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Just Different

In a recent post, I mentioned that I’d just gone up to my family’s Tahoe cabin for a few days with my dad. I mentioned ice cream and lounging by the lake. What I didn’t mention is the grand renovation that’s taken place this past year making our humble, rather tiny cabin into something a bit less humble and much less tiny. When I really think about it, our Tahoe cabin is the one stable house in my life. My folks are divorced and live in different houses than the one I grew up in, and if you’ve been around the blog for any period of time, you know I’m a serial mover. So the Tahoe cabin is it. It’s where I’ve been coming at least twice a year since I was two years old. Same little town, same street.

During the renovation this year, my dad just kept saying how I wouldn’t believe it–how much different it was. I’d overheard conversations about reclaimed barnwood and tile, about a courtyard breezeway and flat screen TV’s. So when I drove up, I’ll be honest: I expected to be a little sad. I braced myself to put on a big happy face for my dad and thought of all the ways I could tell him how great it was. I figured I’d miss our funky little cabin and all its quirks. After a record breaking personal best of 3 hours and 15 minutes, I pulled up, parked, and saw a totally new house. The funny thing? I wasn’t at all sad or nostalgic or disappointed. Don’t get me wrong: it was different. But it was great, too. The sleeping loft was still there, the windows looking out onto the lake were still the center  of the house, and the stools at the kitchen counter–all there. It just got a face life. A fancy face lift.

Kind of like these brownies. Now if you’re anything like me, you have your go-to brownie recipe and probably aren’t interested in hearing all about someone else’s.  And up until just a few days ago, I was like you: married to the brownie recipe I’ve been making for years. But I was encouraged by some friends who love this new recipe I’m about to share with you, so I gave in. The thing I like about these brownies is their insanely dark flavor and the way the gently straddle the line between fudgey and cakey (although they definitely err on the fudgey side). They’re studded with bits of dark chocolate,  have some definite heft, cut beautifully, and would be the perfect brownie to serve with ice cream. Or alone.  Like the Tahoe house, they’re a little fancier. A little different. But no less fabulous for it.


So it turns out brownies and vacation homes share a little something. Who knew? They’re both a good lesson in not anticipating your reaction to something before it happens. Allow yourself to be surprised. Allow yourself to feel (or taste) in the moment. I so often try to prepare for new situations by anticipating what it’ll be like, who will be there, how it’ll all go down. Pre-judging. I’m all about pre-judging–it’s how we Capricorns navigate our way through the world. But the truth of the matter? You can’t always plan for everything. You can’t always anticipate how it’ll all go down, how you’ll feel as you pull up to a new house, sit down next to a new acquaintence, or cut into a brand new brownie recipe. Be open to surprises…and whatever may come. Because of this, I’m looking forward to new memories in a new house and many, many more batches of these brownies.

After making countless brownies in my lifetime, I’ve come to realize there are a few important considerations that honestly make a ho-hum brownie kind of amazing. Here they are, along with the much anticipated recipe. Oh, and if you’d like to share your very favorite brownie recipe in the comments, I’d love to hear about it. I’m on a little bit of a brownie kick these days.

A Few Brownie Tips:
-Use room temperature eggs. Just do it. I won’t go into the chemistry of it all, but it helps immensely when mixing them evenly into the batter.
- Buy the absolute best chocolate you can afford. I know people say that a lot with baked goods, but with brownies you really should because chocolate’s the star here. Splurge. For this recipe, I used Scharffen Berger 62 % for the chopped chocolate and Valrhona 100% cocoa powder.
-A note on cocoa powder: it’s important to pay attention to whether your recipe calls for natural or Dutch-process (also known as alkalized) cocoa powder. Natural cocoa powder is quite bitter and acidic on its own, but in baked goods imparts a deep fudgey flavor. The recipe below calls for alkalized cocoa powder. This cocoa powder has been treated with a tiny bit of alkaline to reduce its natural acidity, giving it a smoother flavor. Read your recipe carefully; don’t swap one out for the other.
-Let those suckers cool. The composition of the brownie changes so much after cooling. So while I’m not going to lie and say I never cut off a little square warm, you really should let them cool all the way before slicing or doing any heavy sampling.
-How to make your brownies look a little more professional and a little less ‘my-kid-sister-hacked-into-the-brownies’? Get a hot cup of water,  dunk a sharp knife in it, and wipe away the water each time you slice through a row. This will allow for clean, easy cutting. To be honest, with this recipe I haven’t needed to use this trick. They slice beautifully.

Deluxe Brownie
Adapted from: Ad Hoc
Ingredients:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
3 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
6 ounces 61 to 64% chocolate, chopped into chip-size pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Butter and flour the bottom of a 9 X 9 inch glass or metal baking pan and set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt and set aside.

Melt half the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally so that it won’t burn. Put the remaining butter in a heat-resistant bowl. Pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir to melt. After a minute or so, the butter should have a creamy appearance and should be close to room temperature. Don’t worry if there are bits of unmelted butter.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until it’s thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. Then, on low speed rotate adding in 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/3 of  butter. Continue until both have been incorporated. Don’t overmix here–just combine. Add in the chopped chocolate and quickly mix to combine (This batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week).

Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. If it comes out wet and chocolaty, you may have hit a chip so try again. You don’t want to overbake these brownies. Cool until the brownies are at room temperature, run a knife around the edges of the pan, and invert onto a cutting board. But into 9 large 3″ brownies or 12 smaller brownies. They can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days although they’re best eaten the same day.

Makes:9 large 3″ brownies

  1. Posted July 28, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Your post just got me very excited about an upcoming trip to my family’s condo in Tahoe. I too am often married to the tried and true when it comes to brownies but you’ve definitely convinced me with these brownies! I’ve seen this recipe in the Ad Hoc cookbook but just hadn’t gotten around to the Ad Hoc desserts. P.S. allowing brownies to cool is one of the hardest parts of baking for me :)

  2. Posted July 28, 2010 at 8:25 am

    What a true to life comparison. I’m still searching my go-to brownie recipe. With 3 sticks of butter, these have got to be decadent. Thanks for the great tips, too!

  3. Posted July 28, 2010 at 8:32 am

    I’m drooling over these! I know there’s all those people who have a ‘to go’ recipe for brownies, not me, I’m willing to try anything and everything, you never know what you might find. Taking that in account, these look just too good not to try! and I’m going on vacation soon, so I’ll have to whip up a batch

  4. Jeb
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 9:41 am

    I can’t pinpoint why exactly, but this is one of my favorite posts that you’ve written.

  5. Posted July 28, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Yesterday I made David Lebovitz’s brownie recipe and they turned out perfectly. A trick I learnt is to put the brownies in the freezer for a bit and they will cut gorgeously afterwards as well.

  6. Posted July 28, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Oh, I can’t wait to try these! I haven’t made brownies in years but I loooove them.

    I’m such a pre-judger, too. It’s hard to just let things happen, sometimes, but how great are those pleasant surprises? One thing I will pre-judge though: these brownies are gonna be awesome. :)

  7. Posted July 28, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    What a great post. Can I come visit you at that Tahoe house some time? Years ago my parents did a minor renovation to our Lopez Island house and I’m still bitter about it. So I could learn a thing or two here. I had a brownie loyalty for years to one I found in Gourmet but pretty recently switched to the Baked version. Pretty extraordinary. BUT! I love the idea of chopped chocolate in these. I really like for my teeth to be involved in my baked goods so I will have to give these a try. Great tips!

  8. Posted July 28, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Your brownies look really good, and I totally agree with you on using high-quality ingredients, especially here where chocolate is the star of the show. My usual go-to brownie recipe is one by Martha Steward called Nut Brownies. Not the most exotic sounding thing in the world, but they’re foolproof and easy to throw together. Maybe I’ll branch out and try these next time!

  9. Lori
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Wow. I am so thrilled that I’ve discovered your blog. Another reason to love Heidi for connecting me with you. You have such a great talent for storytelling and making food a part of it that it all is seamless. Thanks for sharing this great story.

  10. Zoe
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Holy Hell these look incredible!!! You couldn’t have gotten on your brownie kick just a month earlier when I was home? These chocolately treats look just as rich and indulgent as your writing…I know I don’t comment much, but I am here all the time, dazzled by the eye-opening connections you draw between life and food and the way you can encourage us all to slow down and appreciate such simple (and sometimes expensive :) ) wonders. I might be across the country, but I am so happy we can be closer here on this blog. I’ll make these with my first paycheck! love, crumbs!

  11. Mary
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    I read this on the bus and my stomach growled. I have never found a brownie recipe I really love so I will be excited to try it. Thanks for the baking tips too. As much as brownies = guaranteed readership, your writing alone is worth visiting your blog. And your photography. Happy summer!

  12. Posted July 28, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    It was only 6 mos. ago that I discovered life outside of the brownie recipe I had been making for over 5 years. It’s amazing how the alteration of a few ingredients changes everything about the structure, taste, texture- and how much better it can be. This looks like one of those truly over the top recipes. I don’t have Tahoe but so long as I can make this…life will be good ;>)

  13. Posted July 29, 2010 at 2:31 am

    I’m going to be honest with you – I’m a little embarrassed – I’ve never made brownies from scratch. It’s like a mental block. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a good baker, I make cookies, cakes, muffins, etc all the time. Just for some reason brownies scare me. Maybe it’s the fact that if I made them I would eat them all and it would be like chocolate and butter overload. I dunno. But yeah, I’m definitely bookmarking this recipe because one of these days I’m going to get over it and just do it. They look lovely by the way, and I loved your intro. Very nice segue.

  14. Posted July 29, 2010 at 3:01 am

    As much baking as I do, I haven’t found that perfect brownie recipe – but I’m looking forward to the process of finding it! This one is going on my try list for sure!

  15. megang
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 7:19 am

    Jeb and Zoe: a heartfelt, smiling thank you.

    Dana: girl, you come down anytime!

    Lori and Mary: thank you so much for the writing compliments. That means a lot!

    Andrea: You know, my mom always makes them from the box, too. And they’re good. Funny because they’re one of the easier things to make (usually just one bowl)–so dive in!

    Janae and Margarita: Thanks for the recipe suggestions. Look forward to trying both of those.

    And Kasey: with the weather ya’ll have been having, a little Tahoe sun will be nice for sure.

  16. MomGordon
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Oh! You had to tell people I make them from a box! Good old Krustaez. Guess I’ll try to branch out.

  17. Posted July 29, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I wasn’t exactly looking for a new brownie recipe until the words fudgey, dark chocolate, and studded were used. Now I’ve gotta try them.

  18. Posted July 29, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    So many times, I read your posts, and I just go: YES. Like this one. Love the way you wrote about the cabin and its stability yet change. Love the way you compared it to brownies. Love the way these look. Will it get old when I gush like this? Oh who cares. Doing it anyway.

  19. megang
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Mom, I love your boxed brownies. Don’t ever change :)

  20. Posted July 29, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    You’ve convinced me, I need to ad-hoc cookbook. And, yes, I have a go-to brownie recipe but will, begrudgingly, try yours. ;)

  21. Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:47 am

    you had me at tahoe cabin. something my husband is determined to get his hands on. your brownies are sublime!

  22. Posted July 30, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Thank you for posting about these brownies – I came across them in the cookbook and thought to myself “Mmm….maybe next time”. Here’s to expanding our baking horizons ;)

    My go-to brownie recipe is from Jamie Oliver (https://bonvivant.wordpress.com/2009/09/07/chocolate-overdose-brownies/), a consistent charmer every time….just like him!

  23. Posted July 31, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    I just returned from Tahoe, and it was the first time in my decade in California that I experienced its wonders in the summertime. What a special place! Between skiing and water sports, we are hooked. My husband and I are both transplants, but our children are definitely growing up with the Tahoe experience, and it’s a dream of ours to have a cabin there one day. You are so fortunate to have one in your family!

    Loved this post – for both your thoughts on your Tahoe cabin and the brownies. They look absolutely decadent and I can’t wait to try this Ad Hoc inspired recipe!

  24. Posted August 1, 2010 at 6:49 am

    I am such a habitual anticipator and pre-judger and planner – it seems that baking/cooking is the only outlet in my life where I can let myself just sit back and be surprised!

    I have seen SO many wonderful recipes come out of Ad Hoc, and can’t believe I don’t own it yet. These brownies are another push in that direction! Until then, I’ve recently created my own new favorite brownie: espresso mesquite brownies. Here’s my post on them: http://abakinglife.blogspot.com/2010/07/little-less-ordinary.html
    I don’t think I’ll ever have enough brownie recipes! Thanks for sharing!

  25. Posted August 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Wonderful post – thank you for sharing your story! The brownies look amazing. I adore the Ad Hoc book – just adapted the Fig Jam and it was divine!!

  26. Posted August 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I know this seems crazy, but I don’t know if I’ve ever baked a pan of brownies. I might have done so with a brownie-mix-in-a-box sort of thing during college. Not sure. I’m just not much of a baker. I think it’s the precision required. But now you’ve really got me wanting a brownie, and I like your thoughts on being “open”, so…it might be time for a nice pan of brownies.

  27. Posted August 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    These are calling my name this afternoon… wish I had one to munch on. Guess I’ll have to ‘satisfy’ myself with bill paying, etc.

  28. Posted August 3, 2010 at 6:17 am

    My oh my those look like good brownies! No wonder why they’re deluxe.

    I’m definitely going to need to remember the slicing trick. Thanks!

  29. Posted August 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Ok, they just came out of the oven (naptime chef-ing again!) and they are AWESOME! I let them cool before taking a teensy slice – yummy! Also, I used my weird, but great, 7×11 pan and the size worked beautifully.

  30. megang
    Posted August 4, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Alright! So happy you tried them and good call with the little-bit-larger pan. Mine came out quite thick, so I was thinking of using an 8×13 next time just to see… thanks for the update!

  31. Posted November 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    So you got me…I had been married to “my” (Thomas Keller’s) brownie recipe for ages. My cooking partner (my 11 year old granddaughter) and I just whipped these up and they are fabulous. We think Chef Keller has some serious competition ;)

    http://www.thegourmetreview.com/dine/2011/01/01/celebrity-chef-thomas-keller-chocolate-brownie-recip/

  32. megang
    Posted November 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Hi there! Your brownies look beautiful! And how lucky to have a young, enthusiastic helper :) It’s true…you can’t really go wrong with this recipe. Happy baking!

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