When I think about what George might do someday, I can envision this talented boy singing his heart out on a Broadway stage or double-backflipping his way to Olympic gold. Then again, this hard-working 6th grader could just as easily find a cure for cancer or score his very own Food Network show.
George is a dear family friend whom I’ve known since he was born. From an early age, he had a flair for the creative and worked hard to develop an impressive array of skills. He knows what to do with knitting needles and offset spatulas, and has a “spring mat” to practice his front flips. In recent years, George has developed a special affinity for baking. He’s mastered cake pops and “pupcakes” (for his canine friends) and ably prepared dessert trays for family parties exceeding 40 guests.
I’ve had the pleasure of cooking with George. For me, the highlight is when the dish we are preparing is in the oven. Rather than do something boring, like washing the dishes, we go outside so I can see George’s latest tumbling runs, which undoubtedly include flips, twists, and aerials.
Because George is an 11-year-old at heart who loves sweet treats, bright colors, and recipes that offer a twist on the traditional, I try to balance my tips on basics–like using a kitchen scale and alternate flours–with his love of holidays and all things sweet.
Halloween has long been one of George’s favorite holidays, but he admitted recently that even he never finishes his bagful of treats. In anticipation of scores of trick-or-treaters, many of us over-purchase candy yet wouldn’t dream of throwing out the extra.
The following recipe is my way of dealing with the chocolaty remnants once everyone has had his fill but can’t bear to throw away the loot. I’ve included my tried-and-true brownie recipe, which is nearly as easy as a box recipe. But since box brownies do offer added convenience and taste quite good, feel free to use the shortcut. In that case, use the stated amount of candy for box mixes calling for an 8-inch square pan. For mixes formulated for a 9×13-inch pan, double the amount of candy in the recipe below.
When doubling the batch, bake in a greased 9 x 13-inch pan and add a few minutes to the baking time.
Yield: 12 servings
- 1/2 cup (112 ml) safflower or vegetable oil of choice (may substitute melted butter*)
- 1 cup (192 grams) white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (63 grams) all-purpose flour (may use gluten-free substitute**; weights will vary)
- 1/3 cup (27 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or a slightly-rounded 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped candy***, divided use (Reese’s peanut butter cups, Hershey bars, fun-size Snickers, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, M&Ms, etc.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish or a 9-inch round cake pan. (If the pan is dark-coated metal, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.)
In a medium bowl, mix together the oil and sugar until well blended. Beat or whisk in the eggs and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, and stir until just combined. Fold in 1 cup of the chopped candy. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan, and then evenly distribute the remaining 1/2 cup candy over the top.
Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until the brownies begin to pull away from edges of pan but still appear the slightest bit undercooked in the middle. All ovens vary, so check a few minutes early and know that it might take a few minutes longer.
Allow the brownies to cool, and then cut and enjoy. For easier cutting, chill the freshly cooked brownies in the refrigerator. Once cool, cover the brownies with foil or plastic wrap. You may store at room temperature, but to prolong freshness, you may wish to tightly wrap the brownies and store in the refrigerator.
- *I have done side-by-side batches of these brownies, one using melted butter and the other using vegetable oil. The taste difference was nearly imperceptible. Over several days, however, the butter version dried out more quickly.
- **If needing the gluten-free option, make sure to check candy labels and use only those that don’t contain gluten. Also, when using GF flour blends, I find it helpful to let the batter sit for 15-20 minutes before baking. This gives the rice flour (a common ingredient in GF flour blends) time to absorb additional moisture and reduces any graininess than can be found in some GF baked goods.
- ***In my standard brownie recipe, I omit the assortment of candy and instead sprinkle 1/3 – 1/2 cup chocolate chunks or chips over the batter before baking. The brownies may be made plain, if preferred, and/or with a similar amount of chopped nuts stirred into the batter.
Inspired by George, his love of baking, and the overflowing bags of Halloween candy that grace our homes post October 31!
This batch almost didn’t make it to the oven. 🙂
Taste and texture-wise, my personal favorite mix-in is the tried-and-true Reese’s peanut butter cup, but the bright colors of M&Ms make the brownies look whimsical and fun.