My friend Sara has all these wacky-but-completely-lovable traits that you'd really never see coming. She is sunshine personified, this girl--all blonde and loud laughs and positive energy. You'd never think she's the type to get too hung up on details, based on first impressions. But you would be very, very wrong about that.
For instance, she goes positively bananas for laundry day. Like a micro-sorting-into-categories-of-whites-that-I-didn't-know-existed-and-serious-opinions-about-detergents-level of interest in laundry. It used to be that I would know not to call her before a certain hour on Thursdays, because I knew it was Sara's Laundry Day, but if I just had to call her about something and she did happen to pick up, she'd have this very Sara-esque cheery-but-absentminded tone because she'd really rather be ironing and folding her many, many sets of sheets than talking on the phone. But I will say that her meticulous nature with housekeeping duties makes being a house guest at her place one of the loveliest experiences ever.
You've also never met someone with so much restraint. Don't get me wrong--girlfriend knows how to have a good time. A wonderful appetite for life and good food and wine, but when she decides to reel it in, sister goes hard core. I've always admired that about her. She doesn't have a raging sweet tooth like me, so she can be especially good about sweets in strict moderation. I will never forget the time I went to her apartment and saw a huge Toblerone bar sitting on the kitchen table, only a chunk or two gone out of the whole thing, purchased at the movie theater two days before (an obsession with going to the movies alone is another Sara Quirk). I could not wrap my head around how one could have a partially eaten chocolate bar sitting in the same spot for more than a couple of hours, and on top of that, how could she have only eaten a smidgen of it to begin with?! Oh, Sara.
This recipe is the first I've tried from a cookbook I recently bought on a whim. I had gone to the bookstore only to buy a birthday gift for a friend, nothing more, and reminded myself of that the whole way there. But because I was at the bookstore in rare form--sans toddler and showered, for starters--I lingered for a longer than I should have. I really don't need another cookbook, I told myself as I traced my fingertips over the spines of so many culinary volumes that I've been eyeing as of late. But with latte in hand and no tiny person yanking at my jeans, the spine-tracing turned to back-cover-glancing and then flipping and then skimming and then "Ooh. Well, THAT looks good", and so forth. And so it would be: The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook is the newest addition to my cookbook collection.
Cheesetastic subject matter aside, the recipes in this book are the sort that you just know have been tested hundreds of times over, in home kitchens by real people all over the place. Cookies and pies and bars and cakes of family and church gathering lore, the kind of baked goods that are named after people known by a certain dishes in their personal circles. Which is all to say that these recipes are uncomplicated, very transportable and not at all precious, sometimes unusual, and totally delightful. I haven't been so charmed by a cookbook in a really, really long time. And any book that touts a brownie recipe with hunks of Toblerone bar is all right by me.
A word about Toblerone: the wrapper is not child-proof. If you fail to remove it from your child's pudgy-knuckled grip to avoid a meltdown in the car on the way home, you may arrive home to find that in your back seat sits a little chocolate-smeared face with shining eyes and leech-like suction on one end of the package, which now looks like this:
Adapted from The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook
I love Ghiradelli chocolates for baking--they're good quality and easily found in most supermarkets. For the Toblerone, use either the milk chocolate or dark chocolate variety--whatever you like. I like hazelnuts in this recipe, but pecans would also work well, as would almonds to echo the almond nougat bits in the candy bar, but remember to toast them before adding them to the batter for the best flavor. Toast them while you're putting the rest of the recipe together at the same temperature as the brownies--350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Like most brownies, these keep beautifully in the freezer.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and chopped
1 Toblerone bar (3.52 ounces), milk or dark chocolate variety, chopped (I cut each triangular hunk into quarters)
Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch square pan with aluminum foil to make removing the brownies easier. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Place the butter pieces and unsweetened chocolate in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Melt the butter and chocolate together on high power in 30 second intervals, stirring well after each, until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture until well-blended. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and fold in the dry ingredients by hand. Stir in the nuts and candy pieces.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out nearly dry, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the brownies using the foil sleeve and cut into 16 bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.