Treat Mom to a delightful, decadent cookie this year

Any mother would love a break from the kitchen for Mother's Day this year. So why not give her a baking break and whip up a batch of these Rosemary Blonde Brownies, from Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year by Julia M. Usher with photographs by Steve Adams, and surprise Mom with a delicious, dainty snack.

Rosemary Blonde Brownies

Makes about 4 dozen (1½-inch) squares or 4½ dozen (1¼ x 1½-inch) ovals
To morph these simple bars into stylish petits fours, cut the cookie block into small ovals or rounds and pipe florets of Rosemary Ganache (see recipe below) on top. Note: For kids, omit the rosemary in both the brownie and the ganache topping and boost the quantity of chocolate chips and other mix-ins to taste.

Prep Talk: Cool the bars completely (about 2 hours) before topping with ganache. Decorated bars should be stored in the refrigerator. (The topping is perishable.) If the brownies have not been decorated, they are better stored at room temperature. Bars will stay fresh longer if kept in the pan, tightly wrapped in foil, and cut just before serving. For the most potent flavor, serve at room temperature within 4 to 5 days.

2½ cups all-purpose flour
2½ tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves (4 to 5 rosemary sprigs, stems removed)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3⁄8 teaspoon salt
1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, chopped into tablespoon-size pieces
2¼ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1½ cups pecan halves, toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped
1 cup premium milk or semisweet chocolate chips

Rosemary Ganache (optional)
¾ recipe Ganache (recipe below)
¼ cup loosely packed fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped
(4 to 5 sprigs, stems removed)
Decoration (optional)
About 4 dozen small (½-inch) rosemary sprigs (1 per brownie)

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 10 x 15 x 1-inch jelly-roll pan with foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang around the top edge of the pan. Smooth out any big wrinkles in the foil and then lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Combine the flour, rosemary, baking powder, and salt together in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the rosemary is reduced to very small pieces. (Note: If the rosemary isn’t chopped before going into the processor, it will be harder to finely grind.) Set aside for use in Step 4.

3. Place the butter in a medium (3-quart) saucepan over low heat. Once the butter has fully melted, remove it from the heat and stir in the brown sugar, mixing until smooth. (Note: Don’t be surprised if the butter and sugar do not completely come together at this point; some separation is normal.) Cool a few minutes and then add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition.

4. Stir in the vanilla extract. Gradually add the flour mixture, whisking all the while to keep the batter lump-free. Cool before stirring in the pecans and chocolate chips. (Otherwise, the chips will melt.) Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pan and level with a small offset spatula. (The batter will be less than 1 inch thick, but it will rise to the top of the pan.)

5. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs on it and the brownie is just starting to pull away from the edges of the pan, about 22 to 24 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely in the pan.

6. Remove the brownies from the pan in one block by gently pulling up on the foil overhang. Place directly on a cutting board. Remove all foil and trim any uneven edges before cutting into 1½-inch squares (or ovals).

7. Make the Rosemary Ganache (optional). This topping will set if made too far in advance, so make it no sooner than you intend to decorate the cookies. Prepare ¾ recipe Ganache, following the instructions (below), but add the rosemary to the scalded cream in Step 2. Let the herbs steep in the warm cream about 30 minutes. Reheat the cream to the scalding point before proceeding to Step 3. (Note: The rosemary will be strained out in this step.) Chill as directed in Step 4 for piping ganache.

8. Decorate (optional). Fit a pastry bag with a medium (3⁄8-inch) 6- to 8-pronged star tip and fill with the ganache. Pipe a small floret of icing on top of each brownie and garnish with a sprig of rosemary, if desired. Serve immediately or store as directed.

Makes about 2½ cups
This decadent chocolate and cream blend easily morphs from satiny glaze to creamy filling simply by setting it in the fridge. It can also be made with either dark or white chocolate with only minor adjustments.

Prep Talk: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week or in the freezer up to 1 month. Thaw at room temperature before using.

12 ounces premium semisweet chocolate finely chopped or ground in a food processor
1½ cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1. Place the chopped (or ground) chocolate in a large bowl so it forms a shallow layer. Set aside.
2. Pour the cream into a medium (3-quart) nonreactive (stainless steel or coated) saucepan. Place over medium to medium-high heat and scald the cream. (That is, heat the cream to just below the boiling point. The cream will put off steam, but no bubbles should break on its surface.)

3. Immediately strain the hot cream through a fine-meshed sieve directly onto the chocolate. Let the mixture sit 1 to 2 minutes without stirring, and then gently whisk until the chocolate is entirely melted. (If the chocolate does not completely melt, set the bowl over barely simmering water in a double boiler and stir regularly until smooth. Do not overheat, or the ganache may break.) Stir in the corn syrup.

4. To use the ganache as a glaze, pour it while lukewarm. Alternatively, for piping ganache, pour it into a shallow pan to a ½- to ¾-inch depth, cover, and refrigerate 20 to 25 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Stir occasionally during chilling to maintain a uniform consistency. (Hard, overchilled pieces of ganache should be broken up, as they can easily clog pastry tips when piping.) Chilling time will vary with starting ganache temperature, refrigerator temperature, and depth of the ganache. Watch the ganache closely, as it can quickly overchill and become difficult to pipe.

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