Holiday Brownies and a Santa Timer

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I was never a huge fan of brownies. Maybe because the only ones I tasted came from a boxed mix. But once I started making them myself from scratch, especially with good chocolate, my viewpoint changed.

Over the years, mostly for the holidays, I enjoy making brownies with various ingredients, which is what makes baking them so much fun. Of course there are nuts, and chocolate and toffee bits, but also additions of liqueurs, like Amarula or Bailey’s. I’ve even made excessively rich brownies with layers of fig and raspberry jams. Almost too sweet, but really festive.

In any case, two things happened recently. Now that the holiday season has begun, I decided I would test out a recipe for brownies that I’ve been eyeing a long time. It’s very chocolatey, using only bittersweet chocolate, and there’s a topping of dried cranberries, pistachios, and candied ginger. Isn’t that intriguing?!!

Also, I received a lovely gift of a Santa Timer. I immediately fell in love with this little guy, mostly because I adore anything Christmas, but I also thought how much fun children would have with this timer.

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If you check out the link to the Holiday Timers website, there are other holiday timers, and they’re available on Amazon.

The timer isn’t only cute, but when the alarm goes off, Santa talks and Christmas music plays. Oh, and it has a magnetic back. Fun!

So here is this holiday’s brownie recipe, inspired by a recipe from Bon Appetit.
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Holiday Brownies with Dried Cranberries, Pistachios, and Ginger

1 stick, or 4 ounces unsalted butter
24 ounces bittersweet chocolate, divided
Two oranges
3 ounces dried cranberries, preferably non-sweetened
3 ounces whole pistachios
1 1/2 ounces fine, crystallized ginger
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup white flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 11.5 x 7″ baking dish with foil, leaving an overhang.

Butter the foil using the end of the butter stick. Then place the butter and 8 ounces of the chocolate in a pot placed over a pot of hot but not boiling water.

Melt the butter and chocolate, and when it’s smooth, remove the pan and let the chocolate mixture cool. The best advice I ever read about the process for tempering/melting chocolate, is that you are not cooking the chocolate, you are slowly melting it. If you haven’t tempered before, take your time and do it over the lowest heat.

Once it’s smooth, remove the pan from the water and set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.

With the remaining 16 ounces of chocolate, chop the bars somewhat finely and place 8 ounces onto two squares of foil. You will have two piles of chocolate, at 8 ounces each. Set aside.

Zest the oranges, and place on a piece of foil or a small bowl. Set aside.
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Place the cranberries, pistachios and crystallized ginger in a medium bowl and set aside.
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Using an electric mixer, beat eggs, sugar, brown sugar, and the salt in a large bowl, until light and fluffy. This should take about 4-5 minutes.


On low speed, gradually beat in the chocolate mixture, and then the zest.

Add the flour and fold it in just until blended, using a spatula, then fold in approximately 8 ounces of chopped chocolate.


Spread batter in pan and smooth it as best you can. Bake for 25 minutes. And you can bet I used the Santa Timer!

Remove the baking dish from the oven and immediately sprinkle the top with the remaining 8 ounces of chopped chocolate.
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Let sit for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to soften, then add sprinkle on the cranberries, pistachios, and ginger.
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Let the brownies cool completely and set, for at least 3 hours. Then slice carefully.

The original recipe called for melted white chocolate to be drizzled over the top of the brownies, but I thought that a bit too much chocolate, although it would be pretty. I guess you could use a caramel drizzle as well.
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But I didn’t think a drizzle was necessary!

Be aware, however, that these brownies are sweet, rich, and gooey.

Strawberry Blondies

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I don’t want to jinx this, but I think we may have found a handyman. This man, who is not only talented in the areas of carpentry and finishing work, is also nice and polite. But most importantly, he might single handedly keep our old house from falling down around us.

We have a list a mile long of things that have to be done to our house and property, and we’ve only lived in this house for nine years. Neither my husband nor I are skilled at working with cement, wood, or even paint. We probably shouldn’t even own a house – we should have a landlord. I’ve teased my husband for not knowing which end of a hammer to use, but honestly, I’m no better at home repair than he is.

Our house was built in 1927. It’s a beautiful house – a half-timbered English tudor. The man who built my house and the two large, neighboring homes was a wealthy oil man. An interesting note is that the homes on both sides of us were built for the man’s two daughters, and ours was built for the caretaker of the properties!

Like many homes in the U.S. that were built with money in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, there was a lot of European influence in the design details. Features like a carved travertine fireplace mantel, distressed wooden beams on the ceiling, arched doorways, and a winding, wooden staircase railing make this house unique. But historic or not, stuff happens to houses as they age.

As is typical with every town and city in this nation, I’m convinced, it’s nearly impossible to get people to work. You call – no one answers. You leave a message – they don’t return the call. They say they’ll come out – they don’t. They say they will work – and you never see them again. And so forth. I think everyone I talk to thinks they’re the only one to whom this happens. But it’s rampant.

Then we found this guy. Our guy, who shall remain nameless, has worked at our house for about two weeks. He’s even been up on the roof finding holes, which would explain the water damage on our walls. He didn’t even mind emptying all of the gutters, which were full. He also took the initiative to tell us about certain things that would be problematic in the near future. And, he takes iphone photos to prove it. I like that. Especially since neither my hubs or I will get up on the roof.

Now I’m not telling you all of this to make you jealous. Besides, we’re overdue for this kind of help! It’s just that I wanted to do something nice for this man, because I appreciate his hard work.

Somehow strawberry blondies came to mind. The guy probably needs a good chicken dinner (he’s had a lot of bad luck recently), but hopefully he’ll enjoy these. Sweets seem to make everyone happy.

I’ve seen a recipe before for strawberry blondies, but it used strawberry jam. Ick. Maybe in the winter? Because it’s strawberry season, albeit a late one, I thought I’d make these blondies with fresh strawberries. I also included white chocolate chips.

For those of you who don’t know what blondies are, like my husband, they are the non-chocolate version of brownies. Here’s the recipe.

Strawberry White Chocolate Blondies

6 ounces sliced strawberries
2 teaspoons white sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, not packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup white chocolate chips, about 4 3/4 ounces
2 teaspoon raw of turbinado sugar, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Grease or butter an 8″ square baking dish.

Place the sliced strawberries in a bowl and toss them gently with the sugar; set aside.
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In a medium bowl, combine the soft butter and brown sugar. Beat them together with an electric mixer until they mixture is smooth.

Add the eggs and vanilla extract together in a small bowl.

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Add to the sugar-butter mixture and beat for about 5 minutes.

Add about 1/2 cup of the flour and mix slowly to combine; don’t overmix. Then switch to a spatula and fold in the remaining flour , salt, and the baking powder.

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Then fold in the strawberries and chocolate chips, but leave a few pretty strawberry slices for the top of the blondies. Place the blondie batter in the greased baking dish, and smooth the top and fill in the corners.
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Use the few strawberry slices to place on top, pushing in a bit, so that they cook within the batter.

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Place the baking dish in the oven and cook them for 30 minutes. If the top of the blondies still look a little doughy, turn off the oven and leave them in the oven for five more minutes.

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Remove the blondies from the oven and let them rest for at 30 minutes. Carefully slice and remove them from the pan, then cut them into eight squares. Serve them warm or at room temperature.

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They even make a nice breakfast treat!

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verdict: Well, even though I was giving these away, I had to sample them since I had made up the recipe, and you know what? They’re darn good! And pretty, too! If I’d been smart, I’d have saved 8 slices of strawberries so that each square had it’s own pretty slice on top, like this one. Maybe next time!

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