Monday, April 11, 2011

Baking for Toronto Bakes For Japan

This past weekend Toronto was host to one heck of a bake sale. Toronto Bakes For Japan brought together amateur and professional bakers selling their sweet and tasty wares across the city with proceeds going to Japan relief efforts.

I happily volunteered to bake for the event, and after flipping through my cookbooks I decided on two recipes from my favourite baking resource of late, Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy: Toffee Bars and Cinnamon-Dusted Blondies.

I started with the Toffee Bars, which were definitely the more time-consuming of the two but completely worth it. You start by pressing a shortbread base into a 13x9-inch pan and sprinkling it with pecans. That gets baked for about 20 minutes, while at the same time you prepare the toffee topping. Once the base comes out, you spread the hot toffee over the pecans, put the pan back in to the oven for another 12 minutes or so until the toffee bubbles and darkens.

Once the pan is out and cooled, you drizzle melted milk chocolate over top. I used a good quality chocolate bar (Green & Black's) for an added layer of luxury.

On to the Blondies -- I've never made blondies before, as they always struck me as the brownie's sorry sister. But Alice's recipe convinced me otherwise (the chopped walnuts and chocolate chips sprinkled over top helped). She adds a tablespoon of dark rum to the batter, and I think it adds a really great flavour element. I went for the cinnamon-dusted variation, which calls for a quick grate of the cinnamon stick over the works before serving. But I might also go for the Peanut Butter Hazelnut version next time, because peanut butter makes everything better -- and I heart hazelnuts.

I couldn't find cello bags anywhere -- if anyone has a downtown source for these I'd be happy to hear it! -- so I bought a roll of cello and some ribbon to package them up. I think they looked pretty good for an amateur! I dropped the treats off at the Rivoli on Sunday morning -- three dozen Toffee Bars and two dozen Blondies -- and I was heartened to see so many treats on display and volunteers ready to sell them. Last I heard, the bake sale made more than $20,000 for Japan relief. Amazing! Big kudos to Heena and the TBFJ organizers for putting together such a fantastic event.

Toffee Bars
Makes 24 regular sized bars or 36 smallish squares

For the crust:
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (2.33 oz) sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 cups (10 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups (7 oz) pecan halves

For the topping:
1 tbsp water
3/4 cup (5.25 oz) packed light brown sugar
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 chunks
2/3 to 1 cup (4-6 oz) milk chocolate chips or 6 oz milk chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven.

To make the crust: Cut the butter into chunks and melt it in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of a foil-lined 13x9-inch pan. Scatter the pecans over the dough without pressing them into it. Lay an extra piece of foil loosely over the nuts to allow them to toast without burning while the crust is baking.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned at the edges. While the crust is baking, make the topping.

To make the topping: Combine water and brown sugar in a small saucepan, and whisk until the sugar is moistened. Heat the mixture over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Whisk in the butter and remove from the heat.

When the crust is ready, whisk the topping until smooth. Remove the foil from the crust and scrape the hot butter mixture over the pecans on the crust. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the topping is dark and bubbling vigorously. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the chocolate chips evenly over the top. (Or melt and drizzle the chocolate decoratively over the bars after they have cooled.) Cool the bars in the pan on a rack. Lift the ends of the foil liner and transfer to a cutting board. Use a long sharp knife to cut into bars. May be kept in an airtight container for at least 1 week.

Source: Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich, Artisan 2010.


  1. OMG **drool** I need to make those now. Looks so good!!

  2. Blondies are Brownies sorry sister - that's great! I made them for the first time about a month ago too. YUMMY! Great photos ... :)