Nearly 11 weeks into life with two children, ages 4 and fussy-and-a-half, and ohhhh, the gravity of the whole thing. Friends, I will be real with you: I am a harried mess 99% of the time. I miss being able to test recipes and share them with you more often, but Life, she is what she is right now, and I have to get over that, as hard as it is.
The thing is, these days, very few tasks can actually be completed, and even fewer of those things get done in the manner in which I would like them to be done. For a mostly Type A kind of lady, this alone is enough to drive me to drink (and I can’t even DRINK the way I’d like to—thanks, nursing!). Sir Baby has quite the set of lungs, and he likes to unleash them at approximately six minutes after being set down anywhere, and sometimes in less time than that. Most days, I’m stressing like Sandy Bullock in Speed because he freaks out in the car unless we’re cruising the freeway with no stoplights to bust his groove. The darling boy also loves (demands) to be held and loves face time even more—if I could spend the entire day hovering eight inches over his face, he would never, ever cry. And sometimes I spend quite a lot of time doing just that, because OH WHEN HE SMILES.
Let’s get down to it, friends. What are your Cookie Tin Contenders this year? Are you sticking to the classics? Going on on a limb with all new recipes? A little mix of both? For me, it’s about the third category, excitedly baking up those treats that make their appearance just once per year, and adding a few new selections for sport (read: satisfy rabid Pregnant Lady Cravings).
The other night I had my last scheduled book event for the year at the fabulous Omnivore Books here in San Francisco, and got to talking to a friend and fellow blogger about an old recipe from this site’s archives that she’d riffed on in the most delightful way (tahini was involved–genius!). Fast forward to 10 a.m. the next morning, and clearly, something baked and peanut buttery was in order (it doesn’t take much suggestion to get me set on an idea, food-related or otherwise, in my delicate condition).
Now that we’ve all got our holiday baking pantry essentials assembled (right? RIGHT?), it’s go time. I always kind of like to ease into the holiday baking season with what I like to the call The Gateway Cookie. Something simple, easy on ingredients and time, totally craveworthy and guaranteed to blow minds so you get the push you need to crank out the next recipe. It’s a life philosophy, friends.
Sometimes I start with Heirloom Sugar Cookies, because they’re the quintessential holiday cookie of my youth and get me thinking of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special and Bing Crosby and just give me a general fa-la-la-la-la! sensation. But I’m tired this year, folks. I’m at the point in my pregnancy where I need to make decisions like, do I shave my legs or vacuum the living room? Because seriously, you’re not getting me to do both. So this year, The Gateway Cookie needed to be simple, but totally delicious. And it doesn’t get much easier than a bar cookie. No scooping, no rotating baking sheets. Also, chewy plus sweet-salty plus chocolate AND pecans? Come at me, bro.
Today I’d like to tell you about two things. They’re both pretty major and somewhat related. The first is that I’ve made a recipe twice in three days, which is highly unusual around here, but once the first batch was demolished, there was a primal need for a second batch. That’s pretty big time. And hey, speaking of second batches, there’s one other piece of exciting news…
This (American) Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for so many things. The usual, like a healthy family, a happy marriage (nine years tomorrow, NINE!), good friends, white wine, forgiving pants, and new episodes of The Next Iron Chef. But I’m also thankful for you, my darling readers. I’m glad you’re here. And to celebrate, I thought I’d share something special. Something so totally perfect right now, big on pumpkin flavor, and yet an awesome departure from the ubiquitous pumpkin pie. This recipe is indeed reminiscent of pumpkin pie, with lots of warm spices and a swirl of earthy orange fruit. But! It’s portable, people. Totally portable pumpkin pie! It’s a Thanksgiving miracle!
Since deciding to tell the entire internet that I’d gone off the deep end and onto a Real Diet for a couple of weeks, I’ve gotten many lovely notes, e-mails and tweets. Most are just to give a little virtual high-five and a bit of cheerleading, but a few are inquisitive. “What diet are you on?” one will ask. “What kind of results are you getting and what suggestions would you have?” inquires another.
Oh, people. I’ll be honest with you. I am the worst dieter EVER. To be clear, I have followed my completely depressing regimen to the letter. Well, I may have had a few glasses of wine during an evening with some girlfriends, but we all have toddlers and getting a night out together is practically a religious holiday, so whatever. But beyond that, I feel fly. My pants situation is much more reasonable. I’m confident about my focus and resolve. A little too confident, maybe. Like, so confident that I thought it would be a tremendous idea while on said diet to make a bar cookie “for the husband’s co-workers” that consisted mainly of the following ingredients:
I know. Not my brightest moment. So clearly I am not one to give reliable diet tips. Perhaps I can write a diet book called Hey, Want to Lose a Few Pounds? Then Don’t Do Any of THIS!, because that is probably all the advice I am qualified to give. And the first chapter would be called “Welp, First of All, Definitely Don’t Make Blizzard Bars”.
Even if you’ve never experienced the piece of summertime Americana that is a trip to Dairy Queen in July, you can certainly appreciate the glory of a DQ Blizzard. Cold, creamy, thick and frosty ice cream, blended with loads of tasty bits of your choosing–M&Ms, Snickers, Heath bar, Oreos, whatevs. Gah, I’m drooling on my sleeves. I am pretty much a die-hard Butterfinger Blizzard sort of person, how about you? Man, that would taste so great right now. Seriously. Way, way, better than salad. Way.
Oh, and speaking of things way better than salad, a couple of days ago, in a high-salad-consumption state, dreaming about DQ Blizzards, I couldn’t get the idea of massive amounts of candy bound together by something delicious out of my cravery glands (you can have that term for free, medical community). But everyone knows people on a “diet” shouldn’t go to Dairy Queen. So I did the next totally logical thing: I dreamed up a kind of blondie crazily smattered with candy bits of all sorts, a bar of epic chew and deep notes of buttery caramel and a toasty hit of malt powder. Stand. Back. DANG.
If you’re down with my dieted-brain-brand of logic, what you end up with is really a candy slab bound together with a super tasty blondie batter. It’s completely ridiculous! I even threw in a handful of chopped white chocolate because hey, WHY NOT. Make the combination all your own here by swapping out different candies, throwing in some chocolate chips or nuts. Or don’t. I mean, I wouldn’t listen to me if I were you. I made Blizzard Bars while “on a diet”. I may have had more than one. I’m in no position to tell you how to be. I am, however, in the position to tell you that these are so worth it.
For the candy, I used about two regular-sized bars each of Snickers and Butterfinger, two regular sized bags of M&Ms, one regular-sized Heath bar and about 1/4 cup of chopped white chocolate bits. I KNOW.
You can find plain malted milk powder near the hot cocoa or by the ice cream fixings under brand names like Carnation and Horlicks.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/3 cup plain malted milk powder
2 cups chopped candy bits (I used Snickers, Butterfinger, Heath bar, M&Ms, and white chocolate–see note)
Position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8-inch square pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and lightly spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In the bowl of a electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, brown sugar and vanilla on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg until well-blended. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the malted milk powder. Add the dry ingredients in two additions on low speed and beat just until combined. Stir in two-thirds of the candy bits on low speed. Give the batter a final folding by hand with a spatula to make sure there are no dry pockets and the batter is evenly mixed–it will be very thick. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it evenly. Sprinkle the remaining candy bits evenly over the top and press lightly into the batter with your palms.
Welp, that’s all the fun we’re going to have for a while now, folks. The holidays have come and gone, we can’t legitimately say “Happy New Year!” to strangers anymore, and Valentine’s Day has fizzled out and left us all with killer chocolate hangovers. Now it’s just…winter. Bah.
I can’t be the only one who feels that the last two weeks of February are akin to watching a Top Chef marathon when you’ve already seen all the episodes, like, five times each. Pear-Vanilla Brown Butter bars, guys–consider them your ticket out of this crazy-making holding pattern.
Speaking of things that aren’t dreary, several months back the husband and I got all 2003 with our ourselves (read: barely married, childless) and decided on an impromptu weekend trip down to Monterey. We were giddy about getting out of the city for a couple days, and thought that Little C would just love a visit to the insanely enormous aquarium down there. Our first little family getaway–how Griswold of us! So fun! So much bonding! So much gear required OH MY GOD DO WE REALLY NEED A CASE OF GRAHAM CRACKERS.
Four duffle bags, two sacks of snacky groceries and a loaded DVD player later, we were on our way to the Central Coast. Aside from Little C soaking her entire carseat with apple juice before we even reached the freeway, we had an awesome time together. The views were literally breathtaking, the heavenly sort that make you feel so tiny in comparison to their majesty. The aquarium was indeed Little C approved. And most importantly, I convinced the team to stop in Big Sur so I could cross something off my Baking Geek Bucket List: Lunch and dessert at Big Sur Bakery. Yesssss.
The savory items we tried at the bakery were terrifically satisfying, fresh and flavorful, but the desserts–oh the desserts!–that’s what Mama really came for, people. And the Huckleberry Brown Butter Bar did not disappoint.
The recipe in the book is neither for a Pear-Vanilla bar nor the aforementioned Huckleberry Brown Butter Bar, it’s actually made with rhubarb. But like I said earlier, we are in the slog of February here and rhubarb is in very short supply. In a couple months, we can make Rhubarb Brown Butter Bars happen, but for now, all things pear are the order of the day. And happily, the pairing positively sings.
Now I’m not going to lie, darling readers–for as unassuming as this bar looks, you do have to go through a few steps here to make it all happen. But if you’re like me, you might be so intrigued by some of the elements that you won’t really mind the extra time spent doing things like, say, browning two separate batches of butter, and then freezing some of it solid to make the crust. Genius!
After you’ve got your solid brown butter ready, the crust comes together in seconds in the food processor. Then while the crust is baking and cooling, you can start preparing a pear-vanilla jam of sorts and attempt to not pass out from how beautiful it smells while cooking.
In addition to the fabulously ambrosial jam, you’re also going to whisk up a brown butter filling, which is a concoction so magical I might go into some very suggestive language to describe how delicious it is. I’ll just say this: warm browned butter, sugar, eggs, hits of vanilla and orange? Huminuh, huminuh.
My only suggestion to you beyond being prepared to do a few extra dirty dishes with this recipe is to also have something heavy to chain yourself to while these bars are baking, because, good Lord, the smell is incredible. You’ll suddenly care about those February doldrums not a bit.
Adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook
These bars are so sweet and rich, I halved the original recipe and cut them much smaller than the bars the bakery serves.To feed a bigger crowd, you can double this recipe and use a 9×13 pan. When doubling, use 3 whole eggs.
For the crust:
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