Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dessert gold – with almonds.

Blondies amandine à la mode. © Ryan Schierling
Brown sugar is magical. This is something I need to remember more often. Brown sugar is caramel, butterscotch, toffee. It is dessert gold.

When it comes to "bars" I've been rather singular in my affection for brownies – the darker the chocolate, the better. Nearly any other bar seems to fall swiftly off my radar. 

This year I decided to live a little and give blondies a try. Blondies are, at their essence, a brownie without the cocoa. (Why...? When the alternative is, ahem... chocolate? But, I digress.) Not everyone will agree with me on this, but every "blondie" I've encountered has had a bagged chip it in... chocolate chips, artificially-flavored butterscotch chips, wood chips... seriously, I'd rather just bake cookies.

Perhaps I should blame the hot sun and five-plus years of living East of the Rockies, but I started giving some thought to the potential that a warm, chewy, caramelized sugar bar might offer. A slew of sliced almonds was the final inspiration needed to put me over the edge. Almonds have a wonderfully delicate flavor when toasted that is divinely complemented by the sweet flavors of caramel, honey and coconut.

One could quite easily throw the kitchen sink at these bars, but I opted to maintain a focus and simplicity that honors the almonds and the chewy lightness they could offer.

My strategy was pretty simple: treat these strictly as brownies without chocolate – not like a separate bar – and adapt the old family recipe as necessary.

In fact, I even went back to the old cookbook containing our family's brownie recipe, curious if there was a blonde equivalent there. Sure enough... but it is called butterscotch brownies. Interestingly, it contains exactly zero butterscotch chips. It relies on the butter and brown sugar for flavor, but the ingredients/proportions are slightly different from the brownies. So, yep – I'd call them blondies.

The recipe below is the resulting bar. With the addition of Amaretto to enhance the almond flavor, these are phenomenal paired with a bit of Chantilly cream or vanilla ice cream. When cool, you may find them a bit boozier than you might expect, so adjust your expectations and serving plans accordingly. I've always been a huge fan of dishes that play up the contrast between warm and cool. The lightly toasted sliced almonds add a delicate crunch that does not distract from the tender bars (a tenderness I was intent on preserving so I included a wee bit of coconut oil). The sweet buttery vanilla caramel flavor shines through, conveyed upon that magical base note of dark brown sugar.

Did I mention these are super easy to make?

Blondies Amandine (not almondine)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 1/2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 ounces sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.  

Cream butter until soft. Gradually add sugar and dark brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, until each is incorporated. Add coconut oil, vanilla extract and amaretto until just combined. Add salt and flour and mix. Stir in sliced almonds, holding back about a tablespoon for garnish. (I toast the sliced almonds in a skillet, and it's fine if the almonds are still warm when adding to the batter.)

Spread batter into a greased 8" x 8" glass baking dish. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top puffs up a bit and appears to have formed a light crust.

Wait until the pan is at least cool to the touch before cutting into bars. Blondies are best served warm with whipped cream or à la mode, or re-warmed prior to serving later.

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