Moon Pie Brownies

Every once in a blue moon(pie) I get a serious craving for brownies.  Sometimes I can satisfy it with a scoop of Ben & Jerry's Half Baked, but sometimes I have to go all out and bake a batch of homemade brownies.  This was the case the other day.

Rarely do I ever bake a plain old brownie; I usually have to add a different flavor or ingredient to make them unique.  While shopping for brownie ingredients, I noticed our Aldi in Raleigh sells mini MoonPies.  I'm not sure if all Aldis sell them, or if it's just because we're in the South.  I thought to myself, you know, I don't think I've ever eaten a MoonPie in my life, and that needs to change.  I simply cannot go another day without this Southern treat.  If only I had an RC cola to pair with it (a traditional accompaniment),

Just in case you've never had a MoonPie, let me catch you up to speed.  A MoonPie is marshmallow cream sandwiched between graham cracker flavored cake, then covered in chocolate.  Think s'mores in snack cake form.  Apparently, the MoonPie was created when a Kentucky coal miner was asked what kind of snack he would like to eat, and the miner requested something with graham cracker and marshmallow.  The miner then asked the snack be "as big as the moon", which inspired the name.

This is pretty much my go-to brownie, adapted from this Fudge Brownie recipe from King Arthur Flour.  I tweak and change the recipe every time I use it, but keep most of the ingredients and preparation the same.  It's just so good!  Better than any brownie you can buy from a bakery.

So a layer of brownie batter is placed into the baking pan, the mini moon pies are pressed in, then topped with more brownie batter, thus making a brownie-MoonPie sandwich extraordinaire.

Moon Pie Brownies

1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (I used a combo of dark and regular)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate (optional)
12 mini MoonPies

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 13x9-inch baking dish with foil; coat foil with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  Mix in eggs, using a mixer on medium speed, until well combined and frothy - about 2-3 minutes.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir in sugars until well combined and dissolved.  Gradually mix butter mixture into egg mixture until well combined - about 2-3 minutes.  Sift in flour and stir until just combined.  Stir in chocolate until just combined.

Spread half of brownie batter into prepared pan.  Press MoonPies into batter.  Spread remaining brownie batter on top.  Bake 30-35 minutes or until set.  Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Makes 12 huge brownies

Salted Caramel Pretzel Bread Pudding

Once upon a time, when I was a young ambitious woman living in the bustling city of Chicago, I ate some salted caramel pretzel bread pudding.  It was from a Charlie Trotter restaurant that was more of a deli where you could buy stuff to-go... I cannot remember the name.  Please help.  I think it was in Lincoln park.  I digress... I remember shortly after trying the bread pudding, the restaurant closed down, and citizens of Chicago wept for days.  I'm sure it wasn't because of the bread pudding, because that sh*t was amaaazing.  It still haunts me to this day how delicious it was.

I recreated the dessert in my cozy kitchen in Raleigh.  I cubed up pretzel bread and toasted it up nicely in the oven to get it a little crisp.  Then I soaked the bread in a mixture of evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and homemade salted caramel sauce.  I used Bobby Flay's salted caramel sauce recipe and it worked beautifully.  The mixture is baked, then topped with more caramel sauce, whipped cream and sea salt.  This is soo good.... so rich, so addicting.

The baking dish I used was larger than an 8x8-inch dish, but smaller than a 13x9.  Any medium sized-baking dish should work.

Also, I was wrong; it was chocolate covered pretzel bread pudding and it was from Trotter's To-Go.  It wasn't salted caramel at all!  Oh well, I put my own spin on the dessert.

Salted Caramel Pretzel Bread Pudding

8 cups cubed pretzel bread
2 cans evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bobby Flay's Salted Caramel Sauce 
Pinch of sea salt
Whipped cream, for serving

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place bread on a sheet pan and toast 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together evaporated milk, eggs, granulated sugar and vanilla until well combined.  Stir in bread cubes and most of the caramel sauce (reserve 1/4 cup) and soak for 20 minutes.

Butter a medium sized baking dish; add bread pudding mixture.  Bake 45-50 minutes or until set and golden brown.  Remove dish from oven and cool on a wire rack.  Drizzle with remaining caramel sauce.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with whipped cream.

Makes 6 servings

Tres Leches Cake

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! Do y'all have any wild and crazy plans tonight?  I'm still not sure what the plan is around these parts, but I hope it involves many tacos and a few margaritas.  Perhaps a few tequila shots as well.  I do know we'll be digging into this tres leches cake very shortly.  I baked it late last night into the wee hours of the morning.  I need to plan these things better and not start baking around 10:30 PM.

I adapted this recipe from Costa Rica Cooking, because I'm still on a bit of a Costa Rican kick.  Pura Vida!  Take me back to the land of pinto gallo and chili guaro.

The cake is a very spongy cake, made from whipped egg whites, sugar, yolks and flour.  No butter, folks, I repeat, no butter.  But don't go thinking this is a healthy cake; the fat comes from whole milk and heavy cream.  After the spongy cake is baked, you poke 2 million holes in the cake and douse it with the three heavenly milks: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream. The cake take a bath overnight in the milk to soak up all of the liquid.  I topped the cake with whipped cream and cherries because tres leches cake is kind of ugly.

Do you like maraschino cherries? Do you know how to tie a knot with a cherry stem with your tongue?  I do not mind them, and I really want that talent.  Luckily there's a WikiHow to help us learn.

Tres Leches Cake

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar + 3 tablespoons

3 large egg yolks
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided use

 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 cups cold heavy whipping cream, divided use
Maraschino cherries

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat a 10-inch springform pan with butter and sprinkle with flour, or coat well with nonstick cooking spray.  

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on high speed, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Reduce mixer speed to medium and gradually add 1 1/2 cups sugar until well combined.  Beat in egg yolks, one at a time.  Beat in 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract and almond extract.  Gradually fold in flour mixture, alternating with whole milk until just combined.  Be very light handed with this step.

Place cake batter in prepared pan.  Bake 25 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake an additional 25 minutes or until cake turns golden brown and lightly springs back when touched.  Cool 15 minutes.  Run a knife around outside cake edges and remove outer portion of pan.  Poke a lotttt of holes in the cake.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and 1 cup cream.  Drizzle half of the mixture over cake.  Invert cake into some sort of serving dish that can hold a bit of liquid.  Poke cake with more holes and drizzle with remaining milk.

Beat remaining 1 cup cream and 3 tablespoons sugar in a large mixing bowl using a mixer on medium-high speed until medium peaks form.  Do not overbeat it.  Do not listen to Michael Jackson while doing this step.

Spread whipped cream on top of cake.  Decorate with cherries.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Or at least a couple of hours.  The cake needs time to soak up the liquid.

Makes 9 servings