Those of us who work retail know that labor day is only a holiday for other people. For us it’s a weekend of whirlwind activity while we try not to let our sale-crazed customers tear down the shelves along with the books on them. It’s also the second week of school, so every third customer wants half a dozen college textbooks, and they just stare at you as though you can make the textbooks that we don’t have magically appear so that they can buy them during the sale.
The sad thing is, I actually kind of like sales. They’re so insanely busy that you don’t get to stop and think for 30 seconds, which means that when the shift is over you’re left tired and sweaty but thinking, “It’s been eight hours already? I just got here!”
Because I work in a bookstore, and because I spend so much of my time there among the cookbooks, I don’t use the many blogs I read for recipes nearly as often as I use cookbooks. Not that I know how to leave a recipe unchanged, but I have a sort of addiction to glossy pages full of photography infinitely better than mine sitting dangerously close to messy things bubbling on the stove.
These blondies are an exception. I found them first on Une Gamine dans la Cuisine, where they were called Jensen bars. That blogger adapted them from Not Without Salt, where they were simply brown butter blondies. Not Without Salt adapted them from Honey & Jam, where they were called toffee brown butter blondies. Honey and Jam adapted them from Martha Stewart. In other words, I’m fifth in a game of culinary telephone from an actual print-on-paper cookbook.
There’s something sublime about that, and it’s hard to see it in most cookbooks. Recipes change every time someone new makes something, or every time a cook gets bored and decides to shake up a recipe he’s made a thousand times before. Watching a recipe change significantly over the course of two short years, yet remain easily recognized from its roots is something special.
For my own version, I added coffee. Then I though about it for a second, looked at the huge amount of butter in all of the recipes that came before it, reduced it (I know, I know. Butter’s even in the title. But trust me) and added coffee again. Coffee liquor and instant espresso. The result is unspeakably good. I panicked. If I didn’t get rid of these things I was going to eat them all and them go on a maniacal caffeine-induced rampage about the town.
Ingredients (makes a 9×13 pan of blondies, about 20 bars)
2 sticks (16 T) butter
2 1/4 cups flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t salt
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 T vanilla extract
2 T instant espresso powder
1/4 cup coffee liquor (Kahlúa or my favorite, Caffé Lolita)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. The first step is to brown that butter. Put the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Bring it to a boil. Stir it to keep it from heating unevenly or boiling over.
Keep stirring. It will become quite frothy and sea-foam like as the butter turns brown. Your kitchen should smell distinctly of roasting nuts.
Pour the browned butter into a large bowl and give it a minute or two to cool.
Add the sugars.
Mix the sugars well. Contemplate just eating this mixture, because it smells like the tastiest thing in the whole world.
Add the eggs, vanilla, and coffee liquor.
Mix the wet ingredients thoroughly.
Combine the flour, leavenings, salt, and espresso powder in a sieve.
Sift them into the batter.
Mix the dry ingredients into the batter gently. Don’t overdo it; you want the blondies to be very tender. The finished batter will be a lovely golden brown.
Because the batter is so thin, I lined my baking pan with buttered parchment paper. It probably isn’t necessary, but it was nice to be able to lift the blondies free of the pan to cut them.
Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes for a very moist blondie, or 40 minutes for a firmer one. I like them very moist, just on the edge of uncooked. That way it almost feels like eating cookie dough.
This is definitely a bar for coffee lovers. It’s extremely dangerous, because eating one of these caffeine-laden delights after dinner (with a scoop of coffee ice cream, obviously) will keep you up half the night. While you’re buzzing around the apartment wide awake, one thought will keep coming back to you every five minutes, with increasing urgency: “I really want another blondie.”
Thankfully, they make great gifts. Mr. B’s car battery died while we were on vacation, and we discovered it the day we made these. So when our extremely helpful neighbor gave it a jump, I hopped on to the excuse to present him with a pile of these as thanks. If I actually ate all the desserts I’ve been making lately, I’d be in for a lot more time at the gym, and probably still need bigger pants.
There are a thousand more things I could say about these, but as I mentioned, labor day is not a holiday for us retail folks. It’s 11:30 at night and I just got home from work half an hour ago. For the rest of you who worked today, reward yourselves with some of these. You know, in a few days, once you’ve recovered from the sale.