Cocoa Brownies

(Coconut slice, cocoa brownie)

I’ve just finished watching a movie. The kind I only watch when I’m home alone and wish to wallow in the quiet for a little while. The name of the movie is actually pretty irrelevant. It sits firmly on the rom-com shelf and starts with a jaunty soundtrack that prepares you for a whimsical, predictable ride with occasional pithy observations.

I mention it only because it’s seems too true, what “they” say. You only get one life. “You can’t live someone else’s or think it’s more important just because it’s more dramatic. What happens matters. May be only to us, but it matters.”

I think I have lived a fairly unremarkable life. A simple childhood, spent walking cautiously down a road paved by my parents’ good intentions; now stretched and aged into an insignificant adult. For all anyone knows, I could still be in a laboratory somewhere, doing what I originally set out to do. Funnily enough, I still wear a white coat, and work with agar and a set of digital scales, but in a completely different setting. Occasionally I have looked back and am kind of amazed at where I have ended up.

When people ask me what I do for a living, I say that I cook. Don’t you mean that you are a chef, someone once said. Well, no. Forgive the pedantry. It’s as though I’ve stumbled into a hall of mirrors and seen myself at various angles for the first time – in fact, I did that once, at a Yayoi Kusama exhibit. Stepping in, I expected to experience awe and freedom. Instead, I felt small and trapped standing on a thin walkway inside a mind that wanted to be vast. In that hall, I turned and saw

a friend
the daughter
his partner
her laughter
those clenched fists
a flightless bird
endless running

I’m not expecting anyone to understand. I’m not even sure it means anything. But how could it mean anything or matter at all except to yourself. What you do in your life, see in that mirror and perceive yourself to be. Let it matter.

Selfish, I know, but I guess I wrote this for me.

And this is for you :

Cocoa Brownies :
(I make these at least once a week as a treat for the people I work with. I favour it for budgetry concerns and think that it’s remarkable how much flavour you can still get out of brownies made merely with cocoa powder instead of chocolate. The recipe is from Bittersweet, by the fantastic Alice Medrich)

1 1/4 sticks (141g) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar [it doesn’t hurt the end result if you use a little less, especially if you like your sweets less sweet 🙂 ]
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process) [use the best you can get, such as Valrhona]
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup plain flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 162’C. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with baking paper, 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 baking paper and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

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  1. Christie @ Fig&Cherry said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 3:12 am

    I think being able to create such beauty is actually quite remarkable.

    Plus, I’ve just started to appreciate the deliciousness of pecans, so am very pleased to see them in this recipe. Book-marked! 🙂

  2. cakebrain said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 4:28 pm

    Well, I don’t believe you are unremarkable at all though you have said you have led an unremarkable life. I love your writing and evidently so do a lot of other people too! So, you are having an impact in this world and you will continue to do so. Furthermore, your baking is inspirational and I enjoy your photogrpahy too!

  3. Megan@Feasting on Art said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 7:58 pm

    I really enjoyed this post – I know what you mean about ending up somewhere you don’t expect. I often find myself confused as to how I ended up here. The brownies look so wonderful.

  4. Ivonne said,

    November 19, 2009 @ 12:50 am

    Oh so yummy/yummy/yummy/yummy!

    I knew coming here would be painful because I would want to lick my screen … anyway … besides drooling over your work, I’m here to contact you about the December DB challenge. I’ve been trying to get in touch with you and Anna but with no luck. Can you e-mail me … thanks!

  5. Maria Jose-Dit i Fet said,

    November 19, 2009 @ 11:18 am

    Que buena receta!! me la apunto…un beso

  6. Gourmandises&gf said,

    November 19, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

    Superbe blog !!

  7. HT said,

    November 19, 2009 @ 6:51 pm

    cara mia, my secret sorceress. I think your urgent musings are far more powerful and universal than even you yourself realise, like an unexpected high frequency bolt from the ether deep into the fillings in your jaw. (I was listening to F&TM’s Blinding, which subtle prepared me for your post.)

  8. Hannah said,

    November 20, 2009 @ 6:36 am

    You can never have too many brownie recipes… These certainly do look luscious! Inspires me to tweak my own recipe a bit more. 🙂

  9. Arfi said,

    November 20, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

    Y, how am I going to email you? Would you please email me at arfi.binstedATgmailDOTcom if you have time? It’s regarding a photo event. Thanks a lot!! *btw, yes, I’d love to have a piece of that brownie, please* :))

  10. Erika from The Pastry Chef At Home said,

    November 21, 2009 @ 7:24 pm

    Am I going to say some things most of the other comments have expressed? Yes, probably. Not that I know you or anything, but I just need to say that you have done remarkable things with your life even if you feel you have lived an unremarkable life. You cook! You create beautiful food! And you take gorgeous photos of it! That is remarkable considering most people can’t even make eggs properly.

    That said, I do feel the way you do sometimes too. Sometimes I wonder if I should have pursued something practical like practicing law. I’m not getting rich anytime soon making desserts!

    ps: I am very interested in the coconut slice in the photo. Will you be sharing a recipe for that?

  11. Aparna said,

    November 23, 2009 @ 12:06 am

    I love chocolate and of course, I love brownies whether with chocolate or cocoa.
    In fact, I tend to inulge in the cocoa ones, telling myself they’re lower in cals!!! 🙂

  12. steph (whisk/spoon) said,

    November 23, 2009 @ 11:51 am

    everyday at the bakery, while my coworker and i individually wrap the brownies we’ve made with cellophane, tape and stickers, we discuss the fact that our lives seem to have gone off course somehow. giving nothing to others expect possibly childhood obesity and diabetes…ahhh….what have i become? 🙂

    seriously though, your brownies look wonderful…i must try this recipe at home!

  13. Asha@FSK said,

    November 23, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

    somehow I missed this post! totally understand the feeling of walking into a hall of mirrors.. it is a very humbling experience somehow…

  14. Ria said,

    November 24, 2009 @ 6:15 am

    I love love love the pics! I am so gonna make them soon!

  15. Ana Powell said,

    November 25, 2009 @ 12:59 am

    Beautiful picture, loved the mug and the spoon.
    Wonderful brownies, awesome work x

  16. Caitlin said,

    November 25, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

    I think saying that you cook is more honest than any other response. Why fancy it up? How much more special can you get – giving joy to others in the form of food? I sometimes wonder if I should wrench myself away from the safe path I’ve set myself on – school, college, job, and now impending marriage. It’s like my life is a to do list, and I’m just checking boxes as I complete things. Now is the time. I’ll give up my safe job, go to graduate school, redirect where my career is headed. And maybe, someday, my answer can be the same as yours: “I bake for people.” Luckily, my fiance has offered to support me through *that* life change eventually 😛 xxoo sweetie

  17. Ruth Hawkins said,

    November 25, 2009 @ 3:55 pm


    We are Polka Dot Cookies and wanted to introduce you to our beautifully decorated shortbread cookies. We hope they will make a mention on your blog, though am sure you must get a huge number of requests.

    Our website is if you would like to take a peek at our treats!

    Could you let us know if there is an email address that we can send info and photos to?

    Best wishes,

  18. Ellie said,

    November 25, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

    Another beautiful and inspirating post. Love the brownies but most of all… love the curve line of the spoon 🙂

  19. Manggy said,

    November 27, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

    No, silly, not insignificant at all, at least not to me 🙂 And cocoa brownies- I know people knock it, but I LOVE them, seriously, I don’t even care there’s no chocolate in them. Smoke and mirrors 🙂

  20. Bluesummers said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 5:49 pm

    I love the color combination! Earth and chocolates really go well with milk! I will add lots of almonds or sprinkle it with candy dust!

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