Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Score one for the Internet. And Starbucks, too, I guess.

December is the month where my talent for self sabotage truly shines.  If, for example, I were serious about this 50x50 business, would I sign up for not one, but two food blogger cookie swaps?

In theory, no. I would not.
In real life, of course I did.
In fact, I am on a cookie roll this month, but more on that another time.

Cranberry Bliss Blondies | Cheesy Pennies
Cranberry Bliss Blondies - Internet Cookie Swap

For my third year participating in the Great Food Food Blogger Cookie Swap, I was inspired by my late-to-the-party addiction to Starbucks.  Once a person who thoroughly disdained the place, I'm now drawn there daily like a moth to a flame for their decaf Passion Iced Tea, one of the few alternatives to the ocean of ice water I have to drink.  In the well-lit glass case of caloric treats paraded in front of me while I wait, like an idiot, to pay $4 for gourmet, hand-shaken pink-colored ice water, the seasonal "Cranberry Bliss Bar" calls to me.  The glistening garnet-colored cranberries.  The lush, creamy-looking frosting.  That base of buttery goodness.  Naturally, I set myself a little personal challenge to figure out how to make them at home.*  I googled for a recipe, found a great one by Recipe Girl, and went to town.

Reading over the ingredient list, I was dubious.  I'm not generally a fan of white chocolate - way too sweet for my taste. I upped the salt and cinnamon, added the optional orange zest, and hoped for the best.

Cranberry Bliss Blondie | Cheesy Pennies

When I took my first bite, I understood, at last, what all the fuss was about.  Yes, they are sweet, but in a really Christmas-y, good way.  The bars are moist and a little chewy, and the tang of the cream cheese frosting and the cranberries seals the deal.

I exercised every ounce of self restraint I had, wrapped up (most of) these little bars of bliss, and sent them out into the world.

The second cookie swap was organized by Food Bloggers Los Angeles, a group of extremely talented folks here in town.  We meet in person, toast to the season, take a zillion photos and eat ourselves silly.  This time around, I decided to try recipes from a new, highly rated baking cookbook for my contribution.  Non-Internet swap, non-Internet source, right?

Well, the recipes SUCKED.  A pound of butter and tons of sugar later I had a houseful of crappy cookies and it was 2 a.m.  Seriously irritated (as in NOT BLISSFUL!), I made a riff on my tried and true Butterscotch Blondies** and got a few hours of sleep.

The blondies were utterly delicious when I tasted them in the morning, but I was so sleep deprived that I drove myself and my adorable snowman platter all the way to the other side of town...

Toffee Almond Cherry Blondies | Cheesy Pennies
Toffee Almond Cherry Blondies - Non Internet Cookie Swap 

Without the address for the party.  Or any way to get it, because it wasn't, of course, on the Internet.

Fortunately, I found both a great sandwich place and a Starbucks, so the outing was not a total bust.   There were plenty of regular, non-blogging hungry people*** to share the treats with, too.  I missed the company and what were surely some incredible cookies, but my mailbox was soon flooded with sweets from Rebecca of The Displaced Housewife, Denise of Alma's Days, and Jessica of A Happy Food Dance, so all was well.

Clearly, the win here goes to the Internet, with the improvised middle-of-the-night Blondies getting the assist.  Both of these, by the way, are so good they will be making an appearance in the Dessert Room this weekend.

Cranberry Bliss Blondies | Cheesy Pennies

Cranberry Bliss Blondies

by Sharon Graves
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Moist, sweet, and rich, these bars taste as festive as they look. Even if you are a white chocolate doubter, like me, give these a try.  Next time I might add even more cranberries to the batter.  
Ingredients (24 bars)
    For the blondies
    • 3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cubed
    • 1 1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 tsp. vanilla
    • 2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
    • grated zest of 1/2 and orange (you'll use the other 1/2 in the frosting)
    • 2-3 Tbs. chopped crystalized ginger, optional, but a great idea
    • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
    • 6 ounces white baking chocolate, coarsely chopped, or white chocolate chips
    For the frosting
    • 1 pkg. (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
    • 1 c. powdered sugar, sifted
    • generous pinch of salt
    • 6 ounces white baking chocolate, or chocolate chips,melted
    • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped

    Preheat the oven to 350. Generously butter a 13x9 pan.

    Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together in a medium bowl and set aside.

    Place butter in a large microwave safe bowl, and zap for 2 minutes, until completely melted and sizzling. Remove and stir in the brown sugar until combined. Allow to cool to room temperature.
    Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, vanilla and orange zest into the butter/sugar mixture. Add the flour mixture, stirring in by hand or a low speed on your mixer, just until combined. Finally, gently stir in the ginger (if using), white chocolate, and cranberries.

    Spread the dough out evenly in your prepared pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until center is set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

    Cool completely in the pan. The center may sink a bit as it cools, which is fine. All good blondies do this!

    To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, at least 2-3 minutes. Gradually add in half (not all!) of the melted chocolate, the salt and the orange zest, and beat for another several minutes.

    Top the brownies with the frosting, and spread until smooth. Sprinkle with the chopped cranberries, and then drizzle with remaining melted white chocolate.  One of the sponsors of the cookie swap was OXO, who sent me this awesome little drizzling bottle.  

    How did they know? If you don't have one, you can either get one, or use a plastic bag with the corner cut out of it.

    Cut into small squares (these are super rich) and serve. If you're going all Starbucks about it, cut into triangles instead. I'm told they travel well.

    * I should have set myself a challenge of leaving and having free water over free ice instead.
    ** To make this variation, follow the recipe, but add 1/4 c. almond butter and 1/2 tsp. almond extract with the eggs.  Add a couple Tbs. more flour, too.  Instead of chocolate chips, stir in 1/2 c. Heath Bar Toffee bits and 1/2 c. dried tart cherries.  Mmmm!!
    *** My daughter shared them with her class at school.  When I asked how everyone liked them, she said, "They were amazing! But why'd you have to ruin them with the raisins?"