This post is a tough one to write. I must have begun typing it at least a dozen times. I'm used to feeling a surge of energy when I start a post, thrilled and wholly alive to be indulging my passions and recording them for all the world to see. Lately, life has taken quite a turn for my family and me, making those kinds of feelings seem a world away. As I try to shake the muffled sensation of just wading through the days, I am beginning to understand that it is a great personal triumph in hard times to do the small things that bring us joy in our everyday lives. These are gentle reminders of who we are, especially when it feels like we just aren't sure anymore. It is tempting to dismiss things like keeping this blog and buzzing busily in the kitchen as being too small to count for anything, but I am trying to remember that keeping on with these simple activities is a celebration of the time I've been given. Tiny delights like these are crucial in a complex life.
Most of my cooking and baking is quite inspired--by articles, photos, after-dinner cravings--but this time the goal was to just do something that felt, well, normal. Without much of an appetite and very few items on hand, this attempt was about creating something simple, familiar and soothing. Something that could be done by hand, with minimal equipment and few dirty dishes. Brownies sounded like just the thing.
Most would agree that the best brownie is thick and chewy, big on chocolate flavor without being cloyingly sweet (salt is a brownie's best friend). A thin, crackled, papery crust covering about an inch and a half of dense, rich fudginess. Corner pieces edged with crispy integrity and mellow, luscious squares in the center of the pan. Nothing cakey, please. And I'm a purist, so that means no nuts, flavored chips, marshmallows or other nonsense. A cold glass of milk is the only company a serious brownie will ever need.
I used a recipe from one of my favorite books, and got to work. My advice? Take the thousands you might spend on therapy, buy eggs, butter, sugar and flour in bulk, and get into the kitchen. It does small wonders for the soul.
Chewy, Fudgy Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch baking pan with foil or parchment and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring ocassionally until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder and set aside to cool.
3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, then stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a rubber spatula to push the batter into the corners evenly (the batter will be rather thick, yum). Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick comes out with clingy, fudgy crumbs, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours. If you can wait overnight (yeah, right), they will taste even better the next day.