Monday, January 30, 2017

Coffee Blondies

There are some things in life you missed out on and you wish you hadn't. And then there are other things you missed and are grateful you did. For me those two things would be coffee and 90's hip hop rap music. Somehow I managed to get through college and a significant part of my life without beginning or getting through the day with a cup of coffee. My caffeine infusion came from diet soda. With the rituals along with the distinctive aromatic and taste characteristics of coffee finally finding a way into my life, an affinity for almost anything having the flavor of coffee came with it. While reading through Sarah Kieffer's recently released cookbook, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book: Recipes for Irresistible Everyday Favorites and Reinvented Classics, I immediately knew it would be impossible to resist making the Coffee Blondies. After taking a bite of them, I again asked myself 'so how was it you managed to live so long without coffee in your life?'. Which, of course, happens to be of those questions not having a simple answer. Suffice it to say coffee in any form won't ever be leaving my life. And after listening to 90s hip hop rap for several hours this past weekend, I was reminded just how grateful I was for missing out on this musical genre. Although not knowing any of the words to the songs everyone else did made me wonder if I had gone missing for a decade.

Blondies are described as a cross between a cookie and a cake. While somewhat similar to a brownie in texture and presentation, they are typically vanilla rather than chocolate based. The combination of vanilla and brown sugar often gives blondies a 'caramel-like, butterscotch-like' flavor. Just as there are a myriad of variations to brownies, there are with blondies as well. The addition of dried fruits, chopped candies, and chocolate are the common variations. Infusing the batter with strong coffee or espresso is less common. Which maybe explains why these may be the most uncommingly addictive, flavorful blondies ever created.

Did I mention these mouthwatering Coffee Blondies also have chocolate and toasted pecans in them? 

Even without the vanilla ice cream, you need these Coffee Blondies in your life. Unless, of course, you want to add one more regret.

More than likely you have everything you need in your cupboard and refrigerator to make these Coffee Blondies. And, if by chance, you don't have any room temperature strong coffee in the house, combine some instant espresso with hot water. In other words, there should be nothing preventing you from making them.

After the butter and brown sugar have melted, the pot is removed from the hot stove top before the coffee is stirred in. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature (or at least barely warm to the touch), before whisking in the egg and vanilla. Because if your mixture is too hot, you will end up scrambling the egg.

To create the batter, the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, kosher salt) are mixed together with the butter/sugar/coffee/vanilla mixture. Be careful not to over mix before adding in the chocolate and pecans. Your batter will be very thick.

Having swapped out chocolate chips for chopped chocolate in my chocolate chip cookie and brownie recipes awhile back, I made this relatively minor change to these Coffee Blondies. Call it a personal preference. Although, chopping the chocolate allows it to have a more even distribution in the batter and ultimately in each bite. Whether you decide to use chocolate chips or chopped chocolate, toast the pecans before chopping them and adding them to the better. Not only do toasted nuts have a greater depth of flavor, their texture, especially when added to a batter, significantly improves as well.

In a preheated 350 degree (F) oven, the Coffee Blondies bake for 18 to 24 minutes if made in a 9"x12" parchment paper lined pan. Because I used a slightly different sized pan, my baking time was closer to 30 minutes. 

The most difficult part of this Coffee Blondie recipe is having the patience to wait for them to cool before you cut them into squares. Or maybe it's having the will power to stop eating them. The combination of the coffee, chocolate, brown sugar, and toasted pecan flavors are heavenly and slightly addictive.

Every now and then a cookbook comes along having the genuine intention of making you a better cook or a better baker whether you are a novice or consider yourself accomplished. Then there the cookbooks having the power to compel you to make every single recipe in the book. This is one of them. Forget about the personal satisfaction or therapeutic value associated with baking, making something everyone raves about is almost better than any caffeinated high you can get from either coffee or chocolate. Sarah Kieffer's cookbook, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book: Recipes for Irresistible Everyday Favorites and Reinvented Classics, is one of those rare books giving you all of that and more. Like these Coffee Blondies, you also need this cookbook in your life. I swear it's not something you should miss out on having.

Coffee Blondies (slight adaptation to Sarah Kieffer's Coffee Blondie recipe from her book The Vanilla Bean Baking Book: Recipes for Irresistible Everyday Favorites and Reinvented Classics)

1 1/2 cups (213g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks, 170 g) unsalted butter, cold
1 1/2 cups (297g) light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso and 2 Tablespoons hot water or 2 Tablespoons strong coffee, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla
3/4 cup (86g) pecan halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup (128g) dark or semi-sweet chocolate coarsely chopped or dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a 9"x12" or an 8"x13" baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and kosher salt.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and brown sugar. Remove from heat and stir in espresso and/or coffee until well blended. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
4. Whisk in egg and vanilla until well combined. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring until just combined. 
6. Add the pecans and chocolate, stir gently. Note: Batter will be very thick.
7. Spread batter evenly into the prepared pan. Smooth top with an offset spatula.
8. Bake 18-24 minutes or until the blondies are set on the edge and top is golden and beginning to form cracks. To test for doneness insert a wood toothpick or wooden skewer into the blondies. When removed it should come out with just a couple of crumbs. Note: My baking time was closer to 30 minutes, however, I used an 8"x13" baking pan.
9. Transfer to a wire rack. Allow to cool completely. Remove blondies from pan and cut into squares.
10. Serve immediately. Store any remaining blondies in a covered container.

Notes: (1) I combined the kosher salt with the dry ingredients instead of stirring into the butter and brown sugar mixture. The original recipe calls for adding the salt to wet ingredients. (2) My favorite chocolate to chop and use in cookies, bars, and brownies is Trader Joe's Pound Plus 72% Dark Chocolate. Whichever chocolate you use, make sure it's a semi-sweet or bittersweet one. (3) The original recipe called for 2 Tablespoons of room temperature strong coffee. I used hot water and instant espresso and it worked incredibly well.

Bisbee, Arizona (March 2016)

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