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.
Adapted from: Ad Hoc
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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.