Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sad Day? Happy Brownies!

It's been one of those days. As in one of those Worst Days Ever. I knew it wouldn't be a fun weekend because I'm cramming for my exams, which are tomorrow and Tuesday, but today was particularly bad. It all came to a head at around 1:30. My wireless connection is laughable, except that today I wasn't laughing, because I really needed it to be working so I could access JStor, and apparently it was having one of its Worst Days Ever too. As of 1:30 it hadn't been working except in sporadic 30-second bursts for the last three hours. 1:30 was also the time when my downstairs neighbor, of whom I have never been a fan to say the least, decided it would be a great time to blast his music at full volume even though he has exams tomorrow along with everyone else in the house. I truly could not concentrate, even though I was reviewing one of my favorite topics, and I decided I needed to do something about it.


I decided to go with a simple, Dorie-tested recipe that I've made a million times before; plus, I added M&Ms just for the hell of it. They're not the greatest brownies I've ever tasted but they're easy and reliable and they were just what I needed on a day like today. As I've mentioned before, I'm a stress baker, and not because I become a stress eater as soon as the goods come out of the oven. For me, it's always been about the sheer mechanical repetitiveness of it. If you melt this much chocolate with this much butter, if you measure out this much baking soda and add it to this much flour, if you put it all together and apply this much heat, this miraculous alchemical process will occur and in the end you'll have something totally amazing and new. If you just follow the instructions mindlessly, you won't go wrong. It's the exact opposite of the breadth and unpredictability and adrenaline and mental exhaustion of an exam, and thus it's an antidote. I don't think I'll ever become a really unique, creative or ambitious baker, because for me the pleasure in baking is knowing what will happen at the end, no surprises. Maybe I'll make something totally decadent and crazy after exams are over but for now it's got to be a simple brownie recipe.

I wish I could end this with some pat statement like "Suddenly, as I put the brownie in my mouth, things didn't seem so bad." The truth is, the second half of the day was just as crappy as the first half. I went to the supermarket to buy some ingredients for a fish dinner and somehow forgot the fish, and so had to go back again in the rain. When I got back the door scraped across my ankle and sliced it open, and it's been turning Band-Aids (or as they call them here, plasters) red ever since. I'm incapable of getting my practice essays up to the length they should be within the allotted hour. Plus, the brownie pan was too big so I had cut its volume in half with a folded piece of aluminum foil, and I'm pretty sure I ended up eating some aluminum foil by accident. But I know now that if I need a break, there are brownies downstairs. And that's something.

Classic Brownies - adapted from Dorie Greenspan

5 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8” square pan with foil and either butter the foil or spray it with nonstick spray.

In a medium sized saucepan, over very low heat, combine the butter and chocolates. Stir until just melted and smooth, then remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar, then whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla, and gently stir in the salt and flour just until incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a tester just about comes clean. Be very careful not to overbake. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely, then use the foil to remove the brownies from the pan and cut into squares.

Yield – 16 brownies.

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