12 April 2010

Brownie Therapy

I've been on a bit of a brownie binge around here, making three recipes in two weeks in hopes of settling on the perfect homemade brownie.

While my family didn't argue with the ongoing brownie train, more than once I thought to myself that the box version isn't really that bad. I made brownies that were too rich and some that weren't rich enough. I settled on recipe I adapted from "Endangered Recipes."

But after all of this fuss, I remembered my friend Brian's famed brownies that show up at parties full of drinking journalists and end-of-summer barbecues.

I asked him to tell me about his brownies, and I was a little surprised to find that our recipes were very similar.

He told me his mother wasn't much of a cook, and a lot of the chores got passed on to the kids. He was the youngest and desserts were his duty. His brownie recipe started with the basics, and he just kept tinkering until he got it right. Perhaps without some lofty expectations, like an expert baker for a mother, Brian felt free to flub a few times before he got it right.

What Brian feels when he makes his brownies, is what we should feel when we cook and bake. He calls it therapeutic. Cooking and baking feeds more than your family. It is as vital as breathing but as beautiful, technical and creative as a fine work of art.

"That part of the recipe where you stir the sugar into the butter and chocolate, I just keep stirring and stirring and stirring," Brian says. "It looks so beautiful, all silky, that rich color, and whether it's true or not, I have come to believe that the lengthy stirring at that point is one of the keys to good brownies."

I agree. Making the brownies did a little something for my soul. Plus, a little taste of brownie batter, and your entire day starts looking up. Brian insists on mixing his batter by hand, while I went for the mixer. And my recipe had only two eggs, but his three produce a richer brownie. Be sure to read his note about allowing them to set up. If you like a little less goo, try the two-egg method. My recipe also called for just one cup of sugar, but I did add a few sweetened chocolate chips in along with my chocolate squares. I think either method produces the right amount of sweetness.

Because the recipes were so similar, I'll give you Brian's. It's a homage to everyone who had a mother who didn't teach them to cook. Sometimes, something even better surfaces when we're forced to make it up ourselves.

Brian's Brownies

4 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla (Or rum or brandy or any other flavor you want.)
3 eggs
1 cup of all-purpose flour
Half a bag of chocolate chips (Mini, regular, bittersweet, whatever angle you want to go.)

Melt the butter and chocolate together over low heat, careful not to burn the chocolate. Add in the sugar and stir until the mixture is really smooth. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla and stir. Transfer the mixture to another bowl and slowly mix in one egg at a time by hand. Add the flour and blend by hand. Add the chocolate chips. Pour into a greased 9-by-13 glass dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 32 minutes. If your oven runs at all hot, reduce it to 335 degrees or so.

The brownies come out mushy. You can't eat them right away. Let them set, either at room temp or in the fridge. I usually wait at least half a day before serving them.

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