I’ve been gluten-free now for over four years, this fall. At this point, very few things sort still give that sting of, “oh, I WISH I could have that.” Aside from living in New Mexico and being a former burritos lover, with no redemption in sight for burritos to eat at fabulous restaurants, I’m okay. It’s our life and it’s okay. Aside from the yearning for cinnamon rolls, which I have yet to even try to attempt, most the time I can make whatever I’m missing.

However, my favorite coffee shop (only coffee shop) Bad Ass Coffee has these cream cheese brownies that are on my left at the register. I usually am fine in a coffee shop full of pastries. To my right, they have an entire case of pastries I can’t have and have learned to ignore- including luscious looking cinnamon rolls. However, these brownies, along with a few others are to the left, just under the pens. They are there staring at me every time I’m in, and it’s gotten to the point, I JUST WANT ONE! Yeah, it’s a silly little brownie, but it’s been four years since I’ve had a cream cheese brownie, and because they’ve always sounded and looked so complicated and daunting, I’ve always felt like I”m eating a super special treat.

Combine that craving with my children’s love of all things Halloween, (which I fail to understand in my four-year old who is afraid of anything scary and bad guys) and you’ve got one determined mom who decided it was time to brave the seeming daunting brownie treat. After scouring the internet for recipes, I discovered these aren’t daunting at all. Furthermore, the proportions are the same in almost any site I looked at. I didn’t end up following a single site exactly, I went with what I thought sounded good. Some use 8oz of cream cheese and make a true layered brownie, others use 4 oz of cream cheese to make more of a marbled brownie. In the end, after reading about 10 recipes online, I went with the common proportions and am pretty pleased with the results. I also went boxed, even though yes, there are plenty of from scratch recipes (all gluten of course). These are so easy, you’re going to love them! And they look really cool! I did discover a few tricks while reading though all the sites, several of which suggest you line the pan. It’s brilliant. I’m a chewy, slightly under-baked brownie person, so they usually stick to the pan. With your pretty web, you don’t want them to stick. Also, they cut so perfectly when you line the pan, it’s one of those brilliant, why have I been baking brownies for 20 years without figuring this out??? moments. This is also a great way for sweet meaning gluten friends to make you a treat without accidentally contaminating you. (so feel free to share that tip with them!)

Without further ado, here is the method for your Spooky Spider web brownies. Have fun! (For those hoping for a Diary Free version, I don’t have one, but you might try playing with the recipe I found online when someone asked on my Facebook page (Dairy Free Cream Cheese Brownies)

Spider Web Brownies

I used a mix that uses an 8×8 or 9×9 pan. I wanted them thick, and I wanted a square to make the web. The web would look fun in a 9×13, especially if you put it a bit off-center. You may have to adjust your cream cheese topping. It depends how thick you want the cream cheese layer.
preferred oil or spray to grease
Pampered Chef Pastry Tool, Pastry Bag, or cupcake/pancake pen
Bamboo skewer

*1 box brownie mix (I used King Arthur Gluten Free Brownie mix)
*ingredients according to package
*substitutes for ingredients if you wish instead of water in this batch, I used Kaluha. You could also use espresso and then put Irish Cream in your Cream cheese. I rarely use the water anymore, I use something to bring a flavor in.
Cream Cheese Layer
*8 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
*1 egg beaten (room temperature -to help bring the egg to temp, i place it in a cup on my stove as the oven preheats, then crack and beat to add)
*1/3 c sugar (several sites use 1/4 cup if you’d like to reduce your sugar)
*1 tsp gluten-free vanilla (or gluten-free liqueur of your choice)

* Spray your foil that’s big enough to line your 8×8 pan plus provide you handles for removal. I used coconut oil spray. I used one sheet instead of crossing two over even though the foil only goes 1/2 up the sides. Because the brownies shrink away from the side they won’t stick to your pan, so, no need to waste foil. Then place it in the pan. I sprayed first because I don’t usually spray my pans due to spray making them sticky. Since the foil only goes 1/2 up, I wanted to make sure it the spray didn’t touch the pan.

* Get your pastry bag (less recommended as it might get hard to get the batter into it.) Pampered Chef tool or Cupcake pen assembled. Choose the widest tip
* Make your brownies according to directions on the package. Spread into the pan reserving about 1/3 cup of brownie mix. Because we are making a web and because we are using a tool that will be more precise, you won’t need to reserve as much as you might be used to.

* with a hand mixer (my Kitchenaid Stand mixer wouldn’t get the lumps out) whip your cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla (or other flavoring) together. Once the cream cheese is free of lumps add your beaten egg and mix on low-med until just incorporated.

* Smooth your cream cheese mixture over the brownie mixture trying to completely cover it

* Take the reserved brownie mix and put it into your prepared tool. I used the Pampered Chef Icing tool and filled it only about 1/4 the way. I used a wide tip, but you could also use the filling tool if you wanted a more refined line.
* Starting with the middle draw circles on the cream cheese mixture. Leave 1 inch as much as possible around the edge. The brownie mix will spread, so it depends on how you want your web to look.

* take a bamboo skewer and begin from the center drawing lines out. If you used a hollow circle in the center, you may wish to start at the edges of the pan and bring the web in.
* go around the pan until you’ve created a spider web

If you want a more solid middle, you can add another dollop of batter in the middle at the end, like I did here. If you want it to have more defined lines, don’t add the dollop.

Bake at 325-350 (according to brownie mix instructions) for 30-35 minutes. With mine, they took approx 30-35 minutes at around 335. A lot of recipes recommend the 325, most baked goods are at 350. With the cream cheese, you are dealing with it browning too quickly or underdone brownies. because you want the brownies to cook, I think your best bet will be to go with the brownie instructions and keep an eye on the cream cheese layer.

Once brownies are set and only slight crumb or nothing comes out on your tester, remove and let cool completely (yeah, that’s important in this recipe or the cream cheese won’t set). Once they’ve set up about 10-15 minutes, you can remove brownies using the foil from the pan and put them on a cooling rack.

Cut and enjoy! Happy Halloween!

Thanks always for reading! Oh by the way, my new favorite blog to read is Nicole Hunn’s GlutenFree on a Shoestring She’s not only funny to read, but she’s putting up some incredibly cute recipes for Halloween.


The Valentine’s Marathon Event-last minute tips

Welcome to the Semi-Annual event of “Men Shopping the grocery store.” This event occurs semi-annually at Thanksgiving and Valentines Day. Although the events are similar, men of all ages, sizes, looks, and education wandering around the grocery store almost completely lost, the events are completely different.

The Thanksgiving Day event is scavenger hunt based. On this day, these wonderful men only have about a three to six hour window to endure shopping at the grocery store. They are armed with a list of obscure items their wives forgot to pick-up, but are essential to the success of dinner and the added pressure of finding the correct thing and having guests to get it right for. They often wander around the store completely lost, murmuring under the breath, or you find them staring blankly around for the store directory. The grocery store on Thanksgiving Day offers a perfect volunteer opportunity for people to go to the store just to help these poor gentlemen find these strange and obscure items.

Valentine’s Day however, is a marathon event which usually starts around 5pm on Feb 13th. While the Thanksgiving Day scavenger hunt is much more obscure, most men are armed with a specific list. On Valentine’s day the stores have several aisles pointing men in the direction they need to go. They are not as lost in the store, and there are other specific RED stop points along the way. They enter a store and have a red aisle to grab the Chocolate. Figuring out the correct chocolate and other gifts, that’s the challenge for this event. Nuts, no nuts, does she like Dark chocolate. Did she like this brand last year, or is this the brand that she can’t stand? They are bombarded with all these choices and more…and then the flowers. “Why do I have to buy flowers that are just gonna die? Now, is she allergic to these or was that something else. Oh no, the red ones are gone, now WHAT!?”

Our local grocery even made it super easy as they have cards, chocolates, and cute things all in the same aisles. The flowers will be somewhere else in the store, though there might be a little stand of wilting roses in the Valentines’ aisles, and those are also demarcated in the store with RED.

This year, 2011, the event will be extra exciting as the hours for this marathon are shortened. Usually, these wonderful gentlemen in our lives are reminded to stop at the store on the way home by their female co-workers or secretaries the night BEFORE. They stop, grab their goodies, and they have gifts for their loved ones to gift in the morning by 6 or 7pm. Sadly, this year the 13th was a Sunday, so many sweet, well meaning guys will be buying extra items: the “oops, I’m so sorry you didn’t get a gift this morning,” makeup give and the real romantic gift. I predict sales to be up this year.

I don’t know why, but I enjoy these semi-annual days. They are just sort of, well, cute, funny and sometimes give me a chance to be nice and help someone. I admit, it’s much easier to help on Thanksgiving than Valentines Day though. I mean, I like Dark chocolate, but other women like milk. I can point someone to the condensed mushroom soup and cornstarch so much easier.

Of course, if you have a loved one who is celiac, you have an extra challenge. So, for those sweet gentlemen who still need go get your wives, girlfriends, etc. chocolates or a gift in the next few hours, here are some quick tips to keep them safe:

-Gluten Free chocolates are your best bet
-Look for any labels that say “PROCESSED ON EQUIPMENT THAT shares WHEAT” DO NOT BUY,
even if it says Gluten Free- unless it carries the “Certified Gluten Free Label”
-Avoid the ingredient “modified food starch” – unless it actually says Gluten FREE on the label
Reeses peanut butter cups are tricky. Many of their “shapes” and specialities contain wheat to help them keep their shape. I suggest stay away from Reeses. I always get sick.
-Overall, I’ve been told by several manufacturers that the speciality chocolates will often contain wheat that may not be present in other “regular brands.” The best course is usually to stay away from things like the hearts or speciality shapes. Grab some red foil to wrap it, and you’ll be fine.
Russell Stover has been another where I’ve personally gotten ill.  They usually share equipment
-Many Godiva contain wheat or barley. That’s not a brand, sadly, that I don’t trust
-More and more of the Lindt chocolates are now containing barley, malt, and barley extract. Make sure to look for those on any of the chocolates.
-For those who don’t know, Whoppers are OUT; they contain malt.
Sees Candies, if you are lucky enough to have one close, they claim almost all their regular products are gluten-free. The staff is usually knowledgable and helpful. I have been warned against buying the “speciality boxes,” however.  Sees is by far my favorite AND I do great on them!!!

-I personally have not had problems with DOVE, Three Musketeers, or York Peppermint Patties, but please check the ingredients etc before you purchase.

-I personally would rather have a package not say gluten-free, but have a statement that says where the products are processed. However, that is not acceptable for many, so you might have to check with her.

If in doubt, go purchase a gift certificate for a spa, or something else.
You can also dress up some Kozy Shack Pudding. They are dye free and Gluten Free. The chocolate is divine.

Here are some links to allergen statements for you too:
Mars Candies Includes, Dove, snickers, M&Ms
Hershey’s this includes “Kisses,” “Mounds”, “York Peppermint patties”

There are of course plenty of brands out there, and a google search can help you find the brand you might need. Remember to stay away from “products processed on equipment that shares wheat,” products containing wheat, barley, Malt, barley extract, and Modified food (or corn) starch
unless the product specifically states certified gluten-free.

Enjoy shopping for your ladies, and relax at the store. You’re not alone. In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s day and enjoy your evening. And don’t worry, for Mother’s day, you have these chocolate tips and your kids to help you navigate through the store and tell you what she likes.

Disclaimer: these are not official statements from any company. Most of the chocolates I recommended or did not recommend are based upon personal experience. I’ve included a few allergen statements, but please always double check the packaging or talk with the person you are buying for. Some of us have various sensitivities. There are sometimes other ingredients such as soy that might cause problems. So please, this article is just tips, not the bible on gluten-free valentines chocolate. It’s a place to get started. Please remember everyone is different. I am also in no way trying to insult any man who does the shopping. So, if you do the shopping, please don’t take offense. 😀