Bars + Brownies Desserts

salty bourbon squares

When something brings out the worst in me, I find myself scrambling to find the good. After a 5 hour car trip alone with my two kids, where everyone [and that would be especially me] was crabby, where naps were rejected scornfully, and where a zip lock bag chock-full of cheddar bunnies was purposely, but oh so quietly, crumbled into the tiniest pieces imaginable, then sprinkled all over knees and hair and seats and floor, and then not to mention the 6 straight days of unbearable humidity and just not.enough.sleep, I am searching for the best of me. It’s hard to find.
It’s in these moments I see that angel and demon on my shoulder, waiting. For one instant I feel ripped in two, almost like those active labor contractions that brought these two babes in, and I have to make a choice. If I lose it, this car ride is going to be a never-ending train wreck. So I have to search for the door: the door down a long, dark corridor, the door so terribly hard to open. There, scrawled across it, almost illegible, is the word ‘patience’. And I have to make it there, open it, and there will be more for me. But I have to make it.
And let me be honest, it’s not easy to get to. Sometimes I close my eyes and think instead ‘chocolate! Just give me some damn chocolate and then I’ll find that door!’ Most days that dark, dreamy treat is a good temporary solution. Some people find comfort in alcohol, exercise, intrigue, or shopping, but I turn towards sugar and salt, hopefully paired together. I readily admit to you this isn’t the best option. But there are those moments, the Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday moments, where just that taste of something sweet and salty buys me a little more time. I so badly wish it was heirloom tomatoes freckled with sea salt, or bright red strawberries smashed on salty wheat crackers that I reach for instead; or, of course, sheer good character alone. I’m working on things. Slowly, slowly.
In the mean time, however, these salty bourbon bars have helped keep me sane. Bittersweet chocolate, fleur de sel, and bourbon goodness: tiny bites of sweet comfort. Yes, they will float me down that long corridor, and I will find the handle. I will open that door.
[I finally have some NYC pictures up here, if you want to take a peek.]

Salty Bourbon Squares
loosely adapted from The Settlement Cookbook.

Use 1 tablespoon bourbon for a lighter flavor, or you can omit all together. But really, you don’t want to.

1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons bourbon
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or coarse salt [to taste]

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9 inch square pan, and line pan with a parchment sling.

Heat the brown sugar and butter together in a saucepan until the sugar is melted, stirring occasionally. Let cool. Whisk flour and baking powder together, and set aside. Add egg, vanilla, salt, and bourbon to the cooled butter mixture, and beat together. Stir in the flour, and then the chocolate, until just combined. Spread batter in the pan, and bake 18-22 minutes, until light golden brown, and a tooth pick comes out clean, being very careful not to over bake. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Let cool in the pan, then carefully lift sling from the pan and cut into squares.

  • Reply
    Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Just made these Gluten Free with Arrowhead Mills GF All Purpose Baking Mix. They are absolutely delicious!

    • Reply
      Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 9:31 am

      So glad to hear it! 🙂

  • Reply
    Meredith Morgan
    Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Last Thanksgiving, I made bourbon pecan balls which were delicious, but expensive… So this year, I will try this recipe for a bourbon-y kick! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    I’ve been dreaming of a treat exactly like this, right down to the bourbon and salt! Can’t wait to give them a try. I’d definitely reach for the chocolate (and the booze!) if the children I don’t have crumbled crackers all over my car. Ouch. Love your site design; looking forward to reading more!

  • Reply
    Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    these look AMAZING.
    thanks for posting.

    ps, beautiful photography!!

  • Reply
    Cookie and Kate
    Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    I’ve been snacking all day and now all I can think about are these salty bourbon square! Really wishing one would materialize right now… keeping a whole pan of them in my apartment would be dangerous!

  • Reply
    lisa heaner
    Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    “just give me some damn chocolate…” amen, sister. a. men.

  • Reply
    Monday, July 9, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    Oh lord (I just said to myself as I saw the title of this post) … I think this is going on this week’s baking list.

  • Reply
    Monday, July 9, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    I don’t think salty sweet chocolate should necessarily be seen as a vice. Sometimes it’s utterly essential 🙂
    These look absolutely delicious – brownies but ramped up with lots of lovely bourbon. I don’t like bourbon to drink, but I adore it in desserts and will definitely be trying these out!

  • Reply
    Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    I feel like your posts always steal my heart, but this one is really making me swoon. All of my favourite things. One delicious treat. I also LOVE that you referred to “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday Moments.” Totally get you 🙂

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Sunday, July 8, 2012 at 3:25 am

      Thank you, Laura. And, I find myself referring to that book in any dramatic situation. 🙂 xo friend.

  • Reply
    Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    These sound dangerously good, Sarah! I love all that dark brown sugar — they must be nice and chewy. Just last night I was feeling very grumbly, and I reached for my usual fix when it’s too late to bake: spoon, peanut butter, ice cream.

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      Sacha – They are a bit chewy, and very gooey. And I’ve surprisingly never snuck peanut butter and ice cream together. I’ll have to try that soon.

  • Reply
    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar
    Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 11:59 am

    These are absolutely lovely! Yum!

  • Reply
    Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 9:29 am

    These look fabulous. Never cooked with bourbon but definitely want to give this a try!

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks! I’ve made chocolate chip cookies with bourbon, too – I highly recommend it. 🙂

  • Reply
    london bakes
    Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Ah yes, I think we all need a little something like this to keep our sanity in those stressful situations. I recognise the feeling you describe all too well…love the idea of this squres with their depth and combination of flavours.

    • Reply
      vanilla bean blog
      Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks Kathryn. I agree – we all have our vices. 🙂

  • Reply
    my little celebration
    Saturday, July 7, 2012 at 4:23 am


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