In mid-September, I got out my digital camera for the first time in a geologic age. I’d tried a new-to-me recipe, and it turned out so well that I wanted immediately to rush to Ye Olde Ancient Blog and write it up. So I took the pictures. And then I spent approximately six weeks sitting around on them, perhaps confusing them with an egg and myself with a laying hen. Now here we are! Aged like a fine egg, as the saying goes.
You might have heard of this recipe. It deserves to be heard of. David Lebovitz wrote about it back in 2015, and Shauna Sever in 2016, and who knows who else. Now’s my turn, because somehow I didn’t catch those posts back in 2015 and 2016, and it took me until late 2017 to join the party, and I won’t let that to happen to anyone else. The recipe I’m talking about is a blondie from The Violet Bakery Cookbook, by Claire Ptak, a Californian transplant to London and owner of east London’s Violet Bakery. I’d heard of Violet here and there, and I’ve always wanted to visit. Instead, I have the cookbook.
Behold the Violet Butterscotch Blondie, a very special specimen of the genre: a rich brown sugar batter, freckled with chocolate and topped with bits of homemade caramel that you’ve cooled and broken into glass-like shards. I use the word “glass” with intention: I accidentally stabbed a fingertip and drew blood. It was worth it.
If these blondies seem too fiddly for everyday baking, maybe they are. You do have to make a caramel, albeit the most basic and quick of caramels. But a single batch of the caramel makes enough shards for two pans of blondies. I stashed my extra caramel glass in a plastic baggie in the freezer door. And then making a second batch of blondies – which I did not long after I’d made the first – was no more work than a standard chocolate chip cookie recipe. You don’t even have to remember to bring butter to room temperature, because you’re going to melt the butter anyway. The batter comes together without even a mixer, just a couple of bowls and a spoon. In the oven, it sets to a fudgy-brownie kind of texture: soft and dense, substantial enough to cut into tidy pieces, but still with a fine degree of squish. And the caramel melts and sinks, settling into pools of concentrated butterscotch flavor, some of them chewy as candy.
For those of you who follow me on Instagram, or who follow my partner Ash, these are the blondies she posted a photo of. I baked them for her birthday, and I know a number of you asked about them. Thank you for waiting. They are 100% birthday-worthy. They’re 100% repertoire-worthy. I always make handwritten notes in my cookbooks – what I changed, what I added or omitted, what to watch for, that kind of thing – and on this recipe, I wrote only PERFECT.
P.S. Speaking of perfect, this is quietly brilliant.
The Violet Butterscotch Blondie
from The Violet Bakery Cookbook, by Claire Ptak
The original version of the recipe calls for milk chocolate. I used 55%, which is technically semisweet, but it’s what I had. I liked it a lot. And as always, the kosher salt I use is Diamond Crystal brand.
Preheat the oven to 320°F. Grease a 9-x-13-inch (or thereabouts) baking pan, and line it with parchment.
In a small, heavy pan, melt the butter over low heat. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until frothy. Whisk in the melted butter.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and kosher salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg-and-butter mixture, along with the chocolate. Mix until just combined.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Sprinkle the caramel shards over the top of the batter. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the center is puffed and looks set. Mine take a bit longer than 30 minutes – maybe more like 35 – and mostly, I’m looking for setness.
Leave to cool completely in the pan. Then cut into squares or rectangles of whatever size you’d like.
Store the blondies in an airtight container at room temperature. They’re best within three days.
Yield: 12 to 16 blondies, depending on how you cut them
from The Violet Bakery Cookbook, by Claire Ptak
I’ve only ever used this caramel in the Violet Butterscotch Blondie, but Ptak says you could add the shards to almost any cake, cookie, or bar – and certainly to brownies. Leftovers can be kept in a plastic container or bag in the freezer for up to three months.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
Put the water into a small, light-colored saucepan. (Don’t use a dark-colored pan; you won’t be able to see the color of the caramel as it changes and darkens.) Add the sugar, and place over medium-low heat until the sugar starts to dissolve. Resist the temptation to stir the pan, because agitation will cause the sugar to crystallize around the edges. Once the sugar starts to dissolve, raise the heat to medium-high – watch the pan closely and constantly! – and continue to cook until the caramel is a dark golden brown, a deep shade of walnut.
Pour the caramel immediately onto the parchment paper in a thin, even layer. If necessary, lift and tilt the pan to coax the caramel to spread evenly. Allow to cool completely.
Lift the parchment from the sheet pan, and place on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut the cooled caramel into smallish shards, ideally no bigger than a quarter. Be careful, because the caramel is hard and the shards are sharp.
Use right away, or store leftovers in the freezer. Do not store in the fridge, or the caramel will soften and get tacky.
Yield: enough for two batches of blondies