As my move to New York slowly but surely comes closer, I've been Marie Kondo-ing the SHIT out of my apartment. All my furniture is being sold, any excess kitchenware and cookbooks are being given away, the full works. Luckily, in a big city like San Francisco, there are always people coming and going. It's been surprisingly easy to get rid of it all (PS — if any Bay Area folks want this trusty marble island that's served as my backdrop for the last year, let me know). The only thing that's not so easy to hand off are my pantry items — nobody wants my half-empty jars of condiments, partially used bags of ingredients, or the frozen fruit in my fridge that I've been hoarding for "future projects".
So I've got no choice but to use them myself before I go, making pie with the frozen fruit, cookies with the odd quantities of chocolate, and these blondies. These blondies are purely a result of two pantry leftovers and discoveries: half a block of Trader Joe's Pound Plus Chocolate Bar, and a bag of candy cap mushrooms buried in the back of my baking drawer.
Erlend, ever the mushroom enthusiast, gifted me this bag of candy cap mushrooms a few months ago. "They're supposed to taste like maple syrup!" he exclaimed, handing me a bag he'd ordered online. "Maybe you can bake something with them!" Since I don't quite share this interest of his, I smiled politely, nodded, and promptly forgot about them.
If you're not an amateur mycologist like Erlend, here's a primer: candy cap mushrooms are indeed a type of fungi often used in desserts as an extract or flavoring. Unlike other mushrooms that taste like, well, mushrooms, candy caps taste like molasses and brown sugar. They smell so fragrantly of these flavors too that when I initially discovered the wrapped package in my drawer, I'd assumed that it was a block of rock sugar.
Indeed, when I brought a bag of these babies in to work and made my coworkers guess the secret ingredient, the most common guess was maple syrup. The looks on their faces when I told them that they were eating blondies flavored by a kind of mushroom was pretty priceless.
Some baker's notes:
- Candy cap mushrooms are available online. Although they last for a while in the pantry in their dried state, it's best to use them almost immediately as they become less fragrant and ultimately less flavorful over time.
- If you don't like mushrooms because of their texture, don't panic. There's not actually a whole lot of mushrooms in the actual recipe. Since this was my first time baking with candy caps, I was worried that actually using them in the baked good would end up with little bits of slimy mushroom throughout the blondies. So instead, I ended up steeping the mushrooms with the butter used in this recipe to make a candy cap flavored compound butter. I also used a spice grinder to grind a very, VERY small amount of candy caps to make a sort of spice, which worked wonderfully. No slimy textures anywhere, I promise.
- 1 ounce candy cap mushrooms
- 1 cup (10 ounces // 2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 3/4 cups (12 ounces) dark brown sugar, tightly packed
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 8 ounces dark (at least 70%-cacao) chocolate, roughly chopped into 1- and 2-inch chunks
- First, prepare your candy cap mushrooms. Separate out the larger mushrooms from the smaller mushrooms and tiny crumbs. Take the smaller mushrooms (don't use more than 0.25 ounces) and tiny crumbs and process into a small bowl using a spice grinder. Set aside.
- Next, brown the butter. Place 1 cup unsalted butter into a lightly colored, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Melt the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter starts to foam and splatter. Use a heatproof rubber spatula to scrape the sides and the bottom of the pan occasionally to prevent the butter from burning. After around 5 minutes, golden flecks should appear in the butter, and the butter should smell nutty and toasted. When scooped into a white plate, the butter should be a light to dark brown amberish color. Remove from heat and immediately sprinkle the larger candy cap mushrooms over the butter, using the rubber spatula to coat and submerge the candy caps into the butter. Allow to cool to room temperature completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour.
- Once the butter has cooled, it's time to make the blondies! Use a fine-mesh strainer to strain out the butter into a liquid measuring cup, gently pressing the candy caps with a spatula to squeeze out as much butter as you can. Discard the candy cap mushrooms. The mushrooms will have absorbed some of the butter — my butter only measured around 6 fluid ounces. Use the remaining 1/4 cup of butter to top off the candy cap infused butter until you have 1 cup (8 fluid ounces) of melted butter.
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 (F). Prepare an 8 by 8-inch square baking pan by spraying with a light coating of cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper (Food52 has a great guide on how to do this perfectly). Set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar, 2 large eggs, and 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, before lowering the mixer speed to its lowest setting and streaming in the cooled brown butter (from the 1st step). Continue mixing until the ingredients are well combined and a pretty, amber color, before adding 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and ground candy cap mushrooms (from the 1st step) to the mixture all at once and beating until just combined. At this point, it's okay to have a couple flour streaks still visible in the batter.
- Remove the bowl from the freestanding electric mixer and scatter 8 ounces chopped dark chocolate over the batter. Use a heatproof rubber spatula to hand mix the chocolate into the batter.
- Once the chocolate is evenly distributed, transfer to the prepared baking pan and use an offset spatula to smooth the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the edges of the blondies are set but the center still looks a little gooey (the blondies will continue to cook in the pan). Allow to cool on a wire rack slightly before consuming in all their delicious, maple-scented glory.