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  • Kathy Morrison / kmorrison@sacbee.com

    A caramel-nut topping gives these brownies a touch of delightful decadence. The photo above shows Kathy Morrison’s first attempt at the recipe.

  • Kathy Morrison / kmorrison@sacbee.com

    These Christmas blondies are easily modified to include whatever nuts, dried fruits and chocolate you might prefer.

Cookie Corner week 3: Brownies, blondies and beyond

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4D

When we were talking about this year's Cookie Corner plans, I mentioned nuts as a possible category. But we were dividing things up by flavors and, a co-worker noted, nuts aren't a flavor.

Fair enough – hazelnuts taste different from walnuts, pecans different from almonds. But they're all a big part of Christmas baking, so I decided to combine Week 3's flavor category, chocolate, with nuts.

I'd been dying to make the turtle brownies in the "Martha Stewart's Cookies" cookbook and figured it would be a good choice to take to the newsroom's holiday potluck. I'd never made caramel, so that could be the testing part.

But would the recipe make enough? The recipe says it makes 16 brownies. Hmm, how about a batch of blondies, too? Martha's book has several blondie recipes, but they're all the same at heart – I could adjust the ingredients to include chocolate and some Christmas-y ingredients, say, pistachios and dried cherries.

To make a long baking session short, neither recipe turned out the way I'd hoped, at least the first time. But the brownies – which I dubbed "almost turtle brownies" after I messed up the caramel – were nearly gone by the end of the potluck. The blondies, which were a little dry and needed way more chocolate in them, nevertheless disappeared later in the day.

The recipes as printed here include my adjustments; other notes and cautions follow in the "Testing and Tasting" notes.

Turtle brownies

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes, including time to toast the pecans and make the caramel

Makes 16 large or 32 medium brownies

Recipe adapted by Kathy Morrison from "Martha Stewart's Cookies."

INGREDIENTS

For the brownie:

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup cold water

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (4 ounces)

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square metal baking pan, then line it with parchment paper. (Allow a 2-inch overhang.) Butter the lining but not the overhang.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate and butter in microwave at 50 percent power, stirring frequently until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside to cool.

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

In a large bowl, beat together 1 cup sugar and the eggs on medium speed for about 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the chocolate mixture, milk and vanilla; blend until combined. On low speed, add the flour mixture about half at a time, mixing until fully combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs (but not wet), 27 to 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

Turn oven temperature up to 350 degrees.

To make topping: Put pecans on an ungreased baking sheet or pan in one layer; toast in oven for 8 to 9 minutes, until they are fragrant but not burnt. (Check after 5 minutes and shake the nuts in the pan.) Remove from oven; set aside.

In a medium saucepan (but not nonstick) with high sides, bring the 1 cup sugar and the water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. When mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring but continue to cook, swirling pan occasionally, until medium amber, about 7-8 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and immediately add cream, vanilla and salt. (Pour the cream in a slow stream – the mixture foams up.) Stir with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until smooth.

Add pecans and stir until mixture starts to cool and thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Pour caramel evenly over cool brownies. Refrigerate until cold, 30 minutes to overnight.

When ready to serve, remove brownies from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature 15 minutes. Lift brownies from pan using the parchment paper, and cut into desired number of pieces, wiping knife with a hot, damp cloth if it gets too sticky between cuts.

Brownies can be refrigerated in a closed container for up to 2 days.

TESTING AND TASTING

• Use parchment paper to line the pan. I tried foil and too much of the brownies stuck to it, even after buttering.

• You can toast the pecans ahead, but the oven already was on, so doing it after the brownies baked seemed easier.

• The caramel was a challenge. The original recipe said 5 to 7 minutes to cook, and mine barely was light gold by then, but I was afraid I'd burn it, so I removed it. Mistake number one.

• I also used a nonstick pan, which may have affected the temperature and the cooking time. The second time, I used a regular 3-quart stainless steel saucepan (see "We have a winner," below left).

• The recipe said nothing about the foaming of the cream, so I'm glad I had chosen a deep pan – I could have gotten burned.

• At this point, with the mixture looking more like penuche fudge than caramel, I could have started over. But no, I dumped in the pecans anyway – the only pecans I had, on the night before the potluck. But, as noted above, the brownies were devoured anyway – and the chocolate part is absolutely wonderful.

Christmas blondies

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Makes 16 large or 36 small

This recipe is easily varied to include whatever nuts, dried fruits or chocolate you prefer – 1 1/4 cups to 1 2/3 cups total seems to work best.

Recipe adapted by Kathy Morrison from "Martha Stewart's Cookies."

INGREDIENTS

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup roasted, unsalted pistachio meats, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup dried cherries

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (regular or mini)

For drizzling (optional):

1/2 cup white baking chips

1 tablespoon vegetable shortening

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square metal baking pan and line with parchment, including a 2-inch overhang. Butter the lining but not the overhang.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and light brown sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and the vanilla, and mix until combined. On low speed, add about half the flour mixture, mixing until combined, then the rest of the flour mixture, until well combined. Fold in the nuts, cherries and chips.

Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan (an offset spatula helps). Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted about 3 inches from the edge comes out with just a few crumbs but not wet, 40 to 45 minutes.

Let blondies cool in pan for 15 minutes. Lift out, using the parchment paper, and finish cooling on a wire rack before cutting into squares of desired size.

To make optional drizzle, melt white chips and shortening in microwave on 50 percent power until chips are completely melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Drizzle over cut blondies with a fork (drizzle should set quickly).

TESTING AND TASTING

• The original was a good basic recipe that just needed tweaking. It was a little dry and needed more chocolate.

On the second try, I lowered the temperature to 325, as in the brownie recipe above, and decided to double the amount of chocolate.

• The drizzle was a last-minute idea to make the blondies look more festive. Cutting the blondies beforehand let the drizzle drip over the sides.

WE HAVE A WINNER

I couldn't let the problems with the two cookie recipes here go unsolved, but in testing the fixes I decided to combine the solutions in one batch.

The result: caramel nut chocolate chip blondies, which were a bigger hit than either of the two original cookies. Here's how to make them:

• Follow the blondie recipe at right, but substitute up to 1 1/4 cups of chocolate chips, one kind or a mixture. I used 2/3 cup regular semisweet chips, 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips and 1/4 cup white baking chips.

• Following the directions under the turtle brownies, toast 1 cup nuts of your choice – I used walnuts this time.

• Make the caramel as directed in the turtle brownies recipe. Use a deep saucepan – mine was 3 quarts – and make sure it's not a nonstick pan. That seems to have been the key problem affecting the heat the first time.

• Add the nuts to the caramel, stirring at least 1 minute, and pour the caramel over the cooled blondies. Chill at least an hour, then remove 15 minutes before cutting.

– Kathy Morrison

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Kathy Morrison



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