Saturday, August 27, 2011

What's Baking: Jello Pretzel Salad

I've been terribly negligent with my posts for "What's Baking?", so I promised myself that I'd get back into the swing of things, especially since this challenge sounded like so much fun! The theme this month was to bake something that reminded you of summer and/or used summer ingredients. Now, I don't know about you, but when I think of summer, I think of BBQs and family picnics. And if your family is anything like mine, there's always some sort of jello salad (or three) at these picnics. As much as I do try to stay away from the processed, packaged ingredients that these salads are always full of, they do hold some nostalgic value for me. But my absolute favorite one also makes use of a great summer fruit--strawberries!

Jello pretzel salad is this amazing concoction of a pretzel crust, cream layer, and jello top. It somehow manages to be both sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy. In short...awesome! This stuff is like crack to me. All of the recipes that I found called for frozen strawberries, but I wanted to use fresh ones in honor of strawberries being in season. Because of that, I decided to add some ice to the jello layer to help it set up. I think next time, I would use more ice/icewater or just use the frozen strawberries...something about the jello layer was throwing me off, and I think it was that it was too concentrated. I have updated the recipe below to reflect that. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy jello pretzel salad as much as I always have!

Jello Pretzel Salad (adapted from

  • 2 c. crushed pretzels
  • 3/4 c. melted butter
  • 1 c. + 3 Tbl. granulated sugar, divided
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened (can use reduced fat, but NOT fat free)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 8 oz. whipped topping, thawed (can use reduced fat/sugar-free/etc.)
  • 2 0.3-oz packages (the little size) OR 1 0.6-oz package (the big size) of strawberry gelatin
  • 2 c. boiling water
  • 16 oz. fresh strawberries, thinly sliced OR 2 10-oz bags of frozen strawberries
  • 2 c. ice water (omit if using frozen strawberries)

Crush the pretzels in a food processor. Add 3 Tbl. sugar and melted butter, and pulse until mixture is crumbly and starts to come together. Dump it into a greased 9x13 pan, and pat it down into an even crust. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, cream together cream cheese, vanilla, and 1 c. sugar until light and fluffy. Gently fold in whipped topping until thoroughly incorporated. Spread the mixture evenly over the cooled pretzel crust, making sure to get it all the way to the edges! Chill until set.

Mix together the strawberry gelatin and boiling water, whisking for 2 minutes, or until gelatin is completely dissolved. Add strawberries and ice water (if using). Stir until ice is melted. Cool mixture in fridge for one hour, or until partially set--it should be about the consistency of egg whites. Pour gelatin mixture over the cream layer, making sure it's in an even layer. Chill until ready to serve. This is best served a few hours or one day after making--the crust starts to get soggy if you make it more than a day ahead of time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownies

I was grocery shopping with the boyfriend and his son when said son spotted a bag of Reese's chips--and immediately asked me to make something with them. Never being one to turn down peanut butter, I was quite agreeable to the suggestion! I got them home and set about trying to find some inspiration for precisely what to make with the Reese's chips. Thankfully, shortly thereafter, someone on the What's Cooking? board posted this recipe for Peanut Butter Fudge Pretzel Brownies. Chocolate, plus peanut butter, plus salty pretzel-y goodness? I am so there!

Unfortunately, this recipe was somewhat disappointing. Because I had the Reese's chips, I substituted them for the chocolate chips that the recipe calls for. Given that the chocolate chips are optional and are not melted into the batter, this should not have affected the chocolatey-ness of the brownies. But, if you look at my picture, it looks an awful lot like a blondie instead of a brownie. That's because the "brownie" recipe from the original link only contains 3 Tbl. of cocoa powder, so it ended up being nowhere near chocolatey enough. Boyfriend insisted that they were still good, and his son enjoyed them except for the pretzel crust (that was a little too avant-garde for his 15-year-old taste buds, methinks), but I was sorely disappointed with the outcome. Next time, I will use my tried-and-true brownie recipe (minus the Oreos)! So that's what I'm writing here...the recipe that I will make next time!

Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownies (inspired by How Sweet it Is, brownie base from David Lebovitz)

  • 1 3/4 c. crushed pretzel pieces
  • 14 Tbl. butter, divided
  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. Reese's chips

Melt 6 Tbl. of butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Mix with the crushed pretzel pieces until thoroughly combined, then press into the bottom of a greased 8x8" or 9x9" pan.

In a separate microwave-safe bowl, combine 4 oz. chocolate chips with remaining 8 Tbl. of butter. Microwave in 30-second intervals until melted, stirring to combine. Stir in the sugar, then the eggs, one at a time, and lastly the vanilla. Sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the chocolate mixture, stirring until nearly combined. Stir in the Reese's chips.

Pour brownie batter over pretzel crust, smoothing it out carefully so as not to disturb the crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the center is just set.

*Note: the crust ends up soft this way. If you like a crispier crust, bake it for 15 minutes or so without the brownie batter at 350 degrees F, or until it starts to feel set.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oak Bars

When I stumbled across the recipe for Oak Bars on Cook Like a Champion's blog, I knew I had to make them. In fact, not only did I run right out to buy the ingredients to make them, I also hopped on Amazon and ordered the book that the original recipe comes from: The Boozy Baker. With a name like that, I was guaranteed to like the book, so I figured it would be worth my while to buy it. I've only made this recipe (so far), but I have no doubt that I will be pulling that cookbook off my shelf quite frequently. In fact, just because it seemed like a good idea, I ordered some of the other cookbooks that Amazon suggested, based off my selection: Cooking with Booze and Booze Cakes. Are we sensing a trend, here? Enough about my alcoholic cooking tendencies (for now), though....

I suggest going wine tasting at your favorite local vineyard(s) so that you can pick a nice, oaky Chardonnay. Don't skimp here. You want lots of oak. The recipe doesn't use a huge amount of Chardonnay, so it needs to pack a punch. I made the mistake of getting a recommendation from the wine guy at my local grocery store, and the Chardonnay was not oaky enough for my taste. I'm looking forward to trying this with one that's more heavily oaked. And, the recipe doesn't use much, so you can splurge on something that you'll enjoy drinking--after all, someone's got to finish the rest of the bottle!

The toasted cashews and butterscotch chips are the perfect counterpoint to this recipe--it's worth the effort to find unsalted cashews. I've never used them in a blondie recipe before--I usually just use walnuts, but the cashews definitely took this recipe over the top to add a whole new dimension of flavor. Walnuts just wouldn't cut it. And the butterscotch chips--need I say more? Everything's better with butterscotch chips! After one of the longest introductions I've done, it's high time to get to the recipe...hopefully all this buildup has succeeded in convincing you that you need to make these...NOW!

Oak Bars (from The Boozy Baker)

  • 1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. Chardonnay
  • 1/2 c. toasted, chopped, unsalted cashews
  • 3/4 c. butterscotch chips

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then the Chardonnay. Add the dry ingredients, and mix until nearly combined. Stir in the cashews and butterscotch chips.

Pour into a greased 8x8" or 9x9" pan, and smooth the surface. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden at the edges and just set in the center.