Ed’s been out of town for a couple of days, which has presented a few problems. First, I miss him (aww). Second, I can’t eat anything too good or he’ll get jealous (same goes for him). Third, I’m falling behind on all of the shows we watch together (though he had no issue with me watching the three-hour finale of “The Bachelor” without him). Instead of devoting myself to pining, I’ve decided to make the best of the situation and do a few things Ed’s not too keen on.
Number one on the list: breakfast for dinner. I love breakfast at all times of day, but Ed will only eat it in the morning. I’ve had english muffins after 7 pm for the past three nights and it’s been glorious. I’ve also been indulging in my favorite online pastime: watching other people’s wedding highlight films. Ed was fine with this habit before we chose a videographer, but now he thinks it’s a little ridiculous that I still enjoy watching trailers for strangers’ weddings. Maybe he’s right, but I think of it as wedding research…and I find some of them to be quite moving (like this one, which starts with a sweet toast from a southern dad. Gets me every time). Because Ed’s out of town, I can watch with abandon instead of sneaking them while he’s in another room (which doesn’t work anyway—he hears the swelling indie music and my sniffling and starts teasing me). Also on my list of Ed un-approved activities: baking brown butter brownies with walnuts, which I knew he wouldn’t like.
Ed has something against brown butter. He won’t refuse it completely, but my browning has been met with more than a little grumbling over the past three years. I’ve pressed him a few times on why he doesn’t LOVE browned butter and the answer is that he isn’t crazy about the nutty-buttery flavor. It follows, then, that he also wouldn’t like nuts added to cookies or brownies. I know a lot of people are in this camp, so I’ll stifle my judgment, but it’s a challenge for me to *never* add the optional chopped walnuts or pecans to sweet things. So while the doctor was away, I went nuts with these brownies (sorry—I have no self-control when it comes to puns).
The whole point of these brownies was to make something Ed wouldn’t care about missing and I wouldn’t care that he missed. Unfortunately, these are possibly the best brownies I have ever made and Ed wasn’t here to taste them. They are thick and fudgy—but not too fudgy—and have a pretty, shiny, crackly top. I’m a little embarassed to admit that I’d previously achieved such perfect tops only with box-mix brownies. I’d assumed the shine came from an unnatural additive in the mix, but apparently it comes from getting the sugar balance perfect. Another great thing about these brownies: I had all of the ingredients on hand and you probably do, too. They do not require fancy, fresh chocolate, just whatever unsweetened cocoa you happen to have in your cupboard. No need for an $11 vanilla bean or imported French liquor, either (I love Ina, but her brownie pudding really stretched my grocery budget). I thought the walnuts added a welcome crunch, but one could easily leave them out and still have a delicious treat. Out of fear that I would sit here mindlessly eating brownies out of the pan while watching wedding videos, I brought these into work. My co-workers enthusiastically declared that these are some seriously good brownies.
I’ve already put a couple in the freezer for Ed. He really shouldn’t miss these.
I mixed and matched from two Alice Medrich brownie recipes. As explained on Food52, Ms. Medrich has tweaked this “best cocoa brownies” recipe a few times. The brown butter version appeared on the cover of the Bon in 2011, but last month, Food52 featured a newer, non-browned butter recipe that they declared “genius.” I couldn’t resist browning the butter, but I used the ingredient measurements as listed on Food52 and the techniques of both recipes. If you choose not to brown the butter, I recommend you stick to the recipe as written on Food52.
Makes about 16 large brownies.
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons water
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2.5 ounces)
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
sea salt for sprinkling (optional)
Put a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat oven to 325°F. Line an 8 inch x 8 inch x 2 inch pan with foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang of foil on two opposite sides. Coat foil with cooking spray.
Combine cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
Brown the butter: melt butter in a medium-sized, light-colored sauce pan over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the solids at the bottom of the pan look dark golden brown and the butter smells nutty (about 5 to 7 minutes, but watch carefully).
Remove the butter from the heat and immediately add it to the cocoa-sugar-salt mixture. Add the water and vanilla. Stir to blend and let cool for 5 minutes (it will still be hot after 5 minutes).
Add eggs, one at a time, to the hot chocolate mixture, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula after each addition. When the mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir just until you can no longer see the flour. Stir vigorously for 40 strokes. Stir in the nuts, if using. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until a toothpick (or knife, if you’re Jessica) inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, between 20-30 minutes, depending on your pan. [If you use a dark metal pan, it will be closer to 20 minutes. I used a white ceramic pan and my brownies took nearly 30 minutes.] If using, sprinkle salt over brownies about half-way through baking.
Let cool completely on rack. Once cooled, lift brownies from pan and cut to serve.