Almost 10 years ago, when I was a child-free, single-chinned (bah) newlywed and this site was 6 weeks old, I passingly mentioned making the Belgian brownies they serve at Le Pain Quotidien. They were as delicious as should be expected from something that’s nothing but chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs and a smidge of flour. However, I never made them after that because, ever the pedant, to me they weren’t real brownies. Brownies are dense, fudgy and even a little chewy and these were featherlight and rich. I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.
I have, for forever and a day, looked for a chocolate cookie I could crown with what I considered the highest honor one could bestow on it, declaring it the browniest cookie. I just didn’t expect it to take me so long to find what I was looking for. Along the way, I met cookies that suggest brownies; ones that are weakly chocolaty, better emulating mediocre brownies; those that promise soft but deliver chewy; and even versions that are a great chocolate cookie, but have little to do with the glorious puddles of square-baked halfway-between-cookie-and-cake batter I love to the point of distraction.
Within reason, I think if you’re craving something, you should go for it, although this theory is mostly born of my own poor logic. I’ve all too many times craved, say, a brownie but thought I shouldn’t eat a brownie and so instead snacked on (just for a completely random example) 12 almonds, 1 slice of cheese, half an apple, 1 banana and then, oops, a handful of chocolate chips, amounting roughly 3x the calories of a brownie, a brownie that I craved exactly as much as I did 500 calories ago. And so, when I really want a brownie, I make my favorite brownies and we each eat one and then I stash the rest in the freezer, so they are not out on the counter, calling to me that we haven’t been cut in a straight line and you should really even us out or we’re going to go bad soon and you don’t want us to go to waste or any of those things that brownies tell me when we’re alone together.
A couple months ago, someone requested that I try my hand at caramel brownies. Amazingly, this person was not my husband, but he endorsed this idea so wholeheartedly that I suspect he might have paid this person off. Then again, in most people’s minds, who doesn’t want to make caramel brownies? What kind of strange person considers what would happen when sea salt-flecked deeply copper-colored homemade caramel meets a chewy, rich homemade brownie and then shrugs it off, “Eh, I’ll pass.” Guys, it’s me. It’s not that I didn’t think that a salted caramel brownie could be delicious, it’s just that I imagine it’s well-trodden territory, which to me translates as “people who want to make this already know how to” and then I figure my time would be better spent making other things, like weird egg salads and silky hummus.
I understand that when a website but 5 11/12 years old boasts not one or two but eleven brownie recipes that it’s possible, perhaps, or at least worth considering that the brownie category: it’s been exhausted. The brownie beat reporter can retire. The archives are full. I get it, I do. Shouldn’t we be discussing blueberry pie, summer harvest tians or backyard grillery? Probably.
White chocolate brownies have it tough. They share a name with a baked good that needs no improving on; their chocolate is rejected by self-titled “real” chocolate eaters for being a pale imitation of the rich, nutty and bittersweet awesomeness of darker chocolates; this same chocolate is so sweet that you must dial back the sugar in your brownies to adjust for it, removing moisture, risking leaving them cake-like and if it couldn’t get much worse, they’re barely white. More like, pale-yellowish-beige. Yum, right?
People who really, really love chocolate are dubious about cocoa. Even if you buy the most resplendent cocoa in the world, baking things with it that taste as rich as treats with bars of 70% is a rarity. Thus, if you’d told me about a killer recipe for cocoa brownies a couple weeks ago, I wouldn’t have believed you, but since then, two things have happened.