I lost my humor this year. Lost it like you might lose an old jar of capers to the back corner of the fridge. Its presence never actually left, but at some point the function became questionable.
I let fear win and started worrying. I worried about nuclear war, cancer, the stability of banks, about the Constitution, botulism, and my aging ovaries. My physical body revolted.
I developed a shellfish allergy. Started occasionally vomiting without cause. Got melanoma. Then gave myself a hernia for Christmas. Ta-dah!
During this time I slowly stopped cooking. Testing a new recipe or baking something with sugar in excess of American Heart Association guidelines—undertakings I once loved—became inconsequential. I turned inward. A fear of dying replaced daily reminders that I was still very much alive.
I was a walking corpse with a nine to five. Except on some days that corpse would muster up a panic attack. The harder I tried to bulletproof my life the less it became worth saving.
A few months ago I finally got some professional help. I think everyone can benefit from analyzing the thoughts bouncing off our reptilian brains. I also recommend remembering to breathe, which involves letting your stomach out against all societal cues that suggest the opposite.
Not everyone can go to therapy, nor do those au courant high-waist pants assist with diaphragmatic breathing. So I will share some other things that have helped along the way too.
Watching my favorite author give life advice.
Considering a cautionary tale of internet justice about the potential pitfalls of texting with A.I.
Reading about death and Woodbridge Sauvignon Blanc.
Plus reuniting with this classic, released the year before I graduated high school. I should have listened to it more. (Trust me on the sunscreen.)
Brett has been helping out and cooking more, as well. He makes a beautiful pasta dish that puts those forgotten capers to use. May they never again get sent to fridge purgatory.
I also recently returned to my oven. In the process I found a new recipe from Violet bakery in London that has quickly become a classic. It is a quintessential blueprint for blondies, but they require that caramel glass is created, then broken and scattered over the batter before baking. The shards sink during the time in the oven and create little pockets of butterscotch that look like sugary ice crystal shadows from above.
The first time I made them using dark muscovado in place of golden brown sugar. I also decreased the chocolate requirement roughly in half. Most of the bars I have come in 2½ ounce slabs and sacrificing one felt like enough. (It was.) It is not worth the trouble of making caramel to have it swallowed by cocoa.
Despite the modifications, there is still a very liberal reliance on sugar, so the salt in them provides a necessary balance. I highly recommend using a dark brown variety. It offers a hint of molasses like that in British black treacle. When I made them again with a lighter shade of sugar, I found the taste a tad sweeter and the flavor a little less interesting.
Which is a nice reminder. Life can be scattered with shards, caramel or otherwise, but often the the best bits come from deviating a little off the path.
Violet Bakery Butterscotch Blondies
Adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak, courtesy of Orangette
for the caramel shards
- 2 tablespoons water
- 150 grams (¾ cups) sugar
for the batter
- 250 grams (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter
- 2 eggs
- 300 grams (1¾ cups) dark muscovado sugar (see note)
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 240 grams (1¾ cups) all-purpose flour
- 1¼ teaspoons baking powder
- 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
- 70 grams (2½ ounces) dark chocolate, cut into small chunks
- 70 grams (2½ ounces) caramel shards (recipe ingredients above)
for the caramel shards
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar and cook over medium-low heat until the sugar starts to dissolve. Raise the heat to medium and cook until it becomes chestnut-colored. Do not stir at all in the process or risk crystallizing the mixture, which will make it grainy.
Pour the caramel on the baking sheet in a thin layer. Lift and tilt the sheet to ensure that the caramel spreads evenly out. Let cool completely.
Lift the parchment out of the baking sheet and onto a cutting board and cut the caramel into irregular shards with a study knife, making sure that the pieces have a perimeter no bigger than three-quarters of an inch.
Divide the batch in half and place into freezer-safe containers or bags and store in the freezer until ready to use.
for the blondies
Set the oven to 320 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with butter then line it with parchment paper.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat; set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, dark sugar, and vanilla until thoroughly combined; whisk in the melted butter.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; add to the egg mixture and stir until almost combined. Add in the chocolate and stir until just combined. (No specks of flour should remain at this point, but avoid overmixing.)
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. It will be thick. Gently spread and smooth it to the edges. Scatter the caramel shards on top. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is fully set and the edges start to get wrinkly and slightly browned.
Let cool completely in the pan then run a knife around the edges to loosen the sides. Grasping the edges of the parchment paper, remove the cookie slab. Cut the cookies into rectangles.
Store in an airtight container for up to three days or freeze.
Makes about 16
- The caramel shard recipe makes enough for two batches of cookies. I would not recommend trying to half the recipe. Instead, just plan to make another batch soon.
- If you cannot find muscovado sugar, substitute dark brown sugar. Light brown will also work in a pinch.