Lit’rally the Best Brownies Ever

Brownies_zoesays

Hello, lovely readers!

We’ve been having gorgeous weather lately and last weekend, it was wonderful to throw open all the windows and let in fresh air, sunshine, and the sounds of birds chirping. For some reason, the pacifying gorgeous weather struck a baking chord within me. (I bet you were wondering how I would segue into brownies from pretty weather, huh?)

So, let’s get to the meat of things–or the chocolate of things, as the case may be.

I know there are a gazillion recipes out there for brownies. I mean, if you type in “brownies” on Pinterest, your Pinterest will hang for five minutes while it tries to deliver the search results.

A good friend of mine and I had a discussion about this treat not too long ago, which ended up being the catalyst for my search. I have yet to find a brownie at any bakery in my town that is what I dub a “Zoe brownie.” Frankly, it’s been a long while since I’ve consumed a brownie in a commercial or retail setting that was memorable.

Probably not a shock to those who know me but I am very picky about how brownies should look and taste.

My opinion is that they should be rich, not too sweet, very chocolatey, dense, chewy on the edges, and have nothing to distract from these qualities, e.g. nuts, peanut butter, chips, icing, etc.

When I conducted my aforementioned Pinterest search, the results returned were all brownie recipes that had a whole bunch of stuff on or in them. So I scrapped that, went back to good old Google, and narrowed my findings down to four solid looking recipes. After reading through them, I was able to narrow down the possible winners to two, both of which claimed to be the BEST brownies.

It then came down to ingredients and preparation. Based on that, I decided to go with one posted on Cravings of a Lunatic, entitled, “The Best Brownies in the WORLD!!!” I was ready and willing to prove whether this claim was, in fact, true.

Well.

There’s only one thing I have to say about that. Using the inflection of Chris Traeger’s character from Parks and Rec, I can say with no exaggeration that they were LIT’RALLY? the best brownies I’ve ever had. I have no idea how the original author came up with this outstanding recipe, but it is nothing short of divine.

Here is the ingredients list and also my very minor tweaks in parentheses. (Please note that these amounts will yield a double batch, which fits into one 9×13 pan of brownies. A single batch is meant to go in an 8×8 pan but honestly, do yourself a favor and make the double batch.)

  • Two sticks of butter (I did one stick of unsalted and one stick of salted)
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (We happened to have Scharffen Berger 99% unsweetened dark chocolate on hand.)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten (Really beat the eggs with a fork–get the stress out!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla salt (you can use regular salt for this–I used fine sea salt)

Here are the easy peasy lemon squeezy preparation instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Line your pan with parchment paper. (I used Kim’s tip to wet the parchment paper to get it to stick to the pan.)
  • Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together over medium heat in a medium saucepan; I strongly suggest using a double boiler. (Kim suggests a wooden spoon–I recommend a rubber spatula for most of this process.)
  • Remove from heat and add the sugar. Stir well.
  • Now add your eggs and vanilla, stirring until it’s smooth. (Here is where you may want to switch out your rubber spatula for a minute and use a whisk.)
  • Add chocolate chips, flour, and salt. Stir until well blended. (Back to the rubber spatula we go.)
  • Pour into pan and place in oven. (Tapping the pan on the counter to settle the batter works and pops any lingering bubbles.)
  • Bake for 35-45 minutes, toothpick inserted should come out clean (or mostly clean) when done.
  • Remove and cool on a rack.
  • Serve and consume!

These brownies taste unbelievable after cooling a bit but are still warm, with or without a scoop of ice cream. They definitely require milk or coffee to accompany them.

They also keep! Boxed brownies, while they can bake up decently, usually just taste like hardened chemicals the next day, which makes me gag.

Not these babies. Granted, they don’t last very long because you can’t believe how good they smell and taste, and so you and your family eat them pretty quickly, but they DO keep. Breakfast, snacks, dessert, just because, whatever. If you’re a gym goer or don’t indulge often, I promise it’s worth the extra gym session or having a cheat.

These brownies are super rich and chocolatey, moist, fudgey, smell like a chocolate shop and everything good in the world, and come out of the oven with a delicious glossy crust. The edges are perfectly chewy and add a lovely bit of texture.

Make some for your office mates and share if you don’t want to end up eating half a pan of these sinful things.

What’s a blog post about brownies without photos? Here are a handful. I honestly didn’t get a lot because we pounced on them like rabid hyenas.

It goes without saying but here it is anyway: this is totally a Zoe Recommends!

 

Dark ChocolateChopped Chocolate Brownie pan

 

Brownies 2_zoesays

 

Zoe Recommends: Dash and Bella Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know it’s a new year and some of us are three weeks into a new health regime. If you’re on any kind of kick where a delicious cookie would “ruin” anything, just pass this post right on by. However, if you’re like me and still try the occasional “best ever” chocolate chip cookie recipe, read on.

I skipped making Christmas cookies this year. To atone for that, coupled with several weekends of unsubtle nudging from my better half, I made this chocolate chip cookie recipe, courtesy of Dash and Bella.

What makes them different?

Less flour, a ratio of double the brown sugar to white sugar, and lots of STUFF in the cookies, namely extra chocolate chips and nuts.

I usually don’t like my cookies with nuts, but since I was trying something new, I decided to go all in. I used chopped pecans instead of walnuts, and instead of using 1.5C of them, as the recipe calls for, I only put in 3/4C. For my taste preferences, that seemed to be the right amount of crunch and texture to add to a cookie. We only had semi-sweet chips so I wasn’t able to try the large bittersweet chips, but that’s for next time.

Otherwise, I followed the recipe to a T and they really came out…..well, indescribably good.

One of the more unique tips is making larger cookies that brown on the edges and you pull them out whilst still raw in the center. The idea is you let them cook on the sheet outside of the oven for two to three more minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

It’s HARD not to want to eat these when they’re still gooey, but they do require a little extra time to firm up. Then you get that delicious light crunch from the browned edge and the soft, oozing-chocolate middle. I need a glass of milk just describing them.

Speaking of milk, we managed to kill half a gallon of it as we ate the cookies over the next few days day and a half. (It’s hard to keep cookies around with my fiance.)

My results yielded fewer than two dozen large cookies, courtesy of a quarter-cup measure.

The parchment paper is a must and makes cleanup a breeze.

The recipe/author encourages tweaking this to make it your own, so you, too, also, as well have the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Evar.

Now away with thee so you can try them!

Cookies 1

cookies 2

cookies 3

My primal, Sunday baking urge

Yep, this looks about right.

Yep, this looks about right.

For the life of me, I cannot get Beyonce’s song “Irreplaceable” out of my head. The only two phrases running through my mind all day have been, “To the left, to the left…” and “You must not know ’bout me, you must not know ’bout me…” I only recently downloaded it after hearing it at David’s wedding reception and I thought that maybe if I listened to it a few times the song would fade from my head. Instead, the lyrics keep cycling around up there with no end in sight. Listening to the song provides relief and insanity all at once.

The beginning of my day started three hours earlier than my Saturday. It totally escapes me why I woke up refreshed at 9am when I went to bed after 2, after having gone out and having a few drinks with a work friend the night before. Why is it that I can wake up and feel great with seven hours of sleep on a Sunday but if I get 7.5 on a weeknight I feel like a hungover zombie on any given day of the work week? It’s why I firmly believe that my body is not meant to be up before 8am. Waking up and getting out of bed before 7am goes against every aspect of my body, mind and soul on a molecular level. I can feel the protest coursing through my blood when I force myself to my feet to grab my bath towels and head to the shower. But whatever the reason today, I got up and decided to make the day as productive and yet relaxing as possible.

The weather changes absolutely affect my decision making process on what I intend to do for the day. In today’s case, it was sunny and cool in the morning and I was actually able to shut off my air conditioner that usually runs (even just on fan) to keep the air flowing. When it’s really hot and sunny, totally nasty humid, snowy, sleeting, gray or rainy, I usually find some way to lie prone and read, sleep, watch TV, play Sudoku, text people and any combination thereof as the day progresses. Today went down differently.

Intsead of laying around for the entire day watching TV and avoiding going through the rat’s nest of disorganization in my room, as has been my habit for the past six weekends, I sat at the computer and did my budget for the rest of the week (which consists of looking at the remainder of my money before my next paycheck and cringing). I then made a prudent financial decision not to order any coffee from Coffee Fool (if you haven’t tried this coffee yet, I highly encourage you to do so – amazing stuff) and just finish out the Folger’s French Roast in the freezer. With the $12 I was saving on my coffee order, I applied it to my order of groceries from Fresh Direct, a grocery/catering service native to New York and one of the biggest perks about living here.

Delivery service is what helps make NYC so unique and wonderful, and when Fresh Direct made its way into the forefront of my existence, I embraced it wholeheartedly and gratefully. Sit on my ass and choose groceries and have them delivered when I want anytime in the coming week? Sold!

I am incredibly lazy about going to the grocery store. My friends and family can attest to my personal bests of going weeks upon weeks without buying anything more than a can of soup and a jug of milk at one time.  I think my personal best thus far has been six weeks of buying absolutely nothing, and that was two years ago. I almost caught up to that record until today. So the fact that I ordered some ready-to-eat meals and produce from Fresh Direct and I went to the store up the street from me to get some staples for the day is an incredible feat for me. Put a gold medal around my neck, thank you!

One of my girlfriends who recently moved to Astoria has already explored the area enough around her to know that there’s a Costco nearby. I wouldn’t have known that if I’d lived here twenty years. I aspire to be more like her when I’m not indulging in sheer laziness on the weekends.

So having already been uber successful at waking up early, making a sound financial decision AND ordering groceries, all before having any coffee, how or why the idea of making cookies came into my head I know not. I just know that I hadn’t done anything baking-oriented in ages (mostly due to living with a batshit crazy roommate, as described in my first post) and I was craving the comfy, cozy routine of doing something homey. And you know what, it hoenstly doesn’t get any better than baking cookies. I wasn’t even craving anything dessert-ish per se, I just had an overwhelming urge to bake. Not wanting to ignore the insistent call in my head, I began researching recipes online by Googling the phrase “best chocolate chip cookies” followed by “oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.”

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are my ultimate favorite. The texture and flavor of the oats mixed with the brown sugar, butter and chocolate chips….and imagining them hot and fresh out of the oven….I kept the saliva in check and continued my research. I finally landed upon a recipe from a food blog called Smitten Kitchen. Haha, wow this whole day I thought it was Smitten Kitten and it’s actually Smitten Kitchen. I thought that was so cute, too – Smitten Kitten. Good grief. Anyway, the recipe is for Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies. It was Zoe Perfect! I loved everything about it except the orange zest, which I omitted from even being an option for my cookies. Citrus fruit + chocolate and/or cookie dough = Pointless in the Tao of Zoe. That includes cranberries or cran-raisins. (I mean seriously, what is up with that shit?)

After taking notes on all the ingredients and figuring out if I could afford to make these things, because after all, I own zero sugar, flour or any other staples except vanilla and baking soda, I threw on my flip flops and an acceptable pair of loungey pants and tee-shirt in which to walk to the store (I even put on deodorant!). It wasn’t even 11 in the morning and I was going grocery shopping. I felt like a real grown-up. My fellow Astorian girlfriend would have been proud.

I stuck to my list, a very hard thing to do for most people, and came home with all the goodies. But first I had to relax with my leftover pizza for breakfast and do some dishes before I could even think about making cookies. I took a few photos so you could see the results because if you’re any kind of normal person, you would think this looks amazing. Unless you’re my friend David, who is anti-nuts in baked goods. I’m hoping he’ll one day change his mind but since neither of us haven’t changed ours about loathing seafood (another post for another time), I’m not holding my breath.

Behold the dough in its glorious, shiny beauty!

Phenomenal, gooey,chocolatey, nutty, oatey, magical cookie dough

If you think that looks good, and trust me, it was….here’s the final product:

Oooh, ahh...

Oooh, ahh...

I got the macro function of my camera to work!

I got the macro function of my camera to work!

What really gives it a pinch of autumn lusciousness are the spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves added to the flour mixture. Picture an Italian chef kissing their fingertips with a mwah sound and saying, “Magnifico!”

Needless to say, I munched on a couple right out of the oven and then later on in the evening I ate a few watching stand-up comedy and movies. I filled a couple of plastic tupperware containers with the cookies so I am hoping that despite working in a New York City office, that I will be able to get people to consume one or two, so that I don’t have to come home every night of the week and eat these all on my own. Because 70% of the purpose and thrill of cooking and baking is having others moan and groan over the culinary success of the recipe.

I need praise.

After the exhausting process of measuring, stirring, forming and eating the cookies, it was 2:30pm and time to celebrate my 5.5 hours of productivity – with a nap. After two blissful hours of curling up in the blissful quiet of my room, I woke up at 4:30 to watch some more random movies on HBO, stand-up comedy on Comedy Central and much later on, the Colts v. Bears game. (I love those Manning guys.) My room was once again ignored and once again, I will hope that the motivation to get that done will strike me instead of cookie baking or something else really frivolous next weekend. But I did make some progress on a Moderately Difficult Sudoku puzzle and really enjoyed the fact that my subconscious is really feeling at home here in the new place; or those cookies never would have been made, and that would have been a real shame on this gorgeous pre-autumn Sunday.

(To the left, to the left…)