The little coastal town of Carmel has a love-hate relationship with the many tourists that frequent it. Sandwiched between Pebble Beach Golf Course and Big Sur, its certainly no secret. For the locals who live in Carmel there's a few places we'd love to rave about, but have to stop ourselves from being too excited for then more tourists might come. But then there are those places that you just have to share because you physically are unable to keep it secret.
In California, we have Highway 1 - its a road that hugs the entire coast of California, and quite possibly one of the most amazing coastal drives in the world. It starts south of Los Angeles in Orange County where the locals call it PCH. That's Pacific Coast Highway for short. It weaves along the coast north, through Big Sur and Carmel. Here there is a mandatory stop that must be made - I'll tell you where in a second. Continuing on, Highway 1 goes through San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Nate always said we would only ever leave San Francisco when driving over the Golden Gate Bridge didn't amaze him anymore. Tempted by the romance of Europe we left San Francisco, but not at all because the bridge crossing lost any luster. This is how I know we will be going back. Highway 1 continues north past Marin, Tomales Bay, and Sonoma County - places amazing all on their own.
Back to the mandatory stop on Highway 1. Big Sur Bakery. Address: Big Sur Bakery, Highway One, California. They have the best jelly donuts, burgers, pizzas, cookies, wood-fired bread, pancakes... Everything is the world's best but these are extra special. Brown. Butter. Bars.
The original Brown Butter Bars are made with homemade fresh peach jam. Here is where I have to make a huge modification - in London, there is no way I'm going to get my produce greedy hands on fresh peaches, so I'm using the next best thing. The next best thing is jam made by my fellow classmate, Sky Cracknell, who is the co-founder (with her husband) of England Preserves. A post on Sky's jam is coming soon where I'll be giving away a few jars. This is hands down the best jam EVER. More on England Preserves in a few days because right now it's all about Brown Butter Bars. Read through the recipe before making - its simple, but there are a few steps which require chilling time.
BROWN BUTTER BARS,** adapted from Big Sur Bakery
For the crust:
- 8 oz unsalted butter
- 1/2 c powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
For the filling:
- 3 large eggs
- 1 c sugar
- 3/4 c + 2 Tbs all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 vanilla pod, halved and seeds scraped
- 5 oz unsalted butter
- 1 c your favorite jam
For the crust: Melt the butter in a pan at medium-high heat till the butter starts to brown. When it turns a deep golden color and smells nutty strain through a fine sieve into a heat-proof container. Freeze till its solid - about one half-hour. Put the powdered sugar and flour in a large bowl. Cut bits of the cold brown butter into the sugar + flour. Using a pastry cutter or your hands mix together till you get a crumbly, sandy mixture. Press into a 9x13 inch baking dish. Chill for one half-hour. Preheat oven to 375F / 190C. Bake at that temperature for 18-20 minutes, or until golden in color. Set aside to cool.
For the filling: Whisk together eggs, sugar, salt and flour in a large bowl. Place the vanilla bean and seeds with the butter in a pan and heat till the butter starts to brown. When the butter turns a deep golden color and smells nutty, strain through a fine sieve. Careful! The butter will be really hot. Pour butter into the egg mixture, whisking as you do so. Remove the vanilla bean.
Assemble the bars: Spread half the filling over the baked crust. Spoon large dollops of the jam over the filling, reserving a quarter. Then spread the rest of the filling over the jam. Use the remaining jam and small dollop over the top. The 1 cup of jam in the ingredients list is approximate, you may need more, depending on the consistency of the jam and how liberal you are with the dollops. Bake until the filling is golden brown in color, about 25 to 30 minutes, at 375F/ 190C.
Let cool. Cut into squares and share if you can bear it. Perfect wrapped up in paper for a spring picnic.
**The original recipe, found here, includes the zest of two oranges for the filling. It also includes the recipe and directions for the homemade peach jam. I omitted the orange zest because of the jam flavors I chose. I used two England Preserves flavors: Strawberry Days and Ruby's Redcurrant+Rhubarb+Vanilla. Take a look at Sky's Strawberry Days Jam.
Come back next week for more on Sky's jams and a chance to win some!
If you happen to be lucky enough to drive past Big Sur Bakery, make sure to stop. It's hard to say what time of day is best. Early means you might get a jelly donut before they sell out. But lunchtime means wood-fired Greek pizza, or dinner might mean real clam chowder with an oak grilled Ribeye. Looks like you may have to hang out all day. I won't reveal the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy that happens to be in Carmel in this post, but if you are visiting the town, email me and I will share with you my secret.