When we left our urban life a year ago and moved into an old Tudor home in the country, we were excited for the change: space! critters! grass! We happily said goodbye to coin-operated laundry machines in the basement, the mercurial super who also dwelled in the basement, pigeons fornicating on our air conditioner, and neighbors who loved to blast Jethro Tull and move across the floor at 2am on a rolling desk chair. But there were a few things that were hard to say goodbye to, most importantly (even more so than the Chinese take-out) was our friend, nanny, household livesaver, Celia.
The only time I cried when I left NYC was when I had to say goodbye to Celia…and when Tim pulled away from our apartment for the last time and said “so we’re leaving the place where you had your babies…”. Yeah, I lost it then too.
Lucky for us, Celia is now the nanny for good friends of ours and their little girl, so I feel like she’s still in the family, and also she’s not so far away that she can’t come out for a visit, like she did on the last day of the year. Me and the kids wanted to make her something special to eat. Celia loves food as much as me, so for lunch I had already planned a spread of good bread, cheese, chicken cutlets, eggplant parmigiana, and a green salad. But dessert was something I could do with Belle and Conor, and we could make it ahead of time. I had been craving brownies. But I wanted brownies that were all about the chocolate. I went to an unlikely source for a recipe, the Thomas Keller cookbook Ad Hoc at Home. Unlikely not because Keller isn’t a supreme source of food knowledge and recipes (despite some of them being step-laden and a bit rigorous), but because I don’t think he’s thought of as a dessert guy. But his recipes for sweets are surprisingly good, not as taxing as his recipes for things like fried chicken and leek bread pudding (amazing, terrifying) and they always include one neat trick that elevates the simplest chocolate chip cookie or brownie into something way above bake sale quality. The tricks here are:
-How you melt the butter. I think his technique gives you a silkier batter and a more elegant-looking brownie. When you plate it, it stands up so beautifully, like a perfect, brown, mid-century house.
-The chocolate. Using good quality chocolate is a given, but you will notice that there are chunks of chocolate floating in the brownie. You use cocoa powder in the batter but you also mix in chip-sized pieces that you chop off of the bar (you can also use chips out of a bag, but I think they should be the bigger variety so you have nice big pieces in there). I think these give the brownie more texture and more chocolate in each bite. Keller recommends 61% to 64% chocolate (the percentage is the amount of cocoa) cut into 1/4 inch pieces, but I actually used milk chocolate chips from E. Guittard and reduced the amount of sugar asked for in the recipe from 1 3/4 cups to 1 1/2 cup.
Oh, you may notice that there is a chunk missing from the brownies…sometimes it’s important to taste them first before serving. And then you have to taste them again just to make sure they’re good enough for your guest of honor.
Recipe for Brownies (adapted from Thomas Keller’s ad hoc at home)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder (Dutch-processed)
1 tsp salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 oz of 61% to 64% chocolate, chopped into bite sized pieces (depending on your taste, or if you are unable to find bars of chocolate that have those specific cocoa amounts, you can also use large semi-sweet chips, or milk chocolate chips, about 1 1/2 cups; if you use milk chocolate chips I’d reduce the amount of sugar to 1 1/2 cups).
Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and then flour a 9 inch baking pan (metal or glass). Set aside.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside.
Melt half the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Put the remaining butter in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir to melt the butter. The butter should look creamy, with small bits of unmelted butter, and be at room temperature (the butter wasn’t exactly like this when I did it, the unmelted butter was still in big chunks after mixing with the melted butter, but after I left it alone for a few minutes to prepare the mixer it it did melt down to smaller pieces).
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle (you can use a hand held mixer if you have that instead), mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then add one-third of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate pieces/chips and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week).
Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until toothpick poked into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs ticking into it. If the pick comes out wet, test again, because you may have hit a chocolate chip; then bake a couple more minutes if necessary. Cool in the pan until just a bit warmer than room temperature.
Run a knife around the edges and invert the brownie onto a large plate or cutting board. Dust with powdered sugar before cutting and serving.