Lightened-Up Peppermint Fudge Brownies

Happy Friday, guys! Can you believe it’s just 12 days until Christmas? We don’t even have our Christmas tree yet – yikes! This weekend will definitely be all about playing catch-up, though I guess we’d better try to get all of our errands done early because they’re predicting our first big storm of the year starting Saturday afternoon. Bring on the snow!

If there’s one thing a snowy weekend is good for, it’s baking, and I intend to do plenty of it this weekend. I still have a few more cookie recipes I want to test out before deciding what makes the cookie-tray cut this season. With any luck there will be a few winners to share with you next week.

Lightened-Up Peppermint Fudge Brownies

But today let’s talk about brownies. Lightened-up brownies to be exact. And yes, I realize the irony in posting a lighter brownie recipe in the middle of the most decadent month of the year. But fewer calories in our brownies equates to one or two extra cookies that can be justified, right? Let’s go with that :)

As is, each of these brownies only has about 140 calories but you wouldn’t know it! They’re fudgy, chocolatey, and chewy, and the addition of peppermint extract makes them perfect for the holidays. One of the tricks to making them taste decadent but keeping them light is a layer of hot fudge baked in the middle of the brownies. You won’t be able to detect it when you eat them, but it helps ensure they stay moist. I highly recommend popping the brownies in the microwave for about 10 seconds before eating, that was my favorite way to enjoy them!

Lightened-Up Peppermint Fudge Brownies

Alternatively, you could throw caution to the wind and whip up a festive pink peppermint frosting for the brownies. Clearly this takes them out of the “lighter” category, but ’tis the season :) You definitely can’t go wrong either way.

PS – The final day of holiday giveaways has arrived! If you’re obsessed with Target like me, you won’t want to miss it – enter here.

Lightened-Up Peppermint Fudge Brownies
brownies adapted from Cooking Light, June 2000 (via MyRecipes), frosting from Cook’s Illustrated

{Note: depending how liberal you are with the frosting, you may have a little extra. You can refrigerate for a few days – just bring to room temperature and beat again briefly before using.}

Brownies
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg white, at room temperature
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup fat-free hot fudge topping

Peppermint Frosting
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (5 oz) confectioners’ sugar
pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 tablespoon heavy cream
peppermint baking chips, to garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, then line with parchment, leaving an overhang on opposite sides to lift the brownies out after baking. Spray the parchment with nonstick cooking spray.

Add the butter to a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave in short intervals until just about fully melted. Swirl the bowl, using the residual heat to melt the last bit of butter. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder, and espresso powder until well combined (the mixture will be thick). Add the water, egg, egg white, vanilla, and peppermint extracts, and whisk the mixture until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the flour, salt, and mini chocolate chips, mixing just until combined.

Transfer half of the batter to the prepared pan and spread in an even layer (it will be a thin layer). Top with the hot fudge topping, spreading to cover as much as you can – it likely won’t fully cover the batter, and that’s fine. (If the hot fudge is thick, microwave briefly to thin it out first and make it easy to spread.) Spread the remaining brownie batter over the top of the hot fudge (if the brownie batter is thick, you can also microwave it briefly to make it easier to spread – start with about 10 seconds, it won’t need much).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow the brownies to cool completely.

To make the optional frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add the confectioners’ sugar and salt, and beat at medium-low to start incorporating the sugar (the mixture may become crumbly), then increase the speed to medium and beat until fully combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla extract, peppermint extract, and heavy cream, and beat on medium speed until combined, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat for about 4 minutes, or until the mixture is very light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary.

Spread the frosting in an even layer over the top of the brownies. If desired, garnish with peppermint baking chips. Cut into squares and serve.

Makes 16 brownies