10.07.2008

Best Cocoa Brownies (for Beating Blues)



That's right. I'm a sad sack. A whiner and a complainer. Even an ingrate. And this is a post about depression-induced brownie baking. While I should be having the gosh darn time of my life expanding my horizons in a foreign country, I'm not, to put it simply. Instead I bitch and moan silently to myself and tear up to Fleetwood Mac songs. And eat brownies. Ridiculous. But what can I say, I'm really really homesick.

(And I happened to spend all of last winter with my pals listening exclusively to Rumours and Tusk while hanging out in a fort. Well...a ping pong table covered in blankets and carpeted with pillows. Naturally! There was a lot of drinking involved and not a lot of class attendance. Ah, youth!! And thus, I weep when I hear Lindsey Buckingham sing "Second Hand News.")

To top it off, my darling boyfriend Dan (and de facto sous-chef) is gone this week for some wack-ass trip to a biology field station somewhere north of the city. Pout.

But us cookin' types always know how to make ourselves feel better, right? At least gastronomically? That's where yesterday's grocery trip came in. I had been moping all day, so when four PM rolled around I felt like I should at least make an effort to act more human and less lump. So I strolled down to the supermarket for a baking supplies spree!!

Me and my Norwegian cast of characters gearing up for the big show.

Well, wouldn't you know, the results of said baking did not quite cure my homesickness...but the brownies did make it a lot more palatable. I like to think of them as a form of culinary palliative care. I nibbled them as I wasted away in my bed, humming "Take Me Back to Tulsa" while daydreaming of all things American. Aimless summer car rides and sloppy Braum's cheeseburgers come to mind, and are probably making me more pitifully misty-eyed than I should admit. Maybe only chewy chocolate confections can keep me from going over the edge into soppy oblivion.

Just checking, does anyone actually feel worse after consuming delicious chocolate desserts? I didn't think so. OK, I confess, I did feel a little digestively disgruntled after stuffing one too many of these babies in my face. But psychologically? I was uplifted.

But I digress. These brownies are the epitome of rich chocolatey-ness (read: you will need some milk). They are dense, dark and chewy with a crunchy crust. They have the ever so slightly sophisicated (for brownies, anyway) tang of dark chocolate tempered with just the right amount of sugar. Not much else comes to mind as far as description goes. Oh, wait, except mmmmm.

Please tell me you picked up a carton of milk on the way home.

I admit, I have always had my doubts about cocoa brownies. For some reason, it's always been hard to believe you can get scrumptious, rich, chocolatey results out of a powder. You know? Maybe I'm nuts to think that, but I'm a believer now. Even without chocolate, this recipe probably has enough butter and sugar to make powdered cement reasonably tasty. Just close your eyes when you put it in the mixing bowl and I swear it will not end up on your ass.

That was a lie.

Well, I guess I'd better tell you how to do it already. The sooner you make, these the sooner you can begin working through the caloric guilt.

Best Cocoa Brownies
(found on Epicurious)


The goods

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Special equipment: An 8-inch square baking pan

Notes: I didn't follow the online recipe's advice to use "the best cocoa you know." I used the only cocoa available in the Norwegian supermarket. I also subbed the vanilla extract for 2 teaspoons the inexplicably powdery "vanilje sukker," reducing the flour accordingly. I have no nuts (ha). Lastly, my ill-equipped kitchen (so characteristic of temporary apartments) doesn't contain a square baking pan, so I used a sort of strange round pot...whatever works, man!

Strange, isn't it?

My cocoa powder. Dear elitist recipe: it seemed to work fine.

The method (as translated and slightly tweaked by me)

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F. Butter baking vessel. Then flour it. (Or if you're fancy/OCD, use more cocoa instead of flour.)

2. Combine butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in saucepan and double boil (I just ended up mixing the batter in the saucepan, worked fine). Stir occasionally and try to get it to be nice, shiny and smooth. It should not get very hot. I couldn't really get my mixture that smooth, as the biggish sugar crystals were not about to dissolve, but it didn't seem to matter. Let cool on the counter for a bit.

3. Stir in the vanilla now (or if you use vanilla sugar, add with the flour).

4. Add the eggs one by one, stirring really well after each addition. The batter will get very thick!

Really thick! Don't you want to put your tongue on it?

5. When it looks super smooth and shiny (like you just want to get a spoon and dig in), add the flour and stir gently until combined. Then give it 40 hard licks with the spoon/spatula. Don't forget the nuts if you have 'em.

6. Spread into the pan. (If you did things like I did, you will literally be spackling it in there. Your batter will be SO THICK AND STIFF. This may be because I never measure things super accurately.)

Just scrape it on in there as best you can. Or leave some behind to taste while it bakes.

"The other black gold," as it's known in oil rich parts of the world such as Tulsa and Norway.

(7. Lick and scrape as much of the batter off of the spoon and bowl as you possibly can.)

8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick to the middle comes out only a bit moist. This way the brownies will be somewhat gooey in the middle. If that squicks you, bake until the toothpick comes out clean.

9. Begin therapy as soon as the brownies cool a bit.

Most things are better with a little goo in the middle. Don't you think?

5 comments:

Andrea said...

Those brownies look good enough to cheer anyone up! Are you living in Oslo? My fiance is from Norway, but from the south western part, a small town. It's a beautiful country, but I'm not down with the whole no sunlight thing in the winter!

stixntrix said...

Those brownies look like they'd help you to, uhh, y'know... "go your own way."

Okay, that was awful, sorry.

Homemade Hotty said...

Oh man those are gorgeous girl. Good work. I will have to make these sometime. Today I made a desperate microwave chocolate cake to cope with my period (2 tbsp flour, sugar, cocoa, milk, chocolate chips and 1 tbsp peanut butter and some vanilla). These look WAY better (they also look like they need some ice cream!)

kelley said...

thanks for reminding me that i have the ingredients to make brownies in my house.
and i'm unemployed.
with lots of time to fill.
and i sometimes start feeling sorry for myself...and my husband's going to be gone all day...

yum, brownies!

chicky*bits said...

Yum, these look wonderful and fudgy!

My Swedish boyfriend just moved to NY and we had quite a time negotiating an acceptable substitute for vanilla sugar ;)