Friday, April 27, 2012

a better brownie

 The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on April 25, 2012.


I can get a little obsessed when searching for the perfect recipe. For a while there, it was English muffins—I tried six or seven different recipes and still came up empty. And then there were the brownies.

The recipe from childhood just didn’t cut it anymore, I decided. I started playing around with the amounts of chocolate and butter, and with a variety of add-ins. On the fourth try, I found what I was looking for—a dense, rich, and profoundly chocolatey brownie.

I was thrilled with my little victory. But when I mentioned my triumph to my mother over the phone, she did not share my excitement.

“Good grief,” my mother sighed. “Why are you always trying to change things?”

“Well, um ... because the recipe wasn’t very good?”

“Pooh!” my mother snorted. “It’s the recipes that have withstood the test of time that are the best. You’re just being picky.”

I was momentarily flummoxed, for my mother is queen of pick. But I quickly recovered.

“Okay then,” I said, laughing to mask my rising hackles. “The next time you come visit, we’ll do a taste test. I bet you’ll agree with me.”

So one weekend night after the kids were tucked in, my parents and my husband and I clustered around the kitchen table for The Official Brownie Reckoning of 2012. I placed four anonymous samples, all different, on a cutting board and sliced each one into four bite-sized morsels. Only I knew which brownie was which. I braced myself for the showdown.

My mother stared down her nose at the selection. “I can tell you right now those are horrible.” She jabbed her finger at the brownies closest to her. “Look at them. They’re grey!”

“You have to taste them,” I reminded her.

She popped one in her mouth. “Oh my, these are awful!” She scrunched up her face like a prune and swallowed painfully.

I had planned to stay quiet until all the brownies were tasted. But suddenly I couldn’t bear it. “Mom!” I crowed. “That’s your recipe!”

She paused for a moment, considering. Then she shrugged her shoulders and popped the next sample into her mouth. “So what makes your brownies better?”

“More chocolate, more butter, and no baking powder,” I explained. I had to struggle to put a cap on my mirth. “They’re darker, richer, and fudgier. That’s all.”

You know what though? My mom is always saying it’s the simple recipes that are best, and on that one point she and I stand united. One of the recipes I tried included Nutella swirled into the batter. Other recipes called for pumping up the brownies with toffee bits and cacao nibs. But the brownies that ended up being my favorite were unembellished.


If you prefer a lighter brownie, you can dial back the chocolate to 2 or 3 ounces.

½ cup butter
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ cup flour

Melt the butter and chocolate in a saucepan over low heat. Off heat, stir in the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Gently stir in the flour and salt.

Pour the batter into a greased 8x8 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. The brownies should look underbaked—still jiggly in the middle and only just beginning to pull away from the sides. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out wet. (If it comes out clean, you’ve gone too far and your brownies will be dry and crumbly.)

Delicious served slightly warm, with a scoop of coffee ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

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