Four Bite Sized Desserts for the Fourth

4 Jul

Fourth of July is one of the most beloved American holidays because not only does it celebrate America’s hard-won freedom, it also gives Americans a great deal of freedom as to how they want to celebrate. While a BBQ and fireworks are traditional, there is no necessity to do anything other than have a good time. You don’t have to buy gifts, spend lots of money, or go through the stress of planning the perfect holiday meal. Fireworks are free, the beach is open to everyone, and barbecuing is way easier than planning a sit-down dinner party. The Fourth of July is an excuse simply to hang out and have a good time.

And what could be a better complement to your BBQ than a few homemade American desserts. Instead of getting super elaborate with the sweets, keep it easy with rice krispies, lemon bars, s’mores, or brownies. In bite-sized squares, these treats are easy to pick up and nibble on at any point of your 4th of July celebration.

I chose to update these American classics a bit with Browned Butter Rice Krispy Treats, Light and Tangy Lemon Bars, S’mores Cups, and Chewy, Chocolate-Studded Brownies. When I made these desserts for a casual get-together with friends a few weeks ago, the s’mores bites and lemon bars were both HUGE hits.

Just a secret between you and me…these desserts are all a bit healthier than most treats, so you can indulge without feeling guilty. These desserts each take less than an hour to whip up, so make all four or just stick with one of two.

This year we are having a BBQ and outdoor screening of Independence Day for some of our friends and just keeping it simple and relaxed. What are you doing to celebrate?

Browned Butter Rice Krispy Treats

Adapted from Krissy’s Creations

Serves 16 (to make 24 treats, I  made mine in a 9 by 13 inch pan and multiplied all ingredients by 1.5)

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bag of large marshmallows
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla bean extract)
  • 5 cups Rice Krispies cereal
 Directions
  1. Butter the bottom of a 9×9 baking pan and set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Continue to cook until the butter has turned a golden brown color, about 7 minutes.
  3. Place a mesh strainer over a large saucepan and pour the browned butter through the strainer to remove any little black dots (the slightly burned pieces). Place the large saucepan over low heat and add the marshmallows and salt.  Stir occasionally until the marshmallows are completely melted and smooth, then mix in the vanilla. Make sure not to keep the marshmallow mixture over the heat for too long otherwise your rice krispy treats will turn out hard and crunchy instead of soft and chewy.
  4. Add the cereal to the marshmallows and stir until the cereal is completely coated with the melted marshmallows.Remove from the heat and stir a few more times to make sure the cereal is evenly coated.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Let it cool slightly for 2-3 minutes, then use a rubber spatula to press it down into the pan.
  6. Let the treats cool in the pan on counter until completely cooled and hardened, about 2 hours.  Do not refrigerate them in an attempt to speed up the cooling process, as this too will make your rice krispies undesirably hard.
  7. Cut into 16 squares, and serve!

Light and Tangy Lemon Bars

Adapted from Shape Magazine

Serves 16

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 chunks

Filling

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup  all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 lemons
  • 1 lime
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Additional powdered sugar for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F and lightly coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. To make the shortbread, in the bowl of a mixmaster, mix the almond meal, flour, powdered sugar, and salt. Add butter and beat until no large chunks remain and mixture is loose and sandy.
  3. Transfer to baking dish and press firmly into base and edges until even. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
  4. Meanwhile, make the filling by combining sugar, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Finely zest lemons (about 2 teaspoons) and one lime (about 1 teaspoon) into bowl. Squeeze 1/3 cup juice from lemons and 1/4 cup juice two tablespoons from two limes and add to bowl along with eggs; whisk until smooth.
  5. Pour the filling over crust and return the dish to oven and bake for 30 to 32 minutes or until center is set.
  6. Cool completely on a wire rack.
  7. Just before serving, cut the squares into 16 squares and sift powdered sugar over squares to garnish

S’mores Cups

Adapted from The Pampered Chef

Serves 24

Ingredients:

  • 8 graham crackers
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 4 bars of chocolate, milk or dark
  • 12 large marshmallows (or 24 if you like very marshmallow filled s’mores)
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Place the graham crackers in a large plastic bag, and use a rolling pin to finely crush them.
  3. Using a spoon, combine the graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar and butter in a medium sized bowl.
  4. Spray a 24-cup mini muffin tin. Then evenly distribute the crumb mixture among the cups, placing about a tablespoon in each tin.
  5. Use your fingers to press crumbs to form shallow cups. Bake the graham cracker crust for 4-5 minutes, or until edges are bubbling.
  6. Meanwhile, break the candy bars into 48 rectangles. Remove the pan from oven; place one rectangle into each cup.
  7. Cut marshmallows in half  crosswise (or use whole marshmallows if you like your s’mores really gooey) using kitchen shears. Place one marshmallow half, cut-side down, into each cup. Return to oven 2-4 minutes depending upon how toasted you like your marshmallows.
  8. Remove the pan from the oven and press the chocolate pieces into the top of each marshmallow and return for them to the oven for another 1-2 minutes so that the chocolate can start to soften a bit.

Chewy, Chocolate-Studded Brownies 

Adapted from First Look, Then Cook

Serves 16

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/3 cup skim milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • Cooking spray

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9 inch square baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups and level with a straight edge. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Combine 1/2 cup chocolate chips and butter in the bowl of a double boiler until melted. Remove chocolate from the heat and allow it to cool for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Stir in milk, sugar, vanilla extract, and eggs into the chocolate mixture until combined.
  5. Add the chocolate mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold in the remaining cup of chocolate chips.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into the brownies comes out almost clean.
  7. Allow the brownies to cool over e baking rack then cut into 16 squares.
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