Salty caramel almond, hazelnut, chocolate chip blondies

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

We’re experimenting with a “screen-free Sunday.” No TV, no computer, no video games. I’d imagined it would be something like the scene from the Simpsons: all the children of Springfield stop watching television and they all venture outside into the fresh air and sunshine to the tune of Beethoven’s pastoral symphony. It hasn’t been like that. I thought the boys would actually be excited about this plan, because they like camping and they like when the power goes out. They like roughing it. They have so much creativity and imagination it’s bursting out of them, they don’t need TV! But they like TV, and we find them sneakily watching cartoons or claiming that Malcolm’s nook doesn’t count as a screen. So by noon on a Sunday you’ll find me shouting at them that their brains are going to rot, or perhaps have already rotted. That they have INNER RESOURCES, dammit, and they need to use them. I tell them that when I was little we almost never watched TV, we didn’t even want to and we had so much fun, we had so many adventures and created whole worlds. And then Malcolm says, “Yeah, but you had a brother who liked to go outside,” and complaints of Isaac’s proclivity for sitting in his pajamas besides a warm radiator resurface. But I think it’s going to be good for all of us in the long run. One Sunday the boys were slouching about listlessly and moodily one moment, staring at the dark TV, and when I looked back over at them they were playing chess. And the next moment they were playing some complicated game they’d invented involving chess pieces and pieces from some entirely different game. I’m at work all day most Sundays, and when I’ve come home the last few weeks, the house has been an extremely messy testament to the wildness of their imaginations, once let loose from the dulling shackles of the TV. Giant blanket forts, creatures cut out of paper, a crown–with a strap on it–fashioned for poor long-suffering Clio. Drawings that tell stories. Odd science experiments. Crazy and wonderful robots and whole upside-down cities made out of legos. It’s strange to think about how much of our time the computer and television eat away at (and we don’t even get any reception on our television!) A lamentable waste of our precious swiftly-pasing moments. Yesterday Malcolm said he couldn’t relax without watching television, and that made me sad. He should be able to just do nothing. He should be able to just stare into space and think his thoughts. He should be able to go for long car rides or sit around waiting for something to start, and follow his mind wherever it takes him. Yesterday Malcolm also told me that one of these screen-free Sundays will be a rainy day, it will be pouring down rain outside, and he and his brother will have so much energy in them that they’ll explode. Well, we’ll just re-channel it! Think of all of the explosions of energy and creativity throughout history that turned into music and paintings and novels and films! Think how sorry we’d be if instead of making music, paintings, novels, and films, the creator had been sitting around watching Star Wars cartoons. Maybe we’ll have to add a few more screen-free days!

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

Salty caramel chocolate chip bars

This is something between a cake and bar cookies. It’s made with ground almonds and hazelnuts and very little flour. It’s dense and a little chewy and crunchy on top. It has browned butter inside, brown sugar on top, and a sprinkling of coarse salt, so it’s got a rich, caramel-y flavor. Delicious with tea, coffee or red wine.

Here’s Elvis Perkins with Doomsday. I’m currently obsessed with this beautiful-melancholy-cheerful song.

1 stick unsalted butter
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar (+ a small handful for the top)
1 t vanilla
1 cup almonds
3/4 cup hazelnuts
1 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1/2 t salt (plus coarse salt for top)
1 heaping cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 and lightly butter a largish cake pan or a brownie pan.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter, and continue cooking until it turns dark brown and the solids on the bottom of the pan turn quite dark. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a food processor, whip the egg until it’s light and frothy. Add the brown sugar and vanilla, and mix till smooth. Add the nuts and milk and process until the nuts are completely ground and the mixture is smooth. Add the flour and a pinch of salt. Add the butter and process until completely smooth. You can pour the melted butter right off the top and don’t worry about getting some of the burnt solids in. I didn’t strain it, but you can if you want to. Add the chocolate chips and process until they’re mixed in and slightly broken down. You want some to be whole, and some to be chopped so that they melt right into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle brown sugar over the top, and then scatter a few pinches of coarse salt over that.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until the cake is golden and quite firm to the touch and pulling away from the pan. Put under the broiler for a minute or two to finish melting the butter, but keep an eye on it, you don’t want to scorch the top!

Let cool.


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