the moveable feasts

Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies

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chewy cocoa brownies
16 squares

To be honest with you, up until yesterday I was sure that the best and perhaps only decent brownie in Paris could be found in the vending machines that line almost all metro stations. The rest of them, littered throughout Australian-owned hipster coffee shops or the random boulangerie, always seemed too cakey, crumbly—too much something! Not chewy or chocolatey enough!

And so instead of ever ordering a brownie from a pastry shop, I’ve been resigning myself to those delicious, individually-wrapped St. Michel brownies au chocolat that could bring me happiness during my metro ride home for the petty price of a euro. I had no qualms about this and how I preferred a mass-produced commercial food product over its homemade version (I also still have no shame with the fact that for about ten years of my life my favorite brownie that I indulged in on a near-daily basis was the one from the Little Debbie boxes that had multi-colored “cosmic” sprinkles scattered over the top). Finding the perfect homemade brownie is something I gave up on a long time ago, anyway; I’ve never had a go-to brownie recipe to rely on to produce what I consider is the “best” brownie—the sort that are fudgy and dense and chocolaty, but still very chewy.

But at the urging of my friends to “bake something” yesterday, I thought I’d give the classic American brownie a go again. The thought of them is kind of perfect in a lot of ways, after all: they’re near-universally loved and appreciated, they’re portable and easy to share and store, and they just fit so well in so many different scenarios (which also means it’s always easy to find an excuse for them—a birthday? trying to impress someone? having a bad day? going to the park to meet friends and just want to bring “something”?—brownies are your answer! Well, wine too, but that’s another sort of lesson I’ve learned from this year).

grainy, gritty, dark and sludge-like
glossy, smooth

Over the past couple years I’d been meaning to try two classic, extremely popular recipes that had both previously been sold to me as the brownies that would end my search for “the one”—the Baked brownie, and Alice Medrich’s all-cocoa version. Obviously, this time I went for the latter. They’ve been written about all over the internet so much there is almost no point in me writing about them at all here, but nothing like jumping on the band wagon embarrassingly late, eh? So let me spell out their virtues:

1) They are dead easy to make. Throw things in a bowl, melt together, add a couple more things, bake in oven for 25 minutes. Done. In the time it takes for you to clean up and watch a Game of Thrones episode, they’ll have cooled, chilled in the fridge/freezer for a bit, and are ready to cut-up and be devoured.

2) They only require cocoa powder, which makes things convenient when you have no chocolate around.

3) Besides making you feel like you’ll be adding enough sugar to make 100 bars, the fact that the brownies are completely based on cocoa powder means that they end up with a very intense, true chocolate flavor, which is surprisingly often hard to find in most brownie recipes.

4) They’re dense and chewy and everything I’ve been looking for in a brownie. Basically.

So yeah, I think these are IT. I’ll probably still try the Baked brownie recipe sometime, just out of curiosity, but I can already tell my loyalties are forming tightly around this one here. And, dare I say it, I think I’ve finally found the bar that out-does my beloved St. Michel vending machine packets…

Music, lately: The soundtrack of the movie done by Alex Turner from the movie Submarine (super, really good movie, by the way), as well as the whole of the Is This It and Room On Fire albums by The Strokes

chewy cocoa brownies

Best Cocoa Brownies
From Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet first seen via The Wednesday Chef
Makes 16-ish

The pan I had around was larger than 8 by 8-inches, so ideally these brownies would be thicker. Also, I sprinkled raw walnuts over the top and I liked how they got toasted, but I think I would like trying these with the walnuts made in the batter, or maybe without any walnuts at all. Do what you’d like. 

140 grams (10 tablespoons) butter
280 grams (1 1/4 cups) sugar
82 grams (3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or dutch-processed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
66 grams (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C/325 degrees F and position a rack in the bottom-third of the oven. Line an 8 by 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, letting the ends hang over the edges of the pan.

Place the butter, sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a medium, heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over a wide pan of simmering water, to create a bain-marie of sorts. Stir occasionally, allowing the butter to melt completely and mix with the other ingredients. The mixture should be hot and pretty gritty looking. Take off the heat and let cool for a minute or two.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla. Then add in the eggs, one at a time, stirring virorously and fully after each one. The batter will become homogenous, thick and shiny. Like dark, pretty sludge! Add in the flour, stir until no streaks remain, and then continue to beat the mixture vigorously for 40 strokes. Spread evenly into the prepared pan, and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out slightly moist with bits of batter. (I tend to err on the side of under- versus over-baking when it comes to brownies. They always set up well when cooling, and over-baked brownies are like, the worst.) Let cool completely. They are easiest and cleanest to cut through after they’ve been sitting in the fridge or freezer for awhile, and I prefer to eat them cold and fudge-like.

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my area spring
palais royale

I’m not going to withhold from bragging: in general, spring this year in Paris is killin’ it. It’s been beautiful and sunny, and I’ve already been laying in parks around the city more times than I can count. I’d forgotten that green is a color that exists in this city, but it seems to be coming from everywhere. I’m trying to be better about recording and capturing it.

Written by Amy

April 17, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Hey, here’s an omelette

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omelette

So, what’s up, 2014?

Still not cooking or baking a whole lot, still really into food. There’s been a few highlights that I probably should have shared on here—there was that week I spent eating raclette (hot cheese over charcuterie + potatoes), tartiflette (gratin of potatoes, bacon lardons, cream, onions and cheese) and fondue in the Savoie region of the French alps; there was this peanut butter and chocolate layer cake I made for a friend’s birthday; there was a morning spent making and eating caramel pecan sticky buns to show and/or shock my European friends about the glories of American gluttony—and there’s also just been a whole lot of the simple stuff that makes up everday meals. On the run-of-the-mill days, that’s pasta and ham and green beans from a tin, but the more pleasant of days are made up of stuff like endive and beet salads, or a poulet rôti served with good mayonnaise and mustard, or omelettes like these.

People seem to have some combination of contempt and fear regarding omelettes; I don’t really know the parameters involving all of this so I can’t tell you if I’m doing something wrong or not, but I can tell you that I’ve made like, probably over a hundred of them, and at this point I’m pretty sure I’ve mastered them to my tastes. My tastes being a good, soft, runny omelette filled with some slices of creamy oozy cheese or salty prosciutto.

What’s a blog post, though, without throwing in some universal-truth-snobbisms about how to eat food? So as apologetic as I was about what a good omelette is, I can be pretty harsh about what an omelette is not. Please don’t stuff it with a bunch of raw vegetables like baby spinach and bell peppers and mushrooms and try making the thing some disgraceful vehicle for reaching your daily vitamin intake. Don’t overcook it (this usually goes hand-in-hand with the stuffed-vegetable-vehicle omelettes, I think, in which case the poor thing has two things going against it). And, I’m kind of going reaching shaky grounds here, but don’t eat it for breakfast or brunch.

creamy brie, this time
the flip

With that last point, I think it’s mostly the influence of living in France that’s gotten to me. Last week, I surprised myself at just how much I loved and agreed with this pretty deftly anti-brunch article from David Tanis, thinking to myself that, of all the things one could eat during the morning, a six-egg omelette with sausage and bacon or a stack of chocolate waffles might be a little excessive. For breakfast, I like toast with butter and honey and black tea, or sometimes a croissant and an espresso, or sometimes nothing at all (!). Yogurt with granola sounds weird, because yogurt is primarily a dessert, to follow lunch or dinner. And, speaking of yogurt, greek-style stuff sounds sick and non-fat sounds kind of inedible. I probably eat whole-wheat bread about once a month, and even more than that, I’ve managed to somehow convince myself that refined-white-flour bread isn’t unhealthy at all. Really, my whole view on “health” with food has changed completely (but bread, it’s good for you! butter, it’s good for you! People have to eat!), but that is a whole other huge tangent in itself.

And I used to be so into brunch and big breakfasts! I don’t know whether my ability to assimilate into a place is a good or bad thing—probably a combination of both. I can see how it’s kind of pathetic and/or most likely annoying to others—like, I must look like I’m trying so hard to be cool and French, what with my pro-croissants anti-whole-wheat self-righteousness I’m plowing through this post with. But it is what it is (a cop-out phrase I’m obviously using because I don’t know how to justify myself in any logical, non-hypocritcal way).

And so. This omelette, it’s not for breakfast. It makes for a good, light lunch or dinner, with a dressed salad or some potatoes on the side. I make myself one at least once a week, and I kind of like everything about them—they’re done in about 5 minutes, as cheap as cheap gets, not unhealthy, and they taste damn good. For me, the keys to having a perfect omelette are: 1) having enough (read: a lot) of salt and pepper when beating the eggs and milk/cream together, 2) having enough (read: more than you think and/or want) butter to coat the pan, and 3) taking the omelette off the heat before the eggs are completely set. I add in fillings of slices of prosciutto or thin slivers of a cheese like comte or caprice des dieux or emmental when the eggs still look a little gooey on the top, let it all settle together off the heat for a minute or so, and then flip it over and slide it onto a plate. When I’m eating my way through it, good eggy juices should escape from the omelette—I’m not sure if it’s runny eggs or melty cheese, but it doesn’t really make any difference because it is delicious, especially when soaked up by some bread.

Music, lately:
— The entire Building Something Out of Nothing album by Modest Mouse (especially Broke, Workin On Leavin the Livin and Whenever I Breathe Out, You Breathe In)
— I saw Pete Doherty and his band Babyshambles live last weekend, and I’m like kind of in love with the guy now (in case you don’t know, he looks like this so obviously his stage presence/charisma/talent was like, beyond). Unbilotitled, Delivery and F**k Forever are a few especially awesome ones
— The Racine Carrée album from Stromae. Really late to the Stromae game, but man, I’m making up for lost time

oozy runny good things

How to make an omelette
for 1

Crack two eggs into a bowl; add a glug of milk or cream and very liberal dusting of black pepper and good salt, and whisk it all together. Put a non-stick pan over medium heat and drop in a nice chunk of butter—enough to coat the entire bottom of the pan with at least a thin film of butter by the time it all melts and begins to bubble a little bit. Add in the eggs, turn the heat down a little lower, and don’t do anything for about a minute. Once the edges look like they’ve started to set, carefully lift up a side to let all the wobbly uncooked egg on the top slide over to fill under the pan. Do this a few more times, maybe 5 or so, on different sections of the omelette. At this point, the sides and bottom will look pretty set, but the top will still be wet and uncooked. Turn off the heat, top thin slices of prosciutto or some nice cheese over the omelette, and then using a spatula flip one half of the omelette over itself. You can let this sit in the pan for another half minute or so, then slide it onto your plate.

roquefort, after lunch
french cheese wrappers

I had some luck when I was making the omelette shown in these pictures. My host parents had a whole stock of maybe 6 or so cheeses from the fromagerie in the fridge, so I had some good pickings to choose from when filling my omelette. I ended up choosing a really creamy brie. After I finished my lunch, I had another cheese—a really strong but creamy and delicious roquefort—for dessert with some more bread. I also thought you guys might like the paper the cheese is wrapped in. So many good forms of dairy come out of this country.

Written by Amy

April 5, 2014 at 2:11 am

Posted in Dinner, Lunch

Tagged with ,

2013, in a few songs

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ave victor hugo, at night

To continue my trend of not really talking or sharing any food around here (despite my recent statements saying I really had some serious intentions to do just that), I really have no interest in doing a sort of re-cap with my favorite recipes of the year—just not in the mood for it. And it’s kind of already really too late, anyway. I do however have a handful of songs I’d like to share, ones that sum up 2013 for me. Since arriving in Paris, especially, a certain few songs have come to define life lately. I blame the fact that I only have about 30 listen-able songs on my iphone that I recycle through on a daily basis while riding the metro. Obviously, this post is mostly for my own pleasure, but who knows? Maybe some of you are looking for some new (seasonally-appropriate) music. And if nothing else… naw, I got nothing. So here goes, a year in music and all the feels:

WINTER

Sweet Thing by Jeff Buckley, always and forever
Gagging Order by Radiohead
Hunger Strike, by Temple of the Dog (Pearl Jam + Soundgarden)
Breather by Chapterhouse

SPRING

I’ll Believe in Anything by Wolf Parade
Disorder by Joy Division
Dancing On My Own by Robyn

SUMMER

Something Good and Dissolve Me by Alt-J, especially in the cote d’azur
Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke
Hard to Explain by the Strokes and the entire Is This It album

FALL-NOW

R U Mine? by Arctic Monkeys
September by Earth, Wind & Fire
Might Be Wrong by Radiohead, on late/early metro rides home
Feel the Pain by Dinasour Jr.
Tomorrow is A Long Time by Bob Dylan (Whitmark Demos only, please)

Written by Amy

January 15, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

my sister took these while in paris, part ii

with one comment

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Written by Amy

January 13, 2014 at 5:56 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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