The Emotional Eater

The perfect brownie can make anyone feel better. I've been feeling the need to eat a lot of brownies lately. Not that I need more things brown in my life, what with the mud flat currently surrounding the house. And the mud piles in the backyard and the muddy paw prints and footprints littered over the hardwood... But these brownies really do make you feel better.

They are dense yet still a bit cakey. They are fudgy but not heavy. They are a hug in a square crumbly package. With a glass of milk at lunchtime or a stiff scotch at bedtime they fill you with love. Sure I have a great Hubby and the girls can do that too, but the perfect brownie is just for me.

It's hard to not feel better when you start with chocolate and butter. Seriously, not much gets better than that, on their own or melted together in fantastic richness. I need to make them without the Monster around or else she takes them both and messes up my measurements.

Okay, maybe it's not just her who snitches tastes along the way... Somehow it is naughty when I dip my finger to lick the chocolate, and just messy and fun when the Monster does it.

When all is said and done and the oven brings out the chocolate scent the hugs begin. It is almost painful to wait for them to bake and cool. Warm brownies are more fudgy, but I prefer them cool and dense. A good brownie can make you feel comforted and warm, a bad one leaves you cold and cranky.

About 13 years ago I worked at a health food store with a bakery in it. Beyond the granola and ultra-healthy food, we specialized in items for people with restricted diets. At one point that summer the chef and I took on a mission to create a healthy brownie. We tried multiple substitutions like carob for chocolate, fake eggs, brown rice syrup, and more. None of them worked. This was before some good gluten free recipes were readily available. Eventually we decided that we would go back to basics and make a recipe with real food - butter, eggs, chocolate, brown sugar, and unbleached flour. This was before the slow food movement or Michael Pollan. You know what? They were amazing brownies! Sadly I lost the recipe in the post-university moves.

After experimenting with many recipes I finally found The One. It never fails me, it's fast, has only a few ingredients, and results in a perfect brownie. The recipe comes from a cookbook I picked up on a trip to New York. Broke and spending an afternoon with a quilting friend in Brooklyn I picked up The Brooklyn Cookbook. Really just a hardcover community cookbook, the book is filled with personal anecdotes and recipes from locals. The perfect brownie comes from this book.

What makes a bad brownie? To me that means anything that is not chocolate related inside. No nuts for me, I hate the sudden change in texture when you bite into a brownie with nuts. I don't like glaze or icing because it changes the mouthfeel. On a cupcake yes, but not on a brownie. I've added chocolate chips, even mint ones, and raspberries before, but it's not my favourite. Just a plain, simple brownie, thank-you.

The Perfect Brownie

(adapted from The Brooklyn Cookbook)

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8 inch square baking pan.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. When melted set aside and let the mixture cool.
3. Beat the eggs with the salt until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla, beating until the mixture is creamy. Quickly stir in the cooled chocolate mixture, then the flour. If you are going to add anything like chocolate chips or nuts (!) this is the time to do it.
4. Pour into the greased baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center is set but still a bit giggley. Cool before cutting.