Archive for the 'Brownies + Bars' Category

Pumpkin Brownies

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I found myself with a whole lot of of pumpkin to use up the other day – remains from the giant-sized can I was forced to buy when my grocery store ran out of cans for normal-sized people.  What else is a girl to do but purchase enough squash for a small army when pumpkin pancakes are on the mind?  I promised myself I’d bake something with the leftovers.  And so here I am!

There’s obviously LOADS you can do with pumpkin, but I wanted to get creative.  Actually, what I really wanted was a brownie.  But I couldn’t forgo the pumpkin mountain in my fridge to fulfill my chocolate-y desires.  How utterly wasteful that would be.

Then it hit me. Pumpkin. Brownies. Half fudgy brownie.  Half dense, pumpkin-y delight.  I was so very excited about my highly original, super fun, and simply ingenious idea. Then I found out Martha Stewart had already done it.   Of course she had.

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Not to be outdone by the diva homemaker, I set out to put my own twist on the pumpkin brownie idea.  And twist it I did!  Along with performing my standard Sweet + Natural adaptations to Martha’s recipe – whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose, Sucanat for sugar, etc. – I made a bunch of other changes to ensure I got exactly what I was looking for.  Added some extra spice to the pumpkin…used a bigger pan…but most importantly, eliminated the baking powder.  Martha’s brownie pics look too much like cake, right?  Now, I have nothing against cake.  Unless it’s trying to pose for a brownie.  In that case, believe you me, I will not be fooled.  I want fudge, not fluff.  No baking powder = lower rise = density-dense flavor-packed yumminess.  Yes.

Here’s my take on Pumpkin Brownies:

Base mixture:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cup Sucanat

4 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Chocolate mixture:

6 ounces grain sweetened chocolate chips

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Pumpkin mixture:

1 1/4 cup pumpkin

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon ginger

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Spray an 11×7-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.  For the base mixture, mix together whole wheat pastry flour and salt in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix together Sucanat, eggs and vanilla until well-combined.  Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients until blended.  Divide this mixture into two bowls.  For chocolate mixture, melt chocolate chips and oil in a bowl.  Stir into one half of the base mixture.  (Note: If batter feels dry, just steal some base mixture from the remaining half and add it in.  I found the chocolate batter to be drier than the pumpkin batter, so this is totally cool to do.  The pumpkin batter is very generous and will not hold it against you.)  For pumpkin mixture, combine pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger in a bowl.  Stir into other half of base mixture.  Spread chocolate batter evenly into prepared pan.  Top with pumpkin batter.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Makes 24 brownies.

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Success!  The no baking soda idea did the trick in making these Pumpkin Brownies brownies and not cakey, chocolate-and-pumpkin flavored squares.  They were indeed the fudgy, dense, pumpkin-y delights I set out to achieve.  They also just so happen to be orange and black – quite fitting for the upcoming Halloween holiday, wouldn’t you say?

What’s the most interesting brownie you’ve ever eaten?

P.S. After mentioning it in my last post, I’ve had a request to share my European vacation with you all. Now I know such a trip is totally unrelated to Sweet + Natural baking, but I’m highly tempted to oblige – mostly because I love reliving it! Would you guys be interested?

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Banana Coconut Bars

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Well, bloggie friends, I’m moved into my new place!  And couldn’t be happier.  I can’t wait to explore the hood!  I’ve already spotted a health food store, mentally noted at least a dozen restaurants to try and bought a loaf of fresh bread from a nearby bakery.  Life is sweet.  Now if only the rest of my boxes would unpack themselves…

Oh, and did I mention that my fridge now has a freezer?!  Take that old apartment!  I’m sure it will soon be filled with yummy baked goodies.  And on that note, can someone tell me how to freeze things?  I’ve had nary an opportunity to do such a thing so am clueless re: avoiding freezer burn.  Help!

The recipe I’m sharing with you today was actually not made in my new apartment, but in my old apartment…um…two weeks ago.  I know, bad blogger.  Life got hectic!  But the photos I took ages ago have been staring at me from my desktop for too long.  I could wait no more to bring you Banana Coconut Bars.

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B-t-dubs, if you think my pictures are prettier than usual, it’s because THEY ARE!  That’s courtesy of my awesome new camera, which is courtesy of my more awesome, #1, best-in-the-world boyfriend who proudly encourages my pursuit of the arts.  Yes, I am now the grateful owner of an SLR.  And my new apartment has natural light.  Things are looking up!

Back to the food…

These bars were born of a combined need to use up a bunch of uber ripe bananas and my recent interest in coconut.  Riddle me this:  I was never a fan of coconut.  I then made Super-Charge Me! cookies, which contain said ingredient.  Ever since, I’m drawn to all things coconut!  What?! I really do think those cookies are crack.

Here’s my recipe for Banana Coconut Bars:

3 ripe bananas, mashed

2 tablespoons molasses

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 cup agave nectar

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 cups white whole wheat flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Spray an 8×8-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix together mashed bananas, molasses, applesauce, agave and maple syrup until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix white whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir dry ingredients into banana mixture until just blended. Stir in coconut.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes.

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Coconut flakes!  Banana chunks!

These were go-od.  So good, in fact, that Dan ate nearly half the pan in one evening.  So good that I’m sort of regretting giving him so many…  They were super moist and banana-ey.  Like delicious banana bread in little square form.  And low in fat to boot!

What’s your favorite banana recipe?

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Peanut Butter + Jelly Bars

 

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A good PB+J was hands-down my favorite childhood sandwich.  What’s not to love? Creamy, sticky peanut butter.  Sweet, fruity jam.  We were a Jif and white bread family.  And I always went for the grape jelly.  Unless there was a jar of my grandma’s homemade strawberry preserves in the fridge.  Smucker’s just can’t compete with that.

Throughout elementary school, the only sandwich I’d allow my mom to pack in my lunchbox was a PB+J.  By the time noon rolled around, it had inevitably gotten squished inside its Ziploc bag due to rough contact with a juice box or an apple.  Wonder Bread’s not really known for their sturdy slices after all. But I LOVED the squishing.  It turned my sandwich into a PB+J pancake – flavors mashed together, jelly oozing out the bread pores.  I loved it so much that I began to do some deliberate sandwich squishing.  When my packed sandwich wasn’t squished enough.  When I ate at home with no opportunity for naturally-occurring lunchbox squishing.  I thought I was genius.  Still think so.

My peanut butter and jelly taste has matured over the years.  Though I still partake in squishing from time to time, my current PB+J of choice is made with whole wheat bread, natural peanut butter and honey.  Much healthier and deliciously satisfying.  I’m still a huge fan.  So when Hayley suggested I make some PB+J bars, I was all over it.  She directed me to Ina Garten’s recipe, I made it Sweet + Natural and here you go…

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My version of Peanut Butter + Jelly Bars:

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening

3/4 cup turbinado sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup natural peanut butter

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup 100% fruit strawberry jam

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Spray an 8 x 8-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In a large bowl, cream shortening and turbinado sugar for about 2 minutes.  Add vanilla extract, egg and peanut butter and blend until well-combined.  In a separate bowl, mix together whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and blend until just combined.  Spread 2/3 of dough into prepared pan.  Top with jam.  Drop globs of remaining dough evenly over jam.  Bake for about 45 minutes.  Makes 16 bars.

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Why yes, that is gooey peanut butter and jelly goodness!

These bars rocked.  Perfectly peanut buttery and the jelly melted right into the cookie-ish layer.  No squishing necessary!  Be forewarned though…they may be made with natural and wholesome ingredients, but they are definitely a rich indulgence.  I’m already thinking about making a lighter version sometime in the near future…

Do you have a soft spot for PB+J? Have you ever made a peanut butter and jelly treat?

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Honey Yogurt Cheesecake Bars with Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crusts

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Any cheesecake fans out there? I love the stuff and it always reminds me of two things…

Thing #1 is my mom’s no-bake cheesecake – light and fluffy and so easy to make.  It was a go-to dessert in my house growing up.  My family would top their slices with cherry pie filling, but I always thought – and still do think – that that is SO not the way to go.  No putting fruit on my desserts, no sir.  I’ll take the cheesy goodness all by itself.

Thing #2 is The Cheesecake Factory.  Obvious, yes.  Impersonal, hardly!  I used to LOVE going to Cheesecake.  Hello Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Dough! My adoration for all things cocoa and PB indeed started at an early age.  Every time we went to TCF, I made sure to save room in my belly to fit a whole slice.  Then I’d roll myself out of the restaurant in a sugary, cheesy, sweet bliss.  Ahh…those were the days.

Anyway, Kristina from Stonyfield Farm recently contacted me to see if I’d like some coupons for free Oikos.  She had spotted me using Greek yogurt back when I made Yogurt Glazed Carrot Cake and thought I might be interested.  Umm…yes please!  I promised to come up with a fun recipe to spotlight my Oikos and – BAM! – cheesecake bars popped right into my mind.  Actually, cheesecake popped in there first, but I don’t have the right pan for that.  So bars it was!

Since Greek yogurt was to play a key role in these cheesecake bars, I let it be my inspiration as well.  I asked myself, what kind of cheesecake bars should I make? Well, I replied – does anyone else have conversations with themselves? what do I like to put in Greek yogurt? Ooh ooh!  I like honey and cinnamon and vanilla… And that’s pretty much how it happened.  Before I knew it, I had created Honey Yogurt Cheesecake Bars with Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crusts.

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Here’s the recipe:

Crust:

1 cup whole wheat graham cracker crumbs*

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Cheesecake:

16 ounces Neufchatel cheese

1/2 cup honey

1 egg

1 egg white

1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* I used MI-DEL Honey Grahams to make my crumbs – 100% whole wheat and sweetened with only honey and molasses.

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Spray an 8 x 8-inch pan with cooking spray.  To make the crust, combine graham cracker crumbs, canola oil, honey and cinnamon until well-moistened.  Press mixture into prepared pan and bake for about 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.  To make the cheesecake, beat together Neufchatel cheese and honey until well blended.  Add egg and beat well.  Add egg white and beat well.  Add Greek yogurt and vanilla extract and beat well.  Pour mixture on top of graham cracker crust.  Bake for 40-45 minutes.  Let cool and refrigerate for several hours or overnight before serving.  Makes 16 bars.

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These cheesecake bars were uber cheesy and creamy and subtly sweet.  I enjoyed my bites with a bit of honey drizzled on top – just like in the pics!  Next time I might even add extra honey to the batter.  Yum!

Have you ever baked with Greek yogurt? How do you like to use it?

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Black Bean Brownies

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I promised you all a “fun – and very interesting – chocolate treat” on Valentine’s Day.  So it’s about time I deliver on that promise, don’t you think?!

I’ve been eyeing this recipe for nearly a year.  Every since I bought Baking With Agave Nectar and flipped through its pages “ooh-ing” and “ohh-ing” at all the yummiest sounding goodies.  There were a lot of those.  But one recipe in particular stood out for its novelty.  I was intrigued.  Being the curious cat that I am, I knew I had to give it a go. 

That’s how this Valentine’s Day became Black Bean Brownie Day.  Yep, you heard me.  Black bean.  Brownie.  Romantic, no?

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Here’s the recipe.  Besides halving it and using non-hydrogenated shortening instead of butter, I followed everything to a tee.  I may be an experimenter, but baking with black beans was a totally new experience for me.  Figured it would be best to go with the creator’s vision for this one!

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening

1 cup cooked black beans

1/2 cup walnuts

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons instant coffee

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

3/4 cup agave nectar

Preheat the oven to 325*F.  Spray a 12×8-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside. Melt unsweetened chocolate and non-hydrogenated shortening in a bowl in the microwave for about 2 minutes on high. Stir with spoon to melt chocolate completely. Place black beans, 1/4 cup walnuts, vanilla extract and a couple spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth.  In a large bowl, mix together remaining 1/4 cup walnuts, remaining melted chocolate mixture, instant coffee and salt. Add bean/chocolate mixture to coffee/chocolate mixture and stir until well blended.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add agave nectar and beat well. Add egg mixture to chocolate mixture, reserving about 1/4 cup, and mix well. Pour batter into prepared pan.  Beat remaining 1/4 cup egg mixture with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Drizzle over brownie batter. Use a wooden toothpick to pull egg mixture through batter, creating a marbled effect. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan before cutting into squares.

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Fuuuuudgy!

So here’s my two cents on these brownies…

They’ve definitely got the chocolate-y fudge factor going on – a brownie requirement in my book.  And you can’t beat the stellar ingredient list.  You’d never guess beans are a key player!   And no flour?!  No way!

But there are a couple things I’d change next time around.  I wouldn’t do the whole egg and agave swirl.  I can only imagine this is for looks and the marbled visual effect faded away after a day. So just adding all the egg and agave into the batter at once seems fine with me.  I’d cut out some instant coffee because that flavor stood out too much for me.  I’m not a coffee fan, remember?  And I’d un-halve the recipe, but use the same size pan.  I say the thicker the better!

Overall though, cool recipe.  Good times.

What’s the most unusual ingredient you’ve used in a baked good?

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Crumbly Peanut Butter Oat Bars

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I let you all in on my deep love for chocolate right from the get go, so it’s only fair that I now share my second, though by no means less significant, obsession.

Peanut butter.

Ohh…peanut butter.  I eat it everyday.  At least twice a day.  I smear it on apples, bananas and celery.  I drizzle it over yogurt and my morning bowl of oats.  I spread it on slices of toasty bread and freshly made pancakes.  I eat it straight up from the jar.  You may think I’d tire of the nutty treat, but no.  You may ask, why don’t I give other nut butters a chance?  Switch it up a bit!  Oh, believe you me, I’ve tried branching out – almond butter, cashew butter, etc.  But nothing beats the original PB.  I heart you PB.

Clearly, it was only a matter of time before peanut butter made an appearance on this blog.  It was just waiting for the right inspiration.  And then that inspiration came.  And so I made Crumbly Peanut Butter Oat Bars.

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I love the combination of peanut butter and oats, so I was really excited about making these bars.  Here’s the recipe:

1/2 cup natural peanut butter

1/3 cup honey

2/3 cup oats

2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup turbinado sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons skim milk

Preheat the oven to 325*F. Spray an 8 x 8-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside. In a bowl, stir together peanut butter and honey.  In a separate bowl, mix together oats, whole wheat pastry flour, turbinado sugar, salt and baking powder.  Drizzle canola oil and milk over oat mixture.  Mix with a fork until evenly moistened and crumbly.  Set aside 1/2 cup for topping and press the remaining oat mixture into the prepared pan.  Spread peanut butter mixture over the top – I microwaved it first to make this easier.  Sprinkle reserved oat mixture over peanut butter mixture.  Bake for about 25 minutes.

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OMG.  Peanut butter goodness!  The top of the bars are perfectly crumbly and the peanut butter middle is deliciously sweet and gooey and oozing with rich peanut butter flavor.  SO.  GOOD.

Since there are oats in there, I can eat these for breakfast, right?  Right?

Do you have a favorite peanut butter baked treat?

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Cinnamon Walnut Brownies

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There’s something I think I should state up front.  If I’m going to be blogging about baking and sweets and deliciousness, it’s best to just get it out in the open now.

I love chocolate.

I mean, I. LOVE. chocolate.  I’m notorious for it.  So much so that when planning my birthday dinner last year, my boyfriend immediately rejected a restaurant if it didn’t list a chocolate dessert on the menu.  So much so that my mom once bought me a page-a-day calendar featuring photos of chocolate, facts about chocolate, quotes about chocolate.  So much so that I kept every one of those calendar pages I tore off.  Hey, you never know when I might need to remember that the largest slab of fudge was made in Canada and weighed 5050 pounds.  Or when I might want to make a giant collage o’ chocolate photos.  They could come in handy.

It is only fitting then that my first blog baked good be made of chocolate.  And what chocolate treat is better than a brownie!  If you couldn’t guess from the image in my header, brownies and I have a secret love affair.  Mmmmm.  And so I bring to you, Cinnamon Walnut Brownies.

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I used this as my inspiration but made a number of adjustments based on what I had on hand and where I wanted to take the recipe.  Namely, adding cinnamon to the mix and thus giving the brownies their namesake.  Here’s how mine ended up:

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Spray an 8 x 8-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In one bowl, mix whole wheat pastry flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl, whisk together agave nectar, oil and vanilla.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Fold in walnuts.  Spread into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.

Believe it or not, this was my first attempt at healthifying – it’s in the a dictionary – a brownie recipe.  Brownies are sacred in my book – I like them dense and fudgy and insanely rich and don’t even try to give me anything less and say it’s a brownie.  So I guess I was a bit intimidated at the prospect of replicating that perfection with more wholesome ingredients.  My Cinnamon Walnut Brownies aren’t quite there yet, but they definitely have potential.  Next time around, I’ll try baking them for 15 minutes or maybe lowering the oven temperature to 325*F to make them as gooey as brownie-ly – ok, that one’s not in the dictionary – possible.  And I’ll for sure double the cinnamon and halve the vanilla to up the spice factor and let the cinnamon shine.  That flavor was a bit too subtle for what I was going for.

There you have it!  My first Sweet + Natural treat.  Do you have a favorite healthy brownie recipe? If so, do share!  But don’t forget my criteria…

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