20 February 2010

Sophisticated Blondes

Believe it or not, I know people who do not like chocolate.  A proud chocoholic myself (my recent purchase of a 10 kg bag of chocolate chips guaranteed my status in that club), I personally find it hard to believe people who make this claim.  Be that as it may, for those of you who enjoy a sweet treat sans chocolate, Browned Butter Blondies are sure to be one of your favourites.

There are two ingredients in these squares that make them so great:  1) the browned butter (hence the name) and 2) the bright little twist of lemon.  You may not have been introduced to the wonderfully nutty taste of browned butter (buerre noisette en français), and this is a fantastic recipe to introduce it into your repertiore.  Browned butter is nothing more than unsalted butter, melted in a saucepan over medium heat, and then left on the heat until the milk solids in the butter begin to toast and turn a nice dark brown, but the trick is not to actually *burn* the butter (I'm sure we've ALL had experience there).  Make sure you use a stainless steel lined pan when you brown butter - if you use a pan with a dark interior, you can't tell when your butter is too pale, browned to perfection, or has become "beurre noir" - still useable, just not ideal for this recipe.  Once the butter has melted completely, it will begin to foam, and then it will seem as though nothing is really happening.  Don't be fooled - gently stir and loosen the solids from the bottom and sides of the pan so that it will brown evenly.  Keep stirring occasionally.  Depending on your stove and the pan you are using, it will probably take about 6-8 minutes until the solids have turned a nice dark brown (about the colour of hazelnuts or pecans).  Once it has reached this stage, immediately remove it from heat and pour it into a heat-proof bowl or measuring cup to halt the cooking process.

If you're patient and keep a watchful eye on the butter, you will eventually be rewarded with a toasty, nutty, surprisingly sophisticated ingredient that can be used in a number of ways... Mix it with a little bit of lemon juice, capers and parsley and it is excellent with fish;  for ravioli, toss some pine nuts and fresh basil in your finished butter, drizzle over the cooked pasta & add a nice sprinkling of freshly grated cheese - YUM!  In this recipe, it adds a sophisticated depth of flavour that elevates these over the run-of-the-mill sweet squares.  As for the lemon - there isn't much called for (only 2 Tbsp), but this is one time you want to make sure you use real lemons - the bottled stuff is noticeably inferior here.

You can make Browned Butter Blondies without the nuts, or switch out the pecans for walnuts or even pine nuts (their mild, buttery taste would be a perfect match).  If you are going to use nuts, make sure to toast them first - it brings out their flavour and keeps them crunchy in the finished product, instead of being bland, soft and "steamed" while the batter bakes up.  With nuts or without, one thing is for sure - Browned Butter Blondies disappear fast.

Browned Butter Blondies
Makes 16 squares

1 2/3 Cups (235 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 Cup (155 grams) unsalted butter, browned as directed above, and cooled slightly
1 Cup (220 grams) brown sugar
1/2 Cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 Cup (90 g) pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 325F, place rack in the middle of the oven and prepare a 8x8 or 9x9 square baking pan with parchment paper and non-stick spray.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  In a large bowl (or bowl of a standing mixer), combine brown and white sugars with browned butter, and mix well.  Mix in the eggs, vanilla and lemon juice.  Stir in the dry ingredients until just incorporated, then mix in the pecans.  Pour into the prepared pan, and spread batter to the edges.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.  Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before cutting into squares.

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