Don’t judge a book by its cover. Taken literally, I ignore this phrase completely. I am always attracted to a book by its cover. I am old school and read real, hold-the-printed-paper-in-your- hands books. How do eBook readers figure out which books appeal, if there is no cover? Metaphorically, this phrase warns that many things aren’t what they appear to be on the surface.
The popularity of food photo sites indicates that we are drawn to food by its visual impact. Take a look at Pinterest. (I spend way too much time taking a look at Pinterest.) The desserts that receive the most attention are usually gooey. There is something that draws the eye (and stomach) to melting chocolate and caramel. However, this is a post that champions a non-gooey, non-chocolate cookie bar that hides incredible deliciousness behind its unassuming exterior.
Until baking these Brown Butter-Brown Sugar Bars I had never cooked with brown butter. I may have been the last blogger in existence who hadn’t. I am now a complete brown butter convert. The toasty warm flavor is more than worth the five extra minutes it takes to brown the butter. Paired with brown sugar, the flavor impact of these bars is wondrous. Jessica, at How Sweet It Is, wrote a post which gives a step-by-step photo explanation of the browning process, taking all the guess work out. Jessica’s post emboldened me to give it a go. I urge you to give it a go as well. You will find yourself adding brown butter to everything.
These soft, chewy bars are adapted from a Cookies and Cups cookie recipe. Bars often stay fresh longer than cookies and take less time to throw together. Brown Butter-Brown Sugar Bars stay chewy for more than 1 week. The original recipe rolled the cookies in a white-brown sugar mixture. For the bars I sprinkled the sugar on top before baking. The sugar sprinkled results are full of flavor and plenty sweet, so I almost didn’t try the frosting. For mailing or longer storage, the sugar sprinkled top is the way to go but if you aren’t mailing and plan to eat these within a few days, definitely go for the creamy soft brown sugar frosting.
Adapted from Cookies and Cups
Makes 16 (2” bars)
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups brown sugar (light or dark), packed
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Sugar topping ingredients:
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Frosting ingredients (optional):
½ cup brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup milk
2-3 cups confectioners sugar
· Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9”x 9” baking pan with 2 criss-crossed strips of parchment paper with ends overhanging the pan. Spray parchment lightly with nonstick spray.
· In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once melted, gently whisk continually to keep butter from burning. Butter will bubble and foam. As soon as brown bits begin to form( after 2-3 minutes) at bottom of the saucepan, remove from heat but continue to whisk ( about 30 seconds) until the butter turns a caramel brown color. Pour the butter (but not the brown-black bits) into a bowl to cool.
· In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
· In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the brown butter and the brown sugar until smooth.
· Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth.
· Slowly add the flour mixture just until combined.
· Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
· If using a sugar topping (recommended method for mailing), combine the brown and white sugar then sprinkle over the batter. (If using frosting, skip this step. The frosting will not spread smoothly over the sugar topping.)
· Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the bars are golden and the edges begin to brown. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center. If the toothpick comes out clean or with dry crumbs, the bars are ready. Try not to over-bake.
· Cool completely in the pan then, using the overhanging parchment, lift out the entire square. If using sugar topping, bars can be cut now.
Frosting directions (optional):
· In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, mix together brown sugar and butter until melted.
· Bring to a boil and continue cooking for 1 minute, stirring continually.
· Remove from heat and cool for 5-10 minutes. The mixture will thicken as it cools.
· In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter-sugar mixture and milk until smooth.
· Slowly add confectioners sugar until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. (I used 2 ½ cups.)
· Spread the frosting over the cooled un-cut bars. Allow to set at least one hour before cutting the bars. The frosting will continue to firm up over time. The top of the frosting will form a crust that allows the bars to be wrapped or piled without ruining the frosting.
· Bars will remain fresh at least 1 week when stored at room temperature in an airtight container or ziplock bag. For mailings that travel more than 1 week, I recommend not cutting into individual bars, but wrapping the entire square.
Packing tips: Double wrap bars individually or in pairs in plastic wrap before placing in airtight containers or ziplock bags. Wrapping the entire pan of Brown Butter-Brown Sugar Bars, without cutting, will preserve moisture and keep the bars chewy for longer.