I've recently discovered the joy that is the blondie. Before that, my 'special occasion' baking repertoire was firmly dominated by the brownie. Birthdays, Christmases, thank yous, thinking of yous, I love yous, et cetera - there are few occasions that don't benefit from a small foil-wrapped bundle of brownies, slightly still warm and gooey from the oven. Since I made these salted caramel and cacao nib brownies a few months ago, they've been my go-to recipe for any occasion that demands ridiculously indulgent sugar-butter-chocolate goodness.
Brownies seem to be the kind of thing people don't really make at home, perhaps eating them only in restaurants. This is due at least in part, I suspect, to the fact that once you've seen just how much butter and sugar go into them, you can't bear to eat the homemade variety - at least in a restaurant you can remain in blissful denial. Regardless, they've always gone down a treat, and I can never resist nibbling the bits left in the tin when I've made a batch for someone else.
However, a couple of months ago I stumbled across a raspberry and white chocolate blondie recipe online. I forget why I had a need to make blondies, but I think they were for a friend. I had immense fun browning a pan of butter, stirring in shards of glossy white chocolate, folding in brown sugar, eggs and raspberries, and baking the lot to golden perfection. They were ridiculously delicious, the kind of delicious that only comes from pairing toasty brown butter with caramel-sweet white chocolate and lifting the lot with the tang of juicy raspberries. (You can find my tweaked recipe - I added pistachios - here).
Blondies have a different type of allure to brownies. Where brownies are dark, decadent and mysterious, rich and indulgent-looking, often almost bittersweet with dark cocoa, blondies are the other end of the spectrum. They have none of that mystique, instead appearing more homely and cakey. They are often more cake-like in texture, too, with less of that smooth truffley mouthfeel you get from a good gooey brownie. Importantly, they have gorgeous notes of butter and caramel from the inclusion of white chocolate; the butter flavour of an ordinary brownie tends to get hidden by chocolate, which dominates and overwhelms (often in a good way, of course).
I've never really cooked with white chocolate until I jumped on the blondie bandwagon. I don't really eat it, finding it a bit overly sweet and a tad greasy. But cooked and melted, something magic happens to white chocolate. It has the most irresistible moreish sweetness, possessing a delightful gooey, slightly grainy texture, with notes of butterscotch and caramel. I love its texture and flavour, especially combined with brown butter.
A lot of people who tried this recipe looked nonplussed when I listed one of its key components as brown butter. Brown butter is basically what happens when you heat butter so that the milk solids separate out from the fat and brown (almost burn), resulting in the most incredible toasty, biscuity aroma. You end up with a dark golden liquid, flecked with deliciously aromatic toasted nuggets.
Once you start browning butter for recipes, it's quite hard to stop - why would you not go that extra mile and add delicious digestive-biscuit-esque flavour to your baked goods?
Inspired by recent blondie baking adventures, and by this recent recipe on one of my favourite baking blogs, I decided to have a go at making a sort of cross between banana bread and blondies. Banana bread because most of the moisture is provided by mashed ripe bananas and a little milk, rather than loads of butter; blondies because the resulting baked good is studded with gooey chunks of sweet white chocolate and enriched with a little browned butter. I used muscovado sugar for its delicious butterscotch flavour, and decided to sprinkle some flaked coconut on top, because why not? They are enriched with a little vanilla, and I used spelt flour for a lovely nutty flavour to accompany the coconut.
White chocolate, brown butter, caramel-scented sugar, sweet bananas, and nutty coconut. You can see why this made sense in my head. They were always going to be good.
If you're a fan of banana bread, you'll love these. Banana bread but in handy sliceable squares, they have a fabulous combination of decadent flavours and textures. A subtle biscuity note from the brown butter; the sweet perfume of ripe bananas; a hint of vanilla; the caramel notes of brown sugars; gooey chunks of sweet white chocolate; and finally, the irresistible crunch and flavour of toasted coconut. They're not quite as rich and gooey as sickly sweet blondies, which I think is definitely a good thing.
They're everything a baked good should be, just a little bit more special.
Banana blondies with white chocolate and toasted coconut (makes 16):
60g unsalted butter
75g light muscovado sugar
50g dark muscovado sugar
1 large egg
2 ripe bananas
2 tbsp whole milk
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
A generous pinch of salt
150g spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g white chocolate chips/chopped white chocolate
A small handful of flaked coconut
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line an 8-inch square cake tin.
In a wide saucepan, heat the butter over a medium heat until the white solids separate from the yellow liquid. Keep it on the heat, swirling it round the pan occasionally, until brown flecks start to form in the butter and it smells biscuity (for an excellent tutorial on browning butter, see here). Set aside to cool.
Using an electric whisk, beat the sugars with the egg until pale and creamy. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with the milk, vanilla and salt. Mix these into the eggs and sugar along with the browned butter. Sift in the flour and baking powder, and mix gently to incorporate. Finally, fold in the white chocolate.
Pour into the prepared tin, then scatter over the coconut. Bake for 25 minutes, until firm and golden (lower the heat slightly if the coconut starts to burn). Leave to cool, then enjoy.