I’m back! I’m such a tease, I’m sorry. But I promise you, these brownies are worth the wait. And the anticipation.
Alyson, Ilana, and I had five days of sunshine, swimming, and general silliness. Let’s just say that the phrase whoo whoo got thrown around quite a bit during our vacation, inspired by the little red train we took through our resort one evening when we got lost. As in, chugga chugga chugga chugga choo choo! Yes, really. The arm gesture of pulling a bell was optional.
There was, however, no whooing when our flight landed and I looked outside our window.
As we disembarked and filed down the stairs, I snapped this photo before the police threatened to confiscate my camera if I took another picture on the tarmac.
In case you didn’t figure it out already, we were not in the Dominican Republic. The policeman’s shorts should give a clue. Shorts! And knee socks! We had an emergency landing in Bermuda (Bermuda!) due to a smoke signal coming from our engine. Yeah. Definitely no whooing at that stage.
Turns out, everything was alright. Four hours later we were back in the air. My requests for a short field trip to the beach were ignored.
During our trip, I took a break from everything in life. Including my camera. So, I don’t have any pictures of me on a hammock in the sun. Or of Alyson and Ilana lounging in the shade of a palm-covered cabana. Or the aqua blue Caribbean water.
Now home, I’m very tan.
And I’ve been thinking a lot about home recently and where my home is. Maybe it’s because my lease is almost up and I’m probably renewing. Maybe it’s because after 3 years here in Boston, I have a very strong chevra – a group of close friends. Boston is my physical home, but home is so much more than that.
I saw the band Stornoway a few months ago when my sister came to visit. (If you haven’t listened to them, you should. They have a folksy British vibe. So they have those swoon worthy accents. And as my sister says, they’re not too hard on the eyes either!) My favorite song, Fuel Up, captures my feelings perfectly:
Home is only a feeling you get in your mind
From the people you love and you travel beside
A few weeks ago, I was in DC, visiting my friend Reva.
Reva has a lovely home and I’ve always loved being part of it. During med school, we named her guest room “Gayle’s room.”
We did a lot over the weekend. And there was a fair amount of domestic bliss. Really, bliss for me. We went to her older son Isaac’s baseball game (and later performed some delicate hand surgery on his season-end trophy). We played board games and legos with her younger son, Eli. We drove first in her minivan and then in her husband’s white convertible. It reminded me of the days in med school when we used to drive around in my own white convertible. Except there was no car seat in the back of mine. Reva and I went out to dinner, but as usual, most of our time was spent in the kitchen, catching up, slicing and mixing, and cleaning. (Well, I’m not so good at the cleaning part.)
The boys got in on the action too when her husband Aaron and I made breakfast one morning – hash browns and eggs – with Isaac’s help.
And then Reva and I made brownies together. In my experience, making brownies from scratch was a waste of effort since I really like the Duncan Hines ones. But, Reva explained, this recipe is worth the few extra bowls and elbow grease. After waiting patiently for the brownies to cool, one bite was enough. Well, enough to convince me to try these at home. After having a few more bites to make sure that I really liked them.
So, a few days later, I made a batch. But they just didn’t match up to Reva’s batch. I texted her that my brownies weren’t as good as her’s. She sent back instructions:
Over-brown the butter, I think! Leave out the nuts, add chocolate chips, and be careful not to over-bake. Also, chat with a friend during!
I made these a second batch the next day. (My office was quite happy to test both batches). I left the butter to brown and hand-beat the batter while balancing my phone between ear and shoulder and chatting with Meira and then Rachela. I only dropped my phone once. Luckily it missed the batter by a few inches. Lucky not because the phone didn’t get dirty, but because I didn’t lose a drop of batter.
Maybe I should call these whoo whoo! brownies.
Cocoa Brownies with Brown Butter and Fleur de Sel
The key to this recipe is the butter. Using cocoa means that all the fat comes from the butter. And browning the butter gives the recipe a nice nutty flavor. Don’t skimp here. It’s worth the extra pan to clean. And from me, that’s saying a lot. Or, you can brown the butter in a larger saucepan and then add all the other ingredients to the pan. One pan. Not bad! Before popping into the oven, sprinkle the brownies with a few pinches of fleur de sel.
- Vegetable oil spray
- 10 T unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 C white sugar
- 3/4 C cocoa powder – I’ve tried some of the fancier ones, but I’ve found that Hershey’s is the best for this recipe. Crazy, I know!
- 1 t vanilla
- 2 t water
- 1/4 t salt
- 2 eggs, chilled
- 1/3 C + 1T all purpose flour
- 3/4 C chocolate chips chopped into chunks
- a few pinches fleur de sel
Pre-heat and prep. Move rack to bottom third of oven and preheat to 325°F. Line an 8X8 pan with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil. The aluminum foil is key.
Brown the butter. This bears repeating – don’t skip this step! Got it? Melt butter in small saucepan or pan over medium heat. The butter will start to foam. Keep stirring and cook until the butter browns and little brown bits form at the bottom. When the foam starts to subside (in my experience, the foam never dies until I take it off the heat), take it off the heat and pour into a bowl. Scrape up those browned bits and add them to the bowl.
Mix. Add sugar, cocoa, vanilla, water, and 1/4 t salt. Stir to blend – it will be grainy.
Wait. Let butter sugar mixture sit 5 minutes until lukewarm (not cool).
Mix again. Add eggs to warm mixture, one at a time, beating after each addition. Keep beating until thick and glossy. This does take some work.
Keep mixing. Add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. I’m not sure why 60 is the magic number of strokes, but fewer and the brownies bake up grainy. Add chocolate chunks and stir to blend.
Bake. Scoop batter into prepared pan (it’s thick, so you won’t be able to pour it) and smooth out with a spatula. Set timer for 25 minutes (but it may take up to 30 minutes) and bake until a toothpick comes out almost clean. There should be a few moist crumbs attached. If it’s really undercooked, put back into oven for up to 5 more minutes. But, don’t over-bake. Even if, like me, you like the crunchy corners.
Cool and cut. Cool in pan on rack and then remove brownies on the foil. DON’T cut while hot. Or warm. I know, it’s hard to wait, but do it. Then, when you cut them, use a big sharp knife. You’ll probably need to wipe the knife after every few slices. Cut into 16 squares or 24 bars.