29 April 2012

I'm sold already

What have we got here? Let's see...First on the list: brownies (oh priorities!).

A mistake, as we all know it, is something that one hasn't done correctly. Nearly all mistakes don't serve a kitchen’s interests, mistakes like, you know, burnt meat, unrisen cakes, curdled creams, and other improbable things. Luckily, though, there remains that scarce percentage of things done to food incorrectly that elevate the final result to greatness, or, modesty forbidding, close to it. Case in point: the resident brownies at Gebroeders Niemeijer, they would not have seen the light of the day and thronged the local hungry if an error hadn't crept in -- and stayed.

A couple years ago I was put in charge of improving a brownie recipe that would warrant a sweet that, upon the first bite, would have to do nothing lesser than turn haters (of brownies) into lovers (of brownies), or, at the very least, be something to write home about. Now, we live in the world full of brownies. There are the ones that squarely sit in the well-behaved, composed cake department, and others that find themselves on the opposite end of the trail, in the fudge field, and yet some others that tie the two worlds together and are at once like a moist cake and a luscious chocolate pudding or a mousse. I fancied our brownie to be that bridge, and so I set about figuring out what measures to take to this end. The only catch was that the recipe I'd been given to tweak -- it was trying to make brownies more cake-y than anything -- already called for the whole pound of premium dark chocolate (a must in any case), engulfed in a good amount of butter and eggs, which made me feel that simply upping the numbers wouldn't really meet the goal.

You know what did? A memory lapse. Re-trying the recipe over a few days led me to think I'd remembered the correct quantities alright, and so I gave myself a permission to make it by heart one fine morning. I melted this much butter and blended it with that much chocolate; whisked this many eggs with that much sugar; and sieved that much flour. All mentioned parties were combined and assigned to the oven, having later produced thin melt-in-your-mouth brownies, rich and creamy, holding their luxurious selves together just so, just barely enough. Many a taster was impressed -- and so was I. But my amusement was also stemming from the fact that I didn't have a clue what I'd done differently this time. Only hours further down the road, my brains going in reverse trying to re-live the past day, it finally dawned on me...the flour. I unknowingly decreased its amount from three digits to two, thus having used four times less flour than usual! Reader, I've never before relayed all this to anybody at work, except for my ex-colleague, a French guy, Arnaud, whom this cheeky brownie converted into a ferocious brownie eater, which, as he said, he didn't expect of himself, I normally don't like browniez. So I let him in on the mystery. Other than that, until now nobody knew of the little mistake/trick.

Unfortunately, I can't post the said recipe here. I'm contractually bound to keep my lips zipped, you see. But!  All that hullabaloo is not at all for no reason. Which is that I recently came across a very, very similar recipe in Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies. This woman and her New Bittersweet Brownies (such is the name), they are after my own heart. It transpires to be a norm now, in comparison to the decades of the past, to use more chocolate and less flour, as Medrich reveals. Holy egg, I incidentally tapped into some modern cosmic brownie spirit! I didn't expect that of myself.

In other developments, tomorrow I'm flying to Russia for two weeks to visit my family. I haven't seen them -- weekly Skype sessions don't count -- for two and a half years. First the dishwasher and then the apprentice wages, all served to delay my trip for, well, a long while. But not just that. Having completed my Master's, I stumbled in some sort of after-graduation depression. My studies were giving me cover from all these worrying questions parents are sometimes so prone to throw at you, such as What's now?, When are you going to look for a real job?, What, do you want to write? What does that mean?, and so forth. So naturally once I was done with my thesis I felt very unprotected. And so I got to eat my discomfort. Which made me put on weight. Which made me want to avoid letting my parents see me. A vicious circle good and proper. But I'm doing better now. I'm looking forward to finally seeing my parents in person again. I'm ready to face their questions; they mean no harm. I'm also looking forward to sitting down at my grandmother's kitchen table and enjoying her stew of river fish with onions, potatoes and tomatoes, chatting the time away.

I may not have all the answers yet, but I might make it up for that with these brownies, not too greasy, not too sweet, cake-y around the edges, with a glossy thin-paper crust and a heart of a soufflé. I'm sold already.

New Bittersweet Brownies
Source: Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies, by Alice Medrich
Yield: 16 smaller or 12 larger brownies

225 g (8 ounces) premium bittersweet chocolate (70 % cacao), coarsely chopped
90 g (3 ounces) butter, cut into several pieces
3 eggs
200 g (7 ounces) sugar
Scant 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
50 g (1.75 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1       1. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and pre-heat the oven to 175 C (350 F). Line a 20-cm (8-inch) square baking pan across the bottom and all the way up two opposite sides with parchment paper.

2       2. Put the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl position directly in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until the mixture is melted; it should be smooth and quite warm. Set aside. In a separate medium bowl, with an electric mixer on high speed, beat the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla until the eggs and thick and light colored, about 2 minutes. Whisk the warm chocolate into the egg mixture. With a spatula, carefully fold in the flour.

3      3. Scrape the batter into the lined pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out free of raw mixture stuck to it. If you want these brownies really gooey, bake them for 20 minutes instead. Leave to cool in the pan on a rack for at least an hour. Lift the edges of the parchment liner and remove to a cutting board. Use a long sharp knife to cut into 16 squares. Keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days. 

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