I was that weird kid who, when offered the choice of a brownie or a blondie, would always choose the blondie. Something about that cookie bar, packed with chocolate chips and toasty nuts, was just more interesting to me than straight chocolate (though I wouldn’t toss a good, fudgy brownie out of bed either. I’m not a monster).
Unfortunately, more often than not, blondies can be underwhelming — either dry and crumbly or doughy and flavorless — so we set out to develop a foolproof recipe for what we consider to be the perfect blondie: a tender, moist crumb filled with deep caramel flavor from brown butter, vanilla and (optional, but oh-so-delicious) bourbon. Then we packed in our favorite mix-ins: chocolate chunks, butterscotch chips and toasted hazelnuts.
Let’s talk for a minute about one of the best flavors in the entire world, brown butter. Need a delicious pasta sauce? Brown some butter and toss a few sage leaves in it. Want something special to serve over scallops? Brown some butter and frizzle some capers in it. Want to make steamed vegetables crave-able? Yup. Brown butter, lemon, done. In these blondies, brown butter adds a deep, nutty warmth that compliments the vanilla and bourbon.
Making brown butter is easy but has to be done carefully so it doesn’t burn and turn bitter. Add the butter to a heavy-bottomed, light-colored pan (we like using an 8-inch stainless steel sauté pan — the color makes it easier to see the color of the butter). Heat the butter on low until it’s fully melted, then turn the temperature up to medium. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan with a heat-proof spatula as the butter browns.
The water present in the butter will begin to sizzle and pop, and after a few minutes, once it quiets down, the milk solids will darken and smell nutty and delicious. Keep stirring and scraping until the butter is golden brown and the bits on the bottom are brown (but not black). Pour the butter, including the brown bits, into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup and set it aside while you whip the eggs.
With those delicious ingredients, you know these are going to be tasty, but what about texture? While doing research (aka, poking around the internet and a million cookbooks), we found that one of the most common problems people had with blondie recipes had to do with texture. Dense, crumbly dough was one issue, as was the butter separating out during the baking process. It turns out that both of these can be solved with one ingredient I can absolutely guarantee you have in your house: air. Without a leavening agent like baking powder (which in my opinion has no place in a blondie recipe; this is not a cake), the dough needs a little lift in order to not turn dense.
We turned to our friends at Serious Eats, specifically Stella Parks (aka Bravetart), for the answer. In her recipe for Glossy Fudge Brownies, she calls for whipping the eggs and sugar together until they turn from a dark liquid to pale, thick and foamy. It turns out the same holds true for blondies. If you have a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment and whip it on medium-high for a good few minutes. The exact time will vary depending on the power of your mixer, but it could be up to 8 minutes or so. If you’re using a hand mixer, it can take a bit longer, but don’t skip this step.
Once the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla are whipped, turn the mixer to low and drizzle in the brown butter and, if you’re using it, the bourbon (if you’re not using bourbon, lower the amount of flour by 2 tablespoons). Add in the flour all at once, and mix it gently until just incorporated. Stir in the mix-ins of your choice with a spatula and tip the batter into a foil or parchment-lined 8 x 8-inch baking pan.
The other advice from Stella was to use a light-colored aluminum baking pan. It turns out that darker (often non-stick) pans can bake too quickly, making the blondies dark and crumbly. Glass or ceramic pans have the opposite issue, where they bake the blondies too slowly, and can turn the dough dense and may cause the butter to separate.
So the keys to perfect, best-ever blondies? Brown your butter, whip the eggs and sugar, and use the right pan. Whether you use bourbon and what you mix in is entirely up to you. Go get baking!
Best Blondies Ever (with Brown Butter, Bourbon & Butterscotch)
- 16 tbsp unsalted butter (2 sticks)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar packed (light is fine too)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or extract
- 1/4 cup bourbon (optional, if not using, reduce flour by 2 tablespoons)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour + 2 tablespoons (256g total)
- 1 1/2 cups semi or bittersweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
- 1 cup hazelnuts or use walnuts or pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
- Heat oven to 350°F and set a rack in the middle. Line an 8 by 8-inch metal* baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving a little overhang.
- Melt the butter in a medium, light-colored saucepan set on low heat. Once the butter is melted, turn the heat to medium and use a heat proof spatula to stir the butter and scrape the bottom of the pan as the butter foams and spatters. Once the butter quiets down, it will begin to smell nutty and will develop brown (not black) bits at the bottom of the pan, about 2-4 minutes. Pour butter into a small heat-proof bowl, making sure to scrape in the brown bits, and allow to cool while you whip the eggs.
- Add the eggs to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or use a hand held mixer). Add in both sugars, salt and vanilla, and whip on high speed until the mix turns from runny and dark, to light, thickened and pale in color, from 7 to 10 minutes, depending on the power of your mixer.
- Reduce speed to low and drizzle in the brown butter and bourbon. Once they are fully incorporated, add the flour all at once and continue mixing on low until roughly combined (if using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment). Stir in the add-ins with a spatula until they are evenly distributed. Don’t over-mix.
- Transfer the dough to the baking pan and smooth it with the back of a spoon or spatula. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges are very light brown, but the center looks a little under-baked (it will firm up quite a bit as it cools). Let the blondies cool in the pan, then lift out onto a cutting board and and cut squares into your desired size.