There’s a certain comfort to be had from biting into a warm, homemade blondie. The melt-on-your-tongue chocolate combines with each brown-sugar-laced bite to bring a smile to your face. And then the sweet walnuts show up and give you a reassuring hug. So familiar. So delicious. You go back for more.
I hadn’t eaten a blondie for a long time. And then I took a small taste of one being offered as a sample at a huge gluten-free event. It was pretty dry. And it was pretty bare: not a lot of chocolate to melt on my tongue or nuts to slowly work their way across my taste buds. Perhaps the baker wasn’t really a chocolate or nut lover? I wasn’t sure. But I knew that now there would surely be a bit of blondie-recipe-testing in my future. It was pretty obvious from the sample I’d just tried that a lot could go wrong.
But where to start? I hadn’t made blondies in more years than I could remember. So I turned to some dependable, modern day, homestyle baking pros: Ina Garten has a recipe for Chocolate Chunk Blondies in her Barefoot Contessa Foolproof cookbook; Dori Greenspan has a recipe for Chewy Chunky Blondies in her cookbook Baking From My Home to Yours; Martha Stewart has a lot of blondie recipes, but interestingly, they’re all pretty much variations of the same basic one; and the King Arthur Flour Company has a recipe for Crazy Blonde Brownies on their website.
I gave them all good consideration and found that while they were fairly similar, a few differences stood out. Martha’s recipe was close to Ina Gartens, but with less chocolate, nuts and vanilla. Dori’s recipe had a lot more sugar and more competing flavors (she cut down on the chocolate and vanilla and added butterscotch chips). She baked them at 325ºF for a longer time than the others, who baked them at 350ºF. King Arthur, as is their normal way with a recipe, called for a higher flour to fat ratio; it had significantly less butter – one stick versus two – for only slight less flour than the others. And, their recipe had even more sugar than Dori’s in relation to the amount of flour, along with the suggestion to add a combination of competing flavors (chocolate, butterscotch, toffee and/or cinnamon chip add-ins).
I was looking for pure, uncomplicated flavor. I went with the Barefoot Contessa. Ina Garten is famous for taking basic, classic recipes, adding a bit of over-the-top flourish (there will usually be more butter or cream or something in an Ina recipe) and making them accessible for home cooks. Her blondie recipe features 2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 cups of sugar (both light brown and granulated), 2 sticks of butter, 1 1/4 pounds (1 1/2 cups) of semisweet chocolate chunks (which would be about 2 1/2 cups of chocolate morsels) and 1 1/2 cups of chopped nuts. She adds 2 teaspoons vanilla. She is big on flavor.
Garten strongly suggests that you underbake her blondies a little so they aren’t dry. But she also has a large recipe that calls for a not-normal sized pan (8 1/2 x 12 x 2-inch), one that I couldn’t easily find. Most people have 9 x13-inch pans don’t they? According to my wheat eating, Ina Garten-loving friend who didn’t have the correct pan, she bakes the recipe in two 8 x 8 pans (or cuts it in half and only makes one pan). Made sense to me. I cut the recipe in half, as I usually do when testing a recipe anyway, and used an 8 x 8-inch pan. It worked so well, I never bothered testing it in my 9 x 13. (And no, I wasn’t going to buy an 8 1/2 x 12-inch pan just for this one recipe.)
Test Kitchen Notes:
The original recipe called for 1 1/4 pounds of semisweet chocolate chunks and 1 1/2 cups of chopped nuts. I cut those amounts in half for my scaled down recipe. We liked it, but there was some debate among my many taste testers about whether there were too many chocolate chunks and chopped nuts. I found the recipe worked better for me with slightly less. You can also make it with semisweet chocolate morsels (even if Ina Garten thinks it’s better with chunks) because truth be told, in a blind tasting, no one could tell the difference (and those who could said it didn’t matter enough to make a difference). I kept the baking soda the same because I didn’t want the blondies to rise too high so they would stay chewy, but I upped the vanilla and added a bit of xanthan gum.
It took a handful of attempts to get the baking time right because neither I, nor my taste testers, liked them under-baked the way Ina suggests (but she had to contend with a large pan and didn’t want to dry out the edges.
Ahhh! Blondies are a bit of soothing, homespun comfort in a pan. And even better, they’re very easy to make and they won’t take up too much of your time. Make a batch this week and see for yourself.
Barefoot Contessa’s Blondies made Gluten-Free
Adapted from the Chocolate Chunk Blondie recipe in Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof Cookbook, 2012
Makes 9 bars
1/2 cup unsalted butter (or non-dairy substitute like Earth Balance)
1/2 cup light brown sugar (lightly packed)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup Brown Rice Flour Mix*
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chunks or 1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
*Find my Brown Rice Flour Mix in the recipe section of this blog.
- Preheat oven to 350º F. Position rack in center of oven. Line bottom and sides of 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with foil and grease with cooking spray.
- Beat butter and both sugars at medium high speed in large bowl of electric mixer until light and creamy. Add egg and vanilla; beat until fluffy. Add flour, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt; mix at medium speed until well blended. Mix in chocolate chunks (or morsels, if using) and nuts.
- Spread the batter into prepared pan and smooth the top with a soup spoon or a table knife. Bake in center of oven for about 30 minutes. Test for doneness with a pointy knife (check after 28 minutes); it should come out clean (not including melted chocolate). Be careful not to overbake it or blondies will be dry. The top will be light golden brown.
- Cool blondies in pan on a rack for 15 minutes and then lift them out of the pan using the foil. Cool before cutting (if you cut them when still very warm, the melted chocolate morsels ends up coating the sides of the cut blondie). Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Best when eaten within three days of baking. Can be kept in refrigerator for up to five days or in freezer for four weeks. Wrap in plastic wrap and then foil.
©2017 by Annalise Roberts