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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