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Cooking with Myra: Getting ready for Christmas with Santa hat brownies

Dec. 13, 2011 at 6:13 a.m.
Updated Dec. 14, 2011 at 6:14 a.m.

Santa Hat Brownies


Adapted from recipe found on Erica's Sweet Tooth

Yields 12-16 brownies

1 pan of your favorite brownies, cooled and cut into desired size and shape (I used a round cutter) or brownies prepared in mini muffin tins

12-16 small strawberries, cleaned and hulled

Vanilla-mascarpone buttercream (recipe below)

Prepare brownies according to package instructions. You may prepare in a pan or cut into desired shape with round cutter. Allow to cool before icing and placing strawberries.

Mascarpone Buttercream

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature

21/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter and mascarpone cheese until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract and salt. Add 21/2 cups of sugar, half a cup at a time and continue beating until smooth. Add more sugar, if needed to reach desired consistency and sweetness.

To assemble, pipe a ring of vanilla buttercream on top of each brownie. Cut off the base of a strawberry so it is flat and place it upside down on each brownie, pushing slightly to secure in place. Top the tip of the strawberry with a dot of buttercream to finish the Santa hat.

Salted Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bark

(This recipe adapted from Legume Loyalist website)

makes 1 sheet of bark

1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

bag of mini pretzels

12-oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

sea salt

Wrap a baking sheet with tin foil. I prefer heavy foil. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. As it melts, cover the baking sheet in an even layer of mini pretzels. (You may not use the entire bag.) Once the butter is melted, add the sugar and stir to incorporate. Allow the sugar and butter to softly simmer and bubble, but don't let it boil, so adjust the heat accordingly. Stir occasionally. The browning process should take about three minutes from when it starts to bubble.

Once the sugar and butter have caramelized, pour the mixture evenly over the pretzels on the baking sheet. Using a spatula spread out the sugar mixture down the length of the sheet. The caramel hardens pretty quickly so it's important to pour it as evenly as possible from the start. If you end up with any clumps, just use a spatula to spread the caramel as best you can. Bake the pretzel-caramel mixture in the oven for 5-7 minutes.

Use a double boiler or make your own by filling a pan with water a quarter of the way full. Place the pot over a medium flame. Take a large, heatproof bowl and set it on top of the saucepan. Be sure that the water in the pot will not touch the bottom of the dish, otherwise your chocolate will burn! Pour the chocolate chips into the bowl and stir constantly until they're completely melted.

By this time the pretzel-caramel mixture should be done and out of the oven. Pour the chocolate evenly over the pretzel-caramel mixture.

Spread any remaining thick spots of chocolate with a spatula. Sprinkle sea salt evenly over the bark. Place it in the fridge to cool and harden for about an hour.

By Myra Starkey

The weeks leading up to Christmas cause me a small amount of anxiety. The gift-buying frenzy is one of the main reasons.

It takes time and imagination to find the perfect gifts for the people you love, particularly since we all have budgets. After all, who would not want a small island in the Bahamas or even a new car? The irony of the situation is that most people you shop for don't care so much what you give them, but only that you thought of them. Children are the exception to this rule since they definitely care what is inside the box.

My gift-giving dilemma has gotten easier as I have gotten older. My three children, who are all young adults, are happiest when they receive money to spend. They know what they want better than I do. Envelopes of the green stuff tend to make them smile, so that is usually what they get.

The other big holiday stressors for me is the decorating of the house. The level of Christmas lights and decor has definitely decreased since the kids left for college. Since Taylor and I are the only ones at home, we don't seem to have the time or energy to expend bringing out all the decorations, just to store them away again in a few short weeks. Of course, when our kids finally do arrive home, they act like we are lazy dead-beats if there is no holiday season trim in the house.

During their childhoods, I made a great effort in stringing cranberries and popcorn for the tree and playing Christmas carols on the stereo while we performed the task. After we had created a sufficient amount of garland, we moved to the tree and hung the ornaments, several of which had special significance in their lives.

Hannah would search the ornament box for the glass ballerina. It reminded her of her years of ballet during elementary school.

Miles and Spencer would dig through the tissue paper looking for the mechanical Santa's workshop ornaments that plugged into the Christmas lights. The power would make the tiny hammer in Santa's hand go tap, tap, tap. I am not sure what Santa was tapping, but the effect was mesmerizing.

And finally, each kid would vie for the coveted job of placing the angel on the top of the tree. We would then set the wooden Santa collection out on various tables.

The next task was to unwrap the nativity, one character at a time, and carefully place each piece on our dining room sideboard. Baby Jesus was usually saved for last, and He was delicately and reverently placed in the manger. I think our kids would have been horrified if we had ever dropped Baby Jesus on the floor. The process of getting our house ready for the Christmas holiday brought me great joy because the kids were so excited.

Thinking about the actual morning of Christmas makes me smile. All the groceries are purchased, the plans are made, the gifts are under the tree, and everyone is tucked warmly in their beds waiting to hear the creaks on the stairs signaling the start of the festivities. During the Santa years, I could hardly wait to see the kids come downstairs on Christmas morning and see their packages laid out in separate areas.

Now, everyone is grown, and they will stumble out of bed hungry and in search of a cup of coffee. Our family will sit in the den and my dad will read the Christmas story. My father has been reading these same biblical passages to us since I was a small child, and I have heard his voice grow older in the past several years, so I cherish this part of Christmas morning above all else.

Next, we will pass out gifts. Normally, we have a gift exchange. We are not extravagant givers, but I do love to see expressions from my family when they open something I found, and it is "just what they would have wanted."

Christmas breakfast soon follows where everyone eats in their pajamas and robes and praises me for my morning creation, which is usually something sweet and decadent and calorie-laden.

This year, we will spend time with Taylor's family when his four sisters and their husbands and kids all return to the old Starkey home, and everybody catches up on each others' lives. There will be laughter and joy and a lot of food and sweets. We will sit together and just enjoy one another for a whole day with no distractions other than the television.

But since Christmas is just about two weeks away, as I sit and write, I am making my list and checking it twice and finding that it is really long. I am always on the prowl for festive holiday treats, and this year, found Santa Hat Brownies, which are so cute. I made them in mini-cupcake pans, so they can be consumed in a bite or two. Yummy. Also, look at the recipe for Salted Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bark, which is like a salty, sweet bite of heaven. Now is not the time to count calories. Save that for January.

My kitchen counters are filled with sugar, chocolate and assorted ingredients, and my den is filled with Christmas garland and ornaments. Spencer, our youngest, will arrive soon, and I hope the decorated house and aromas from my kitchen will remind him of holidays past. I can only hope for snow.

I cannot think of anything cuter than these brownies for dessert.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email



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