When Son #2 was diagnosed with life threatening food allergies nearly 8 years ago, I began a quest to create safe and delicious baked goods that were safe for my boy. At the time, I really didn’t realize that it was A Quest but rather a coping mechanism for being able to control something surrounding a diagnosis that was completely out of my control. Being the baking-obsessed gal that I am, it’s only natural that I Baked it Out during a time of great anxiety. Now with more than half of our immediate family with the same life threatening food allergies, baking at home is just a way of life. My boys love the treats that are churned out of my kitchen but they’re still kids, and there is always something that they see while we’re out and about that is far more exciting than anything I could hope to bake for them.
Whenever Son #2 sees something sweet and tempting while we’re away from home, he asks the same two questions:
Is it safe?
Can we read the label?
Since most bakery and prepackaged items are not safe for him, his follow-up question is always:
Can we make that at home but without the nuts?
That last question is one that I simply cannot deny him. If my sweet boy sees something that everyone around him can enjoy but he can not, I have to at least make an attempt to re-create it at home. The process of re-creating the texture or similar flavors that peanuts/tree nuts impart on food is not always as easy as it sounds–sometimes it takes awhile. Oh, and if I’m really going to make Son #2 happy, whatever I am attempting to replicate needs to look exactly like whatever it was that he saw.
I guess I should thank Son #2 for being the catalyst that really got me experimenting in the kitchen. Thanks, B!
So when Son #2 saw some Rocky Road Brownies at a picnic, he read the label found out that the “rocks” were actually walnuts…I think you can see where I’m going with this:
We had to make (Not Quite) Rocky Road Brownies at home. Obviously.
The base brownie recipe is my standard Super Fudgy Brownie recipe used for Salted Caramel Brownies. Huh. I just realized that I’ve never posted the brownie recipe on it’s own. (Note to self: remedy that.) The brownies themselves are very rich, with a fudge-like consistency. I highly recommend them on their own. But being that brownie toppings are so much fun, these are topped with marshmallows, and a chocolate glaze studded with dried cherries.
Oh, yes! Dried cherries! The tartness of the cherries provides a nice balance to the sweetness imparted by the marshmallows and chocolate. And for Son #2’s aesthetic sensibilities, the cherries provide the required “bumps” in our (not quite) rocky road.
For the Brownies: unsalted butter, brown sugar, all-purpose flour, dark chocolate chips, unsweetened cocoa powder, kosher salt, eggs, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon. For the Topping: Milk, more cocoa powder, more unsalted butter, more vanilla extract, powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, sweetened dried cherries, and miniature marshmallows. More is more is more!
Start by preheating the oven to 350° F and spraying a 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan with baking spray. Be like me and use the rattiest pan that you can find. I hear they make better brownies. ;)
In a medium-sized bowl, measure the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and salt.
Whisk the dry ingredients together until they are blended, then set them aside.
Dump the unsalted butter and brown sugar into a large saucepan, and begin heating it over medium heat.
Once the butter starts to melt, continue heating, and stir the mixture until brown sugar has melted completely. To amp up the fudginess of the brownie, the sugar crystals should be dissolved, leaving the mixture looking like caramel.
Remove the pan from the heat. Pour in the dark chocolate chips, and stir.
Continue stirring until the chocolate chips have completely melted.
Add the dry ingredients to the pan. Use a rubber spatula or sturdy wooden spoon to stir the dry stuff into the wet stuff. This part requires a little muscle. Consider it your workout for the day.
The mixture will be very dry (and hot!) once the dry ingredients are worked in. Adding the dry ingredients before the eggs will temper the warm wet stuff so as to avoid scrambled eggs in your brownies.
Stir in the eggs, 1 at a time, until fully incorporated. The batter will loosen up with each additional egg. Don’t be tempted to add the eggs before the dry ingredients!
Once the eggs have been worked in, stir in the vanilla extract. The addition of vanilla into chocolate smooths out the flavor, and actually brings out the chocolate flavor.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spread it to the edges, and smooth the top. The batter will be very thick. Bake in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes, or until the center is just set. Do not over cook, or the brownies will be dry.
You could skip all of the above and use your favorite brownie mix. But just know that you’d be breaking my heart by doing so.
Only kidding! Sort of. But I’d be bummed. Let you conscience be your guide.
While the brownies are baking, prepare the chocolate glaze by melting the butter with the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Continue to heat the pan while whisking in the cocoa powder and a pinch of salt.
Pour in the vanilla extract, and whisk until smooth.
Add the powdered sugar, and whisk until the glaze is smooth.
Remember–the pan should still be over medium heat. The heat will help melt the sugar. (About 2 minutes.) Remove from heat.
Stir the dried cherries into the warm chocolate glaze.
By now the brownies should be done, which is really great timing. Lest I be tempted to eat the cherry-studded glaze with a spoon.
Take the brownies out of the oven, and carefully spread the marshmallows over top.
Spoon the warm glaze on top of the marshmallows. If the glaze has cooled too much to be spoonable, rewarm it over low heat for a minute or two.
Pop the pan back into the oven for a minute or two. The marshmallows will puff up a bit and soften.
Use a flat spreader or butter knife to spread the topping to the edges of the pan. I just love the swirled effect the marshmallows make as they mesh with the chocolate glaze.
Now here comes the hard part–allow the brownies to cool completely before slicing. Once cool, run a sharp knife under very warm water, and wipe dry. Use the warmed knife to slowly cut the brownies into 36 1-inch x 2-inch pieces.
See all those plump dried cherries in there? Those are the “rocks” in the (Not Quite) Rocky Road Brownies. Which, by the way, should be savored with a tall glass of milk. That’s how Son #2 likes his.
(Not Quite) Rocky Road Brownies
Makes 36 Brownies
For the Brownies:
1 C. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 C. brown sugar, firmly packed
2 C. all-purpose flour
12 oz. (2 C.) dark chocolate chips
1/3 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
For the Topping:
5 Tbs. 2% milk
¼ C. cocoa powder
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
2C. powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
½ C. sweetened dried cherries
2C. miniature marshmallows
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt; set aside.
- Place butter and brown sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until butter and sugar are melted; stirring constantly. Do not allow the mixture to boil. The mixture should look like caramel, and sugar crystals will be almost totally dissolved. (About 5 minutes.) Remove from heat.
- Add chocolate chips to the pan, and stir until completely melted. Add flour mixture all at once, and stir together to form a stiff dough. Stir in eggs, one at a time, until just incorporated. Stir in vanilla.
- Pour batter into prepared pan, and lightly spread to the edges. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until center is just set. (DO NOT overcook or the brownies will be dry.)
- While brownies are baking, prepare the icing by heating the butter, and milk in a large saucepan over medium heat.
- Once butter has melted, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, dump in the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth.
- Add the powdered sugar and continue to whisk until smooth. The icing will clump at first, but don’t worry, just continue to whisk over the low heat, and eventually it will come together. Once icing is smooth, turn off the heat.
- When the brownies are out of the oven, sprinkle the miniature marshmallows over top.
- Reheat the icing over low heat for a few seconds, or until it becomes warm and pourable again.
- Stir the dried cherries in to the warmed icing, them spoon it over the marshmallows.
- Pop the brownie pan back into the oven for 1 minute. The marshmallows will puff up a bit.
- Remove the pan from the oven. Use a large spreader to gently swirl the topping together.
- Allow brownies to cool completely on a wire rack.
- For best results, run a sharp knife through hot water, and dry it off. Use the warm knife to slice the brownies into 36 1-inch by 2-inch pieces. Re-warm the knife, as necessary.
NOTE: These brownies are best enjoyed the day the are made, but leftover brownies can be stored, tightly wrapped, on the counter for 2 to 3 days.