The Dallas Camera Club has a potluck holiday party each year and, after thinking about it for a bit, I decided to make some blondies for this year’s party. (Blondies, in case you’re not familiar with them, are like brownies but without the chocolate; they’re a bar cookie which generally have a butterscotch-type flavor.) Well, to be sure, that I kinda had in mind was something like the Sheila’s Dream Bars from Potbelly Sandwiches. To be honest, I’m not even sure if Sheila's Dream Bars qualify and blondies, but that was my best guess — they're moist and dense bar cookies (in the way that a good brownie would be) with oats and chocolate chunks.
As a side note, I’m apparently not the only one looking for something analogous to Sheila's Dream Bars. One guy even wrote to Potbelly to ask for the recipe (but was politely declined). I also came across an attempt at a clone recipe at AllRecipes. Interestingly enough, one reviewer “was trying to duplicate the very addictive Sheila's Dream Bars from Potbelly” and went on to say that “these are EXACTLY what I was looking for” while another reviewer said that they’re “not even close to Sheila’s Dream Bars at Potbelly Sandwich Shoppe”. Great. How’s that for indecisiveness?
Since I didn't really want to take a chance on a recipe which was a toss-up between being “exactly” or “not even close” to what I was looking for, I turned to America’s Test Kitchen to get their take. (America’s Test Kitchen is a half-hour cooking show on PBS. Made by the same group that publishes Cook’s Illustrated magazine, the two groups are known for testing dozens of variants on a recipe before selecting their favorite which they then publish.)
I had recently picked up a couple DVD box sets of past seasons from the show and so I flipped through those to see if there was a blondie recipe. As it turns out, there was (it was from the 2005 season, for those curious). And, pleasantly enough, the recipe wasn’t too complicated either; with the exception of the chocolate chips or pecans, you might even have most of the other ingredients in your cupboard already (flour, eggs, sugar, and so on). The recipe also called for melted butter, so there wasn’t even a need for a mixer — only a spatula to fold some ingredients together.
Next up: the recipe; after that, I’ve included some comments on how they turned out.
- Vegetable cooking spray
- 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2) ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
- 1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (These can be toasted by putting them on a pan and placing them in a 350° oven for 5-7 mins.)
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13- by 9-inch baking pan with 2 pieces of foil. Coat the foil-lined pan with vegetable cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the melted butter and brown sugar together until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until just combined. Do not overmix.
Fold in the semisweet and white chocolate chips and the nuts, and turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.
Bake until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch, for 22 to 25 minutes. Place the pan on a rack and let cool completely (about an hour). Cut into 1 1/2- by 2-inch bars.
Makes 36 bars.
I’m generally pleased with how these blondies turned out — they’re tasty and I have few worries about having any left over at the end of the holiday party. Still, I’m not sure they exactly matched how I thought they’d turn out (more on that in a bit). In preparation for writing this post, I took a notebook with me to the kitchen and jotted down a few thoughts as I ate one of the blondies:
Aroma: Right out of the oven (or out of the RubberMaid cookie container), these have a pleasant butterscotch aroma.
Texture: Their texture, for the post part, is quite good. They tend to break apart easily in your mouth without being fragile enough to crumble apart in your hands.
Density: This is one of the few gripes that I had — these have a density quite similar to a cake-style brownie. Now, if that's your bag, you're all set. For me, though, I tend to prefer more of a gooey brownie and I think that type of texture would have been my preference here.
Other notes: The flavor white chocolate chips came through quite well. That’s all well and good, but I think I would have preferred if the semisweet chocolate chips could have taken a more prominent role. In fairness, some rejiggering of the ratio between white chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips could probably take care of this. (Or, if you really like white chocolate, the recipe could probably remain unchanged.)
In all, I think I’d give these blondies about a 7/10. They’re quite good and, for all I know, they might represent the Canonical Blondie Taste™. I think it just happened to work out that I was making a recipe for something which the recipe might not have been aiming for.