Saturday, 26 May 2012

Evil Brownies

Coincidentally, it happens to be the birthday of a dear classmate and friend, the dashing Mr Wadhwa of Oxfordshire. Happy birthday Wadhwa!

You know what the downside to baking is? You realise precisely how evil your favourite goodies are. I have just put together some brownie batter, which my oven is trying to convert into brownies, as I type this post. I measured into my batter 10 tbsp of butter, over a cup of sugar and a couple of eggs, each of which stared smugly back at me as they made their way into my mixing bowl. Should I have just chosen not to bake brownies? Only those who have been at the receiving end of a brownie craving can appreciate that it must always be urgently addressed. For my latest craving, I will blame a recent brownie post on one of the many blogs that I follow. It may have been the tasteful pictures or the fact that I have not seen the face of a good brownie in a long time, but I was suddenly seized by the idea of baking some. And so it is that at 10 am on an unusually sunny Saturday morning, I am baking brownies. It helps that I have a friend and significant other stopping by at home later in the day, so I will have someone to share the brownies with.

Putting the brownie batter together reminded me of my mother's baking expeditions when my brother and I were little. We had predictably childish tastes and favoured chocolate cakes over all others. My mother would sometimes wistfully voice the idea of a plain vanilla cake for a change, but we would both shout her down every time. I am not sure she ever did get around to baking one!

There were a number of tasks associated with cake baking that we kids were allowed to help with at home. These ranged from the mundane sifting the flour and raising agents (which my mother always saddled me with - with the benefit of hindsight, I am absolutely certain that she hated doing it herself, and was only too happy to delegate it to me), to the tedious beating the egg whites until stiff (both the egg whites and your right arm would be stiff by the end of it) to the incredibly competitive licking the mixing bowl clean. There was always a battle between my brother and me over this last task. The trick to hoodwinking my brother was to help with the boring initial tasks and then hover around strategically around the mixing bowl before the cake batter went into the oven, to get a first shot at it. Often it worked like a charm. He'd be too busy following the antics of Tom and Jerry or Dexter and Dee Dee on Cartoon Network to intervene. I was such an evil sister. Sometimes, I feel a little bad for all the cake batter that poor D lost out on because of my evil ways. But then I am quickly reminded of all the times he wolfed down my share of Nirula's pastries left by a thoughtful parent in the fridge for me. I'd come back to a few pastry crumbs in an empty red and white Nirula's pastry box. That coupled with his nonchalant, unrepentant grin would make me want to box his ears. So maybe we were even by the end of our respective childhoods. I imagine D might have a different take on this.

For those of who haven't had the pleasure of living in Delhi, Nirula's was THE pastry shop in the city pre-liberalisation times. Mainly because there were hardly any others! Of course, there was Sugar and Spice in Khan Market and Wenger's in Connaught Place, but both were ridiculously overpriced, which meant that their clientele was restricted to the swish set. So Nirula's was the pastry shop of our childhood in Delhi. Nearly twenty years since, they still operate in Delhi. Last I heard, they had been bought over by some large corporate entity. It shows. I walked into a Nirula's a few years ago when I was interning in Delhi, and I remember thinking it had degenerated into something of an Indian McDonald's. How saddening.

On that sombre note, let me take you to the sombre recipe for these delightful brownies. This is a very easy recipe, so no excuses for not trying it out. Happy eating.

Alice Medrich's Cocoa Brownies (verbatim from this link)

  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cold large eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
  • Special equipment: An 8-inch square baking pan
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
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.
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. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.
Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

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