happy 58th to the one who taught me to keep it in the bowl
I do not have my mother's brown eyes, her small, slender fingers, or her perfectly curving silhouette. She is endlessly patient, kind to a fault. I do not take after her. "We're sure who the father is, we're just not so sure who the mother is," my parents used to joke. But before we write off her X-chromosome genes as entirely recessive, we must consider all of the evidence.
My affinity for turkey and chopped liver sandwiches, the tendency to wash my hands far more often than necessary, and my love of breakfast for dinner, I clearly owe to her. It is from my mother that I learned how to eat an artichoke, how to sop up the runny yolk of a fried egg with toast, and how to turn up my nose at corned-beef that is sliced any thicker than paper thin. When I was a child, Mom would ask me everyday, "How does it feel to be Jessica today?" Then, she would listen. And in so doing, she taught me how to listen, how always to make space for the other person in the room. Mommy mine, I could not be more grateful for this fine inheritance.
On the occasion of her 58th birthday, I'd like to celebrate some of my dear Mommy's lesser-known qualities: There is, for example, her unparalleled, two-step method of purse-rummaging. At cash registers the world over, she reaches deep into the mouth of her purse, and grabs hold of every credit card, business card, and receipt within reach. Her hand emerges with a motley stack that smells faintly of spearmint gum. Then, with the dexterity and speed of a Vegas dealer, she fans and shuffles until the sought-after card rises to the top of the deck. I've never seen a woman rummage so gracefully. And this birthday portrait would not be complete without mention of my mother's odd susceptibility to foreign accents. In mere thirty-second conversations, she has been known to take on the lilts, drawls, and cadences of her interlocutors. To be honest, it's a little disturbing. But also strangely endearing.
My earliest memories in the kitchen are with my mom, baking - as she dubbed them - "After-Preschool Brownies." I would measure, pour, and even work the mixer. I did the best I could, but my four-year-old "best" inevitably involved some runaway batter on the counter. Mom never said, "don't make a mess." She preferred a gentler, kinder directive: "Don't forget to keep it in the bowl."
I remember these brownies as the richest, most chocolaty things I had ever tasted. I was just a few years out from having started on solid foods, so they probably were. This morning, I learned that what passes for an intense dessert in preschool takes a very different shape on the palate a couple of decades later. They resemble more a good, simple chocolate cake than the sinfully decadent dessert most often associated with the name "brownie." But I'm not complaining. Over a warm, After-Preschool Brownie and a glass of milk, I got to thinking. When, exactly, did we enter the age of the extreme brownie? Must every brownie earn its title with a full pound of chocolate, cacao powder to boot, a clever twist of mint or caramel, and a sheet of chocolate frosting? After-Preschool Brownies are this question's best answer. Somewhere between cakey and fudgy, these brownies provide a smooth, solid hit of chocolate - nothing more, nothing less. They are pleasantly two-toned, with a dark and moist interior and a crackly light-brown crust. After-Preschool Brownies are mild and understated in a brownie world that's gone all glitz and glamour.
To all of you readers out there under the age of five, I heartily recommend this recipe as an excellent first brownie. Any grownups looking for a lower-key brownie that doesn't leave you groaning on the floor in a state of sensory overload, you might want to give this recipe a try, too.
Dear readers, if you happen to see a woman today with a faux southern twang rummaging around (ever so gracefully) in her purse, please give her a big birthday hug for me. As for you, dear Mommy, happy birthday. I love you.
Adapted from the Kitchen of Mom
I gave this recipe a bit of a face lift with the help of high-quality chocolate, the addition of salt, and a reduction in sugar. We always left out the walnuts in Mom's kitchen, so for the sake of posterity, I left them out, too.
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I used Scharffen-Berger 70%)
2 sticks butter
4 large eggs
1 ½ c. granulated sugar
¼ t. salt
2 t. vanilla
6 T. flour
1 c. toasted, chopped walnuts (optional)
Heat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 13”x9”x2” pan.
In a double boiler (or metal bowl) set over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and the butter. Stir occasionally.
While the butter and chocolate are melting, crack the eggs into a glass, measure the sugar into one bowl, and whisk together the flour and the salt in another.
When the butter and chocolate have melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla on high speed for about 4 minutes, until the mixture is thick and light in color.
Stir a bit (a few tablespoons) of the egg mixture into the warm chocolate to lighten. Then, beat the lightened chocolate into the egg mixture. Mix in the flour and the salt. The batter will be liquidy, but will firm up as it bakes.
Pour the batter into the pan, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until just a few crumbs cling to a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan. If you prefer a more fudge-like brownie, remove the pan from the oven closer to the 20 minute mark. For cake-like brownies, leave in the oven for up to 25 minutes. Do not overbake.
Allow to cool in the pan until they are not quite room temperature. Cut into squares, and remove the brownies to a cooling rack.
Posted by Jess