Menu
Search
Menu
Close

We make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Try CooksIllustrated.com Free for 14 Days

Email is required
How we use your email address

How to Make the Perfect Blondie

By Annie Petito Published

Most blondies have a one-note sweetness and too many (and the wrong kind of) mix-ins. We wanted ours to be chewy, complex, and full of nutty, butterscotchy goodness.

Do blondes have more fun? Compared with brownies, which get far more attention than their fairer counterpart, I'm not so sure. While you have to look hard to find a truly bad brownie, pale, cloying blondies seem more the rule than the exception. Add the fact that they're often overloaded with bland white chocolate chips or artificially flavored butterscotch morsels and it's a wonder they have any fun at all.

That's too bad, because those times I've run across a blondie that's moist, chewy, slightly dense, and full of complex butterscotch goodness, I've always thought that it could hold its own next to any baked treat, let alone a brownie. I wanted to perfect this bar and give it the respect it deserves.

Mistaken Identities

Before I got down to serious testing, I decided to experiment with two popular notions—that blondies are simply brownies stripped of chocolate, or they're chocolate chip cookies pressed and baked in a pan. (There's actually an argument for the first idea; see “Move Over, Brownie—Blondie Got Here First.”)

I took recipes for chewy brownies and chewy chocolate chip cookies, eliminated the chocolate in the former, and patted the dough for the latter into a 13 by 9-inch pan. Not surprisingly, when I baked them both off, each confection was a dud.

Without the starch contributed by the cocoa powder in the brownie recipe to help absorb moisture and fat, the bars were gummy and greasy. They were also sickeningly sweet. As for the chocolate chip cookie bars, which I baked long enough to ensure that the dough at the center of the pan wasn't gooey, they were mostly dry and tough, particularly the edge pieces. They also lacked some of the nice toffee notes that cookies gain from browning when they are baked individually on a cookie sheet.

Clearly, a blondie has its own identity, and I'd have to treat it that way to create a successful version.

Recipe Testing: Two Wrong Ways to Make a Blondie

In our quest for a great blondie, we put two commonly held notions about how to make a blondie to the test. The results were not favorable.

  • Test: Eliminate the chocolate in brownie batter
    Results: Without the starch from cocoa powder to absorb liquid, the bars baked up greasy and gummy. They were also horribly sweet.

  • Test: Bake chocolate chip cookie dough in a 13 by 9-inch baking pan
    Results: Without the browning that individually baked cookies achieve, the bars lacked butterscotch flavor; they were also dry and tough. 

No More Blandies

The first decision I faced was the mixing method. Blondie recipes typically call either for creaming butter and sugar and then adding the eggs and dry ingredients or for mixing melted butter with the sugar and eggs before incorporating the dry ingredients. Since creaming the butter and sugar incorporates air that results in a cakey texture, I settled on the second method, which leads to a denser, chewier bar.

Next order of business: boosting butterscotch flavor. Most blondie recipes call for light brown sugar, and I wondered if using dark brown sugar instead would help just a little. Working with a standard recipe from my research—a 1:1 ratio of sugar to flour, salt, baking powder, a couple of eggs, vanilla extract, and one stick of melted butter—I ran a quick side-by-side test. Interestingly, most tasters panned the dark brown sugar for making the blondies taste more like molasses than butterscotch; they also preferred the more golden color of the bars made with light brown sugar.

But I did have something more promising in mind to try: Instead of just melting the butter, I would brown it to create warm, toasty, nutty flavors. So for my next batch of bars, I cooked the butter in a skillet until the milk solids had turned a dark golden brown and had a nutty fragrance, combined it with the other ingredients, and then baked the batter in a 13 by 9-inch pan in a 350-degree oven until lightly golden. This was a big step in the right direction: The blondies tasted decidedly more nutty and rich.

A colleague had another idea: Since vanilla extract's earthy, woodsy notes mirror and complement butterscotch flavors, why not try more of it? Doubling the amount of vanilla worked so well to deepen the warm caramel flavor in the bars that I kept going and tripled it.

Increasing the vanilla gave me the idea to increase another ingredient: the salt. Salt is included in most sweet applications because it helps sharpen all the flavors, particularly nutty, buttery ones. When I doubled it from ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon, those flavors stood out a little more in my blondies and the sweetness a little less.

Browning the butter adds toasty, nutty depth to our blondies.

Secrets to Superior Blondies

For a properly moist, chewy texture, you can’t get around using sufficient sugar in a blondie. But our bars have so many other nutty, buttery, caramel-y flavors that the sweetness stays in check. Here’s how we created an ideal version.

  • BROWNED BUTTER:

    Melted butter contributes to chewy texture. Browning it darkens the milk solids to create toasty, nutty depth.

  • BROWN SUGAR + CORN SYRUP:

    Brown sugar contributes toffee notes, and both sweeteners enhance chewy texture. Corn syrup is also less sweet than other sugars.

  • LOTS OF VANILLA:

    Two full tablespoons of vanilla enhance caramel‑like flavors.

  • PLENTY OF SALT:

    More than the usual amount of salt in the batter (plus more on top) brings all the flavors into focus.

  • COMPLEMENTARY MIX-INS:

    Pecans add buttery richness; milk (versus dark) chocolate chips don’t overwhelm the butterscotch notes.

Domino Effect

But I still wanted to cut back more on the sweetness. When I decreased the sugar, the results were a good reminder that sugar is never merely a sweetener in baking; it plays multiple roles—and messing with its proportions has consequences. Because brown sugar adds moisture and, like all sugar, is hygroscopic (it attracts and retains moisture), even ¼ cup less made the bars drier. Sugar also acts as a tenderizer by interfering with the flour proteins' ability to form gluten, and less of it made the bars a little tough.

I needed a sweetener that performed all the positive actions of sugar but wasn't too sweet. The obvious choice was corn syrup. Unlike the high-fructose corn syrup used to make soda, which is much sweeter than sugar, regular corn syrup is actually less sweet: Made by breaking down starch into glucose molecules and small glucose chains, corn syrup is about 50 percent less sweet than white and brown sugars. I subbed in ⅓ cup for ¼ cup of brown sugar. Even though the corn syrup's volume was greater, the cookies tasted noticeably less sweet.

I had the flavor right where I wanted it, but I wasn't quite done. Some tasters thought the blondies lacked stature. When I scaled up my recipe by 25 percent to create thicker bars, I found I had to double the baking time. This had the unintended but happy consequence of drying out the top of the batter, so it browned more deeply and had even more nutty, caramelized flavor while the interior remained moist and chewy.

Milk chocolate chips and buttery pecans contribute just the right complementary flavors.

It was time to add complementary elements such as nuts and chips. Most recipes call for walnuts, but I chose pecans, which have a more buttery flavor. For chips, I passed on white chocolate and butterscotch morsels as well as dark chocolate chips. Instead I opted for milk chocolate morsels, whose mild dairy sweetness didn't overpower the caramel flavor.

As a final touch, I crumbled flaky sea salt over the batter before it went into the oven. After the bars cooled completely, I cut them into squares. These blondies were exactly as I'd envisioned: moist, chewy, wonderfully complex and butterscotchy, and not too sweet. The nuts and chocolate played nicely with the browned butter, and the crunchy pops of flaky salt made for an appealing contrast.

I was equally thrilled to find that the bars kept very well—for close to a week—at room temperature. Though I doubted they'd last that long.

Move Over, Brownie—Blondie Got Here First

Though the origins of both bars are murky, evidence suggests that the first brownie was actually (drumroll, please) a blondie. One of the first recipes for a confection dubbed a “brownie” appears in the 1896 edition of Fannie Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book in reference to individual cakes flavored with molasses and baked in shallow tins; this was followed by a new version of the same recipe calling for chocolate in the 1906 edition. Over time, the name for the molasses brownies morphed into “blonde brownies,” then “butterscotch brownies,” and finally, decades later (some suggest as late as the 1980s), simply “blondies,” conferring upon this confection an identity all its own.    

Recipe Browned Butter Blondies

Most blondies have a one-note sweetness and too many (and the wrong kind of) mix-ins. We wanted ours to be chewy, complex, and full of nutty, butterscotchy goodness.

Comments