Brewers' Blondies

Anyone remember Chad Allen? He was one of those late 80's TV teen heartthrobs on the relatively short-lived Our House. Ring a bell? Well, not that many people remember it. But I do because I was sure that I would marry Chad Allen one day. Back in, oh, say, fourth or fifth grade, I remember writing a letter to him. I'm not sure exactly what I wrote, but I know it was on my best Hello Kitty notebook paper and that right there says a lot about how important this correspondence was to me. I put that letter in my Esprit bag the night before school and stuck it in the mailbox on my way to the bus the next day.

And then I waited. And waited. And finally, after many months and a weeklong stint at summer camp, I arrived home to find that he had indeed written back! Well, not really him, more like his manager or whoever was responsible for assembling his form letters. But there was a really nice 8x10 photo with a fake autograph on it that I thought was rad. Even if it had taken so long to get that response that I'd sort of gotten over him. But that anticipation was delicious, waiting for a response and finally having that envelope show up.

I experienced that feeling all over again a few weeks ago, waiting waiting waiting for my copy of Baked: New Frontiers in Baking (from the charming boys at NYC's Baked bakery, quite crushworthy themselves, incidentally) to show up on my doorstep. I'd been lovingly stroking this book at different shops for quite some time and finally found an online deal too great to pass up. Too bad that the online retailer I ordered it from took nearly two weeks to deliver the flippin' thing. I almost passed out from the excitement while waiting. Who do you think you are, pokey online retailer?! Chad Allen? I don't think so!

Anyway, flipping through the pages, my head was spinning from all the inspiration. I want to eventually get around to baking everything in the whole dang book, but settled on starting with the Brewers' Blondies. Oh, man. Okay. So...I bake a lot, right? Well, I love the smell of baked goods wafting through the house, but sometimes it seems so much like the norm around here that it's just sort of a nice backdrop to our lives and nothing too extraordinary. We-he-helllll....with this recipe, the deep, rich scent of pure butterscotch floating through the rooms in our house nearly made me pull my hair out. It was really something.

The finished bars are dense and chewy, all dark brown sugar and brown butter and so stunningly complex in flavor, with bits of chocolate and nuts and malt...malt, people! Ohmahgah.

A few notes: Does it have to be dark brown sugar? Yes, yes it does. Sometimes it doesn't matter, but in this case it really matters--it's what gives these bars their incredible depth of flavor and phenomenal chew. Also, the original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips--I felt like that would be a lot of chocolate and I was really feeling the blondie thing, so I did about half bittersweet chips and half white chocolate chips because I had them, but do what you like.

I also cut the walnuts down from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup--just my preference. Turns out the movie-size box of malted milk balls available in supermarkets is just about the right amount for this recipe, plus a couple extra handfuls (cronch, cronch). Rather than chasing malted milk balls around my countertop with a chef's knife or dirtying an appliance to chop them, I put them in a ziptop bag and gave each one a little pop with the end of my rolling pin and viola--just the right size pieces.

I sent the husband to work with half the batch (good call, otherwise I'd still be in a complete blondie coma) and when Baby C and I went to visit him at the office just a few hours later, I noticed there was already only one bar left in the container. So there ya go. I don't see how you could go wrong, giving this recipe a try. They are a keeper, to say the least.

Oh, and P.S: Funnily enough, a few years back I actually got to interview Chad Allen on the red carpet for Brokeback Mountain. He was completely adorable. And of course I had to tell him that I got that letter and it totally made my whole summer, even it it wasn't really from him. He thought it was hilarious. In other news, turns out boyfriend is totally all Brokeback Mountain himself now. I really know how to pick 'em.

Brewer's Blondies Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Makes 24 bars

Malted milk powder can usually be found near in the tea/coffee/cocoa section of your larger supermarket. Toasted walnuts give these bars a great flavor--it's easy to toast them if you preheat your oven good and early; toss the nuts into a small baking pan and put them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until they are golden and fragrant (let them cool before adding them to the batter). I like to line the pan with a sleeve of parchment paper across the bottom and draped over the sides of the pan like parchment "handles" to make for easy removal of the blondie slab, which also makes for nice, evenly cut bars.

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons malted milk powder 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch cubes 1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar 2 large eggs 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 3/4 cup malted milk balls (like Whoppers or Maltesers), coarsely chopped 1/3 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips 1/3 cup white chocolate chips 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9x13 inch baking pan. If you like, line the pan with a parchment sleeve to make the removal and cutting of the bars easier.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and malted milk powder.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and dark brown sugar on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl, and beat in the eggs and vanilla until well-blended. Add the dry ingredients in two additions on low speed and beat until just combined. Mix in the malted milk balls, chocolate chips and walnuts. Give the batter a final folding by hand with a spatula to make sure there are no dry pockets and the batter is evenly mixed. It will be very thick. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it evenly.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the bars are deeply golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack in the pan for 20 minutes before removing the bars to a cutting board and cutting them into 24 squares. Once they cool completely, they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

BarsShauna Sever