Whiskey and rye blondies by Ella Risbridger
We climbed the hill together: the Tall Man and me, Harry Harris and his girlfriend, and Fiona, our token American, in pristine wellies. It was dark. It was Bonfire Night, and we were going to watch London burn.
We had a picnic: a midnight picnic, for eating in the cold and the dark, our mittens tinged with smoke. We had acquired some mulled wine from a pub on the way up, and decanted it. We had samosas, ineptly folded, but spicy and strong. Tiny hand pies. Blondies, studded with sea salt, and crisp, half-melted sugar, still warm. We had sparklers, matches and good boots. Scarves and gloves. The Tall Man had a bottle of ginger wine in his pocket. I think it was Fiona's first Bonfire Night, although I am not sure. People were singing American Pie as we climbed the hill, and I had been thinking of the same song earlier when I was baking these blondies: dense rye crust, and the sharp-sour tang of whiskey in among the sweet white chocolate.
"So… it's to burn the Catholics?" Fiona asked, and we sort of shrugged, silhouetted against the city lights. Kind of? Maybe? Not at all, once you get right down to it: it's about fire, really, like every other festival that comes to hold back the dark.
We lit our sparklers, and wrote our names in fire, as we always have, and always will. I wrote our initials entwined in a heart. The afterimage stayed on my retinas for a long time, and I felt like a teenager. Flippant, silly, dangerous, with everything mine for the taking: the whole world bright at my feet, bright with fire.
Then there was an enormous bang, close by: the real teenagers had sent an illegal Roman candle into the hedgerow. The police came swiftly, and in the shadows cast by their blue lights, so clean and so ordinary, we slinked away, down the hill, through the long grass, and surreptitiously ate our blondies in the pub. They were (and are) so good: toffee-ish, a little blackened at the edges, dense and fudgy inside, with a crackled sugary crust. Sea salt. Whiskey and rye. The gold sugar stars caught on my teeth. I leaned against the Tall Man, breathed in the smoke from his coat, closed my eyes and wished it would last forever.
Makes 24 blondies
200g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
200g golden caster sugar
200g molasses sugar
2 tbsp whiskey (if you don't like whiskey, just leave it out and add an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
250g rye flour
150g white chocolate
2 tsp flaky sea salt
2 tsp 'golden stars' sugar decorations (optional, but you can get them from most major supermarkets, in the baking aisle)
1. Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F, Gas Mark 4) and butter a brownie tin (about 30cm x 20cm) or other similar-sized tin.
2. Weigh the butter into a large saucepan, and set it over the lowest-possible heat. You're going to melt it, then brown it, and this will take about 7 minutes: keep an eye on it. It will go through solid to liquid to foaming to rising to sinking back on itself, and you will be able to see the colour change.
3. Meanwhile, weigh out your sugars separately. (You can tinker with these a bit, as long as you keep some dark sugar in there. Molasses sugar is splendid, but can be hard to find; using demerara instead will give you a lovely, paler blondie, while substituting the golden caster sugar with granulated can make the crust even crunchier, with that classic crackled finish.)
4. When the butter is a nut-brown colour, add your sugars to the pan: golden caster first, and then molasses. Whisk with all your strength to dissolve the sugar, and simmer over a low heat for about a minute. Add the whiskey and/or vanilla, and whisk until you have a smooth, glossy, dark mixture. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 5 minutes.
5. Crack both eggs into the cooled butter and sugar mixture, and take up your whisk again. Whisk, whisk, whisk. Keep whisking until the eggs are thoroughly incorporated, then gently fold in the rye flour; you can do this with the whisk too, just go gently.
6. Break up your white chocolate into little pieces or shred it with a big knife or cleaver. Quickly stir the chocolate through the blondie batter, not minding too much if it melts, then decant into the buttered tin, squidging it down into the corners. Scatter with the sea salt - and the gold sugar stars, if using.
7. Bake for 25 minutes, then leave to cool completely in the tin. Score into 24 small squares: these are very sweet and very rich, which is why they are so good on a cold night. If you can, store in their tin, as they stay fudgier that way - just cover with foil, and lever out as needed. Or lever out half a dozen and wrap in foil, then take them up the hill to see the fireworks and the stars.
Midnight Chicken (& Other Recipes Worth Living For) by Ella Risbridger, published by Bloomsbury is out now