Tied Up In Knots...

Much as I have been branching out lately into pies, tarts, cakes, and ice creams since we moved north, I can never really stray too far from my first love -- cookies. I'm always on the lookout for something new to capture my fancy, which is actually increasingly difficult these days, given the sheer volume of flavor combinations I've already tried in cookie form at this point. Still, the combination of salty and sweet together never ceases to be a font of inspiration for me, and when I spotted these pretzel and peanut-topped blondies in an old issue of Bon Appétit when I was purging my cooking magazine stash earlier this year, I quickly added them to my queue. 

Pretzels have long been a favorite dessert fixture of mine since I unexpectedly encountered them pressed into the top of some chocolate chip cookies at a restaurant that my family used to frequent when I was in high school. I'd always liked chocolate-covered pretzels, so the pairing didn't seem completely bizarre to me, but I had never though of pretzels as an ingredient for baked goods before that point. I was a little devastated when that restaurant closed, but now that I've got a kitchen of my own, I'm free to experiment with tossing pretzels into whatever strikes my fancy, including that chocolate-covered pretzel pie I baked back on Pi Day.

Plus, pretzels are something I tend to keep around the house these days. Since a over-enthusiastic binge on Cheetos and Doritos back when we first moved in together led to an unwelcome expansion of both mine and Justin's waistlines, I've banned all salty snack foods in the house with the exception of pretzels and the occasional bag of tortilla chips, which don't seem to pose the same threat to our collective willpower. I'm not sure that turning our "healthful" snack choice into an indulgent dessert is exactly helping our caloric intake, but having pretzels on hand certainly made this recipe a more attractive candidate.

Despite the burn I suffered while making salted butter caramel a couple weeks ago, I do think I'm becoming more confident with making caramel, as I breezed through that portion of the recipe rather effortlessly. My only real problem with the recipe, as written, was that it called for far too many peanuts (nearly four cups!), and not enough pretzels for my taste. The result was a barely-there layer of blondie (perhaps the best showcase for browned butter that I've yet to encounter in a dessert, however), that was dwarfed by over an inch of nuts. The pretzels faded into the background, which was a shame, given the salty kick and delightfully crispy texture they imparted. I've changed the recipe below to reflect a ratio that I think would work much better.

In the end, these "cookies" felt more like a candy bar, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Given that a certain family member of mine who shall remain nameless nurses a near-addiction level obsession with peanuts, it's very likely I'll be making these again, though I'd prefer a higher ratio of caramel-to-nuts. It's pretty clear that I'm having a salty-sweet moment right now, and there's no end in sight...

Butterscotch Blondie Bars with Peanut-Pretzel Caramel 
adapted from Bon Appétit
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Peanut-Pretzel Caramel
2 1/2 c. roasted peanuts (I would use a combination of salted and unsalted)
2 c. sugar
1/4 c. honey
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 c. thin twisted pretzels, coarsely crushed

For Blondie:

Preheat oven to 350°. 
1. Line baking pane with parchment paper, leaving a 1" overhang on long sides of pan. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Stir butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until browned bits form at bottom of pan 7–8 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. 
2. Add brown sugar. Using an electric mixer, beat until well combined and mixture resembles wet sand, 2–3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until fluffy and well combined, about 2 minutes. Add dry ingredients; beat until smooth (batter will be thick). Using an offset or regular spatula, evenly spread batter in prepared pan.
3. Bake blondie until golden brown, edges pull away from sides of pan, and tester inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 20–25 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

For Caramel:

Preheat oven to 350°. 
1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread peanuts over sheet in an even layer. Bake, stirring frequently, until golden brown and fragrant, 5–7 minutes. Set aside. 
2. Stir sugar and 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until caramel is deep amber, 12–15 minutes. Add honey; return to a boil, stirring often, about 1 minute longer. Add butter; stir until blended. Add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously); whisk until smooth. Stir in peanuts and pretzels. Pour over cooled blondie. Chill until cool, about 30 minutes. 
3. Run a knife around short sides of pan to release blondie. Using parchment-paper overhang, lift from pan. Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 10 bars.

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