A few years ago, right around the time that cupcake shops were popping up everywhere in DC, I daydreamed about opening a different kind of bakery. It would feature exclusively bar-shaped treats, offering a rotating selection of brownies, blondies, lemon bars, Rice Krispie treats, pecan pie bars, Nanaimo bars, 7-layer bars, etc. The name would be Square Treats and the slogan would be “Raising the Bar.” My mission was to remind the world that there were many more interesting treats out there than cupcakes. I thought that dessert bars had so much potential for flavor and textural variety, but because they’re so humble, they’d never made it out of the home cook’s kitchen and into the spotlight. My bars would be no ordinary from-a-mix bars, nor would they be, as my notebook scribblings described, “the soggy too sweet afterthought found on a corporate dessert tray.” The bakery would elevate the picnic square to a treat worth waiting in line for.
Like so many random inklings, Square Treats never made it beyond a few pages of a notebook. Since that brainstorm, I’ve seen shops in DC feature pies, doughnuts, cookiewiches, and macarons. I have yet to see anyone take a gamble on the square. Maybe the treats are just too plain and no one would ever make a profit from something so homey. Still, when I took my first bite of these blondies, I couldn’t help but think that a lot of people would pay good money for a few squares of their own.
The recipe comes from America’s Test Kitchen via Food52. The tinkerers at America’s Test Kitchen, recognizing that the blondie doesn’t have a unique identity of its own, sought to make it special by cranking up the butterscotch and giving it a fudgey texture. It has a warm, strong vanilla flavor (thanks to the four teaspoons of extract) and is so rich that I promise the first thing you’ll think after you try a bite is “buttery!” The recipe calls for either a mix of white chocolate and semi-sweet chips or just white chocolate chips. I didn’t add the semi-sweets because I think those chips pull blondies too close to chocolate chip cookies. The pecans can be optional, too, but I’ve made these both ways and I’m confident that they’re better with nuts. Even Ed, a man who ordinarily will not abide nuts in his desserts, agreed that the pecan version was better.
I know that Square Treats was far-fetched. If bars have a shot at making a bakery a success, it will most likely be as a guest star along side of cookies, snack cakes, and various little treats, as others have done. Bakery or no bakery, I’m happy we’ll always be able to find peanut butter-jelly bars, raspberry crumb bars, and—hopefully—these blondies where bar treats are known to shine: cookouts, bake sales, and our own foil-wrapped Pyrex pans.
You can find the recipe for these blondies on the Food52 site here.