Brown butter bars are good as a cookie, divine warm
Eagle County CO, Colorado
Eagle County CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
I’m a skeptic. My initial position on almost anything involves a fair amount of doubt. So, when a recipe includes steps like browning the butter, as this one does, I’m likely to roll my eyes and question its importance.
But, after trying this bar both ways, with and without browned butter, I have become a believer ” I strongly recommend doing it. The browned butter really adds flavor to this dessert … taking it from good to noteworthy.
If you haven’t browned butter before, the process isn’t hard. You simply melt the butter and continue letting it cook over low heat, stirring it occasionally, until the solids and fat separate and the liquid turns light brown in color and has a slightly nutty aroma. The only caution is to give it your full attention. It turns from golden and appealing to burned and bitter in very little time.
I favor semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate over milk chocolate. However, in this recipe, the milk chocolate works very well; I actually prefer it to its less-sweet relatives. I use Hershey’s milk chocolate bars … the kind that are found in the candy section of the grocery store.
The Brown Butter Bars are good at room temperature, served as a cookie. My husband loves them cut into larger pieces, warmed and served as a dessert, accompanied by butter pecan or vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Make in a 9-inch-by-9-inch baking pan
1 cup of light brown sugar, packed
8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (one stick)
A pinch of salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of flour
6 ounces of milk chocolate
1 cup of toasted and chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the 9-inch-by-9 inch baking pan with Reynold’s Release no-stick foil or with regular aluminum foil. Extend the foil several inches over two opposing sides of the pan to use as handles when removing the baked bars. If you’re using regular aluminum foil, grease it well.
Put the brown sugar in a large bowl and stir or whisk briefly to lighten and separate it. Set the bowl aside.
Cut up the stick of butter and place it in a small saucepan over low heat. Swirl the pan or stir occasionally and watch it carefully as it melts, sizzles, the solids and fat separate, and it turns a light golden color and has a nutty, toasty smell. It took about five minutes to go through these stages on my stove. Take care, you want to remove it just after it colors lightly; if you wait too long, it will burn. When it has lightly browned, remove it from the stove, pour it over the brown sugar, add the pinch of salt, and stir until combined.
Combine the egg and vanilla in a small bowl or a measuring cup, add it to the butter-sugar combination, and beat until smooth. Add the cup of flour and gently stir just until it disappears. Don’t overmix. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven until the top is set and shiny and a tester inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean. This takes about 16 to 19 minutes in my oven. If the batter develops “shoulders” (sides puff up and are higher than the middle), open the oven door and gently press them down with the back of a spoon or a spatula. Take care that you don’t overbake these; you want them chewy, not dry. While the bars bake, break or chop the milk chocolate into small pieces.
Remove the pan from the oven; sprinkle the chocolate pieces evenly over the top of the hot bars and place the pan back in the oven for a minute or so to soften them.
Remove the pan from the oven and spread the softened chocolate all over the top of the bars. Sprinkle the chopped, toasted pecans uniformly over the warm chocolate and gently press them into it. Let the pan cool for about fifteen minutes on a rack, then, using the foil handles, remove the baked bars from the pan and let them cool in the foil on a rack. Cut them into bars when they are completely cool.
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.