Darlings, I have an apartment! With real walls, ceilings, windows - windows! - and a balcony looking at rooftops. The balcony is currently filled with snow drifts, but does that matter? Not one little bit. It features largely in my nighttime fantasies in which pure golden sunlight drifts down from the heavens as I sit outside in the morning on that balcony, drinking tea and feeling blessed. Around the corner from the apartment is an Italian wholesale grocery store and a lovely greenmarket on Tuesdays and Fridays (here some summertime photos of said market that might make your eyes hurt what with all the sunshine and the green leaves). Plus the Charlottenburg Palace is in spitting distance. I interpreted these three things as auspicious signs that I should take the apartment. Doesn't that sound sensible? I sign the lease in two days and move next week. Next week!
All in all, these past few days have felt wonderful. An apartment to call my own, the acceptance of my health insurance application (making the black ice all over Berlin's sidewalks feel just a little less treacherous), and the discovery of Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies. Yes, I did just put a brownie recipe on the same level as finding a home. With good reason. These brownies can bridge cultures. They can make people fall in love. They can bewitch you into making them twice in two days. They are powerful, killer brownies.
Furthermore, they are a piece of cake. I mean, all you do is melt butter, sugar, cocoa and salt into a coal-black, grainy sludge in a water bath. Then you beat in vanilla extract, two eggs and a fillip of flour. The batter looks like silk. And that's it. A monkey could make these brownies. A small child could master them.
The first time I made these, on Friday, I underbaked them. The middle was oozy and gooey and when I brought them to a party, people fell upon them. And can I say, there's something sort of deeply satisfying about seeing one of America's greatest exports, the humble brownie, being so fervently appreciated. Like I said, culture-bridging. I got all warm inside.
The second time I made them, on Saturday, I brought them to a somewhat more intimate gathering. In which, err, I was hoping rather hard to show off my baking prowess. This time, I baked the brownies a little longer. The centers were now all purely fudgy, without any goo, but with the same deep, dark chocolate flavor and that alluring chew. Ooh, they were spectacular. Certain eaters present ate three brownies in one go, making me feel all warm inside, too, but of a distinctly different order.
Apartment, insurance, brownies. I'd say it was a pretty great week.
Best Cocoa Brownies
Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies
10 tablespoons (141 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (280 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (82 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (66 grams) all-purpose flour
1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added.
3. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
4. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. (Deb suggests putting the cooled pan in the fridge or freezer for a while, which helps if you want clean lines when cutting the brownies.)
5. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.