I blame the cake.
Yes, that cake – the winning-hearts-and-minds cake that my mother nearly decapitated two Sundays ago with one fell swoop of her ungraceful hand.
I still haven’t gotten over it.
Any of it – the almost decapitation, the damage to my nervous system that can’t handle fell swoops, and the way the deformed cake tasted once we’d covered up the mangled top with a whipped cream concealer.
It was like fudge and brownies and chocolate soufflé had a baby in an 8-inch round pan – a baby that I subsequently had to abandon at my parents’ house in Orange County.
The single slice I’d eaten that night was a dull knife to my heart. I felt like someone had cut the cable five minutes into an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” or told me I could only have one lick of an ice cream cone. I couldn’t stop thinking about chocolate the entire week. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was going to silence the incessant noise in my head – the clanging, clattering voice that demanded to know why I hadn’t taken a piece of the cake back to LA with me.
I was certain it was having abandonment issues.
Because I was having abandonment issues.
There seemed only one way to remedy the hole in my stomach that was growing larger and emptier and angrier by the second.
I had to make brownies.
But not just any brownies – certainly not the boxed variety that brought doom, despair and wobbly bits to my and my roommates’ thighs in college – I had to make from-scratch brownies. And they had to be perfect. The be-all end-all brownie that all the other brownies want to be when they grow up.
Amanda Hesser’s brownies.
It was an obvious choice. The recipe she includes in the Essential New York Times Cookbook is simple and uncluttered with any sort of peanut butter, caramel, espresso, mint, Oreo, or cheesecake nonsense. Her description as to why she selected this particular recipe says it all:
I settled on this unadorned version, with classic proportions of butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and chocolate, which I believe is the best kind of brownie; a little buttery, a little bitter, a little salty, but mostly about the chocolate. These brownies also exhibit my favorite brownie detail, a shiny, chewy crackled surface.
Chewy crackled surface. The words echoed in my head, finally bringing peace to that accusatory voice and my stomach’s abandonment issues.
This was the be-all end-all brownie that I desired. And it was the first thing that popped into my head when I woke up at 7 am on Sunday morning courtesy of an unexpected downpour outside my bedroom window. I told myself the rainstorm was God’s way of telling me to bake them. Immediately.
I made the brownies without hesitation – ate them without hesitation too. One after lunch, two after dinner – a consequence of my week-long period of chocolate cake deprivation. I cursed the brownies for their rich and sassy demeanor. I cursed their crackly surface and the satisfyingly chewy bits around the edges.
And I cursed the cake.
Yes, that cake. The cake that started all the trouble – decapitation, abandonment issues and my subsequent discovery of the ultimate, be-all end-all brownie recipe. My thighs will never be the same again.
Lightly adapted from Amanda Hesser’s Essential New York Times Cookbook
Makes 16 brownies
Adaptations: The only changes I made to the original recipe are procedural in nature – using a double boiler instead of a saucepan to melt the chocolate and butter, and going a different route to cut the brownies.
¼ pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli 60% cacao chips)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup sifted all-purpose flour
½ cup chopped pecans (or other nuts)
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch-square baking pan and line the base with parchment (I extended the parchment to come up the edges of the pan so I could use the overhand to lift the brownies out for cutting purposes).
Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan (I used a double boiler) over low heat. Remove from heat.
Beat the eggs with the sugar until the sugar is mostly dissolved, and add to the chocolate mixture. Add the other ingredients and mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost, but not quite, clean, about 25 minutes (mine took 30 minutes). Let cool completely.
Once cool, place the pan in the refrigerator for an hour to chill. (This will make them easier to cut.) Run a knife around the edges of the brownies that are touching the baking dish, then use the parchment paper to lift them out of the dish. Set on a cutting board and cut into 16 squares.