No Holds Barred...

People often like to say that cooking is an art, and baking is a science. Cooking is more forgiving; you rely on your instincts to add a bit of this and a bit of that to balance flavors and create the kind of dish you're looking for. Baking is exact; chemicals interact in certain ways to create lift, tenderness, and moisture. If you're going to start making substitutions in your baked goods, you better know what you're doing, or you'll more than likely end up with something too bland, too dry, too dense, too tough, or some other kind of wrong. This is often the problem encountered by people trying to create their own reduced-fat recipes for cakes and cookies. It doesn't help that you can't taste as you go along -- the baking process alone transforms a dough or batter so greatly that it's often impossible to predict how the finished product will taste until it is done.

The need for precision is actually one of the primary things I like about baking. If you start with a decent recipe, if you follow everything exactly, you end up with a reasonably tasty end result. There's something reassuring about that to me. I can control how well I measure my ingredients, how long I mix a dough, and how long I leave something in the oven. When everything else in my life feels like it is veering wildly out of control, baking is often where I turn as a source of solace.

I'm more than a little overwhelmed about the prospect of my upcoming move. Change is ultimately good, and I am definitely excited to be creating a home to share with the man I love, but I seriously have a TON of stuff. All those belongings need to be sorted, purged, and packed. It feels like an insurmountable amount to accomplish, though I know I will tackle it eventually. I'm also facing a dizzying amount of decisions about paint, furniture, and decorating. I do love that sort of thing, and I've long been looking forward to designing a space that is properly mine, but that doesn't make it any less stressful. Generally speaking, I just feel like I have a lot on my plate right now.

That's why I felt that familiar urge to bake something tonight. I grabbed Martha's reliable tome off the shelf and flipped through it till I found a recipe that called for melted butter, so I wouldn't have to wait for it to come to room temperature before I could get started -- the baking needed to happen now. Blondies aren't necessarily my favorite, but I had all the ingredients on hand and they would come together quickly, so I opted for Martha's Brown-Butter Toffee Blondies. 

I've had mixed results with brown butter in the past and I kind of don't understand what the big deal about it is, other than that it makes your kitchen smell ungodly amazing when you make it. I don't really pick up on the flavor of it in the finished cookies, but it did produce perhaps the most fragrant cookie dough I've ever made, so that could be worth the effort unto itself. Thankfully, the finished cookies turned out to be chewy in texture, rather than the "cakey and tender" promised by Martha. I really prefer chewy as a cookie texture any day. Even with one and half teaspoons of salt, I felt the recipe could have used more, but then again, I've always been a fan of the salty/sweet interplay in my baked goods. 

Really though, the cookies being tasty wasn't the point. I felt better after baking them, so the experience was more about the therapeutic value of the process than the end result for me. I'm sure, however, that the coworkers who will benefit from them at the office will readily endorse my chosen form of therapy...

Brown-Butter Toffee Blondies
adapted from Martha Stewart

1 1/4 c. unsalted butter
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 c. granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 c. chopped walnuts
1 c. toffee bits

Preheat oven to 350.
1. Spray a 9x13 inch baking pan with Pam. Line the pan with parchment paper, and spray with Pam with Flour.
2. In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the butter until it turns golden brown and smells like toasted hazelnuts; remove from heat, and let cool. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine browned butter and both sugars; stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Attach bowl to mixer; add eggs. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla, and beat to combine. Add flour mixture, walnuts, and toffee bits. Mix until thoroughly combined, and pour into prepared pan.
4. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes (do not overbake). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before pulling out of pan onto a cutting board. Peel off parchment paper; cut blondies as desired.

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