“I swam under water as if I really did not want to return to the surface, as if I wanted to stay below with the fish.” – Anaïs Nin, Summer 1942
I have days of escapism and nights of no-return. These past few weeks saw the return to forgotten surroundings. And the arrival of lost memories. A refuge to the sea. A sea so engrained within my flesh and blood, that if I was to slit my throat and bleed, I would slowly stream salt, sand and the shrill swan song of swallow. It’s never easy to come home to the thing you grew from. And the more you try to clutch and fight, the more it’s carnal desire eats. I feel as if I possess inside me the ebb and flow of the ocean. And at any given moment, the tide will swell to the point of drowning.
I was born from this very ocean, the very grains of sand that I still find deeply-entangled within my sheets. The shore, pale to the hilt of white. The tide, opalescent and glistening. A bloody tide that drowned more than it ever saved. With every return, the sky only seems to increase with intensity. Brilliant shades of pink and blue with streaks of golden light. The dwindling light, killing all notions of time. Time lost as ephemeral and deeply-wounded as she. Though, nothing is ever lost to the girl who remains dedicated to shadow. I once sought my past in everything I did, every stranger ever met, every man ever loved. And with every return, the ocean forces me to let go. Maybe I’m finally beginning to learn something.
And then there were these cookie bars. Brown Butter Cookie Meringue Bars with Espresso Fleur de Sel. I teased these bars, a long time ago. And the response received was nothing short of astounding. So, I thank you all for being patient for the recipe, and with me too. It’s never forgotten that you’ve granted me the space and voice to create.
These cookies bars are a dream. The base comprises of an intensely nutty brown butter cookie-like-cake, that hides puddles of molten bittersweet chocolate. There’s a slather of vanilla-bean flecked swiss meringue over the top, which is torched to toasted perfection. And a flourish of an espresso infused fleur de sel, to finish. The combination of sweet and salty, is my all-time favourite. And the infused salt here, really does make the overall cookie bar. They’re mouth-wateringly good.
I use a kitchen blow torch to toast the meringue. I don’t recommend placing these cookie bars under the broiler as the cookie layer would likely end up a double-baked, mess. It may seem daunting, but using a torch is far safer and allows for greater heat control. They’re relatively inexpensive too and make a great addition to your culinary arsenal. I use mine a lot more than I initially thought I would.
I use a small mortar and pestle to infuse the salt. If you don't have access to one, you can still achieve the same result by placing the fleur de sel in a small bowl and using the back of a metal spoon to grind the ingredients together until fragrant.
If you don’t have fleur de sel on hand, a coarse-grained salt easily be used as a substitution. As too could un-refined salt flakes.
BROWN BUTTER COOKIE MERINGUE BARS WITH ESPRESSO FLEUR DE SEL
For the cookie bars:
210 grams unsalted butter, cubed
170 grams light brown sugar
140 grams granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vanilla bean extract
1 tablespoon bourbon, optional
275 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely ground espresso powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
200 grams dark chocolate, roughly chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 180 c. Grease and line a square baking tin with non-stick parchment paper. Let the paper slightly overhang the sides. Set aside.
Place the butter into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Heat, stirring often, until the butter is golden and melted. Increase the heat to medium-high and continue to cook, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring, until the butter is beginning to turn amber in colour and smells nutty in fragrance. The butter will begin to foam, but will subside as it continues to cook. Some brown butter solids should just be beginning to form at the base of the saucepan. Remove from the heat.
Pour the brown butter into a large sized mixing bowl. Add in the light brown sugar and granulated sugar. Whisk until combined. Add in the egg, vanilla bean extract and bourbon, if using. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside.
In a separate medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, espresso powder, baking soda and salt.
Add the dry ingredients into the bowl with the butter and sugar mixture. Whisk until just combined. Some flour chunks throughout the batter are okay. Fold in the dark chocolate chunks until evenly combined throughout the dough.
Place the cookie dough into the prepared baking tin, using a rubber spatula to smooth down the top and help spread it to the edges. Bake, for 15 minutes, or until golden, just firm and crackled around the edges and the middle has begun to set. Remove from the oven and let cool in the tin for 15 minutes, before carefully placing the cookie onto a wire rack to cool further.
For the swiss meringue:
80 grams egg whites
100 grams granulated sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
¼ teaspoon salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir the egg whites and sugar together to combine. Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2.5 cm’s of water and over medium-low heat. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water.Heat the mixture, until it reaches about 70 Celsius on a candy thermometer. Make sure to whisk the mixture with a fork often and scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl to avoid any sugar crystallization.
Once at temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and place it in the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Set the mixer speed to medium-high. Whisk, until the mixture forms that of stiff and glossy peaks, about 6 minutes. Add in the vanilla bean seeds and salt and continue to whisk until evenly combined, a further 30 seconds. The bowl should be cool to the touch and all the steam will have escaped from the meringue.Stop mixing and remove the bowl from the stand mixer.
For the espresso fleur de sel:
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
½ teaspoon finely ground espresso powder
In a small mortar and pestle, grind together the fleur de sel and espresso powder until the mixture is fragrant and evenly combined, about a minute. Set aside until needed.
Carefully set the cookie out and onto a serving plate or tray. Use the back of a metal spoon to spread the meringue over the top of the cookie base, in a swoop-and-swirl motion. Use a kitchen blow torch to char the top of the meringue until it is evenly toasted. When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle over a little of the espresso fleur de sel before slicing. The cookie bars are best eaten on the day of making but will keep for up to 2 days, stored in an air-tight container, in a dark-cool place.