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

 

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Moth to a (Pink) Flame

When I was a child, I had a raging sweet tooth. It required a lot of ’round the clock feeding and was rarely satisfied.

I had the cavities–and now have the fillings–to prove it.

As a girl who has always been a sucker for anything in pretty colors, especially pastels and especially things in the pink family, I have always been drawn to food items that came in pink. Cakes and candies swathed in this color trumped all. (I believe the British call these “sweeties.”)

Pink + cake = Zoe craves to eat it.

That is the formula of my life, best illustrated by this food pyramid by a delightful artist out of Seattle. Thank you, Cakespy.

Definitely my version of the food pyramid from the ages of 2-16.

Definitely my version of the food pyramid from the ages of 2-14.

I’m happy to say that as I matured, I grew out of my insatiable need to have pure sweets in my belly for the better part of my existence. Over the years, I have thought about some of the the “foods” I used to eat on a regular basis, and I cringe (and so do my teeth).

I possessed a much higher tolerance for crazily sweet and/or tart candy growing up. SweetTarts, Starburst, Skittles, Warheads, Smarties, Jolly Ranchers, Fun Dip, Now ‘n Laters, Fruit Rollups, candy necklaces…anything and everything in that spectrum and I consumed it like it was my job. (If only!)

One of my lasting all-time favorites, though? Nerds. There was just something about those teeny little candies that got me every time. They even put my two favorite flavor-colors together, pink and purple, into one box, so I could just ingest pink and purple to my heart’s delight.

On a recent road trip, I purchased a box of Nerds for when I would be driving and I needed something sweet to crunch on. It helps keep me more alert when I’ve been driving for long periods of time.

I saw the box of Rainbow Nerds at the store and knew it would do the trick.

Nerds Box

As expected, it lasted me the entire trip home. I even had some leftover. When you’re on the road for hours upon hours, you have a lot of time for reflection. One’s mind wanders. As I was nostalgically eating my rainbow candy and wondering why the hell it was SO freaking tasty, even to my thirty-three year old tongue, it hit me that this particular blend of flavors made me think, “This is what pink tastes like.”

Which sounds ridiculous, I know. But that is exactly what the mixture of flavors in this box makes me think of–pink!

And when you look at them, there are supposedly a varied amount of flavors here; it seems like there’s lemon, orange, apple or watermelon, grape, strawberry.

Nerds Hand 1

If you’re wondering what I did after taking this picture, I had to shove all of them in my face, lest a tiny morsel fall and start a nerd avalanche. It was awesomesauce.

Put them all together, though, and you get this pink tasting flavor (YUM) that explodes in tang once you get to start crunching on them. Talk about addicting.

The thing is, I really don’t buy candy anymore, save for something chocolate on occasion, but colorful, pure sugar candy? No way. I’ve just plain moved on from it.

And yet Wonka, that crafty bastard, has managed to keep my interest in this one particular candy, a relationship now spanning twenty-five years. These teensy, delicate, food-colored bits that are nothing more than hardened syrups and sugars still do it for me. And now that I’ve declared this “the taste of pink,” I foresee myself buying another box as a treat sometime down the road.

On the one hand, I want to embrace my quirky passion for this Zoe-tailored treat. On the other, I feel like a sucker to Mass Marketing, who knows exactly what they’re doing when they target kids at the earliest of ages with their extreme flavors and bright colors.

I have SOME self-control. I won’t be stocking up on Rainbow Nerds as if they’re going to disappear from shelves like Twinkies did (for all of what, a week?). But I know I’ll be back.

Being an 80s child means I have some majorly strong attachments to the things I grew up with. Nerds have withstood the test of time. They’re just as fun to eat as they were when I was a kid and now they embody the flavor of pink in my adult mind.

Wonka: 1 | Zoe: 0

Who Decided Peppermint is the Flavor of Christmas?

The above question is not rhetorical. I would really, really like to know.

So if any of you fine readers out there have a conspiracy theory or an actual fact for me, I’d love to hear it. In lieu of knowing the answer, I’ll pose the question a different way, phrasing it around my own personal unsubstantiated hypothesis:

When the heads of food companies get together to strategize on just how to brainwash the masses with the next food trend, how did they decide that peppermint should be the ubiquitous flavor of the holiday season?

Peppermint is on my “Not a Huge Fan of” taste list. There are exactly four things I can withstand with peppermint/wintergreen/menthol crème de menthe:

  • Breath mints and gum
  • Thin Mints (also known as Grasshoppers, made by those wonderful Keebler Elves; they also make Samoas that aren’t Samoas, in case any of you are still keeping up with my Girl Scout Cookies in Disguise)
  • Andes Mints (pretty much the only chocolate/mint candy I find that balances the chocolate and mint JUST right)
  • Toothpaste

I don’t “do” Mojitos, peppermint candy canes are only for decoration in my mind (though the cherry ones are amaaaaaaziiiiiiing!), I will not deign to eat the round peppermint candy after-dinner-mints, and I’m unsure why peppermint flavored lip gloss is so popular, but it is. (I think it has to do with the lip plumping. Or maybe that it’s the most effective way to make something taste like candy without it being too childish, as is the case with watermelon flavored things.)

Is mint a wintertime thing? Does the cooling sensation remind us of snow? I guess that’s where York Peppermint Patties got their whole shtick.

And also, is it just me or does anyone else have difficulty drinking water after eating anything minty? I never know how long I’m going to have to wait before I can consume liquids again.

Some people jump for joy at the release of Everything Mint come November but I’m finding it more challenging to get to the regular, non-minty holiday candy. Just today, I went to go get a favorite holiday staple of mine: the red, green, and silver Hershey’s Kisses.


Sorry, a little nostalgia break.

In my search for the plain old, delicious, nothing-extra-just-chocolate-Kisses, I came upon a WALL of peppermint candy. At the bottom of this post are just TEN examples of the bags of candy proudly put on display. It’s like the peppermint candy went through some kind of population explosion. It’s seriously crazy. My jaw was slightly slack while I snapped the photos with my phone. (I may have looked a little daft at Walgreen’s.)

Even my friend who was with me was surprised at all the inventive ways that candy companies are making peppermint more enticing. Is there just some huge stash of mint laying around somewhere that needs to be used up? Do the mint farmers have something with which to blackmail the food companies?

Maybe I’m in alone in this and it’s just a popular flavor that everyone else digs but me. I can name a handful of flavors I love to enjoy during the holidays, but peppermint ain’t one.

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