Holiday Brownies

I work almost exclusively with engineers, and they’re a different lot. Please don’t mistake that for a knock. All I’m saying is that they process situations differently. Variety is the spice of life, right? I never knew how to explain that difference until a mechanical engineer summed it up.

As part of my Master’s program, I took an organizational behavior class. Think diversity in the workplace. Mech-E was presenting how she and her peers think … in 3D. She reads directions, looks at diagrams and her brain converts them into 3D schematics. This superpower allows them to foresee issues that won’t be realized until the future.  I’ll never forget her point: engineers aren’t obvious-problem solvers. Engineers invent problems to solve them.

With this in mind, backtrack to the most controversial recipe ever: Brownie Volcano Cookies.  It’s not necessary to read, but I highly suggest it for entertainment value. Bakers had a slight meltdown related to the fact that to make these cookies, a tray of brownies is needed, but you don’t use all the brownies.

Some were mystified what they should do with the leftover brownies. I’ve named them culinary engineers.  The vast majority of us, would probably conclude that we should eat the brownies or adjust the recipe for total consumption. But those Culinary-E’s looked at that recipe and instantly worried about 3/4 of a pan of brownies left to the birds. Waste not, want not is what my friend’s mother always said!

My friend (who was NOT my Secret Santa) gave these to me. I told the entire office and all on social media this was the best gift and it wasn’t even the big gift day!


In a story that is neither here, nor there, about workplace Secret Santa gone awry, I received a spectacular gift that is the seasonal solution to those leftover brownies.





Okay, so, I actually had to make brownies. I didn’t receive pre-made brownies as a gift. Because brownies as a Christmas gift is not a thing.


Easy Christmas Trees appeared in my Pinterest feed and the solution to the chocolate brownie chip volcano problem was apparent!

Notably, my brownies are rather plain. But I didn’t want to put anyone into a sugar induced coma by adding candy on top of a brownie filled with candy. If I had Culinary-E skills, I would’ve pulled the M&M’s out of the mix and used them to decorate my trees. In fact, all those “extras” made it difficult to get a clean cut and insert the pretzel. (I also had to take them out of my volcano cookies.) The great thing about this recipe is it can be used year round by substituting seasonal candy. You could use cookie cutters to create Valentine’s Day brownies, St Patrick’s Day Brownies, Easter Brownies. You get the idea.  Before you think I’m being wasteful, you can use the scraps for volcano cookies! What holiday do you plan on making these for?img_3450


  • 1 1/3 cup Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 1/2 cup All-Purpose Flour (for high altitude baking, add an extra 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 cup M&M’s (or any candy coated chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup Chocolate or White Chocolate Morsels
  • 1/2 cup Walnuts (optional)
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/4 cup Water (for high altitude baking, add an 2 Tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • Green Frosting
  • Pretzel Rods

Special Tools

  • Brownie Spatula



  1. Preheat oven to 350*. (for high altitude baking, heat to 375*)
  2. Combine all dry  ingredients together in a bowl. Stir in oil, eggs, water, and vanilla until well mixed.
  3. Grease a square or rectangular cake pan. (Lining with parchment paper is an alternative)
  4. Pour the brownie mix into the pan. Ensure it’s evenly distributed.
  5. Bake 35 minutes or until inserted pick comes out clean. (for high altitude baking, cook for 25 minutes)
  6.  Remove from oven and run a brownie spatula between the sides of the pan and brownie.
  7. Cool completely before cutting.

Christmas Trees

  1. Cut brownie into thirds. (Can be done while still in pan)
  2. Cut each third into triangles
  3. Insert pretzel rod to create a tree trunk.
  4. Frost each tree and decorate as your heart desires. Don’t forget a star at the top!
*My gift tag said Holiday Brownies. The original recipe is Batter Bowl Brownies by Pampered Chef.


Please Define “Gift”

During my eye brow wax my esthetician wondered aloud “since when did cookies and cakes become Christmas gifts?” I giggled and she theorized why diets start at the new year.  It’s not that January is a time for a fresh start, she mused, but it’s that we’ve been eating since Halloween. Candy quickly turns into a Thanksgiving feast followed by a barrage of baked goodies.  All that food made her sluggish. She didn’t want to be cliche as she resolved that her family is going to eat healthy. Right after they finish all the biscochitos her neighbor gave them (as a gift I presume).

I give my family a cookie basket every year. I don’t know if that counts as a gift though. In the strictest sense of the definition, sure. I think of it as sharing.


This year’s basket was filled with love and

Not 10 minutes after my eyebrows were cleaned up, I heard officially that without a doubt, new gym memberships soar on January 2. New Year’s resolutions, ya know? Freakonomics pinpointed the exact day that gym attendance falls off. Based on my observation, it’s Presidents’ Day. By the end of the third week in January, my gym is back to normal. Are you ready for the official answer? Do you even want to know? Stop reading if you don’t. This is your last chance. The day people quit the gym is the first Thursday in February! Do you know what day people return to fast food chains in droves? The second Friday in February. I’m not sure if there’s a correlation between that week and Mardi Gras.

Do Christmas cookies count as a gift? What are your favorite items in a holiday basket?