I did happen to notice this morning, as I glanced out at the woods behind our house, that many of the green leaves have begun to turn yellow and gently fall at random, bright little confetti pieces landing on the dry forest ground. The mere sight of this was enough to make me daydream hopefully about autumn for a moment - logs crackling in the fireplace, cups of piping hot ginger tea, apple crisps and pies and crumbles, roasted pears generously draped in dark salted caramel sauce, a soft blanket pulled over my lap while I'm reading, Loki gazing up adoringly at me as she purrs and nuzzles against me.
I've been in a serious baking funk for the last couple of weeks. I haven't had a real desire to try any new recipes. I've baked two pans of brownies in the past two weekends that were so atrocious I promptly dumped them into the trashcan (in all fairness to my favorite no-fail brownie recipe, the first batch was an unfortunate victim of rancid coconut oil, and the second was simply pure laziness and halfhearted shortcuts on my part). I've made a horrible, too-oily batch of tahini vanilla bean ice cream that seemed like a good idea but which failed miserably in both flavor and texture. Honestly, it's so bad that I'll be feeding it down the garbage disposal tonight. Even my attempt to disguise said ice cream with homemade magic shell couldn't save it.
The only good sweet treat to come out of my kitchen lately has been my standby pan of one-bowl blondies with milk chocolate. I've varied the recipe slightly in the dozens of times I've made it, and it's a solid, reliable after-school snack that comes together in the time it takes my oven to heat up. It's all the taste and satisfaction of a perfectly melty chocolate chip cookie in the ease and simplicity of a bar. I probably whip these up at least three times each week for after-school snacks.
One-Bowl Blondies with Milk Chocolate
Yields: 9 bars
*You can brown the butter if you want. I've done this often; it definitely elevates the flavor of the baked bars. If you decide to do this, use a small saucepan over medium-low heat and stir the butter constantly; don't walk away. Browning the butter will take between 5-10 minutes and will look browned and foamy and smell deliciously nutty when done (pull it off the heat before it scorches, which can happen quickly!) Cool slightly before using in the blondie recipe.
4 tbsp unsalted butter*
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 large cage-free egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
A generous 1/3 cup of milk chocolate chips
Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)
In a large microwave-safe mixing bowl, melt the butter in the microwave on High for 30 seconds, then another 10 seconds if not completely melted. Cool slightly before using.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8"x8" square pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
Add the sugar, egg, vanilla, salt, nutmeg, and flour to the mixing bowl, and use a spatula to gently mix everything together. Fold in the chocolate chips but don't over-mix the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use the spatula to gently spread the batter evenly to the edges. Sprinkle with the sea salt, if desired (optional - my kids don't care for the added salty finish, so I only do this for the adults, but it's so good).
Bake for 20-22 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean. Don't over-bake these; even if the bars appear underdone, they will continue to firm up as they cool, while retaining a nice gooey center.
Let them cool just enough to slice into bars; if you cut them too soon they'll fall apart (although who would complain about having to lick melted chocolate and cookie bar remnants off of their fingers?). They're also really good eaten with a fork, with a big dollop of vanilla bean whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder....