School’s out for summer, and you can find Danielle Marcinek in the kitchen.

A fourth-grade teacher in North Pocono School District, Marcinek flexes her creativity this time of year by trying her hand at different baking recipes.

While she has dozens of delicious treats in her repertoire, her Buckeye Brownies stood out and earned the Peckville resident a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore.

Always looking for new things to try, Marcinek stumbled upon the brownies online. While the original recipe called for using a boxed brownie mix, Marcinek never felt like a box mix tasted as good as scratch-made treats. So she found the perfect brownie recipe and added the creamy peanut butter and chocolate layers on top. The Buckeye Brownies were a hit.

“You can use boxed brownies for the base of this recipe and just skip to adding the peanut butter (and) chocolate topping to save time, but the homemade brownies really take this treat to the next level,” she said on a recent afternoon inside the Midvalley home she shares with her husband, Mike.

Marcinek also added that she always uses name-brand ingredients when baking, including Reese’s Peanut Butter. This is a trick she learned from her grandmother, or Nonni, Catherine Alu, who always said to never skimp on ingredients.

“I think because baking is so exact, if the recipe calls for a certain brand, you have to do it because every kind has its own specific taste,” Marcinek said.

Family plays a big role in Marcinek’s interest in baking. Growing up, Marcinek’s mom, Jean Marie, left her daughter baking ingredients and a recipe for a fun activity during the summer. She watched Alu make everything from homemade pizza and ravioli to all kinds of baked goods over the years, and her maternal grandmother, Margaret Greco, still sends Marcinek new recipes to try.

Marcinek passes that on to her own daughter, Scarlett, 3, who has started to help her in the kitchen.

“She likes to pour in the ingredients and mix,” Marcinek said. “She also learned how to lick the spoon, which is the most fun part.”

In addition to making upwards of 300 cookies for Christmas, Marcinek bakes them for parties and special occasions, and she experiments with different cake flavors and fillings that friends and family look forward to. Even her health-conscious husband, who owns NEPA Fit Club, can’t resist the goodies she makes. For his most recent birthday, she crafted a triple-layer Almond Joy Cake, having come up with Lafayette and Cookie Monster-inspired cakes in previous years.

Her baking brings people joy, and that’s really the reason she loves to do it.

“People just light up when you bring them something like a dessert, and it’s an even better feeling to know it was something you created,” she said. “Everybody’s happy when you show up with a tray of cookies.”


Danielle Marcinek’s Buckeye Brownies


For brownie:

  • 3/4 cup salted butter
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unsweetened natural or Dutch-process cocoa powder (Marcinek prefers Dutch-process)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

For peanut butter and chocolate layer:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons salted butter, softened
  • 1 cup creamy Reese’s peanut butter
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan well or line it with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides to lift out the finished brownies. Set aside.
  2. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the butter and 2 ounces of chopped chocolate. Melt in 30-second increments, whisking after each, until completely smooth.
  3. Whisk in the sugar until completely combined, then whisk in the eggs and vanilla (the batter will be light brown and a little dull-looking).
  4. Add cocoa powder, flour, salt and remaining 2 ounces of chopped chocolate. Fold it all together with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon (batter will be very thick). Spread evenly into prepared pan.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the center of the pan; if it comes out with wet batter, the brownies are not done. If there are only a few moist crumbs, the brownies are done. Keep checking every 2 minutes until you have moist crumbs.
  6. Let brownies cool completely before adding peanut butter layer (if brownies are too warm, peanut butter will start to melt).
  7. In a bowl, add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup butter and peanut butter. Mix well.
  8. Spread with fingers over the brownies and pat down (it has a consistency similar to Play-Doh). Make sure to cover all of the brownies, and seal the peanut butter layer right to the edges of the pan.
  9. Melt together chocolate chips and remaining butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Spread on top of peanut butter layer. Let cool and set.