HOMEMADE DARK CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CUPS

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Currently, Alex and I are in the process of moving so our kitchen/apartment/lives are in shambles. Most of my baking equipment and ingredients have been packed up for the past week or so, but I (strategically) put aside things that I knew I would be in need of for Halloween treats. Like last year, our friends (who just got engaged - congrats Bryan and Samantha!) are throwing another Halloween bash, and I plan on once again contributing a number of things. I’ll most likely whip up a batch of my mango and roasted tomatillo salsa, throw together a sangria or a boozy punch, and will definitely bring a couple of sweet treats. At last year’s party, I brought my toffee and brown sugar cookies as well as today’s recipe of homemade dark chocolate peanut butter cups, and since everyone loved them, I’m planning on doing it again this year!

If someone were to ask me what my favorite Halloween candy/chocolate was, I’m pretty certain that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would be at the top of that list (followed by Baby Ruth and York Peppermint Patties). I’ve stated before that my love for peanut butter knows no bounds and it’s only natural that my favorite chocolate must have some peanut butter component in it. Eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or Trader Joe’s version of the candy, is blissful in and of itself, but making your own version of it at home is on a whole different level of satisfaction.

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The first time I came across a recipe for homemade peanut butter cups was back in 2015 via one of my favorite food websites, Food52. I remember how excited I was to make them and it was perfect timing because the recipe was shared right before Halloween time, so I promptly made a huge batch (4 dozen) of half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate peanut butter cups for my boyfriend’s Halloween party. The recipe called for you to make the cups in mini muffin wrappers and let me tell you, it was a MESS. I spilled chocolate everywhere, the peanut butter layer was extremely difficult to work with, and I was ready to just give up. But with the help of my mom (thanks mom!) we were able to finish it and the end result, miraculously, was a success. After that experience, I knew I would continue to make homemade peanut butter cups but I figured that there just had to be a simpler way. Enter the candy mold.

The candy mold, which you can see in my pictures, makes the whole process of making the cups (or any other candy or chocolate of your choosing) infinitely easier. The molds are sturdy and therefore can withstand the melted chocolate and peanut butter layers, the silicone material is nonstick and flexible so removing the cups from the cavities is not a problem and requires no nonstick spray, and lastly, it makes transferring the cups back and forth to the fridge/freezer much easier. With the mold, you can come as close to peanut butter cup perfection as is possible and also achieve uniformity - when people see the finished product, there’s no doubt in their mind of what they’re about to eat. I couldn’t recommend buying the mold enough.

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The recipe for the cups requires only 7 ingredients, if you include the flaky sea salt topping at the end, which you should! Although I personally eat natural peanut butter, for this recipe you’ll have to use the kind with all the added sugars and whatnot (like basic Jif or Skippy). This is because the natural varieties have too much oil in them and would make it difficult to work with for the peanut butter layer. As for the chocolate layer, I strongly suggest using dark chocolate because otherwise the whole thing would be sickeningly sweet. Dark chocolate is a perfect foil to the sweet peanut butter layer, but if you absolutely hate dark chocolate (yes, those people exist!) then go with your chocolate of choice, but remember that I warned you about the sweetness!

Also regarding the chocolate, the recipe requires you to melt it with either coconut oil or vegetable shortening. This gives the chocolate a smoother texture and overall, makes it easier to work with. We don’t want to melt it with butter or margarine because both contain water which would affect the melting process. I used coconut oil because that’s what I had on hand (I don’t think I’ve ever bought vegetable shortening before) and if you’re worried that there would be a coconut flavor added to the chocolate, I didn’t taste it at all.

I hope you give these homemade peanut butter cups a try and bring them to any Halloween party you attend this weekend. Let me know if you do! And if you’re looking for another Halloween-friendly recipe, here’s the recipe for my honeycomb dark chocolate bark.

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Homemade Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Yields about 3 dozen peanut butter cups

Ingredients

For the outer chocolate layer:

  • 12 oz. dark chocolate, roughly chopped

  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil or vegetable shortening

For the filling:

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  • 1/2 cup (4oz.) peanut butter (any non-natural variety)

  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

  • 2 tbsp. light brown sugar, lightly packed

  • 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)

  • Flaky sea salt, to finish

Directions

  1. Place the chocolate and coconut oil/vegetable shortening in a heatproof bowl and melt together in the microwave for about 2 minutes (stirring every 30 seconds).

  2. Place the candy mold on top of a baking sheet so it’ll be easier to transfer from in and out of the fridge/freezer. Pour about 1 teaspoon of melted chocolate into the bottom of each candy mold. You can eyeball this, but I definitely think using a teaspoon made it much easier and cleaner. Place the mold/baking sheet in the fridge or freezer until it’s set and you’re ready to add the peanut butter layer.

  3. In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter, melted butter, light brown sugar and confectioners’ sugar with a spatula. Place in the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm up a bit. Scoop out heaping 1/2 teaspoons of the peanut butter mixture and using your hands, roll it into tiny discs. Place the discs on top of the bottom layer of chocolate in each candy mold. The goal is to have the disc be smaller in circumference than the candy mold itself because you want the chocolate to totally encase the peanut butter layer. Keep working until you’ve completed each mold. You’ll have leftover peanut butter, which you can use to make extra cups once the first batch is set and removed from the mold.

  4. Finish each peanut butter cup with another layer of melted chocolate - about 1 teaspoon per mold. Be careful to not overfill. Place the candy mold back into the fridge/freezer until set - but right before it’s fully set (after about 5-8 minutes), sprinkle flaky sea salt on top of each peanut butter cup. The peanut butter cups should pop right out the of mold easily when completely set. Store in the fridge or freezer.

PEANUT BUTTER SWIRL BROWNIES

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This past week was pretty eventful due to the fact that Alex and I took care of my mom’s two dogs while she was away on vacation. Lily and Oliver are like my babies and are the cutest pups in the world, but they require a lot of attention. Not having any pets of our own at the moment, mostly because we live in an apartment, we realized just how much work and responsibility goes into taking care of dogs, and by the end of the week, we joked that the dogs were our children because they were all we talked and thought about every day. Even though I barely slept (the dogs are used to sleeping on beds and will give you hell if you don’t oblige), I’m honestly so sad that they’re gone and back at my mom’s. The apartment is so quiet and lonely and I’m counting down the days until we can get a cat (no dogs until we own a house with a yard!).

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I don’t know how today’s recipe - peanut butter swirl brownies - is my first one featuring peanut butter, considering I eat the stuff every single day. I got my love for peanut butter from my mom at a young age when I’d see her walking around the house with a spoonful of it as a snack (ahem, dinner). Of course back then, it was all about commercial brand peanut butters like Jif or Skippy, but I’ve grown up since then by upgrading to the natural varieties from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Although these kinds are much healthier for you, using the commercial brands that have the added sugars and whatnot are usually the norm to use when it comes to making peanut butter desserts, and therefore the type of PB I want you to buy for this recipe. This is so we don’t have to worry about the natural oils or lack of sodium/sugar that is found in the natural types of PB.

The only other brownie recipe on my site, my forever go-to chewy and fudgy brownies, is quite different from the jazzed up brownies in today’s post. These peanut butter swirl brownies are anything-but-basic, muuuch thicker, and filled with crunchy peanuts. I am normally not a fan of nuts in my brownies, but I really think the peanuts work well in these because you get double the peanut flavor and a nice added texture. To put it plainly: today’s PB brownies are very decadent, but that doesn’t mean it’ll stop you from having more than one piece at a time.

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Looking at the recipe itself, I’m sure you’ll notice how I am also giving metric measurements (grams, milliliters) for the ingredients. When working with something messy like peanut butter, it’s so much easier weighing it out in a bowl set over a scale than with measuring cups which can be a pain to clean. Furthermore, I’ve made the recipe both ways, and although the consistency of the batters were a bit different, I could barely notice a difference after they came out of the oven. So if you can weigh your ingredients, certainly do it, and if not, don’t worry about it.

I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day Weekend! Alex and I are going to our first Cinespia screening of the year at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (aka my favorite summer activity to do) and I cannot wait! The movie we’re seeing is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window so it should be a pretty mixed crowd. I’m very excited to be sipping on a cocktail and snacking on these brownies, while surrounded by other cinephiles come Sunday.

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Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

Recipe slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

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For the peanut butter batter:

  • 3/4 cup (190 grams) smooth peanut butter

  • 2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated sugar

  • 1 large egg

  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

  • A good pinch of coarse sea salt

For the brownie batter:

  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter

  • 3 oz. (85 grams) unsweetened chocolate (like this one), roughly chopped

  • 1 1/4 cup (250 grams) granulated sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) vanilla extract

  • 1/4 tsp. espresso powder (optional but recommended - it helps intensify the chocolate flavor)

  • 1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt

  • 2/3 cup (85 grams) all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup (60 grams) chopped toasted peanuts

  • 1/4 cup (40 grams) chocolate chips, semisweet or bitter

  • Flaky sea salt or confectioners’ sugar, to finish

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 8in. square baking pan with parchment paper and then grease the pan (bottom and sides) with cooking spray or butter. Set aside.

  2. Make the peanut butter batter: In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together until well combined and smooth.

  3. Make the brownie batter: In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together. Do this in 30 second intervals, stirring well after each time, being careful not to burn the mixture. Once melted, transfer the mixture into a large bowl. To this, add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Then add the vanilla extract, espresso powder (if using) and salt. Whisk until combined. Using a spatula, fold in the all-purpose flour until no dry ingredients remain. Stir in the chopped peanuts.

  4. Pour a thin layer (about a 1/3 of the batter) of the brownie batter into the baking dish and spread evenly. Take the peanut butter batter and drop big spoonfuls of it in a random fashion over the thin layer of brownie batter. Use the rest of the brownie batter and fill in the spaces between the peanut butter batter so that it looks like image #2 above. Using a butterknife or wooden skewer, start to swirl the brownie and peanut butter batters together. Don’t worry if you don’t get perfect swirls, the flavor will still be there. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top.

  5. Pop the baking dish in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly clean (a few crumbs are okay). Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and/or confectioners’ sugar. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting - this makes it much easier and gives you cleaner pieces.

FRESH MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP ICE CREAM

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And just like that, it’s springtime. Even though in my last post I was craving summer and all the flavors and desserts that come with it, I of course wasn’t going to brush over spring! It’s a time when everything is blooming and coming back to life, and I’ll never get over how beautiful it is. Living in an apartment, I so look forward to the day when I’ll have my own house with a huge backyard (a girl can dream, ok?) where I’ll harvest my own fruits and veggies, and have flowers everywhere. Until that day, I’ll settle on having little flower pots dedicated to certain herbs and random house plants in my living room that brighten up the place.

One herb plant that I keep in my kitchen window is mint, which if you’re a gardener, you know is a plant that is nearly impossible to kill. It thrives in sun and shade perennially and has the tendency to spread and conquer as much territory as it can. To combat this weed-like herb, you must pick and trim it, and what better way to use up that mint than making homemade ice cream!

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I’ve always been a huge fan of mint chocolate chip ice cream, but over the years, I’ve honed in on what to me “mint ice cream” means. When I was younger, store-bought neon colored and artificially flavored mint versions reigned supreme in my house. It’s what most people in America are used to when they think of mint ice cream - the color has to be that greenish blue. When I got a little older, I remember my mom coming home with a tub of Breyers mint chip and I was seriously skeptical of it because it wasn’t a green color, but rather a creamy white. The moment I took a bite, I was blown away and vouched to never touch any brand that added dyes to their ice cream. FYI, to this day, if I’m ever too lazy to make my own, Breyers ice cream is still the winner for me in that department.

And then once again, a couple years later, I had another epiphany with mint ice cream. My dad and I went to Sweet Rose Creamery at the Brentwood Country Mart in LA for the first time because we both share a love of ice cream and wanted to check out the shop. My dad ordered a brownie ice cream sundae with vanilla ice cream and I opted to try a scoop of their “fresh” mint ice cream. I was completely taken aback by the taste of it - after years of artificially flavored mint ice cream and added dyes, I could not believe that I had been missing out on the real thing for so long. Fresh mint ice cream is truly a different experience than what you can find at the grocery store and really tastes light, fresh, and worlds better than the fake stuff.

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So when I eventually got an ice cream maker for Christmas later that year (2012), I chose to make mint chocolate chip ice cream for my first ever homemade batch. And let me tell you: it was a struggle. I of course chose a recipe (the one below!) that probably wasn’t best for a beginner and I remember having my mom help me along every step of the way. To be clear, this was not only marking the beginning of me making ice cream, but also when I was just getting into baking and was less than an amateur. So for example, I had no idea how to temper eggs when making the custard-based ice cream, whereas today, it’s something that doesn't even phase me. Anyway, somehow my mom and I figured out how to make the mint ice cream and I’m pretty sure I cried tears of joy after my first bite. I think I’ve said this before, but making homemade ice cream is quite the accomplishment and something to be proud of. I still get giddy with excitement after every batch I make.

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This recipe requires a little more than 2 cups of fresh mint, which is a lot, so chances are that your garden may not have enough for this recipe. And that’s fine! You can use a mixture of store bought fresh mint and some of your own (or all store bought if you don’t have a garden, of course). Trader Joe’s sells organic fresh mint for a great price. As for the “chocolate chip” aspect of this ice cream, I’m finally able to give my trick for getting those evenly distributed chocolate flecks that you see in my pictures. Instead of chopping up a chocolate bar or adding chocolate chips to the finished ice cream, I melt my chocolate and slowly pour it into the ice cream maker while it’s churning, but almost done. This allows the chocolate to break up into tiny pieces and therefore gives a creamier texture without having bites with big pieces of chocolate in it. If you’re familiar with Thrifty’s chocolate chip and mint chip ice creams, the texture is most similar to theirs (aka the best!).

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Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

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Yields about 1 quart

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • Pinch of salt

  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves

  • 5 large egg yolks

  • 5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (in chip or bar form)

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, warm up the milk, 1 cup of the heavy cream, granulated sugar and salt over medium heat. Do not let it come to a simmer. Add the mint leaves to the pan and stir until every leaf is immersed in the liquid. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.

  2. Place a strainer over a medium/large saucepan, and pour the mint/milk mixture through (the mint leaves will be left in the strainer). Using a spatula, press down firmly on the mint leaves, making sure to get any and all liquid out of them. In a large bowl, add the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and set a strainer over the top (use a bowl that will be able to fit over an ice bath for later).

  3. Over medium-low heat, rewarm the mint-infused mixture. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Just as the milk mixture is beginning to simmer, gradually add some of it to the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly as to not scramble the eggs (this is called tempering). Once the egg yolk mixture temperature has raised, pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spatula or spoon.

  4. Pour the mixture over the strainer-lined bowl and stir the mint-custard in with the heavy cream that is already in the bowl. Let the ice cream base sit over an ice bath for about an hour before moving to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

  5. Churn the ice cream in your maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the ice cream is almost finished churning, melt the chocolate in a microwave and slowly pour it into the ice cream maker (while it’s still on). This will create tiny chocolate flecks all through out the ice cream. If big globs are created, simply use a spatula to help break it up. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until solid.

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I’d like to dedicate this post to my dog niece, Dolce. This beautiful girl had to be put down on Wednesday (the first day of spring), and to say that I’m devastated is a severe understatement. I have a million pictures of her goofy, expressive face and it was hard to choose just one. Here she is with her bone looking crazy happy, and sitting on her mom and dad’s bed.

I love you babygirl and I’ll miss giving you tons of kisses, which you always let me do. You made a lot of people smile, but made your mom and dad the happiest.