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Treats all start with mix


Few can resist the inviting smell of a warm pan of brownies fresh from the oven. In her book, Brownie Mix Bliss (Cumberland House, 2005, $16.95), author Camilla Saulsbury opens up a world of confectionary possibilities, giving chocolate lovers almost 200 reasons to indulge.

The book is divided into sections that include recipes for brownies and other traditional desserts like cookies, dessert bars and assorted brownie desserts - all of them starting with a plain box of brownie mix.

There is also a section on frostings and glazes and a brief glossary that covers basic baking terminology. Tips on selecting ingredients, proper utensils and food storage on each recipe page make this book accessible for novices as well as accomplished home bakers.

Except for the cover, the book is devoid of color photographs or picture guides that would have made it a more attractive read. This doesn't detract from the ease of preparation, however, as the directions are pretty straightforward.

I tried a different recipe from each section and used Pillsbury Brownie Classics Traditional Fudge Brownie Mix, one of the author's suggested brands, for all of them.

The results were mixed. Julie's Cinnamon Buttermilk Brownies offered only a subtle hint of cinnamon. The ingredient seemed to get lost easily amid the predominant chocolate flavor from the brownie mix.

The Whiskey-Glazed Double Chocolate Brownies might have been stellar had the glaze worked out. The proportions of sugar, whiskey and butter were hardly sufficient to yield anything resembling frosting. Otherwise, they lived up to the other half of the recipe's title, packing in a dense chocolate flavor that's sure to please any sweet tooth.

The Cream Cheese Chocolate Softies tasted too much like traditional brownies shaped like cookies to stand out as memorable. The biggest disappointment, however, was the Very Raspberry Chocolate Trifle, a concoction that goes overboard with ingredients but has no predominant flavor - signifying a draw between the dueling chocolate and raspberry contestants.

Saulsbury's Candy-Bar Bars holds the winning hand among these desserts with a gooey layer of Snickers sandwiched between a crunchy chocolate crust. It's not, however, for the faint of heart.

Candy-Bar Bars

Makes 24 large or 36 small bars

one 19.5- to 19.8-ounce package brownie mix

2 1/4 cups quick-cooking oats

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

4 cups chopped candy bars (such as Snickers or chocolate-covered toffee bars)

one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees for dark-coated metal pan). Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Spray the bottom only of a 13-inch-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray (or foil-line pan).

In a medium mixing bowl, mix the brownie mix, oats and melted butter with a wooden spoon until just blended and all dry ingredients are moistened. Press half of mixture evenly into prepared pan; sprinkle with candy-bar pieces.

Evenly spoon condensed milk over candy-bar layer. Top with reserved crumb mixture; press down firmly.

Bake 30 to 34 minutes or until topping is firm. Transfer to wire rack and cool. Cut into bars while still slightly warm.

Per serving (based on 36 bars): 199 calories; 3 grams protein; 10 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 25 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 21 milligrams cholesterol; 102 milligrams sodium

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