Archive for February, 2011

You’ve heard of Blondies right? They’re basically brownies, but the dough isn’t chocolately. It’s butterscotch instead due to the combination of brown sugar, butter, and vanilla! I just knew I wanted to make brownies this weekend, so I took to my many bookmarked recipes and decided on not brownies, but blondies since I figured they would knock out my craving without being quite as heavy as their dark chocolate cousins. After I had decided, Nick suggested I check in my new favorite book, Baking Illustrated (a very amazing gift provided by my very amazing boyfriend), to see if they had any suggestions on the preparation. I think my love of this cookbook really warrants a full and complete appreciation post, but let me just say it’s the best thing in the universe. The people at America’s Test Kitchen go through a million and twelve different scientific tests of their baked goods, from trying out different brands of flour to see which makes the most tender cookie, to which type of teaspoon is best. The cookbook is like pornography for bakers and I’ll leave it at that.

So I decided to use the Baking Illustrated recipe for Blondies because the faith I have in those folks is overwhelming. I adapted it a bit to suit my needs, using golden brown sugar instead of light brown because I prefer a more rich brown sugar taste (though the book does make a note that tasters found dark brown sugar to be too overpowering). The recipe called for white chocolate chips as well, but since we didn’t have any, I just doubled up on my semi-sweet. They came out amazing, nice and chewy with a sweet butterscotch flavor lying over the chocolate. The chopped pecans added a great texture element and really brought the whole thing together. Just a few hours after I made them, the pan was reduced to just two small pieces! I love when my baked goods get gobbled up so fast.

The two big keys to this recipe, according to the cookbook, are using melted butter and mixing by hand. Creaming the butter with the sugar and using a mixer incorporates too much air into the batter and won’t yield the chewy, dense texture that still has lots of flavor.

Blondies: Adapted from Baking Illustrated

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups packed golden brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F with the rack in the middle position.
  2. Prepare your baking pan. Note: I used a 13×9 pan, as per the book’s instructions, but I found the batter didn’t quite spread to the edges. In the end, the blondies rose enough so that the ends weren’t too crusty or unappealing, but if you really want a thick and chewy morsel, you could probably use an 8×8 brownie pan. Line the pan using two pieces of aluminum foil placed perpendicular over each other so some foil extends out of the pan. This extra foil will serve as handles, make extraction from the pan very easy! Spray the foil with non-stick spray.
  3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
  4. Whisk the melted butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl until combined. This basically smells like heaven, just so you know.
  5. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.
  6. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the brown sugar mixture until just combined. Do not overmix!
  7. Fold in the chocolate chips and pecans.
  8. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with the rubber spatula.
  9. Bake for about 22-25 minutes (Mine took about 28 minutes) until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch.  The edges will also be golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.
  10. Cool completely in the pan, then, using the foil handles, lift the blondies from the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into pieces of whatever size you prefer and serve for happy eating!

This weekend I had a special new adventure: I made bread for the first time! Proper bread, I mean, not the cake-like quick breads we all know and love. This was a whole new world of prepping yeast and waiting with baited breath to see if your efforts paid off and your dough rose like it was supposed to (I hear it’s absolutely heartbreaking when it doesn’t) and that your bread all works out. Luckily, I had success with this lovely Swedish Cardamom Braid my dear friend Rachael recommended we make as my beginner bread. This recipe comes to you from The Complete Book of Breads and I tell you, it is wonderful. Dense for a bread due to it’s high butter content, studded with golden raisins, and nice and spicy! I’m told it’s a little dry, but that’s what jam and butter are for, right?

Swedish Cardamom Bread

2 packages of dry yeast
1/2 cup of warm water (for yeast)
1/2 cup of milk scalded (heated to just before boiling)
1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) of unsalted butter (room temperature)
2 eggs (room temperature)
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cardamom

  • (Note: We used 4 heaping teaspoons of cardamom! If you want a little more of a spicy punch, go for it! But I also recommend you add a touch more salt for a counterbalance, because the salt will bring out the flavor of the bread).

3/4 cup seedless raisins
Egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with a splash of milk)

  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over your warm (about 105-115F) water and beat with a whisk or fork until the granules dissolve. Note: Too hot of water will kill your yeast! So it should be warm to the touch, but in no way boiling or steaming. Yeast is tricky!
  2. In a mixing bowl, pour milk over sugar, salt, and butter. Stir to soften and let the mixture cool to lukewarm.
  3. Add the yeast mixture. You will know your yeast is active if the mixture looks frothy. If it doesn’t look ready to you, give it some more time! If there is no bubbling at all, your yeast might have gone bad and you should start afresh. 
  4. Add cardamom, raisins, eggs, and 3 cups of flour and beat until smooth.
  5. Add the next 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time. If mixing by hand, use a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes too difficult, then use your hands to knead. If using a mixer, this would be a good time to switch to your dough hook attachment. The dough should form a rough mass and clean the sides of the bowl as it mixes and it will not be sticky due to the large amount of butter.
  6. If kneading by hand, use a strong push-turn-fold action on a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic (this is about 5 minutes on high with your dough hook). Wonder Baker Tip: Not sure what smooth and elastic is? I’m told that the way to find out if your dough is ready is if it feels like your earlobe! So give your ear a tug and compare.
  7. Place your dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, storing in a warm place for about 1 hour.
  8. Once your dough has doubled in size, punch it down firmly to work out the air bubbles.
  9. Turn the dough out of the bowl and divide into two portions. Then, take one half and divide into three equal parts and roll them into fat tubes.
  10. Now it’s time to braid! First, line your three ropes up. Then, swing the right (or top) rope over the middle, then the other outer rope over that. Continue folding the ropes over each other and finish by tucking the strands in at the end and pressing the dough together. Repeat with the other half of the dough until you have two braided loaves. Here, have some helpful (hopefully!) pictures:(sorry for the blur! Rachael is a very fast dough braider)
  11. Now it’s time to cover our shaped loaves with wax paper and let the dough sit again, for about another hour. This is the second rise! (my dough braids were not perfect, but that’s okay!)
  12. Preheat your oven to 350F. Then, brush the tops of your loaves with the egg wash.
  13. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the crusts are a rich brown and a toothpick comes out clean and dry. Check on them early so you don’t over-bake them, but you will probably need more than 45 minutes (we did).
  14. Remove the bread from the oven and, handling the loaves delicately, transfer to a cooling rack before serving or packing up.

You can see where I missed some spots with the egg wash and our raisins got a little toasty on the top, but the bread is wonderful and lovely and oh so good! It was an easy bread dough to work with and it has wonderful flavor, so give it a shot for some happy eating 🙂