This post is in honour of two of the loveliest girls I know. The first is Roisin, who lent me THREE gorgeous dresses yesterday AND gave me the most amazing cloche hat which is too big for her. She is seriously one of the most generous and thoughtful people I know and I will make every effort not to get her dresses covered in Scootie hair to show how much I appreciate it.
The second is one of my work friends and colleagues, J. J is also one of those people you just simply can't help but love - she's nice and clever and funny and when I found out within a few weeks of meeting her that she has a project to bake a cake every week and give it away, our friendship was sealed. She mentioned last weekend that her cake of the week had been blondies from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. I have that book but I haven't tried that recipe. However, I do have a copy of the America's Test Kitchen blondie version, and I said I'd give it to her so she could give it a try for comparison.
Of course this all got me thinking about blondies, and frankly what a weird sort of idea they are - I don't think I've ever met anyone who has eaten a brownie and thought that what it needed was the chocolate taking out. However, given my liking for a quantifiable challenge, I was taken with the idea of doing a side by side comparison of the two recipes.
Sources and methodology
Now I have to say straight up that I can't reproduce the ATK recipe here because they police people doing that. So this is a report on a scientifically not very robust experiment. What I can say is that the two recipes were pretty similar in terms of ingredient quantities (hard to say exactly because one was in weights and one in cups). The ATK recipe specified brown sugar but that was about the only difference. However, the methods were very different: the Hummingbird one involved melting butter and white chocolate before adding the other ingredients; the ATK was a more traditional creaming and adding sort of job. As you can see from the pictures I didn't do anything sensible like make one and then make the other; no, I tried to do both at the same time, and it's pretty remarkable that everything ended up in the right bowl.
Method and get-out clauses
I should add here a few more provisos to my scientific rigour:
1. I didn't have as much butter as I'd thought so one batch's quota had to be topped up with marge. However, this was the batch that won on taste testing
2. One batch was baked in a silicone pan; the other in a baking parchment lined regular pan. The silicone pan batch was the winning one.
3. The mixtures had different baking times, but the faster one took a lot longer than it was supposed to. This meant that both batches had the oven door opened on them quite a few times. The fast-baking-but-didn't version was the winner.
4. The Hummingbird recipe called for nuts. I used chopped chocolate instead. According to the ATK recipe adding nuts would turn them into congo bars which are another thing I'd never heard of.
So, batches baked, The Scientist stepped up to carry out the 'warm from the oven' test. I know, he has to put up with a lot. The next day I took both batches to the pub (yes, our local doesn't mind if you bring cake - is this the best pub in England??), and got our friends to try one each. Most people said they were too full from dinner, but then ate both anyway. The result was absolutely unanimous: ATK had it, both warm from the oven and cold in the pub.
This is not to say that the Hummingbird recipe was disliked - very far from it. That was the one everyone tried first, and I think they all thought it was going to be the favourite. One person even said he was drooling as he ate it. I prefer not to think about that too much but it can only be a positive comment. Someone else said that the Hummingbird one was more brownie-like, but he preferred the other.
ATK at the bottom, Hummingbird at the top. In the latter the white chocolate is melted with the butter in the first step
I think they speak for themselves really, don't they? I'd be interested to know (but not interested enough to go and research) whether the order in which you taste test makes a difference to your final judgement. If I were being really rigorous I would do it again with the pans switched over, but I think we've already established that I don't mind a little slapdashery (in my baking experiments, not my work, in case any of my colleagues/potential future publishers are reading this). I will be passing on the ATK recipe to J forthwith so she can spread her baking love a little further. As to what I thought: well, I'm a brownie sort of girl, I think. But I promise not to eat any while I'm wearing Roisin's dresses.