I’m going to be up from with you here: I’m not one of those women who goes insane for chocolate. It isn’t, of course, that I don’t like chocolate. I do. It’s pretty difficult not to like, especially when it’s nice and dark and possibly studded with sea salt or crystallized ginger. Or baked into an impossibly dense Baked brownie, the best brownie I have ever had (we’ll discuss that later).
The thing is, I just feel like there are so many other flavors in the world. Who wants to eat the same old chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and molten chocolate ganache at a restaurant when there are options like lavender-bergamot bread pudding? Or creme brulée spiced with cardamom and cloves? Or salted caramel-pear tart with a ginger crust? (All dessert items I’ve eaten at restaurants here in Columbia.) I think the thing is that I’m sort of a “food adventurer.” I rarely make the same recipe twice, as I’ve mentioned, unless it’s positively, unbeatably amazing. Similarly, when I get dessert in a restaurant, I rarely go for the old standards of chocolate cake and cheesecake. I want the most special, even borderline strange item on the menu, thank you. I want the personality of the restaurant. I’d be much more likely to order a chocolate dish if it was somehow part of the entrée (like mole…or chili with chocolate and beer…mmm…)
I think vanilla gets a bad rap as the sort of “boring sibling” to chocolate, the backup plan, the thing you have to put in all your baked goods but that doesn’t hold up as a flavor on its own. People think of vanilla ice cream as a) something you put on top of pie, or b) a vehicle for fudge and other toppings. And this, to me, is utter hogwash. Have these people ever had a bite of real, perfect, homemade vanilla ice cream, speckled with the tiny beans, rich with fresh cream and eggs? Not with anything on it, but on its own? Or experienced the simple loveliness of a cup of black tea with a little milk and vanilla sugar? Or, dare I ask…the brownie’s lighter-crumbed cousin, the blondie?
Tell me, what precisely is boring about that? Butter, brown sugar, vanilla, flour, and eggs, blended together with some very good chocolate chips and brandy (yep, booze), baked until just underdone, and cooled just barely enough to not burn your fingers. If this is bland, sign me up for subscriptions to Blasé Magazine and Mild Cross Stitch. (Warning: naughty language and historical hilarity at the link.)
These blondies come from a recipe by the ubiquitous and marvelous Smitten Kitchen, and I love them because a) they’re blondies, hello, b) they contain ingredients I always have in my house and c) the recipe is so short and simple, I memorized it the first time I ever made them (in under 30 minutes start to finish). Are you ready? Here goes:
Easy Breezy Beautiful Blondies
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
(makes around 9 blondies)
1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar, packed (golden or dark, or a mix)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup liqueur (I used brandy, but scotch, Frangelico, amaretto or spiced rum would probably be nice)
Grease an 8×8″ pan and preheat the oven to 350F. Beat together butter and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Stir in flour until just combined. Stir in booze and chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and bake 20-25 minutes, until just golden brown (or a little less–as Deb of Smitten Kitchen says, “Nobody ever complained about a gooey-middled cookie.”) Cool them as long as you can stand, then cut ’em up and enjoy.
See? So easy. So delicious. Instant, buttery, vanilla-y gratification. Make a batch, and let’s take back vanilla. Let’s replace “boring, plain, and ordinary” with “rich, aromatic and comforting.” Instead of “that’s so vanilla,” let’s say, I don’t know, “that’s so plain defrosted cheesecake with fake strawberry sauce,” or something.
Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe it’s actually about living in harmony. After all, our old cat, Mitzy, manages the chocolate/vanilla balance pretty well in her fur (despite her “oh-my-god-I-ate-too-many-boozy-blondies” face):