Let me begin this with a classic Jewish joke: A Jewish grandmother takes her baby grandson to the ocean for the first time. For the occasion, she has dressed him in a smart little sailor outfit. Without warning, a large wave folds over the young boy and swoops him out into the ocean. The grandmother looks up at the sky, “Please God, save my grandson. I will do anything if you return him to me. I will pray daily, I will volunteer weekly. Please God, I will do anything.” In a flash, another wave hits the beach, and the grandson washes up on the sand. The grandmother looks the boy over, then looks up at the sky and says, “He had a hat.”
For Chanukah this year, my parents sent me The Smitten Kitchen cookbook. (My dad in Jerusalem sent me Jerusalem; more on that later.) Deb’s magnum opus really is fantastic. We’ve enjoyed the cranberry crumb bars with mulling spices, and the slow-cooker black bean ragout. And last Friday, I made the gooey cinnamon squares. These really are a revelation. They are part snickerdoodle, part gooey butter cake, with a cinnamon top that’s a bit like crème brûlée. As Deb explains, “The base is slightly more cake than cookie, the topping is a cross between a toasted marshmallow and cinnamon toast, and if you just read that and haven’t shut this book to make this happen in your kitchen immediately, I’ve failed.”
So I made them. They were fantastic. But I have one quibble. The way the recipe is laid out in the cookbook is, well, it’s frustrating. On the first page is Deb’s wonderful story about her love of snickerdoodles, and in a column running alongside the story are the ingredients for two parts of the recipe. But to see what to do with said ingredients, you have to turn the page for the actual recipe directions and the cooking notes. So, I found myself flipping back and forth to make sure I had all the right ingredients for each section.
So yes, these bars are a miracle. But Mr. Cookbook editor, he had a hat.
Notes: If you’re feeling a little queasy at the thought of using corn syrup, or if you’re in England (Hi, Bloom cousins!), both golden syrup and honey work equally well.
Gooey Cinnamon Squares from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
Soft Cookie Base
8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature. Plus more for the pan
1 ½ cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon baking soda
(Or, Deb says, substitute 2 teaspoons baking powder for the soda and the cream of tartar.)
¼ teaspoon table salt
¾ cup (150 grams) sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup (60 ml) milk
¼ cup (60 ml) light corn syrup, golden syrup, or honey
¼ cup (60 ml) milk, half-and-half, or heavy cream
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
12 Tablespoons (170 grams or 1 ½ sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 ¼ cups (155 grams) all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch cake pan with at least 2-inch sides with parchment paper and either butter the paper and sides of the pan or coat them with a nonstick spray. Set aside.
Prepare the cookie base
Whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the 8 tablespoons butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and the milk, and beat until combined, scraping down bowl and then beating for 10 seconds more. Beat in dry ingredients until just combined.
Dollop cookie base over the bottom of the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer with a butter knife or offset spatula. Set pan aside.
Prepare the gooey layer
Whisk liquid sweetener, milk and vanilla together in a small bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, scrape down the sides of bowl, and mix for 10 seconds more. Add 1/3 of flour and mix, then ½ of vanilla mixture and mix. Repeat again, twice, until all of the flour has been mixed until just combined. Dollop over the cookie base and spread carefully with an offset spatula or butter knife.
Make the topping
Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a tiny dish and sprinkle it over the entire gooey layer. It will be thick but will come out of the oven almost like a crème brûlée lid, i.e.m awesomely.
To bake and serve
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the cookies have bronzed on top. The gooey layer will rise and fall in the oven but will still be a bit liquidy under the cinnamon crust when the squares are done. Let cool completely on a rack, then cut into 1-inch squares.
These square keep at room temperature for at least a week.