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baking dessert

coffee blondies

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Dear Reader,
I feel that you and I have come to a place in our relationship where I need to tell you something, and that it’s time for us to go a little deeper. It may be no surprise; perhaps you’ve picked up hints and started to figure things out. But if you haven’t, I’m worried this confession may not be what you expected. Or wanted. So I’m just going to come out and say it: I’ve read Lord of the Rings almost more times than I have fingers or toes. (Are you moving your hand to the mouse pad? Are you trying to get off this page? I am hoping our relationship is strong enough to handle this.)

It may be weird, or geeky, or both, that I reread these three treasured books twice a year*, and that the long, terrible-but-beautiful march of the hobbits has resonated so much with me, much more than any other book ever has. I find comfort, and insight, and identity in a journey that costs something, brings maturity through pain, and ends on a bittersweet note. I find the human experience captured so beautifully in this there-and-back-again tale, and any burden or trouble I carry into the pages with me somehow becomes lighter in Tolkien’s storytelling.

There are times when comfort and familiarity are so important, where vices are needed to just get us through, to keep us connected to something in difficult times. Reading well-loved books and days filled with baking is where I find solace and some grounding in my soul. These blond brownies have been with me even longer than Middle Earth has; peeking out of every bake case I have stocked, gracing my kitchen table at birthday parties and baby dedications, bringing relief after long hours on my feet, and soothing tears at funeral luncheons. And they just might be with me that one day I follow Samwise towards the Great Sea, in hopes they will help to get me to white shores and a swift sunrise.**

So, here is a reminder that we all have things that are dear to us (our adult security blanket of choice, if you will), things that get us through the rough patches and dark shadows. I may have taken a nerdier route to make it through the night, but I’ve never been ashamed of it. Hopefully my admissions show you just how much I care for you, and my wish is that there is something to comfort you in this confusing world, too.
Love Always,
Sarah

*Just a couple things. First, I haven’t reread these books twice a year every single year of my reading life, but most years since my 24th birthday. I always read The Fellowship of the Ring in the Fall, and sometimes stop there (it’s my favorite of all the books). SECOND. While I am obsessed with the books, I have a very different opinion of the movies. If I get into that whole conversation, you will really be convinced I am a super nerd, so I’ll just say that although the movies by themselves are fine and well done, I am appalled at many changes made to the characters and story. And, when Ben Wyatt told Tom on Parks and Recreation that he wasn’t a fan of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Lord of the Rings, I backed the scene up and watched it again. If you haven’t read the books, I highly recommend doing so.

**This description of ‘white shores’ and ‘swift sunrise’ is from the last sentence of ‘The Return of The King’.

Coffee Blond Brownies

1 1/2 cups (213g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
12 tablespoons (170g) unsalted butter, cold
1 1/2 cups (297g) packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon strong coffee, room temperature (or 2 shots of espresso)
1 large egg
1 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup (86g) pecan halves, toasted and chopped
3/4 cup (128g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven 350F. Grease 9×13 inch pan and line with a parchment sling.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, brown sugar, and salt. Remove from the heat and sir in the coffee until well combined. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Add the egg and vanilla and whisk until combined. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add the pecans and chocolate chips and stir gently.

Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan and bake 18 to 24 minutes, until the blondies are set on the edge and top is golden and brown and just beginning to form cracks. A wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into the blondies should come out with a just a couple crumbs.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Use the parchment sling to gently lift the blondies from the pan. Cut them into squares.

  • Reply
    kale
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 5:42 am

    You are too cute. Nothing you could admit would turn me away. (But maybe don’t test that…) 😉

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 1:58 am

      ha! and thanks. 🙂

    • Reply
      kale
      Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      Made these last night Sarah! Had to cut the recipe in half because I sent my husband out for butter but neglected to tell him how much – MY BAD – so even though I had less of them, they turned out great! The coffee really stands out! Thanks for the recipe.

  • Reply
    london bakes
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Oh Sarah, I feel this may be the end of our friendship when I tell you that I’ve never read anything by Tolkein…

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 1:59 am

      Of course not. BUT. This summer might be a good time to start the series. Just sayin’.

  • Reply
    Elaina @ Flavour
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I have a confession…I’ve never read the Lord of the Rings…I hope our relationship can handle this 😉 Oh but we all have our security blanket, as you say. So I love that you’ve shared it with us…makes you even more wonderful! xo

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 1:59 am

      Thanks Elaina. And of course it can handle it. 🙂

  • Reply
    Kelli Abrahamian
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I LIKE you! I get it. Thanks for sharing. Great recipe too…can’t wait to make the bars.

  • Reply
    Lisa Heaner
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    That quote on the picture of the bars has been stored up in my heart and oft repeated on rainy, hazy days since the very first time I read it as a melancholy 14-year-old. Only now, twenty years (!) later, is it tinged with sweetness and an awareness that tears really can be “the very wine of blessedness.”

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 2:00 am

      That is my most favorite paragraph in the whole series. Love you, friend.

  • Reply
    Ladies Holiday
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    I love that you love The Lord of the Rings, it is by far my favorite of all book series I’ve read and after I last read it wished I could fold myself into the story and when I couldn’t I fell into a sort of malaise.
    This blondies, coupled with the story added to a sandy isle sounds like my version of paradise…oh and my kids splashing somewhere nearby. Nerdy or not, its sounds just fine to me. ~Deirdre

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 2:00 am

      Not nerdy at all! And I’m so glad you’re such a fan of the books.

  • Reply
    Mary Holweger
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    I bow to you. I could hardly get through ol’ Tom Bombadil the first time. The movies, however, I could watch forever. Also, swell brownie!

  • Reply
    Sacha
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    “Reading well-loved books and days filled with baking is where I find solace and some grounding in my soul.” — love it.

    I think most of us bloggers and kitchen-tinkerers are secretly (or, in my case, not so secretly) pretty nerdy. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I tend to “eat” not “drink” my coffee, and these blondies (which I’ve had a hankering for lately) look so good and perfectly baked!

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 2:01 am

      Thanks Sacha. And I think everyone is nerdy, but most people try their whole lives to hide it.

  • Reply
    Marnely Rodriguez-Murray
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Brownies and coffee, two of my favorites together! Must try this recipe!

  • Reply
    marissa at the boot
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    sarah, SUCH a good post. ive never read lord of the rings (i know, travesty) but i hear you loud and clear on the repetition as therapy. i re-read pride & prejudice or anne of green gables when i’m feeling low. also nerdy?

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 2:03 am

      Thanks Marissa! I love pride and prejudice, too! I read that one every couple years. 🙂

  • Reply
    eidolons
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    I enjoyed LoTR, but not in the deep way that you obviously do (though my husband and I will be (re)reading along with my oldest son when he gets to them). However! I do have a shelf or two (or five) of books that feel like going home. Books that comfort me and draw me into their worlds. Books that have seen me through more than a few rough patches as well as my highest moments.

    Also. Anything with “coffee” in the title is high on my list of things to bake. (:

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 2:04 am

      Books are such good friends, so comforting. And I love coffee in everything. 🙂

  • Reply
    Eileen
    Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Dude, there is nothing wrong with reading & rereading books you love! And if that makes you a geeky weirdo, well…so is practically everyone I know. I for one must mention that I used to reread Oliver Twist every summer. Yes! DICKENS ON THE BEACH. We are definitely all weird here. 🙂 And of course those blondies look delicious!

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 2:04 am

      Thanks Eileen! Dickens on the beach would be a good band name, too. 😉

  • Reply
    thelittleloaf
    Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Absolutely nothing wrong with rereading books (even if they are Lord of the Rings…KIDDING!). I work in publishing and even though we have to read tons of new stuff every week there are classics I just love to fall back on and that get better with every read.

    Just like these blondies I imagine. I bet they taste even more incredible than when you first made them, in part because they are now instilled with all the wonderful memories of times you’ve baked them 🙂 Gorgeous recipe.

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 2:05 am

      Thank you! Good books do get better with every read, it’s true.

  • Reply
    iheartcakes
    Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Haha, though I don´t share your Tolkien-enthusiasm (never tried to read the books, actually, so I might be mistakin´!) I can really relate to going back to familiar stories, the ones you know are worth reading. I don´t read that much these days, apart from school-related material, but I remember I read Roald Dahls “the witches” over and over again as a kid! Still love Roald Dahl, though! And most importantly: these brownies look absolutely wonderful!

  • Reply
    Barbara
    Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Sarah, these brownies are so delicious. Lots of good comments when I served them. Can’t wait for another excuse to bake these. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Daizzee
    Sunday, August 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    This came out great at my house 🙂 served warm with vanilla ice cream!

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  • Reply
    Angela
    Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Heart is giddy thinking about making these. Question: will these work if I line my half sheet pan with parchment? I’m not a terribly experienced baker and am in the throes of trying to clean my non-non-stick muffin pan, cursing its very existence. Just wanting to know if I’ll have easier release and clean up if I grease and then line with parchment. Thx!

    • Reply
      Sarah
      Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 11:47 am

      Angela-
      I’m not sure, actually. The brownies bake up and come close to spilling over – and don’t, but just barely don’t. I’m worried the parchment might cause it to spill, if it’s not exactly in the corners right. I’ve always used a non-stick half sheet pan and greased it well with pan spray, and didn’t have a problem with clean up. But you could try it, or just line the bottom. Sorry, that’s not much help. But I hope you like them!

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  • Reply
    Nina
    Sunday, June 14, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    Made your gorgeous blondies. They did not come out brown on the inside and gooey as yours seem to be. I baked them on half of your pan, for 22 min., and cut them into squers as they came out of the oven. What did I do wrong? And also, when you melt the bitter and suger, what do you expect to melt? just the butter, or also the sugar?

    Love your blog!
    Nina

    • Reply
      Sarah
      Sunday, June 14, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Hi Nina, Sorry you had trouble! I’m guessing because you cut them right out of the oven, they didn’t have time to set up. That could be part of the trouble. Were they dry inside? You mention them being not very gooey. The butter and sugar should both melt down to a liquid. Also, I’m not quite sure what you mean by baking them on ‘half of your pan’ – was that a half sheet pan? Or half of a half sheet pan? Thank you also for the kind words! I appreciate it. 🙂 I’ll try to help you figure this out. xx

      • Reply
        Nina
        Monday, June 15, 2015 at 4:29 pm

        Thanks for the quick response!
        I used a pan that is half the size you described you used, therefore, cut all ingredients by half. I only waited for the butter to melt, so the sugar stayed granulated. My blondies had a darker crust than yours, came out dryer( not too dry, though), with a lighter look on the inside.. I didn’t stir too Much.

  • Reply
    christina
    Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Did you brown your butter in these, or just melted? I tried browning my butter the first time i made them but once i baked them they came out kinda weird-part of it had a bunch of holes and were more “crunchy”? I want to try them again but not sure if I should try browning the butter again or just melt?

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