It’s not an exaggeration to say you and your loved ones will be seduced by these Brown Butter Blondies. We’ve seen it time and again when serving them at our book launches. The first bite, the sudden widening of the eyes, a sharp intake of breath. The reach for another one before the first is even done. My preciousss. OK, you won’t be possessed. But seduced? Definitely. And you will win your holiday dessert table. If the blondies make it out of your kitchen... Chef Brad Long and his wife, pastry chef Sheryl Brooks Long, have been winning the hearts of visitors to Café Belong with these for years.
Brown Butter Blondies
Blondies arrived, as food history claims, before the brownie. Yay, blondie! But like spiteful siblings, the blondie bears the scars of having a better-loved little brother. And though it’s not as iconic as its brother, blondies have the advantage of a more open-minded ingredient structure. That’s just a weird way of saying you can make subtle changes to the recipe from batch to batch by using different sugars or other sweeteners. You can use white sugar, brown sugar, or maple sugar; you can blend molasses into plain old white sugar; or you can even blend in honey for more flavour.
White sugars, which are more processed and have more “impurities” removed, make the blondie more straight-up sweet, far more crunchy and stiff, and bore the crap outta me. Molasses and honey are the heavyweight flavours of the sugar realm, but they’re not going to work alone as they hold so much moisture you’d have to eat the end product with a spoon. However, used in conjunction with other sugars they add both complexity of flavour and texture.
Let’s face it: Brown sugar is where it’s at. When you use complex brown sugars, of which there are far too many types to get into here, all those moist molasses impurities cause—wait for it—flavour. That’s right, brown and gooey tastes better, is more chewy and moist, and generally brings more Debbie Harry sex appeal to your Blondie. (Sex appeal, but alas not nutrition. Contrary to what some people believe, sadly, brown sugar isn’t really more nutritious than white sugar, and unless you have a small, artisanal source, it’s made by the same big manufacturers.) This recipe has just enough refined sugar (cane sugar) and just enough brown sugar to reach the holy grail of texture: crunchy edge, chewy centre.
So blondies are based in sugar and you can play with that sugar to produce subtle variations in flavour. But this isn’t a sugar book, it’s a butter book, and our blondie needs BIG flavour. Once you’ve explored all the sugar variations, you will find that butter will, once again, be your champion in the taste department.
Sure, you could use straight-up butter. Or you could even boost the flavour subtly with some cultured butter. But if you wanna put your blondie on a rocketship and blast the flavour into outer space, I highly recommend—yeah, you’re catching on—browning the butter.
Blondie, meet Barbarella.
Makes about 12 large or 24 medium squares, depending on how big you like ’em
1 1/4 cups brown butter (start with at least 1 3/4 cups cold butter), cooled to room temperature
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (optional; if you prefer an uber-dense blondie, omit)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cane sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat your oven to 325°F. Line a 9- x 13-inch cake pan with parchment paper.
- If you aren’t already a brown butter ninja, brown the butter according to my directions below, and then set it aside to cool to room temperature.
- In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, mix together the sugars and cooled brown butter until smooth (creamed).
- One at a time, add the eggs, mixing well after each addition. Now mix in the vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until fully incorporated.
- Spread the dough (it will be quite thick) evenly over the parchment-lined pan.
- Bake in your hot oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Keep in mind that underbaking is better than overbaking. Too long in the heat and these delicate beauties will desiccate. Remember, moisture is the blondie’s friend!
- Let the blondies cool completely in the pan before cutting into squares (or any shape, for that matter) of your desired size.
We could now discuss such absurdities as storing them, but c’mon. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly butter my lips just one more time and cram in another blondie” said no one, ever.
How to Brown Butter
Pick your butter (salted or unsalted, your choice), melt it in a tall, medium saucepot over high heat, full flame, until the butter foams, the milk solids fall, and the solids begin to brown.
Wait, did you see I said tall saucepot? Like bigger than you think you’d need. Go for height over width because when the butter foams, depending on how much butter we’re talking about, it’s going to expand rapidly and a long way up the side of the pot … and over and into the screaming flames below if you chose the wrong pot. Oh, the horror! So consider your pot carefully. And don’t walk away from this process (it may take a few minutes to happen).
When butter is cold, the water, proteins, and sugars are essentially packed in solid fat. Everything is bound up in the fat evenly. When you put all that in a big pot and slowly heat it up to, say, 180°F, the whole thing melts. The water goes to the bottom, the fat sits on top (come on, you know that old saying about oil on water—it’s true!), and the proteins and sugars haggle with everyone. Some take up residence in the watery bits and some hang out with the proteins up top. This is drawn butter.
If you carefully skim the foamy bits from the top and then spirit away the fat next, leaving the watery liquid at the bottom, you have clarified butter.
To brown butter, you melt butter over high heat until it hits the magic temperature of 212°F (salted or unsalted)—the boiling point. Up until the boiling point the fat and friends mostly sit on top of, and hide, the watery stuff. Once you hit the boiling point, the water has had enough of hanging around with the fat, proteins, and various sugars and simply vacates the place. It just leaves. This is the first time the whole mass will rise up in the pot (use the tall pot!). Once the water has left the building all goes quiet again. The hot pot of fat with stuff floating on top will start to get nervous because the fat is getting hotter and hotter. And as the fat gets so hot that it actually deep-fries the milk proteins and all the other sugar-based bits, it will rise up a second time. The whole mass foams, the colour changes to golden as that stuff gets browned—a little science thing called the Maillard reaction—and then, at the exact same time, an absolutely wonderful, nostril-tantalizing aroma will permeate the air.
That’s right. When the butter begins to brown not only will you see it changing colour but also you will smell the distinct hazelnut aroma that makes going through all this fuss so appealing.
If you take it too far the butter will burn and turn black—not what you want here. You have to keep watch because it happens in seconds: As soon as the butter turns a nice nutty-brown colour, quickly take it off the fire and carefully pour it out of the pot. It will surely burn if you keep going. And you can’t just turn the burner off and hope for the best because if you were using anything resembling a decent pot it will stay hot and it will keep cooking what’s in there, and you’ll find yourself with a different colour and a different smell. You need to get that delicious stuff out of there—stat—and the big consideration at this point is where you’re going to put it. (Yeah, you should already have known this before you put the butter in the pot in the first place. Life lesson: Always read through a recipe before you begin.)
If you’re making brown butter as a flavour-rich fat to use in a cake or other pastry recipe, you don’t really need to strain out the solids. You just need to stop the cooking and get the brown butter out of the pot. I recommend pouring it directly into a heat-resistant measuring cup, ready to go into whatever is next.
If you’re making my Brown Butter Vinaigrette (see page 57 of my book), it needs to be tidier. So as soon as it has thoroughly browned, you must immediately pass it through a fine-mesh sieve, china cap (aka chinois), or cheesecloth and directly onto finely diced shallots. By now, with all the depth and breadth of the science training you’ve recently completed, you’ll guess that the hot fat will immediately boil all the water out of the shallots, so use a deep bowl or you’ll make a huge mess on your counter when it boils up and over everything.
Potentially messy and dangerous stuff, this playing with butter. It’s not dangerous in any dietary way—it doesn’t give you heart disease or add to your waddle. It just has the potential to burn you, your countertop, and all your old recipes that called for margarine or corn oil. You might also find yourself dangerously addicted.