Channeling Sicily: Blondies with Salted Pistachios & Lemon

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When I saw this recipe for Blondies with Salted Pistachios & Lemon in December, my first thought was, “This screams January,” so I tucked it away for after the holiday madness; it feels so far removed from the gluttonous chocolate, peppermint, and gingerbread that we were happily stuffing in our faces just a month ago. Then, lo and behold, a friend invited me to a grown-up tea party, which could not have been a more perfect occasion to serve these decidedly grown-up treats.

I’ve never had blondies like these; all the ones I’ve made/eaten have consisted of a brown sugar base and usually involved chocolate chips, walnuts, and/or malt powder. This, however, is a totally different kind of blondie. They are dainty and elegant with a delicately chewy texture and a pleasing brightness from the citrus. They are more cakey in texture than brownies, which normally I wouldn’t stand for in their chocolaty counterpart, but it works nicely here (though I may bake them 1 minute less in the future for a *slightly* gooier interior). There is a respectable dose of white chocolate in there, but I think it acts more as a binder/textural component, rather than as a flavoring agent. (However, on Day 3, the white chocolate flavor was more developed.) I would say that if Sicilians made blondies, they would be these ones; among Sicily’s embarrassment of culinary riches are softball-sized lemons and Bronte pistachios. I wish I could say that’s what I had used, but as this didn’t even occur to me until they were baked, I’ll squirrel that idea away for next time.

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Nevertheless, these blondies conjured warm, fuzzy memories of my Italian honeymoon last June, which started with a brief sojourn in Taormina, on the eastern coast of Sicily. It was my first time there, and I was rather enchanted by the endless lemon groves– on the side of the road, around every other corner, and up the side of many a mountain. I regret not purchasing pistachios, though we did sample a number of delicious pistachio desserts, most notably the freshly filled ricotta cannolo at a small bakery in Taormina. (I’m ruined for all other cannoli now, thank you very much.) And if you happened to have read some of my blogs last summer, you may recall that I gushed about the food in Italy and promised a series of blog posts; yeahhh…. they’re still coming. Someday. Hopefully.

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Anywho, now that I’m desperately pining for Italy again (for the first time since yesterday), let’s get back to blondies. A few recipe notes:

  • Two butter-related substitutions:
    • I swapped unsalted butter for the salted butter in the original recipe. I did this initially because I didn’t have any salted butter on hand, but then I decided it was better to use unsalted anyway. Most baking recipes use unsalted because it allows the baker to control the amount of salt in the recipe; different brands of salted butter can have varying amounts of salt, which makes it difficult to standardize. Using the formula of ¼ teaspoon salt per stick of butter, I planned to use a scant ½ teaspoon for the 7 ounces of butter, plus the additional ¼ teaspoon written into the recipe. Since I used kosher salt, which is less dense than fine salt, I doubled this amount for a total of 1 ¼ teaspoons. (If you prefer fine salt, use ¾ teaspoon.)
    • I used brown butter instead of plain melted butter. I didn’t detect an overwhelming brown butter flavor per se, what with all the lemon and nuts going on, but I’m sure that if I did a head-to-head taste test, the difference would be very apparent. In my humble opinion, the depth of deliciousness imparted by brown butter is always better– always. You can definitely see the beautiful brown butter flecks throughout the blondies! 🙂
  • White chocolate: The recipe recommends using Valrhona 35% Ivoire, and I would say any high-quality 35% chocolate would work fine– I used Guittard Soie Blanche (French for “white silk”). Most white chocolates out there have a cocoa butter percentage of about 31%, which usually yields a thick paste when you try to melt it. At 35%, you get a gorgeous liquid chocolate that swirls easily into this blondie batter. Regardless of what kind of white chocolate you use, make sure to heat it *very gently*, since it is more prone to scorching than dark chocolate. I would not recommend white chocolate chips, as these are often made of artificial foodstuffs and do not contain actual cocoa butter.

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Being that I brought them to a proper tea party, I cut off all the crusts (because crustless sandwiches and all), but if you are an “edge person” feel free to leave them on. And yes, we were compelled to eat them with a fork and knife– it just sort of happened, because, you know, we were feeling fancy. Alternatively, they are casual enough to take on a picnic, bring to a BBQ, or hoard while watching late-night TV– no utensils required. 😉

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Blondies with Salted Pistachios & Lemon
Adapted from Sweet Paul Magazine
Yields 16-25 squares

Bake the blondies the day before you plan to serve them to let the consistency set up properly.

  • 7 ounces unsalted butter
  • 7 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped (preferably 35%, such as Valrhona Ivoire or Guittard Soie Blanche)
  • 4 ½ ounces all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces granulated sugar
  • 3 ½ ounces shelled salted pistachios, roughly chopped
  • Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line a 9″ x 9″ baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a skillet. Keep cooking the butter until the solids start to turn brown– you will see them on the bottom of the pan. At this point, watch the butter carefully to avoid burning; allow it to continue browning to your desired shade. (Normally I like it just shy of burnt, but in this case I prefer it a little lighter in color for a more delicate flavor.)

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Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Make to sure to warm the chocolate slowly and don’t let the water boil– white chocolate can scorch easily.

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In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Add the dry ingredients and whisk just until the flour streaks disappear. The mixture will be fairly thin.

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Start folding in the brown butter with a spatula; it will not fully incorporate. Add the white chocolate, and keeping folding until everything has come together. The chocolate will act as an emulsifying agent.

Fold in the pistachios and lemon zest, mixing just until they are evenly distributed.

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Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. (Mine took 30, and I might even pull them a minute earlier next time for a slightly gooier consistency.) A toothpick inserted into the center should come out with just a few crumbs attached. The top will be golden brown, and crackled like the top of a batch of brownies.

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Allow the blondies to cool completely in the pan set on a wire cooling rack, then cover with plastic wrap overnight. The next day, remove the entire blondie block by pulling up the foil; cut it into 2″ squares (or the size of your choosing). The blondies will keep well in an airtight container for nearly a week.

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.

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