Too Fruity or Not Fruity Enough?: Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry-Balsamic Swirl

I love strawberries with balsamic vinegar. I discovered this beautiful pairing years ago when I first made a lemon-almond cake from Bon App├ętit that is served with balsamic strawberries (the cake is still one of my favorites). So I was excited to see that Irvin Lin has a recipe for "Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry-Balsamic Swirl" in his cookbook Marbled, Swirled, and Layered. There are a number of interesting elements to this bar (which, by the way, I think is more accurately described as a blondie and not a brownie) in addition to the strawberry-balsamic swirl. First, it includes roasted white chocolate, which I have used only once before -- in a David Lebovitz recipe that includes caramelized white chocolate. Second, the recipe includes a good amount of extra-virgin olive oil. I might be an outlier, but I am generally not a fan of fruity olive oils in desserts.

Still, I followed the recipe as written. First, I roasted the white chocolate in the oven. I was using Callebaut 25.9% white chocolate and I ended up with a chalky pile of white chocolate instead of a caramel-colored liquid. This didn't bother me too much, as the same thing happened to me the previous time I tried to caramelize white chocolate. I suspect the same problem as before -- the relatively low cocoa butter content of my white chocolate, which David Lebovitz has identified as a likely culprit. I believe in using good ingredients when I bake, but I have my limits on what I'm willing to spend. I've been quite happy with the results I get from Callebaut 25.9%. It tastes good and is reasonably priced; I buy it in three-pound bags for about $11/pound. While I might upgrade to Callebaut 28% (it costs just a little more), I'm not going to break the bank for Valrhona Ivoire 35%. It might be the Rolls Royce of white chocolates but it also costs an eye-popping $30+ a pound. So I'm okay with chalky roasted white chocolate.

To make the blondie batter I beat butter with sugar and dark brown sugar; added vanilla and salt, followed by eggs; beat in olive oil; added the cooled white chocolate; and incorporated flour. I poured the batter into a parchment-lined 9-inch by 13-inch pan.

To make the strawberry swirl, I cooked chopped strawberries with sugar until the berries fell apart. The mixture was quite thick and could have passed for jam, but I followed the directions to add cornstarch dissolved in water. The cornstarch thickened the mixture so much that I actually thought it might be too thick to swirl with the blondie batter. So I added a few spoonfuls of water to thin it out a little. I added in balsamic vinegar, dropped spoonfuls of the strawberry mixture onto the blondie batter, and swirled the two mixtures together before baking.
As the bars were baking I could smell the extra-virgin olive oil. I thought the finished bars looked quite nice -- but I also thought that the amount of strawberry swirl should probably be increased, and likely even doubled. The thing about these bars is that I can't really judge them objectively because I couldn't get over the flavor of the olive oil, which I found overwhelming. To me the oil was more prominent than the brown sugar and the strawberries -- another reason that I think some more strawberry swirl would be a good idea. However, I received some favorable feedback on these bars, and I know that many people really are fans of fruity olive oil. So if you fall into that camp, these bars might be right up your alley. I'm tempted to try them again with a neutral oil like canola, or maybe even butter.

Recipe: "Roasted White Chocolate Brownies with Strawberry-Balsamic Swirl" from Marbled, Swirled, and Layered by Irvin Lin, recipe available here from The New York Times. [The baking directions in the cookbook are slightly different than the online version; the cookbook says to bake the bars for 25-30 minutes and doesn't say anything about baking the bars on a preheated cookie sheet.]

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