The brown package was resting against my door when I came home from work two weeks ago. With its "perishable" label and Williams Sonoma return address, it was like a siren singing a sweet song to lead me to stray from the diet I'm never actually on. Moaning to my friend who I was chatting with on my cell phone, I bent down to pick up the package.
"More food! How am I ever going to eat all this?" I cried in distress, my thoughts already turning to the Berger cookies still in my cupboard, the TJ's Dark Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Joe Joe's I still hadn't opened, the box of Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels I was still working my way through, and the Jell-o Pudding snacks I had to finish before they expired on December 24th.
He laughed at the ludicrousness of my complaint -- whining because I had too many delicious things at my disposal to eat. He was right. I should appreciate my chocolate bounty -- poor Madonna's children probably don't even know what sugar tastes like!
I tore into the package and smiled when I saw the contents: "Blissful Brownies."
"Only Ali," I thought fondly, tucking the box under my arm as I headed to the kitchen to refrigerate them to maintain their freshness (the brownies will keep 2-3 weeks, unopened in the fridge).
During my senior year of college, brownies were the glue that cemented my lifelong friendship with my two roommates, Ali and Caroline. Bad days could always be remedied with a box of Triple Chunk brownies, a carton of vanilla ice cream and the requisite romantic comedy a la Center Stage, Notting Hill or My Best Friend's Wedding. My fondest memories of living in our shoddy, three-bedroom apartment on Maple Street were the nights we spent planted on "heinous" couch (a leftover from the previous tenants), armed with the remote and bowls of brownie sundaes. The three of us could easily go through half a pan in a single sitting, and would subsequently bond over the inevitable belly aches that followed. On days when we weren't feeling particularly inclined to bake, we would walk the mile into downtown Evanston to get our fix with either Clarke's Diner's "Charlie Brown" or Flat Top's "Chocolate Storm." It doesn't surprise me that we were all 10+ pounds heavier during that year.
Tearing into my box of brownies a few nights later, my heart seized up with nostalgia for those times. While I am happy to be rid of the extra thigh bulge and butt jiggle that prompted a former cross-country teammate to describe (in detail) how it "swayed" when I ran, I miss what the brownies represented -- the fierce bond I shared with my roommates and college friends. I knew that no matter how delicious the Williams Sonoma Blissful Brownies tasted, they could never be as blissful as the brownies I used to eat when sitting uncomfortably close to Ali and Caroline on "heinous" couch while we "awwed" over Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant finally getting together.
After cutting off a restrained corner of the nearly two-inch thick brownies, I nestled down on my pristine, un-heinous couch with a cup of tea. I quickly turned the TV to that night's episode of "Top Chef" and dug into the brownie. As is the case with most brownies, the crust tastes the best and is a necessary foil to counterbalance the dense, fudge-like interior made from high-quality Guittard chocolate. The cocoa flavor is pronounced, coating the tongue with an almost chalk-like aftertaste that is not unpleasurable, but not necessarily agreeable either. My immediate reaction was one of indifference-- I couldn't help but compare them to the boxes Ali, Caroline and I went through back in the chubby days. I didn't think I could possibly eat my way through the entire 12-serving sheet.
Yet, three days later, when I curled up in my bed with my favorite holiday movie, Love Actually, and another hunk of the decadent treats, the brownies won me over. While my preferred rendition is still of the triple chunk box variety, on my second attempt, I was able to appreciate the more sophisticated taste of the Williams Sonoma version. As previously mentioned, the crust is superb, the interior is profoundly moist even after a week in the fridge, and the ample spattering of chocolate chips are intensely satisfying for increased textural contrast. The brownies pack a punch, and even with the help of Hugh, Keira and Colin, I was still unable to eat more than a small piece.
Apparently, I've come a long way since college in terms of my portion control. But I'd still give up my favorite pink-stemmed Riedel wine glasses if it meant I could spend one more night sandwiched between Ali and Caroline with a pan of brownies and the best that Julia Roberts has to offer.