MAKES 20 BARS
Oh, Portland, you win. My willpower and my fat pants have been no match for your hoppy microbrews and lush pinots, your venison terrines and pistachio-studded pates, your charred cauliflower and caper pizzas, your griddled apple breads, your electric espressos, your creamy local cheddars, your buttery grilled clams, your artsy cocktails, your fiery papaya fritters, your sticky chicken wings, your addictive poutines, your zippy ginger rice, your crispy pork cheeks, your elk osso buco, your tangy Korean tacos, your Bosnian pitas.
I arrived in town last Tuesday for a big conference which drew together hundreds of food professionals from the US and the wider world. I’ve reconnected with old friends, met oodles of new ones, shuttled between hotel rooms and ballrooms, and wined and dined until I worried my stomach (and my liver) might burst. But until last night, I hadn’t seen the inside of a kitchen in a week. And hoo boy, I missed it.
In fact, my kitchen withdrawl has felt especially acute because the food and the cooks around me have been so deeply inspiring. Without a stove to go home to, I’ve spent most of the week scribbling notes in my ratty reporter’s notebook, making a to-cook-list for my return home. Here’s hoping I can still decipher one-liners like “pea salad, weeds?” after the red eye home tonight.
Happily, though, my last night in town was spent celebrating my friend Hannah’s birthday with a potluck feast. A Brooklyn transplant who just made the move to Portland last month, she’s now shacked up in a darling, rambling old house on the South East side of town. A house with a sun porch. And a yard. And a grill. And a nice big kitchen. So, while Hannah went out for six packs and some wine, I went to work.
In the name of springtime and a stab at healthfulness, I threw together a wild rice salad (a riff on some of the recipes I developed for last week’s LA Times piece). But that’s not what I want to talk about. Because the real star of the evening — and my new obsession — was a batch of blondies I concocted using rye flour, crushed pretzels*, and a boatload of brown sugar and butter. The genesis for the recipe was a lovely little square of salty cake by the talented crew at Portland eatery Ten 01, that I nibbled on after midnight on Wednesday, at a late night party thrown by local brewers Hopworks, Double Mountain, and Ninkasi. Anyway, to say I became a teensy bit taken with this cake would be an understatement. I wrote PRETZEL and BUTTERSCOTCH in my notebook in big block letters. And dear Hannah put up with me musing dreamily about it for the next three days.
So, now you can obsess too. (Thank me later.) Gooey, salty, crunchy, and sweet (like an oversized caramel-coated pretzel!) these blondies aren’t as sophisticated as their inspiration, but if it’s sweet tooth nirvana you’re after, they’ll do.
* I did not plan this, but apparently today is National Pretzel Day. Seriously! Kismet.
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
2 cups packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/4 cup finely crushed pretzels (I used Newman’s Own original variety. As for technique: I transferred about half the pretzels into a Ziploc and sealed it. Then I took the bottom of a glass jar, crushed the pretzels inside the Ziploc, and scooped out the crumbs I needed with a measuring cup.
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat; set aside to cool, then stir in the brown sugar and vanilla. Next, whisk in eggs, one by one, until the mixture is smooth. Then, using a silicone spatula to scrape out every last bit, transfer mixture to a large bowl.
2. In another large bowl, whisk together rye flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Working in increments, stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture and mix until smooth. Sprinkle in 3/4 cup crushed pretzels and stir again until evenly combined.
3. Spread batter into a 8×8” cake pan. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup crushed pretzel and press the surface lightly to make sure the crumbs stick.
4. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool and cut into 20 squares.