On the long list of things I love about Sag Harbor is the daily inspiration I get just from looking in our shopkeepers’ windows. As Memorial Day approaches, there is a lot to see. I’ve noticed a bunch of items that have given me ideas for the entertaining I’ll do in the weeks ahead. Did you get a look at the classic ceramic espresso cups at In Home? They reminded me to serve affogato, a small scoop of vanilla ice cream from Bay Burger with a shot of espresso poured on top, for dessert one of these evenings. The Ideal has a vegan baking book in its window, with a luscious flourless chocolate cake on the cover. That’s another great dessert for summer weekends. Make it ahead and it keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week. Cold slices, served with sliced local strawberries, are rich but still refreshing.
And have you checked out the oven-safe disposable mini baking pans that Vicki Nolan has front and center at Country Lane? As I was on my way home from the IGA with a sack of flour, a box of brown sugar, and a jar of Nutella, I saw them and thought, I’d love to make individual Nutella Swirl Blondies in the little rectangular ones, to bring to a friend’s holiday barbecue.
These disposable baking pans are nonstick and oven-safe up to 400 degrees. Carry them to a party and there’s no need to remember your pan when it’s time to go. If you are concerned about their impact on the environment, you can feel good that you won’t be using any soap and hot water to wash them, and they can go in the recycling bin when you’ve eaten what’s inside. But for me their biggest selling point is the decorative appeal they add to humble bar cookies. You could bake Nutella Swirl Blondies in an 8-inch square baking pan and they’d taste just as good, but they wouldn’t be as cute as they are when dressed in purple polka dots or turquoise stripes.
You can adapt many recipes to fit into miniature pans, including metal mini muffin tins. Just be careful when dealing with chunky ingredients, which might not leave enough room in the little pans for batter. Cut fruit into ¼-inch pieces. Use mini chocolate chips instead of the regular size. Chop nuts finely.
And here’s a tip that I think is worth the price of this newspaper: To skin hazelnuts effortlessly, forget the usual advice to toast them in the oven and then let them steam in a kitchen towel before rubbing the skins off. It is much easier and more effective to bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add the nuts and 2 tablespoons of baking soda to the pot, and boil for 3 minutes. Drain them in a colander and then run them under cold running water and the skins will fall right off. Dry them well, toast them in a 350-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes, and then finely chop before proceeding.
Nutella Swirl Blondies
Makes 16 squares or 8 individual 2”-x-3 12/” blondies
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup skinned, toasted, and chopped hazelnuts
5 or 6 tablespoons Nutella
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure it is tucked into all the corners and that there is at least 1-inch overhanging the top of the pan on all sides. Alternatively, set 8 oven-safe disposable mini loaf pans on a baking sheet.
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small mixing bowl.
3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Remove it from the heat. With a wooden spoon, stir in the brown sugar until it is dissolved. Whisk in the egg and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in the walnuts.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, or divide evenly among the mini loaf pans. Spoon the Nutella over the batter in the baking pan and swirl with a knife. Or place a heaping teaspoon on top of the batter in each of the individual baking cups and swirl. Bake the blondies until they are just set in the center, about 25 minutes for a large pan, 15 to 17 minutes for the smaller ones.
5. Grasping the overhanging foil on either side of the pan, lift out the blondies and place them on a cutting board. Cut them into 16 squares. Or, let the mini blondies cool completely in the paper baking cups and serve inside the cups.