The first time I made these cookies, Joy the Baker’s chocolate brownie cookies with white chocolate and roasted macadamia nuts, I couldn’t taste them. I was into third week of a month of Whole 30, and taking it so seriously that when I almost absentmindedly licked some chocolate batter off of my finger I squealed and jumped backwards. Despite not being able to take a tester bite, I had a hunch these cookies were the business. For starters, Joy the Baker really knows her way around a delicious sweet. Secondly, the star ingredients–two kinds of chocolate and salted roasted macadamia nuts–are pretty hard to argue with. And finally, there was the smell. Holy heck, did sniffing these cookies while they were baking test every bit of my Whole 30 resolve. I decided right then to make them as soon as I could eat sweets again.
This is a story about a cooking experiment. I won’t call it a total failure, but it certainly wasn’t a success. It started yesterday at the last farmers market of the year (tear). I was browsing the locally produced flours and the rye flour caught my eye. My mental Pinterest board flashed to all of the buzz I’d read about the rye chocolate brownies from The Violet Bakery Cookbook. People loved them in the Piglet, the New York Times praised them, and there was a lot of discussion about them in the comments on Lottie and Doof. The interplay of dark chocolate and rye was something that took bakers by pleasant surprise and it made me very curious. I’d wanted to make them, but I never thought I’d find rye flour in Springfield. But here it was!
Other than popcorn–which is a necessary and always stocked staple–Hal and I don’t really keep snacks in the house. This is a departure from how I grew up, when we almost always had chips and cookies and probably half a bag of peanut M+Ms in the kitchen cupboards. My mother had the kind of willpower that allows a person to eat half a single serving bag of candy and put the rest away (she also had a wonderful habit of having a teeny dish with just one or two dainty little spoonfuls of Breyers chocolate ice cream before bed)…something I did not exactly inherit from her. So, in my own home, I tend to mostly stay away from having snacks hanging around. But sometimes and on some occasions, a really snacky snack is called for. Say, for example, when you’re getting ready to watch the second debate in an increasingly horrifying presidential election, and need comforting treats to get you through. Times like that call for the snacking big guns: chocolate dipped potato chips.
I confess to having a soft spot for homemade ice cream cakes. I like them when they include literal cake or when they’re just ice cream in the shape of a cake. This fudgy, incredibly easy version falls somewhere in between those two poles. It features layers of graham crackers as the “cake” component. The crackers absorb some ice cream and soften a bit, giving the texture enough variety to make it interesting. This cake is currently at the top of my warm weather favorites and is perfect for Memorial Day weekend parties.
Before I tried this recipe, I’d never had much luck with anything caramel-y. Not terrible burnt sugar disaster luck, just results that were solidly meh. So much so that the first time I planned to make this toffee, for a dear friend’s birthday, I bought a box of Rice Krispies for just in case back up treats. I fully expect to end up with a trashcan full of melted butter and sugar, and my favorite no fail salted brown butter crispy treats in a care package on their way to Virginia. I’m happy to report that this chocolate covered toffee with pumpkin seeds and sea salt, from The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook, came together more easily than I could have imagined, and I didn’t need the back up Krispies at all.
I had my first blondie at Ruby Tuesday. Back in high school I ate at Ruby Tuesday more than any other restaurant. Not that my options were endless, but with a Ruby’s, a TGI Friday, and an Applebee’s all in spitting distance, I still always chose RT. I went with my boyfriend, I went with my sister and her best friend, I went with my girlfriends. Sometimes all in the same week. And if I had room for dessert after a basket of pumpernickel bread sticks with honey butter and a plate of loaded cheese fries, I was getting a blondie. Always. Even the Oreo Tallcake couldn’t sway me away. I’ve had blondies here and there over the last several years, but they haven’t come in my way much since I stopped making frequent Rubys trips. Until I tried Ina Garten’s recipe, and suddenly found myself wanting them almost as often as I did back in high school.
There are times when one has to throw things like kale and quinoa and caution to the wind, and just have a serious indulgence. These little treats are for exactly those times. A mix of chocolate, nuts, candy bars, salt, sugar, and butter (so much butter) baked until everything melts together on a graham cracker base, these salted toffee chocolate squares are a dessert that doesn’t look like much, but will knock your socks off. I remember bringing some in for my students once and watching one gal surreptitiously open the tupperware they were hiding in before our meeting started. She took a big whiff, her eyes got wide, and she turned to me and said, “Jessica! WHAT ARE THESE?” and then made the next couple of folks who came into the office smell them, too.