grabbed a brownie mix from the cupboard figuring I could toss it in the oven, while I finished packing. Grabbing the mix from the cupboard, I happened to glance at the coffee pot and thought, instead of dumping the left over coffee since I would be gone, why not use it in the brownie mix instead of water the directions asked for? And I did. Even my hosts commented and asked, "What did you put in these? They taste really good." It was indeed the coffee, and I happened to add a few sprinkles of cinnamon.  



I started looking at other ways to doctor up a brownie mix and make it "my own" recipe. No leftover coffee available? Add instant coffee or instant espresso powder, to your liking, to the water that the mix asks for. If you're a beer drinker, instead of water as per the box directions,  switch it up for a dark creamy stout, or even a chocolate-flavored beer. 

Add a couple of teaspoons of good Mexican vanilla and/or cocoa powder to "freshen" it up. A few sprinkles of cinnamon or even chili powder in the batter gives the brownies a "Tex-Mex" flavor. I have even used a few touches of grape seed oil infused with chipotle peppers to give the brownies an interesting kick. If the mix calls for oil, I have used a light olive oil, and sometimes added apple sauce, instead of oil. 

Of course, add your favorite nuts or seeds, but also experiment with dried cranberries, raisins, or chopped dried apricots. Add pieces of cookies, such as Oreos or Nutterbutters, or even pretzels. Sprinkle a little sea salt on top of the frosted brownie. Place in the batter, unwrapped caramel bites and place them strategically in rows, so once they are baked and cut, each brownie will have a bite of caramel. 

Before you are ready to bake, sprinkle nuts and fresh raspberries on top. The raspberries remain pretty and colorful sprinkled on top, but they also make themselves at home in the batter. Marshmallows can be piled on top or in the batter. Or simply sift powdered sugar or cocoa powder over each brownie can make a difference. 

I have tossed a cup chocolate, white chocolate, or peanut butter chips in the batter and even sprinkled a bag of chocolate chips on top of the brownies as soon as they have come out of the oven - as they melted, spread the melty-goodness about - -  Voila! Frosting!  

Last year for our holiday baking, we added just a hint of mint extract to the brownie mix, frosted them with a chocolate butter cream, and sprinkled crushed candy canes on top. Festive! We received a lot of compliments about our "mint" brownies. 

Where will a "Box o' Brownie" mix take you? It's a tasty experiment! 


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