The Skeleton in My Cupboard–Brownies

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more perfect example of a love-hate relationship than the one I have with brownies.  What’s not to love, right?  They are fudgy, chewy, crispy, crunchy, chocolatey, gooey, and delicious.  They make me happy.  They’re perfect alone or with ice cream, any temperature, at any meal.  And usually *usually* one is enough.  Whether you prefer the middle or the corner, with nuts, with chips, or au natural, brownies are a winner.  Unless you’re me and you can’t figure out how to bake a good batch.  Then, they’re your nemesis.

I’ve tried SO MANY recipes, and they all promise to be foolproof, only adding to my shame when I screw them up.  Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is that the mix you can buy for $2.99 in a box at the grocery store tastes and looks better than my homebaked, expensive, high-end, chocolatey expression of love?  What’s a girl to do?  I turned to the internet and some trusted baking sites, some favorite cookbooks, and some less fancy chocolate.  I aimed for simplicity.

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Flour, sugar, chocolate, butter, eggs, vanilla, salt.

That’s it.  It should have been so easy, so fast, so delicious.  20 minutes at 400 (I even have an in-oven thermometer!), then into an ice bath to cool.  Granted, I was supposed to use an 8×8 metal pan, which I don’t own, so I used glass, then put the brownies (on foil) into a different container so as not to shatter my pan, but still.  The center was raw.  Not in that good, ooey-gooey way–in a gross, drippy, uncooked, raw way.  You guys, I *like* brownie batter.  And when I say I like batter, I mean there is no need to wash the bowl when I’m done with it.  (I’m sure J is cringing as he reads this, grateful that I don’t lick bowls in public and wishing that I didn’t admit to doing so in private all over the internet.)  I do not fear salmonella.  I had every reason (after my overbaked, dry mess last time*) to love these brownies, even if they were a little underdone.

*Below – the last, terrible batch

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I did not like them.  Once again, I went to the altar of internet searching and begged Google to help me.  Multiple baking chats reassured me that this was a common problem and said I could put those babies back in the oven to firm them up, just as long as I was careful not to overbake them.  15 more minutes (nearly double the original time) helped a little, but only a little.  They tasted better, but they didn’t look too pretty and they fell apart when cut.   As you can see in the photo above, my last batch looked lovely, but didn’t taste good at all.  (Seriously, we threw them away.  I NEVER waste chocolate.  This hurt.)

Just once I’d like to bake brownies that taste AND look nice (and wouldn’t be better off hidden under multiple scoops of ice cream!)

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So back to the drawing board I go.  Brown Eyed Baker’s Baked recipe, buh-bye.  Baking Bites Perfect Fudgy Brownies, ciao for now.  (I may return to you once I own a metal pan, and next time I’m mixing far less so as to keep that sugar crystallized to make a nice crust.)  I’m not sure where to go next, but I’m not giving up.  I have learned to make a buttery, flavorful pie crust.  I have mastered both chocolate and vanilla cakes, something many professional bakeries don’t get right.  I’ve got a repertoire of muffins, cookies, frostings, and specialty items.  Brownies, I’m coming for you.

The night wasn’t a total loss.  Boo made sure we were still smiling in spite of my brownie-tastrophe and J’s endless school work.

Unlike the cats in this video,

Boo entertained herself without harming anyone or damaging anything:

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Love.

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Mardi Gras Comes to Brooklyn

 

I did it!  I overcame the slushy snow and cold temps, put aside my cozy jammies and blankets, and made my way to the supermarket to stock up on sugar.  (That I forgot the butter and freezer bags is irrelevant; what’s important here is that I got sugar.)  Why is this such a big feat, you wonder?  Because this sugar was the key ingredient to my personal Mardi Gras celebration.  Most years I am able to travel during Presidents’ Week, and most years I opt to go to Europe where Carnival is usually being celebrated with theatrical decor and tasty treats.  This year marks the first in many that I will not be traveling, so if you can’t fly the girl to Venice (or New Orleans or Rio or France or Spain…), bring the kings cake to the girl.  I looked up a lot of recipes.  Many of them looked festive, bedecked in purple, green, and gold, but not as tasty as I was hoping to find.  J remembered kings cakes as being dry and crumbly…not particularly appetizing.  I had a vaguely similar recollection and was certain I could find one we liked more.  I was right.  The recipe I found is French, and the cake is decadent and delicious.  This experiment included many firsts for me:  kings cake, puff pastry, almond paste.  In this house we have to put the cork on the fork practice safety first, so we opted to leave the bean/baby out of the cake.  And even with this precaution, there were a couple of other minor mishaps, including me forgetting that I neglected to bring my rolling pin with me when I moved, but a wine bottle solved that problem.  And I put a little too much butter on the sheet pan which smoked up our kitchen (and left it smelling like burned butter, which in my world equals the smell of pancakes, so yum!), but otherwise everything was easier than I expected.  I even had a little puff pastry left over for a future experiment.  I think next time I’ll make them mini kings cakes – individual portions, since they didn’t slice neatly and thus didn’t present as pretty as I would have liked.  I might also play around with adding fruit.  I think cherries would add a lovely tartness against the sweetness of the cake.  But for tonight, we’re just going to celebrate and eat cake!

Kings Cake or Galette de Rois

adapted from: http://www.bonjourparis.com/story/recipe-galette-rois-epiphany-cake/

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup almond paste
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 dried bean (lima or kidney beans work well)
  • Pinch of salt

PREPARATION

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Butter a large baking sheet (not dark metal).
  3. In a food processor, purée the almond paste, sugar, butter and pinch of salt until smooth.
  4. Add 1 egg, vanilla and almond extract, then purée until incorporated.
  5. Add the flour and pulse to mix it in.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one sheet of the puff pastry into an 11.5 inch square.
  7. Invert an 11 inch pie plate onto the square and cut out a round shape by tracing the outline of the pie plate with the tip of a paring knife.
  8. Brush the flour from both sides of the round and place it on the buttered baking sheet. Put in the refrigerator to chill.
  9. Repeat the procedure with the second square of puff pastry, but leave it on the floured work surface.
  10. Beat the remaining egg and brush some of it on top of the second round. Score decoratively all over the top using the tip of a paring knife and make several small slits all the way through the pastry to create steam vents.
  11. Remove the first sheet from the refrigerator and brush some of the egg in a 1 inch border around the edge. Mound the almond cream in the center, spreading slightly.
  12. Bury the bean in the almond cream. Place the scored round on top and press the edges together.

TO BAKE

  1. Bake the galette in the lower third of the oven for 13 to 15 minutes, until puffed and golden. Remove from oven and dust with the confectioner’s sugar.
  2. Place oven rack in the upper third of the oven and return galette to cook for an additional 12 to 15 minutes or until the edge is a deep golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly.

TO SERVE

Serve the galette warm. Make sure everybody knows about the bean before eating!

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Et voila!

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Gone to the hips…

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