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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Best Cocoa Brownies and Trust

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Life can be scary sometimes.  It doesn't matter if you're five years old or 105, there are going to be moments when you just want to close your eyes and make it all go away.  When you're five, and your fears amount to a darkened room or not getting the gold crayon before the other kids, it's easy to soldier on.  But when you're an adult, life's scary moments can be much more frightening.

It's true there are plenty of upsides to being a grownup, but a major downside would have to be losing that unshakable trust in life.  It's easy to trust things are going to work out when your parents, your teacher, the bus driver, and even Santa Claus are in charge of keeping you happy and safe.  And when things get a little scary, all it takes is a hug from your teddy bear to make everything right again.  Trust is not so easy for a grownup.  Santa can't help you with a new job, and your teddy bear just doesn't understand about Roth IRAs or 401ks.  But no matter what your age, sometimes the best remedy for life's scary moments is a nice, warm brownie and someone to tell you it's all going to be okay.

When the world doesn't make sense, these amazing brownies are enough to renew your trust.  One bite of their rich, chocolatey goodness, and your faith in the grand scheme of things is restored.  A world that produces such a perfect brownie has to be good.
As far as brownies go, I used to be a box mix junkie and no recipe could make me change my ways.  That is, until I found the Katharine Hepburn brownie recipe.  As an avid fan of her acting, I had to try her recipe, and I discovered a new universe of from-scratch brownies. 

But I still couldn't find a brownie recipe that reminded me of those box-mix beauties until I came across this one from Smitten Kitchen.  Not only do they resemble everyone's fudgy box mix favorites, these babies far outweigh them.  And since they are made with cocoa powder, there's no need to mess with melted chocolate, and they come together very easily.  Trust me.

Whether you're feeding a hyper party of five-year-olds or just need a comforting indulgence at the end of the day, you can place your trust in these brownies.  So, go ahead, pour yourself a glass milk, grab a brownie, and know that all is well.
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Best Cocoa Brownies

From Smitten Kitchen
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet
Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies

INGREDIENTS:
10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (65 grams, though some brands may weigh more) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process) (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (75 grams) walnut or pecan pieces (optional) (I didn't use them.)

DIRECTIONS:
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion, but I baked them for 25-27 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

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