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Baking with Brenna

Brenna Williams | Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Some of the best things in life are seasonal, and one of the most welcomed seasonal treats are Girl Scout cookies. Luckily for the Girl Scout cookie enthusiasts in all of us, this week’s recipes (yes, multiple!) can help satiate your cravings year-round.

I baked homemade versions of Samoas and Tagalongs, otherwise known as Caramel deLites and Peanut Butter Patties.

Samoas (sorry Midwesterners) are shortbread cookies topped with a caramel and coconut mixture, dipped in chocolate on the bottom, and drizzled with chocolate on top. Tagalongs are also shortbread based, topped with a peanut butter cream, and finished with a chocolate coating. If your favorite Girl Scout cookie is the Trefoil shortbread, you’re in luck — the shortbread used for the other two cookies is a knockoff of the Trefoil recipe.

Below are the recipes along with easy tips and substitutions. The number of servings depends on how large you decide to make your cookies. The Samoa and Taglong ingredients will each cover half of the cookies made in the Trefoils recipe, so double the measurements if you only want to make one kind.

Trefoil Shortbread


-1 cup butter, room temperature

-1/2 cup sugar

Tip: Substitute Splenda for sugar.

– 2 cups all purpose flour

Tip: Use wheat flour.

– 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 2 tablespoons milk

Tip: Use skim milk.


1. With a mixer or by hand, combine butter and sugar. Once they are well mixed, slowly incorporate the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the milk and vanilla.

2. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or store in Tupperware. If you’re going to make the Samoas and Tagalongs, separate into halves for even batches.

3. Refrigerate for an hour or until firm.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While it’s heating, tear off pieces of dough, flatten them into a cookie shapes, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Tip: If you have cookie cutters, you can instead roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut them out.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes and cool thoroughly.



– 1.5 cups shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted

– 8-oz soft caramels

Tip: Use sugar-free caramels.

– 1/4 tsp salt

– 2 tbsp milk

Tip: Again, you can use skim.

– 4 oz. dark chocolate chips

Tip: You can use milk or bittersweet chocolate as well.


1. Keep the oven at 350 after baking the cookies. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast for 10-15 minutes, mixing frequently.

2. While the coconut is toasting, place the caramels, milk and salt in a microwaveable bowl and heat for one minute at a time, stirring in between, until smooth.

Tip: You can also do this over medium heat on the stove

3. Mix the coconut into the caramel mixture and spread on top of the Trefoils.

Tip: I understand baking from scratch is hard on campus, so bake some sugar cookies from the Huddle if you need to.

4. Microwave the chocolate chips in 30 second bursts, stirring in between, until melted.

Tip: You can also melt it on the stove by creating a double boiler, which is done by putting a pan with the chocolate on top of a pot of boiling water.

5. Dip the bottoms of the cookies in the chocolate, laying them out on wax paper afterward. Drizzle the remaining chocolate over the cookies.

Tip: The best way to do this is to put the chocolate in a plastic bag and snip off a corner to create a piping bag.



– 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Tip: As long as it’s creamy, you can use natural peanut butter or almond butter if you’re peanut-free.

– 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

– 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

– 8-oz chocolate chips

Tip: Milk chocolate is suggested, but you can use your favorite!


1. In a microwavable bowl, mix the powdered sugar into the peanut butter and microwave in 30-second increments until creamy. Add the vanilla.

Tip: You can also do this on the stove over low heat.

2. Using a spoon or a makeshift-piping bag from Step 5 in the Samoas recipe, pile the peanut butter mixture onto the Trefoils.

Tip: Again, sugar cookies from the Huddle are acceptable.

3. Using melted chocolate from Step 4 in the Samoas recipe, cover the cookies in chocolate and place on wax paper to cool.

With these recipes, you’re well on your way to earning your “Love and Admiration of Your Friends” badge. 


The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Baking with Brenna

Brenna Williams | Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Summer, prime marshmallow toasting season, may be far away, but with this simple recipe you can impress your friends and hearken back to a time when your legs saw sunlight on a regular basis. This recipe, adapted from the Betty Crocker website, makes 16 pre-measured servings that you — and anyone you choose to share them with — will love. That is, if you choose to share them at all!

Below is the recipe, as well as suggestions for substitutions and tips to make it easier.


1 box brownie mix and the water, vegetable oil, and egg called for on brownie mix box.

     Tip: If you like fudgy brownies, use one less egg. Additionally, egg whites can be used instead of regular eggs.

2 cups miniature marshmallows

4 graham crackers, broken into small pieces

     Tip: If you’re a chocolate lover, you can use chocolate graham crackers instead.

2 chocolate candy bars, broken into 1-inch squares


1. Heat oven to 350°F.

2. Make brownie mix as instructed. Instead of putting the mix into a baking pan, use a muffin tin. Divide the mix equally among the cups — you can make one batch of superbrownie cups or make a full pan plus four in a second batch for the suggested serving size.

     Tip: Using the muffin tin will eliminate the need to cut the brownies, which would get messy considering this recipe uses marshmallows. Plus the cups are adorable. There is no need to grease the tins because of the oil in the mix.

3. Bake for about 12 minutes. The cups are done when you insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.

     Tip: KNOW YOUR OVEN! Baking times vary depending on how hot your oven gets. It’s always better to check the brownies too early than to have them burnt.

4. After removing pan from oven, set oven to broil.

5. Immediately sprinkle marshmallows (8-10 on each cup) and graham crackers over warm brownies. Broil about 4 to 5 inches from heat for 30 to 60 seconds or until marshmallows are golden brown.

     Tip: Keep an eye on them. As we all discovered as kids, marshmallows are prone to catching fire.

6. Remove from oven and sprinkle each cup with chocolate candy.

7. Cool for at least 30 minutes if you want to serve them warm.

     Tip: I suggest using a large plastic spoon to lift the cups out of the tin.

Enjoy! Your inner child will thank you when you bite into one of these on a cold winter’s night.


The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Baking with Brenna

Brenna Williams | Tuesday, February 7, 2012

For many people, the best part of going out for Mediterranean food is dessert. For many, the dessert of choice is baklava, layers of light and flaky filo dough layered with honey and nuts. There is a relatively easy alternative to this time-intensive dessert: baklava bars. This version of the Greek specialty begins with a sugar cookie base, covered with a sugar, cinnamon and filo dough crumble and finished off with a honey cinnamon glaze.

The recipe, which won the Mix It Up with Betty! Recipe Contest in 2007, doesn’t call for anything especially exotic. The recipe can be found below, as well as some tips to help make your trial run easier and substitutions to make it a little healthier or easier to bake.


Cookie Base:
1 pouch sugar cookie mix,
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened,
1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts,
1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened,
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon salt,
8 frozen mini fillo shells

1/3 cup honey,
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened,
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar,
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice,
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon,
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Tips and substitutions for ingredients

For everything but the cookie base, you can use applesauce in place of butter (using it in the cookies or anything that should be crispy is ill-advised).

If you’re stuck on campus and don’t have cinnamon or vanilla on hand, pick some up at the sugar bar next time you go to Starbucks (after paying for a drink, of course).

Substitute Splenda (original or baking specific) for sugar.

Substitute egg whites for the egg. There are measurements on the sides of boxed egg whites that let you know how much to use in place of an egg, usually three tablespoons.

I used frozen filo sheets and crumbled a little over 1 cup of those instead of using the cups. If you can’t make it to the store, it will be just as delicious without the filo.

Since fresh produce is hard to come by on campus, the lemon juice and peel are optional.


Heat oven to 350°F. Spray bottom only of 13×9-inch pan with cooking spray.

Tip: Don’t drench it; that will make the bottom too crispy. Obviously spray is the healthier choice, but if you don’t have cooking spray, why not make Paula Deen proud by adding more butter? Rub a stick on the bottom in place of spray.

In large bowl, stir cookie base ingredients until soft dough forms. Press dough in bottom of pan. Bake 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in medium bowl, stir all of the filling ingredients except the filo until crumbly.

Sprinkle mixture evenly over partially baked base. With hands, crumble frozen filo shells evenly over nut mixture.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes longer or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in small microwavable bowl, microwave all of the glaze ingredients, except the vanilla, uncovered on High for one minute or until bubbly. Stir in vanilla.

Tip: If you don’t have a microwave, stir ingredients together over low heat on the stove for about 10 minutes or until the ingredients have all combined. Keep the mixture warm by keeping it over the lowest heat setting.

Take the base out of the oven and drizzle the glaze evenly over it. Cool completely before cutting.

Optional: Drizzle honey over your bars before taking them out of the pan and serve or store them in a covered container.