Me, I didn't realize the gravity of the situation until late Monday morning, around 11:58 a.m. Monday is our quick-turn day, when we come home for lunch, only to turn around again. We don't do this often, probably because slow-turns are much more my speed. But Mondays, it makes sense, it's worth it, so we do it. Even if, sometimes, we need a little help. Last Monday would be one of those sometimes.
Which is why, just before noon, I was rummaging fiercely, poking about the chocolate cupboard. And why I worked my way through three squares of a seriously mediocre bar. And one hefty chonk of weak-kneed candy. And half a bag of Reeses Pieces. A King sized bag, dug from the recesses, still haunting our kitchen from last Halloween.
I don't even like Reeses Pieces.
I don't even like chocolate all that much. At least not as much as would be required to inhale such quantities of such lackluster junk.
Which is when I realized what you no doubt noticed a while back: there's been a real deficit in the chocolate department, around here. Nuts and seeds are nice, of course, and soups and salads, my mainstay, but still. Seriously? What gave?
Specifics, mostly. We've been awash in sweets, birthday cakes and because cakes and ice cream pies. There were pots of rice pudding. Éclairs. Cupcakes. Two batches of chocolate chip cookies. Maybe three. Nothing, in other words, that fit the bill.
The bill, in this case, being the need for grab-and-go, jar-friendly, chocolate-pocked somethings. After all, drop cookies are fair-weather friends, really only worth eating on day one. (And rarely, anyway, surviving to day two). Layer cake eaten out of hand's a disaster. Éclairs on the road: awkward, at best. Ice cream pie? Rice pudding? So not pocket-friendly.
Ergo, desperate rummage. Ergo, salted blondies.
There is, after all, only one way to right the wrong of consuming so very much very, very bad chocolate. Namely, make a batch of much better chocolate, in order to avert such disasters in future. Anyway, we had a full fifteen minutes. Plenty of time to do blondies up right.
Blondies can be many things, most of them, not right at all. Anemic brownies. Sawdusty pucks. Treats that do sweet with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Fortunately, there's a well-established formula for good blondies, which has for some time been my starting line: one cube butter, one cup brown sugar, one egg, one cup flour, flavorings. Haiku simple, guaranteed good. It is syllables fifteen, sixteen and seventeen—flav•or•ings—which, I've found, separate good from grand.
Blondies are butterscotch bars, first and foremost, which means we must take their sugared soul seriously. It's our responsibility to keep them honest, to honor their dark side, to uphold their edge. To this end, I've taken to doubling the vanilla, which rounds out the sweet and helps it glow. One convex teaspoon of powdered espresso—not enough to scream coffee, not even to whisper—neatly plays up brown sugar's swarthy shadows. And salt, twice, thrice what is often called for, is the tension all blondies need.
Salt is the seat of a blondie's power, the backbone, the necessary conflict in the plot. Under-salted blondies have all the draw of underwhelming stories, dull, tedious, flat. I want blondies that eat the way Laura Ingalls Wilder reads: taut, warm, compelling, enveloping, inviting, heart-thumping, page-turning, wonder-filled. Thrilling in small, merry, meaningful ways, grounded by just enough gravitas. These, for me, are all that.
I mention for me, because I should add that I like my blondies bordering on fudge. I bake them in an especially low oven, rap them mid-bake to quell uppity ambitions, then chill them to seal the dense deal. All of this results in a bar that sits on the cusp between cookie and confection. There is little crumb to speak of, the loft giving way to a rich, just-set squidge. If you favor a more traditional texture, a bit of lift, the odd crumble, bake your bars at a more moderate 350°, let cool to room temp, and call it a day.
Either way, they fill a cookie jar nicely, keeping their wits about them for days. Good to grab on a late Monday morning, or Wednesday post-supper, or Friday, before bed. Right around Sunday afternoon, however, you may notice a real deficit in your jar, empty again save longing and crumbs. At least the fix is clear.
1-2 cups toasted walnuts or pecans are excellent here, though I've yet to convince my constituency. If using ordinary table salt (vs. kosher), reduce quantity to 1 teaspoon. We use a mix of chips, ordinarily one heaping cup of semisweet chocolate, plus half cups each of Guittard butterscotch and white chocolate. Lacking Guittard, I use semisweet, only.
For a bar with more loft and crumb, bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes. This recipe halves neatly; simply divide by two and bake in an 8x8" pan, checking for doneness 1-2 minutes sooner.
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 cups light brown sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 generous teaspoon instant espresso powder or coffee granules
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 cups semisweet chocolate, butterscotch, and/or good white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325°, and place rack in middle position. Line a 9x13" baking pan with parchment, length and breadth, allowing enough to overhang edges an inch on all sides. These handles will allow you to release the entire bar easily, once baked.
In a medium bowl, mix melted butter and brown sugar, stirring well with a whisk to dissolve sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions, to combine. Add vanilla, espresso powder and salt, and mix well, to combine. Add flour, and stir gently, just to combine. Add chips, stir with a rubber spatula to disperse, then scrape mixture into prepared pan. Smooth surface.
Bake blondies 25-28 minutes. If you prefer a dense, fudgey blondie, remove pan after 15 minutes, give it a few sharp raps on the side of the stove, and return it to the oven to finish baking. Blondies are done when the center is set, and the surface is a pale shade of butterscotch, matte, crackled, and beginning to pull away from the batter below. The standard knife test won't work here; you'll get sticky results. Visual cues are best. Remove pan from oven, and cool completely, 1-2 hours. For an especially dense blondie, cool in the refrigerator for a few hours, before cutting.
Blondies keep beautifully, airtight, for 5 days.