Chocolate Licorice Brownie Cookies

Hey, hey, hey wait a second.  Give this a chance before you run away screaming.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve made every cookie out there.  Were I enterprising, the next step would be to work out my own original recipes.  Alas, that will have to wait until my brain is less stuffed with other, more important things (eg whether our bathtub is big enough to keep a pet otter happy and, when I get a pet otter, what I will name it).

So, when I came across a recipe for salty black licorice brownie cookies by Charli Nowak over on Food 52, I was over on Amazon ordering ingredients before I’d even finished reading the article.

Now, I know what you are thinking–adding chocolate to black licorice is like putting lipstick on a pig.  But, stick with me. Something cool happens when you mix the earthy, herbal flavors of anise and licorice root with the smoky sweet flavors of deep dark chocolate.

I’ll admit, my own pump for licorice and chocolate were primed before I saw the recipe.  I’ve been thinking about creating an All Sorts French macaroon for a few months.  If you are a fan of these licorice candies paired with a host of flavors and stacked into colorful little blocks, you already know that chocolate and licorice are good friends.

These cookies are indulgent and immensely satisfying.  They’re deeply chocolate with enough je ne sais quoi to make them sophisticated and dare I say, sexy. Think Valentine’s Day worthy.

Still not convinced?  I’ve got you covered.

In the name of research, I offered up a couple to TD without mentioning the unusual ingredients.  TD is squarely in the no black jelly bean camp.

The verdict?  He was a big fan.

When I asked if he could identify the secret ingredients he guessed chocolate.

Did you know TD is the Latin abbreviation for Captain Obvious?

I ordered my licorice root powder and ground anise from Amazon in larger quantities because, as I mentioned, I have bigger plans for these flavors.  However, you should be able to find them at a spice shop like Penzy’s.  Or, if you live close and want to make these, let me know and I’ll share my stash.

Salty Black Licorice Brownie Cookies

adapted just a bit from Charli Nowak for Food 52


  • 7 ounces 60% dark chocolate chips
  • 2 TBS water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • stick (1/4 pound or 8 TBS) unsalted butter
  • large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 3 TBS black cocoa powder (or Dutch-processed cocoa powder)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 TBS licorice root powder (available in specialty spice stores)
  • 2 tsp ground anise
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt (plus more or flaky salt for sprinkling on top)
  • optional: 6 ounces mini chocolate chips or finely chopped dark chocolate bits optional


  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Line 4 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  2. Place butter in a small pot over medium heat and begin melting. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until butter begins to brown and smell nutty. Immediately pour over chocolate mixture and stir until completely melted. Set aside.
  3. To the hot, melted butter, add chocolate, water, and vanilla extract.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes and then whisk until smooth.
  4. Place eggs and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on high speed for 7 minutes until eggs are pale and ribbony.
  5. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, licorice root power, anise, and salt. Set aside.
  6. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add melted chocolate mixture. Once combined, add dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.
  7. Gently fold in chocolate chips
  8. Using your choice of scoop size (I used my favorite 1 1/2 TBS size, the original recipe called for a 3 TBS scoop), portion batter onto prepared trays leaving two inches between each. Sprinkle tops with flaky salt and bake until puffed and crackly, about 11 minutes. Remove from oven, give the tray a good smack against the counter, and let cool for at least 20 minutes.

My bloody (orange) valentine cheesecake

Alas, I could not resist matching up deliciously gorgeous and in-season blood oranges with Valentine’s Day.  If the name bothers you, you can do what my friend Cameron has done when attempting to get her kids to eat the blood oranges off of a tree in her yard.  Just call them rainbow oranges.  My rainbow orange valentine.  That works too.

Blood oranges remind me of the trip we took to Italy a couple of springs ago.  We spent some time in a teeny tiny little fishing village where a little pastry and coffee shop served blood orange juice in the mornings.  As soon as the server set down the sunset-colored juice on that first morning, I knew I had a new favorite color.   I’ve taken advantage of  using blood oranges at any turn ever since. So, while looking at the heaping bowl of blood oranges I brought home from the market a couple of weekends ago I thought, why not blood orange cheesecake?

This recipe is actually adapted from a recipe I found in, gasp,  Cooking Light magazine (though the original calls for normal oranges…how pedestrian!).  While this blog does not claim to ever attempt to be healthy, it’s always nice when recipe happens to naturally lean in that direction. And I this one does it well.

This recipe starts with about a dozen blood oranges that have been sectioned.  To do this, first lop-off the top and bottom of the orange so that you have a stable base.  Then, with a sharp knife, cut the peel from the orange while following its contours from top to bottom.  Make sure to remove any of the pith that might remain.

Then, I like to hold the naked orange with one hand and using a pairing knife, carefully cut between the membranes so that the two cuts come together in a V shape.  If done right, your original orange will look like this:

And your sections will look like this:

This part is a little time consuming but can be done well in advance.

Now it’s time to make a base.  The original recipe is scaled to an eight-inch spring-form pan.  Mine is nine inches.  Even with adjustments in the original, I thought the final crust was too thin so I’ve made some changes in the recipe I’ve included here.

The crust begins with  either ground graham crackers or gingersnaps.  I love the combination of ginger and orange and so ground up some of my new favorite ginger cookies.

Melted butter and a bit of sugar are added to the crumbed cookies.

And then into the pan and into the oven for a few minutes.  The strange greasy looking spots in the photo below are actually pieces of crystallized ginger.

While the crust is in the oven, it’s time to mix together what seems like an unfathomably ridiculous amount of dairy.  There is so much cream cheese and yogurt in this recipe that as soon as I opened the first envelope of reduced-fat cream cheese, Petting Zoo’s bionic cow product senors activated and she appeared out of nowhere demanding a piece of the action.  As gentle as Bella the cat is, I did have a quick moment of wondering whether I’d have to physically defend my bowl of “cream.”  Luckily, she was easily distracted by the promise of a kitty treat or two.  In addition to 24 ounces combined fat-free and reduced-fat cream cheese, I used a lowfat Greek yogurt in place of the originally called for sour cream and really liked the outcome.

Then, into the oven with just enough time for me to make a confession.  Before this post I was a virgin.  Well, a cheesecake virgin.   As in, I’d never made it.  I have no idea why not, I just never had.  Which probably explains why my beautifully spongy looking cheesecake after one-hour of baking looked like the Bride of Frankenstein at 75 minutes.  I think I went wrong at a couple of junctures.  First, I should have used a water bath.  Even without any previous cheesecake experience, I should have known better.  Second,  I should have re-oiled the sides of the pan after baking the crust.  Finally, I’m pretty sure I over-baked the poor thing.  Oh well, guess I’ll just have to keep trying.

Luckily, when it comes to cheesecake, a crack or two does not have to mean disaster.  Remember those blood oranges?  Well, we are going to make a little sauce with marmalade and then decorate the top.

You can add the orange sections in whatever pattern you’d like.  I went for a sort of spiral-rose design.

Look at that color.

Seriously–how enticing is this hue?

I was a little skeptical about what kind of texture reduced fat dairy could derive.  Turns out, it’s lovely.  And, if I hadn’t made it and been privy to the less than full-octane ingredients, I wouldn’t have had any idea.

I’m telling you, this was good stuff.  If I was my Valentine, this is what I would make for me.

(Blood) Orange-Glazed Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

heavily adapted from Cooking Light, October 2001


  • 2 C gingersnap crumbs
  • 4 Tbs sugar
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
  • Cooking spray


  • 3 (8 ounce) blocks reduced fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (8 ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 7 ounces Greek yogurt (I used 2%)
  • .25 C all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 C sugar
  • .25 C thawed orange juice concentrate
  • 2 Tbs blood orange juice
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 large egg whites


  • .5 C orange marmalade
  • 2 Tbs blood orange juice
  • Blood oranges, sectioned (I sectioned about a dozen to make the pattern shown here but you can mix it up however you would like)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

For crust, combine gingersnap crumbs, sugar and butter tossing with a fork until moist.  Press into a bottom of a 9-inch springform pan coated in cooking oil.  Bake for 5 minutes.

To prepare filling, beat together cheese and yogurt in a large bowl or standing mixer at high speed until smooth.  Add the flour, sugar, orange juice and vanilla.  Add the eggs and whites one-at-a-time until combined.

Pour the cheesecake mix into prepared pan and bake for 70 minutes or until almost set.  The cheesecake is done when the center barely moves when the pan is touched.  Remove cheesecake from oven and run a knife around the outside edge.  Cool to room temp and remove sides.

To prepare the topping, combine marmalade and juice.  Spread half of the mixture over the top of the cheesecake.  Arrange oranges over cheesecake and top with remaining marmalade mixture.  Cover and chills at least eight hours.

Cue Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is about a month away. Yes a month.

While in college, I wrote a rather cynical article for the school newspaper about Valentine’s Day.  The article went on and on about the commercially incited evils of sending cards and chocolate and how when it comes to the big day, we are all pretty much damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell my 21-year-old self to lighten up a little.  Sheesh.

Yes, Valentine’s Day is ridiculous.  But, it is also fun.  If you take the serious out of it, Valentines Day can be a bright spot of pink and red glitter smack dab in the middle of what is often the dreariest month of the year.

It is with this spirit that I bring you a Valentine’s Day recipe that is a little off-beat. I’ll give you a hint.  Its main ingredients include this.

And this.

Intrigued? Curious? Thoroughly disgusted?  Stick with me.

When I began thinking about what kind of treats to post in preparation for Valentine’s Day, my mind went to ruby red grapefruit.  I happen to think it is pretty sexy; sweet, slightly bitter and that gorgeous pinky-orangish color.  Try saying it in French: pamplemousse rouge.  See?  Sexy!

So then I started thinking about what goes with grapefruit.  Immediately, my mind went to a salad I often serve during the winter months composed of red grapefruit, avocado, cucumber and shallot.  I happen to think the creamy nuttiness of avocado is an excellent counter for the sharp sweetness of grapefruit.  But…could it be made into a dessert?

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when I spied the whoopie pie pan my Aunt Jullie sent us for Christmas.  Now before this, I’ve always done my whoopie pies freestyle like THIS.  However, January’s Bon Appetit magazine has a whole spread on the whoopie pie versus the French macaroon [sic–alas, this is how they spelled it throughout the article], so I figured now was as good a time as any to get professional with my pies.  And so, the Grapefruit Avocado Whoopie Pie was born.

Still not convinced?  Let me win you over.

The cake was inspired by the Lemon Whoopie recipe from Whoopie Pies: Dozens of Mix’em, Match ’em, Eat ’em Up Recipes by Billingsley and Treadwell (the book came with the pan).  My variation of the cake starts with a generous heap of grapefruit zest (I used Texas red grapefruit but use whatever toots your horn).

The zest gets incorporated into a buttermilk-based cake batter.

Even with the reddish zest, you can see the batter really wasn’t looking all that grapefruity.  Once upon a time I would have left well enough alone.  But then I started making French macarons which are, lets face it, the peacock of the petit fours.  If there is one thing I learned from the French macaron, it is that food coloring is not only my friend, but an important visual cue for taste.  So, I got out my hot pink food gel and colored half of my batter accordingly (note, I halved the recipe in these pictures).

While the batter tasted of grapefruit, the flavor was very subtle and I didn’t get that bitterness at the back of my tongue that I happen to like so much about grapefruit.  So, while the cakes were in the oven, I made a simple syrup of the ruby grapefruit juice and sugar.  As a side note, this syrup works well in cocktails with vodka and club soda.  Just so you know.

One of the cool things about whoopie pies is that they bake as quickly as cookies.  Twelve minutes and I had nearly a dozen ginormous pie halves.

Once out of the oven, I placed each still-hot cake on a cooling rack upside down.  I then poked several holes 3/4 of the way through the cakes and spooned about a teaspoon of the grapefruit syrup over cake.

While the cakes were cooling, I got busy with some avocado.  There are several recipes out there for avocado frosting/icing/filling.  However, all roads really lead back to an Alton Brown recipe.  A couple of avocados get beaten.

And then lemon juice, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla are creamed into the avocado.  The recipe is very simple and despite the ridiculous amount of sugar in it, the frosting has a nice mellow flavor.  After thinking about it for a couple of days, it struck me that at least to my taste buds, sweetened avocado tastes a little like banana.  This frosting is rather elastic and ploppy.  For this reason I let it rest in the fridge for an hour before loading it into a pastry bag to fill my cakes.

I realize that the color is interesting.  It looks a lot like the Kid’s Choice (or You Can’t Do That On Television if you are old school like me) slime.  But remember, we’re having fun with the day of love.  What says fun more than green slime?

I know that for many, Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without chocolate.  And, I promise a chocolate recipe before the big day.  But, if your honey/brother/sister/best friend/ stranger-who-looks-like-they-could-use-a- Valentine’s-treat likes things a little wild, this might just do the trick.

Grapefruit Whoopie Pies with Avocado Filling

Grapefruit Cake inspired by the Lemon Whoopie recipe from Whoopie Pies: Dozens of Mix’em, Match ’em, Eat ’em Up Recipes

Frosting adapted from Alton Brown



  • 2.25 C all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • .5 t salt
  • 4 T unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 4 T vegetable shortening
  • .5 C granulated sugar
  • .5 C packed golden brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • .5 C buttermilk
  • Grated zest of 1 grapefruit
  • 2 T fresh grapefruit juice
  • .5 t vanilla extract

Grapefruit Syrup

  • 1 C fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 C granulated sugar

Avocado Frosting

  • 8 oz ripe avocado (about 2)
  • 2 t fresh lemon juice
  • 1 LB confectioner’s sugar
  • .5 t vanilla extract

To Make Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, soda, powder and salt.  Set aside.  Using a standing mixer or electric mixer, cream butter, shortening and sugars until fluffy–2 or 3 minutes.  Beat in eggs one-at-a-time.  Mix in Zest, juice, vanilla and buttermilk.  Fold in flour mixture.  Spoon 2T of batter onto parchment-lined cookie sheets or oiled whoopie pie molds. Bake until cake springs back when touched–12-15 minutes.

While cakes are baking, combine 1 C each of grapefruit juice and sugar in a heavy saucepan.  Bring to boil and reduce to summer until sugar dissolves (do not stir).  Take off heat and set aside.

When cakes come out of the oven, let sit on pan for 5 minutes and then carefully flip and place each on a cooling rack, top-side-down.  Poke each cake about 3/4 of the way through several times with a bamboo skewer or toothpick.  Carefully spoon grapefruit syrup over each.

While cakes are cooling, mix-up filling.

Cream avocado until smooth (I mashed it with a fork guacamole style and then introduced the hand-mixer).  Cream-in lemon juice and then confectioners sugar and vanilla.  If the consistency is not to your liking, you can slowly add-in additional sugar until you get what you want.  Spoon or pipe filling onto half of the pie-cakes.  Top with remaining pie-cakes and WHOOOOPPPPIIEEEE!