Skip the cookies this year in favor of luscious, chocolatey holiday brownies
I love Christmas cookies as much as the next gal -- especially really buttery, almond-y or chocolatey ones. But even the best Christmas cookies dry out fairly quickly, and sometimes a few are left -- gasp! -- uneaten. It's a tragic scenario that repeats itself every holiday season in home after home, a casualty of a too-high cookies-to-eaters ratio once all the homemade baked goods have been delivered.
The good news is that it's possible, even simple, to solve the problem by baking Christmas brownies for friends & family instead of the traditional cookies. Ingredients for brownies are relatively affordable if you make them from scratch -- or do as I do and start with a high-quality brownie mix. Not only will dark, fudgy brownies jump out in a sea of cookies, but they'll keep moist longer than most cookies do. And should there be leftovers, they freeze infinitely better than a delicate holiday cookie.
My Christmas brownie secrets
How to make Christmas brownies that are different, and more special, than a normal brownie? It's easy. Here's what I do:
1. Pour the brownie batter into well-buttered mini muffin tins rather than the standard brownie pan. This yields cute little round brownies that look neater & more festive than normal square ones.
To make sure the finished brownies come out of the muffin tins easily, try this trick I learned from a French pastry recipe, via my brother-in-law: Melt a few tablespoons of butter in the microwave. Use a pastry brush to thoroughly coat the mini muffin tin with the melted butter. Then put the pan in the freezer (see photo) to let the melted butter resolidify before you pour in the brownie batter.
Invest in a top-rated, dishwasher-safe pastry brush set, for all your pan-buttering (& basting & coating &....) needs.
2. Prepare a box(es) of fabulous Ghirardelli brownie mix as directed, then add about a half a bag of Ghirardelli 60% cocoa chocolate chips to your batter. This adds richness and moisture to your brownies -- again making them extra special for the holidays.
3. Finally, in a nod to the much-less-yummy holiday fruitcake, add some dried cherries to the batter -- about 3-6 ounces per box of brownie mix. Chocolate and cherry is a match made in heaven, and tangy red fruit is perfect for Christmas. Along with the dark chocolate chips, this ups the health factor, too -- but you'd never know it from the sinful taste.
You can tell by the photo that these are very chunky brownies, between the chocolate chips & the dried cherries. There's barely enough batter to hold things together -- just the way I like it :) Bear in mind that the chocolate chips melt when baked, so these end up wonderfully gooey, as well as chewy from the cherries.
Do yourself a favor & get a 24-muffin mini muffin tin. With just a 12-muffin tin, I end up spending longer in the kitchen, baking mutliple batches of brownies, cupcakes, etc. The 24-muffin tin is on my Christmas list this year.
4. Bake as directed, but shave a few minutes off the recommended time, depending on how hot your oven runs. The mini-muffin brownies will cook faster than a pan of brownies. In my oven they take about 30 minutes.
5. Let cool a few minutes, then press a few red and green M&Ms into each brownie while they're still in the pan. Do this while they're still warm, but not so hot that they'll melt the M&Ms.
6. Let cool completely, then pull each brownie out of the pan. You may need to run a butter knife gently around the sides to get them out.
7. And voila! Festive little chocolate-cherry Christmas brownies for eating and gifting!
Amazon's bulk price on Ghirardelli brownie mix -- yes, it really is better than other brands; and yes, I know it already has chocolate chips .... I add MORE -- is, as of November 2011, about 40% cheaper than what I pay for individual boxes at the grocery. If you're a Costco member, check them for deals, too. I've heard they too offer multipacks of this mix sometimes at deep discounts.
Want prettier Christmas brownies?
Try these adorable Christmas tree brownies from bettycrocker.com. Triangle shaped brownies are decorated in red and green, with a candy-cane "trunk." Click for the photo :)
Or go minty fresh....
I'm iffy on chocolate & mint, but if you're not, try these festive Christmas brownies with peppermint .... also from bettycrocker.com. A more traditional square brownie, made pretty with pink and green icing and bits of striped candy on top.
If you're a whiz with fondant, try these lovely Christmas brownie bites from Louise at cakejournal.com. Almost too pretty to eat! Click to see the presentation here, all boxed up -- awesome.
Or gift a brownie-in-a-mug ....
Here's a gift that keeps on giving: An adorable Christmas-themed mug with a five-minute brownie in a mug recipe printed right on the back. Tuck a bag of high-quality chocolate chips inside for an extra sweet treat. Front text = "Forget love; I want to fall in chocolate." :)
Do you make Christmas cookies to give away? What's your favorite kind to make? Would you consider switching to brownies, or adding Christmas brownies to your holiday repertoire?