You ever get those days when you don’t feel like having a fancy store-bought dessert (which these days cost an arm and a leg anyway) and instead choose to have a homemade dessert, minus the labor-intensive effort? You think hard about it, leaf through your recipe collection and then…the idea hits you. Why not brownies? They can be made in a jiffy, they don’t require that many ingredients, and they go great with coffee! And after you make them, you don’t end up slumped on the chair out of sheer exhaustion. They’re virtually error-free and can be innovated upon a hundred ways. My innovation – not exactly an original one – is to top it with slivered roasted almonds.
Brownies – they’re like an old lover you always go back to. Or they’re like outdated, comfy shoes. No splash, no pizazzz, but the ideal comfort food when it’s grey outside or you’re running out of positive thoughts. Brownies are also the classic initiation rites for a pre-teen who’s itching to impress mom and the siblings.
One day my neighbor rang and she sounded excited. Turns out the guy she’s madly in love with agreed to come to her house for dinner. I asked what dessert she was going to surprise him with. I was expecting her to say a mango flambé or a Chocolate Charlotte or something impressive. When she said, “brownies!” I had to control myself from giggling. But like I said, brownies are like an old lover that you run to each time you find yourself in a desperate bind.
Everyone knows how to make brownies, even four year-olds. So I won’t post my recipe. I bet you’ve got excellent brownie recipes of your own. But I’d like to share a tip about using butter. Two things I watch out for:
the butter must be completely melted. That means if you’re going to nuke it, it’s got to be all liquid, no lumps, no humps;
the butter must be set aside to cool. And I mean really cool.
I usually don’t have a problem with the first, but sometimes when I’m in a rush, I throw the butter in while it’s still lukewarm. What this does is it produces lumps in my batter. No matter how much I “smash” them with my wooden spoon, they come back right up when I stop mixing (it will probably be different if you’re using an electric mixer). Then when the brownies bake, the chocolate all come together in one thick slab. Result? The brownies are heavy, the chocolate unevenly spread.
But the texture of brownies is really a personal choice. Some like it chewy, some like it fudgy and yet others like them cake-like. Someone wrote that when you want your brownies fudgy, use a minimum of flour with no leavening. Also, you obtain that fudgy – dense – effect when you melt the butter instead of creaming it with the sugar. Cake-like brownies have more flour and less butter with some baking powder. This helps them rise, producing a lighter texture. Adding milk will also make brownies softer. I like to add milk – evaporated or 1% milk – because I don’t like the chocolate to have a concentrated taste. Milk also “loosens” up my batter, making it easier to mix manually.
I like middle-of-the-road type of brownies. Chewy and light, and not too fudgy. I don’t like to feel that I’m biting into a slab of fudge. I probably would never use icing (I don’t know of anyone who does), but I like to throw in walnuts or almonds.
A few have shared their “brownie” secrets. One baker says to add corn syrup. She says it makes brownies more moist. Another says he adds 1/3 cup of cooked black beans which, he says, cuts down the fat because they replace some of the butter. I wonder what he calls his brownies – fibrous brownies or beany chocolate squares?