You were hoping

Delancey arrived on my doorstep not long after Freddie was born. The timing was perfect.* For one thing, Delancey is a book. I read a lot in the first weeks after babies turn up here, so I need books. I also need food, and Delancey’s got that, too, to the tune of twenty recipes tucked between chapters. Knowing Molly Wizenberg (and trusting my friends around the internet), I’d bet that many of these recipes are success stories waiting to happen. I’ll have to get back to you on that though, since for now I am stuck on the brownies.

I cannot stop making them, and that is because they are perfect. Here is the part where you ask The Question, the one that’s hung in the air after every mention of brownies since the beginning of time, and I answer with the word that, admit it, you were hoping for: FUDGY. (No disrespect to the cakey crowd. Remember these?) Of course, we cannot stop there. We know we must be careful. Because it is often in the very name of “fudgy” that so many brownies go wrong.

We’ve all stomached them: gummy, squishy, smudgy, and wet, brownies that look as though they’ve gone for a sprint around the block in 100% humidity and collapsed onto your plate at the finish. I sometimes wonder whether the trouble isn’t in the question, since what I really want – more than “fudgy;” more than “cakey” – is a brownie that is good. And the truth is that if it is good, even the fudgiest brownie falls somewhere in between.

I think that when we say “fudgy,” what we really mean is “chewy,” like these brownies here today, rich and dense enough for your teeth to leave scrape marks when you bite in. We want something satisfying in the Chocolate, Now! department in a way that even the best cakey chocolate cakes are not. Molly’s brownies have very little flour, which explains their similarity to a spot-on flourless chocolate cake, but instead of soft and mousse-y inside, they’re the slightest bit spongy. (That’s the cakey bit talking.) The recipe makes just enough batter for a shallow pour, so the resulting slab of brownies is thin, easy to slice into neat squares. A big old brownie isn’t the most sought after summertime treat, what with the dessert files in our brains flipped open to berries, crumbles, and pies. But how about one of these, straight from the fridge – how I happen to like them best – perhaps with some of those berries? Yes? I thought so.

The recipe comes together in a flash, by the way. And I say that having only ever attempted it with the enthusiastic “help” of a certain two-and-a-half-year-old and an unconscious six-week-old tied to my chest. These brownies were that same two-and-a-half-year-old’s first in all her life, the effect of which being that she is now ruined for all future brownies.

She can thank me later.

*The pure punishment of reading a book detailing the production of Brandon Pettit’s pizza an entire continent away from said pizza, while nursing a baby every hour on the hour, notwithstanding.

Molly’s Brownies
Adapted from Delancey, by Molly Wizenberg

I suggest greasing your pan with butter instead of oil or cooking spray. The one time I used oil instead of butter, the flavor, however mild, was distracting. As I mentioned above, I like these best cold, straight from the fridge.

1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter
2 ounces (55 grams) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup (35 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter an 8-inch square baking dish and line the bottom with a rectangle of parchment paper long enough to hang a couple of inches over two of the sides. (You’ll use the parchment to lift the brownies from the pan.) Lightly butter the paper.

Melt the butter and chopped chocolate in a 2½-3 quart saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla and blend until smooth. Stir in the flour and the salt. Pour into the prepared pan, then lift the pan and drop it down onto the countertop a couple of times to release any air bubbles.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (in my oven, they’re done at 28), until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, run a sharp knife around the edges between the brownies and the pan, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Pull the parchment paper to lift the brownies from the pan. Slice into 16 squares. 


Just the thing

Five years ago, my friend Molly wrote a book. She wasn't “my friend Molly” back then, not yet; just the voice behind the blog I’d discovered right before that book came out. I was recovering at the time from all that crazy brain stuff, still a couple of surgeries away from a fully intact skull, and on medical leave from graduate school. I’d recently started my own blog, this one, because I needed a project, and because for reasons I couldn't yet explain, occupying myself with food and writing felt like just the thing.

I didn't read blogs of any kind before I got sick; I didn't know food blogs existed. This was 2009 already, so I had a lot of catching up to do. The whole thing was a revelation: people sharing food and stories on the internet, like one sprawling dinner party, tables and chairs for miles. I did a lot of clicking around and determined that blogs were primarily records. Of days, of recipes, of photographs. A blog was a place to get things down, a jewel box of sorts for collecting favorites, a hub for sharing and connecting with likeminded people. Then I found Molly’s site, Orangette, and learned that a blog could also be something else: a space you turn into something; a kind of studio where you could go to make art.

The subject of Molly’s art – her writing, photos, and recipes – was everyday life. From where I sat in early 2009, that was huge, since illness had put such a giant wedge between me and my own. I missed the big things plenty: studying, teaching, runs along the river. But more than any of that, I missed my everyday. I missed waking up early, comfortable in my bed and in my body, contemplating the leftovers in my fridge and a second life for them beneath fried eggs; I missed kneading challah dough on Friday afternoons, carrying a heavy stack of dishes and a fistful of silverware to the table, standing around in the kitchen with Eli at the end of the night scraping plates, rinsing glasses, wiping down counters.

It's clear to me now that starting a blog and filling it with food, making something of the bits of normal life that were slowly sprouting up again, was my way of registering these things, really seeing them, and believing in them once again. Of course it was! But back then I didn’t have a clue. In fact, I wondered if it wasn’t perhaps a bit weird, this writing about and photographing my everyday. Molly made it feel less weird (or made me feel less alone in the weird) not least because she showed me what it looked like to do it really, really well.

So I sent her an e-mail: a short piece of fan mail on the day her book came out. And Molly, because she is very lovely and also a little insane – it was her publication day!! – wrote me back right away. She started reading my site, which meant a lot, and somewhere along the line, through e-mails, phone calls, and in-person visits on her coast and mine, we became friends.

About three years ago, Molly and her husband Brandon and I spent a couple of days at a house on a lake outside of Seattle. I was pregnant with Mia at the time and getting started on my book proposal, and Molly had just sold her second book, Delancey, to her publisher. We talked a lot on that visit about the stories we tell, why they matter, if they matter, about the process of getting them down (owwwww!), and the preliminary nuggets – memories, scenes, ideas – that were driving our respective projects. We've kept these conversations going over the years, and it’s the highest praise I can think of when I say that reading Delancey, which came out last week, felt exactly like those conversations: Molly being her smart, funny, thoughtful self, figuring things out as she goes, discovering what’s what through the stories she tells. I could hear her putting things together bit by bit as I turned the pages which, when I'm reading, is my favorite thing to hear.

Delancey the book is named for Delancey the restaurant that Molly and Brandon opened almost five years ago. All of these photos, if you haven’t already guessed, are from our visits there. The book is about the collision of their marriage with that restaurant and what came of it, for better and for worse. (Spoiler alert: Mostly for better.) It’s about how the things we make, make us. It is also, I think, about discovering our stories as we live them, learning to understand them, and ourselves through them. Oh, and it’s about pizza, too, of course. (Did I mention, Delancey’s a pizza restaurant? And that Brandon’s pizza is THE BEST?!) By the end of the book I was ready to consume an entire Delancey pie. Preferably the crimini, like so:

Congratulations, Molly, and thank you, for so much inspiration.