I took this bandanna off my head because I needed something for the picture and have no cute dishtowels. I’m not sorry if that squicks you out.
Modern science can be a wonderful thing: penicillin, the polio vaccine, tiny cameras that can be inserted into your veins all Innerspace-style, the iPhone. (Of course, I’m still waiting for a cure for AIDS and a rocket car, but I’m sure that modern science is working hard on them.) So I have to give modern science a hand for inventing depakote, a wonderful drug that helps keep me from being crazy. Because the food in psych wards really isn’t up to snuff, so I can’t really see myself going back there. That, and I like my shoelaces.*
An unfortunate side effect of being sane is that I can sometimes be a little tired and don’t always feel like jumping up to make a 7-layer cake for a party I’d promised to bring dessert to, especially when it’s a bucolic spring day and the empty hammock is swinging invitingly in the breeze under the ginkgo trees.** Luckily, that’s what one-bowl blondies are for. They’re dense and chewy and stuffed to the gills with chocolate-y, pecan-y, coconutty goodness, and they pull together in about 3 minutes.***
*I know people have different opinions and different experiences with drugs of the mental health variety, and I deny none of those. Depakote works for me in that it helps keep me from offing myself, which I take to be a plus. As always, if you want to start some kind of Tom Cruise-style argument in the comments? You know what I’m going to tell you: Just say no.
**I acknowledge that this might have less to do with depakote than it does with my excessive love of napping in hammocks.
***Sorry about all the asides lately.
Butter and sugar: 2 of the 4 major food groups.
I get pretty picky about my blondies. To me, they should be a brownie counterpart, which means a brownie equal – rich, moist, chewy, flavorful bars, not cookie-like or overly fluffy. I don’t really eat many blondies other than my own because they’re not to be trusted; I’ve been burned too many times to go down that road. If I want a tiny piece of cake studded with chips and nuts, I’ll eat a tiny piece of cake studded with chips and nuts. For a blondie, I require the fudgy texture of a brownie sans actual fudge.
(Of course, this assumes that you’re not one of those people who likes cakey brownies. Which, if you are, maybe you should be in the insane aslyum.)
How to do that without chocolate? Copious amounts of brown sugar and butter. No white sugar – it would make things too crisp, and doesn’t add enough flavor of its own. Light brown sugar adds a subtle molasses tone and keeps things good and chewy. A few eggs add just enough structure to keep things afloat, and vanilla adds a deep bourbon-y note. (Buy the best vanilla you can afford. You’ll notice the difference.)
One of my few instances of baking without the KitchenAid.
Barely enough flour to create a batter, a smidge of baking powder and some salt for balance, and my drug-addled brain can just manage to stir the batter together with a wooden spoon.
There’s something very satisfying about stirring batter with a wooden spoon instead of using a mechanical device. The KitchenAid Professional 600 is still my not-so-secret boyfriend, but sometimes I like the Suzy homemaker thing. Or, in my case, the 1950s housewife on valium and her second vodka martini thing. Either way, we’re going back to basics!
The third food group: chocolate
Once the basic batter is together, you can mix in whatever you want according to your personal blondie requirements. Me, I like to start with bittersweet chocolate chips; the batter is plenty sweet with all the brown sugar, and milk-, white- and even semi-sweet chocolate make things too cloying for me.
Also cloying? The mannerisms of the people who work in the looney bin. I mean, I get that you’re working with unstable people, but COME ON. Your constant unflappable good moods and chirpy voices make me want to punch you. Which would probably be seen as a step backward by the powers that be, which means I have to stay in the nuthouse LONGER, which means I have to KEEP LISTENING TO YOU CHIRP, which makes me want to punch you, and so on. I’m firmly convinced that people who have been patients in psych wards for more than 5 days are only there because of this vicious chirp-and-punch cycle. I demand mental health reform.
These blondies don’t include the fourth food group, bacon. Although you know, that could be really good, if you candied the bacon and sprinkled it on top… the wheels, they are turning.
I also like coconut – just a touch – less for the flavor and more for the texture. Adding the moist shreds of sweetened coconut adds weight, density and chew that helps boost these blondies’ confidence so they can stand up to their chocolatey colleagues. Too much sweetened coconut makes these too sweet (duh) for their own good, so if you’re after big coconut flavor you might want to try using a greater amount of unsweetened flaked coconut and/or a bit of coconut extract.
I’m nuts for blondies, but I don’t need no psychotropic drugs for THAT ailment!
You gotta have the nuts. Unless you have a fatal nut allergy, in which case permission to omit is freely granted.
I don’t like for my blondies to think of themselves as “brownies lite,” so I don’t use the traditional brownie walnut so that we can avoid that point of comparison. That, and the subtle sweetness of some roasty-toasty pecans just plain tastes better in these than walnuts.
See how quickly these are coming together? There’s not even enough time for me to pad this section of the post with more rambling about mental illness!
I give you: the perfect blondie. Fantastic texture, studded with just enough add-ins and with rich caramelly undertones that really make it stand out as a blondie sine qua non. A tall glass of cold milk is not optional.
What is optional? Pretty much everything other than the basic batter together. You can use whichever chocolate you like or none at all*, use chips or chunks, add or subtract coconut, use whatever nut floats your boat, throw in some dried cranberries or apricots, use peanut butter or butterscotch chips, sprinkle some candied bacon on top, whatever. They are all things to all people. They are everywhere at once. Okay, they’re not really that last part; if that seemed true to you, I’m willing to share my drugs.
If you’re going to a party tomorrow and you’ve promised to bring dessert, and you’re dragging ass for whatever reason, I’ve just given you a gift. So I expect you all to come visit me with Chinese take-out and pints of Chunky Monkey if the depakote ever lets me down.
*Even though you could do this, you really shouldn’t.
Blondies sine qua non
makes approx. 24 bars
12 tbsp. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. AP flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 c. bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. sweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 c. pecans, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
Pre-heat your oven to 350. Line a 9×13 pan with buttered parchment or foil to make it easier to get the baked blondies out.
Melt the butter over low heat (you want it melted but not super-hot; if it gets too hot, wait a few minutes before proceeding). In a large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and brown sugar together until combined. Add both eggs and the vanilla and whisk until smooth.
Add the flour, baking powder and salt in two additions, mixing until fairly smooth each time; you’ll probably need to switch to a wooden spoon or spatula, as the batter gets quite thick. Fold in the chocolate, coconut and nuts.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread/smooth to the edges. Bake for 28-32 minutes until the edges are just turning golden brown and cracks are running across the top. Cool in the pan before removing and cutting into bars.