Chocolate chip cookies, blondies, or brownies—I have a really hard time deciding which I like best. They all have their own (delicious) merits, and there are a dizzying number of good recipes out there for each one.
But what if there was a way to have all three rolled in one: the chewiness of a cookie, the no-fuss press-in-a-pan quality of a blondie, and the fudgy decadence of a brownie? Something that would satisfy the craving for all three but have a flavor and texture uniquely its own? The thought of such a sweet treat lured me into the kitchen to start experimenting.
To create my cookie-blondie-brownie combo, I started with the chocolate chip cookie recipe I’ve been baking for years: Cook’s Illustrated’s Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. I then pulled various other chocolate chip cookie, blondie, and brownie recipes from cookbooks and across the internet—comparing ratios of butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and other ingredients, learning more about the roles that each play. After emerging from the sugary, buttery rabbit hole I’d slipped down, and with detailed notes in hand, I started baking. And baking, and tweaking, and baking some more. I won’t detail all of the iterations I made over the last few months (nor how many bars I ate in the name of culinary research), but I finally landed on these Malted Chocolate Chunk Cookie Bars, which I’m pretty crazy about.
Here are a few takeaways:
- Brown butter. Whenever a recipe calls for melted butter, I have a hard time not browning it first to impart a nutty, complex flavor to whatever I’m baking. But it’s not as simple as substituting one for the other. The short of it: butter doesn’t brown until all of its water content has evaporated, and even a small loss of moisture affects the texture of baked goods. The easiest solution: adding back the water that’s lost (about 1 tablespoon of water per stick of butter). And since butter must reach a temperature of around 266° F to brown (versus about 95°F to melt), it also takes longer to cool back down to room temperature. Rushing still-warm browned butter into the batter results in a flatter, denser bar.
- Malted milk powder. Just like a scoop of malted milk powder elevates a chocolate milkshake, it also adds a rich, toasty, complex flavor to baked goods. Malted milk powder gets its characteristic flavor from a blend of malted barley extracts, powdered milk, sugar, and salt. As the powdered milk caramelizes, it helps baked goods to brown and lends caramel, butterscotch notes. Stella Parks dubbed malted milk powder the “umami bomb of dessert” for good reason.
Eggs. A variety of textures can be achieved in cookies and bars by simply altering the number of eggs, as well as the proportion of whites to yolks. As J. Kenji López-Alt explains in his deep dive into the science of chocolate chip cookies, extra egg whites yield taller cookies; extra egg yolks yield fudgier cookies. My go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe calls for 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk, and most blondie and brownie recipes call for at least 2 whole eggs. For my cookie bars, I found that 3 whole eggs yields a texture that nicely straddles the line between cookie and blondie/brownie.
Cocoa. Adding cocoa powder to cookies is a simple way to make them more brownie-like. For my cookie bars, 3 tablespoons was the perfect amount to impart a rich chocolate flavor yet keep their chocolate chip cookie-ness intact.
Whip It: This post from Lindsay-Jean Hard explaining why blondies are often raw in the middle was sweet serendipity, since I had experienced this same problem with my cookie bars. The Stella Parks’ solution: fully aerate the batter by whipping the sugar and butter until it’s light, thick, and pale. (Coincidentally, I had just applied the same trick for my fluffy Peanut Butter Sheet Cake.)
Doneness: Determining the right time to take cookies out of the oven is always tricky—even more so for blondies and brownies. An internal temp of 205° F (taken in the middle with an instant-read thermometer) yields a cookie bar that’s fully cooked yet still perfectly moist and fudgy every single time.
So, is it a chocolate chip cookie, blondie, or brownie? It’s hard to say, and that’s the point. What I love most is that they taste so familiar, yet there’s a distinctive toasty, chocolatey, nutty-salty-sweet complexity from the mix of brown butter, malted milk powder, and cocoa that’s unexpected and addictively good. You could eat half the pan just trying to decide what to call them. I may be speaking from experience.
- 16 tablespoons (225 grams) unsalted butter (2 sticks)
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (198 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup (44 grams) malted milk powder, such as Ovaltine or Carnation
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 3 large eggs, straight from the fridge
- 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons (18 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 12 ounces (340 grams) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/4- to 1/2-inch chunks (or 2 cups chocolate chips)
- 1 cup (112 grams) chopped pecans (optional)