the second best thing on earth…

…a not-so-altruistic brownie review.

I love brownies, pretty much all brownies. I’m unimpressed by fancy branding, I find frosting to be an unnecessary embellishment, and I think nuts are entirely superfluous. I’m not kidding – I love them all, even the $1 private label bagged mixes that don’t qualify for a box. A Little Debbie brownie is not beneath me and I humbly confess there have been occasions when baking was optional.

Some people are absolutely obsessed with pie. I am not some people. Pie might very well be my last resort dessert with the notable exception of Key Lime, which is actually one of my faves. I can respect ice cream fanatics, but mostly when we are talking Mint Chocolate Chip and it’s over 75°. The cake lobby makes strong arguments with Red Velvet and German Chocolate, but otherwise I’m fairly neutral. And there are folks who simply cannot refuse a cookie, whether a homemade Snicker Doodle (not worth the calories to me, so hard pass), a row of synthetic, crumbly Oreos (only in desperation, but then the entire row) or a batch of warm chocolate chip medallions (okay…heavenly).

I am preternaturally devoted to brownies.

They are my spirit food.

Obviously sweets come in endless varieties and I’ve only touched on the Big Four, those we seem to enjoy most frequently in the United States: pie, ice cream, cake and cookies. But nestled somewhere in between cakes and cookies lies perfection…the brownie.

I wasn’t even looking for a brownie recipe. This was pure serendipity or perhaps pure accident or in the end, maybe just pure misfortune. Admittedly, if I see a brownie photo while scrolling along on my phone it’s an immediate full stop, although with a look-but-don’t-touch guardrail. But this time it wasn’t visual, but rather I was seduced by words and promises. I mean, The Best Brownies You’ll Ever Eat is a bold statement. I’m not usually snooping around the website, so I was genuinely surprised by my level of intrigue, but we are talking brownies.

I fell for the bait

I knew better than to do this to myself – I’m not supposed to eat a lot of sugar and I don’t always do well with concepts like moderation or portion control. In fact, sweets and restraint are an unholy combination, especially when it comes to chocolate. It’s one of those treasures that is not good for me except in small doses, and I don’t ever want small doses. Of anything. I want to fully indulge and be utterly overwhelmed by delight regardless of the consequences. And yet, there are always consequences. So other than the most special occasions, brownies must remain segregated and aspirational; they cannot even be near me. The term “mostly forbidden” is difficult to reconcile, and even harder to defend, but here I am making brownies. Just this once.

two types of chocolate bars & Dutch process cocoa

Three things about this particular recipe jump out immediately: ingredients, mixing methodology and what I call the big slam.

I used ingredients of at least decent quality, although some were downright boujie. Since butter is the only fat in this recipe, I splurged on an Irish variety, which transformed my brownie taste memory forever when I realized how much the flavor of vegetable oil really dominates the boxed mixes. Since I needed SIX eggs I hunted down the freshest organic eggs I could find. (2 eggs seems to be industry standard, btw.) I split my chocolate bars into one 85% and one 46%, just to be fancée and cover all the bases. Espresso powder has long been a secret ingredient for deeply-flavored brownies, but be prepared for a special kind of late-night hyperactivity should you do brownies after 6pm. As in, “it’s 11:30pm so I’m going to polish all the silver.”

With all of the items on the ingredients list, some standard and some decadent, it is what’s always missing that I find most interesting: baking powder. Brownies generally do not call for a leavening agent so you must dedicate time to vigorously whip the eggy batter full of air. Whip does not mean stir or incorporate – it’s a violent exercise that causes a physical change in the molecular structure of the ingredients. If you like control, you’re going to love this method. Despite the time commitment, the contrast between standing there beating batter for 10 minutes and casually swirling some oil into a packaged mix is startling and ultimately quite satisfying. FYI, I used Stanley, my standing mixer, but the recipe is designed around a hand-held mixer – either way, excessive mixing is absolutely critical.

It would seem counterintuitive to endanger the airy batter you just carefully created, but that’s what’s called for. Mid-bake you must remove the pan and drop it squarely to re-distribute the batter and crackle the top. I’m fortunate that pan-slamming is in my blood – I come from a long line of slammers on my maternal side, but in the case of these brownies, the traditional string of expletives is entirely optional. Perhaps that partially explains my attraction to brownies. They welcome a heavy hand, engage few prissy ingredients and are invariably forgiving, a quality often overlooked and underestimated in the kitchen. The brownies are cooked about 40 minutes, which is plenty, but they never do cake-up. They are instead fudgie, dense bricks of chocolate gold.

Brownies are my thing and since this is my blog, I get to gush about them. I hope you all have a sacred food to make you feel deeply, whether smile or weep or anything in between. But some food is so special it must be held at arms length to preserve the mystique and shield us from unhealthy consequences. I find this wholly ironic since brownies are the workhorses of desserts, bold and flavorful yet accessible and unpretentious. They are honest.

So I wish a very Happy Birthday to Husband – I hope you enjoyed the crack brownies I made myself in your honor.

ultimate brownies in action

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