Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why bake? includes a recipe

We've had a small break (okay, it's been over four months) since our last post. We've been trying to think of useful tips to share with you, but most of the things that come to mind seem trivial or obvious. So let's look at the bigger picture.

If you go to your local grocery store, chances are that they have shelves and tables full of baked goods for sale. Perhaps they even have an in-store bakery, where you can get fresh bread, cupcakes, beautifully decorated cakes (some places can put an edible photo on your cake), and many, many different kinds of cookies. There are still a few free-standing bakeries around -- these days, they are lovely little places, with pink boxes, adorable little pastries, and mind-boggling flavor combinations. You could buy a mix to make brownies or a cake that requires that you add just an egg, water and butter. If you are really desperate, you can grab some Little Debbie or Hostess cakes off the convenience store shelves.

So why bother to bake? Why dirty every bowl in the kitchen (my favorite approach), powder yourself top-to-toe with flour, get brownie batter on the faucet, egg shells on the counter-top, and a burn on your forearm? (Gee, put like that, it makes me want to quit the baking business altogether...)

Because it's fun. Because you get to make delicious messes. Because the results are so much better than commercially-made baked goods that you won't consider them to be the same kind of food. Because, when you make something with love, real butter, good chocolate, and fresh eggs, the result is flavorful, tender, rich, and something you won't regret eating later -- unlike something mass-produced from a mix (yes, that's how they do it in a commercial bakery) that's full of preservatives, conditioners, chemicals, and things you wouldn't want to touch, let alone eat.

If you buy a brownie mix, you have to dirty a bowl, a spoon (or spatula) to stir, and a pan. If you make brownies from scratch, you have to dirty a bowl, a spoon or spatula, a pan, a couple of measuring spoons and a measuring cup -- or, instead of the measuring cup, a bowl to weigh things in. You have to run the dishwasher (or fill the sink) to wash those few things anyway -- why not get a better product at the small cost of spending an extra half-a-minute loading the dishwasher or washing those extra items by hand?

Try this recipe. If these aren't 100% better than any box or purchased brownies, call me and I'll take them off your hands!

All-American Brownies

from Fertig, Judith M. All-American desserts: 400 start-spangled, razzle-dazzle recipes for America’s best-loved desserts. Boston: Harvard Common Press, 2003.

1-1/4 c. (3.625 oz) cocoa powder (natural or dutched)
1-1/4 c. (5.5 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. chopped nuts, not optional
1-1/2 c. (3 sticks, 12 oz) unsalted butter, melted
3 c. sugar (1 lb. 5 oz)
7 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350˚. Line the bottom and sides of a 9x13” baking pan with foil and grease the foil with butter. (Or spray with "Pam" or similar flavorless cooking spray.)

Whisk together the cocoa, flour, salt, and chopped nuts, in small mixing bowl.

In large mixing bowl beat the melted butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs and continue beating until well-blended. Beat in the vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and beat on low speed until well-blended. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, 40-45 minutes. If brownies tend to burn in your oven, cover the edges with strips of foil toward the end of the baking time.

Let cool in the pan, then cut into squares.