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The Brownie Cure
Right Food for the Season - Late Winter
Written by Jane Ward   

A gray March Saturday in New England should not surprise anyone.  Nor should my mood: part winter doldrums, part spring fever.  March, after all, has a foot in both seasons, one on the snow beaten lawns of the old and the other on the squelchy mud of the new.

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On this particular gray Saturday I am alone in my kitchen, which may not be helping my mood.  Everyone else has gone out for the day and I feel both shut in and left out.  True, I chose to stay behind to work.  Also true that I have been productive in the family’s absence.  With a piece of written work underway and the week’s bread in the oven, I have made the most of my quiet time.  I have even begun preparing dinner; a piece of flank steak marinating in balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, dried oregano and garlic sits in the fridge.  I have good reason to feel satisfied, but all I feel is blah, underwhelmed by the weather, uninspired by my accomplishments.

And, worst of all, indifferent to the two root vegetables in the fridge that I must choose between to puree and pair with my steak.

Three months ago, I would have waxed on and on about my peppery little thin-skinned rutabaga. One month ago I might have salivated at the fresh, crisp aroma of a celeriac puree.  Now, however, I wish with all my heart that the round vegetables residing in my crisper were tinier and green, tender and sweet with sunshine.

I wish I had June’s first fresh peas.

But I don’t because this is March, that culinary no man’s land between long-cellared root vegetables and seeds yet to sprout in their greenhouses.  The month’s only regular holiday is celebrated by just a segment of the population, and those who do decide to give cooking for St. Patrick’s Day a whirl do so with boiled meat and boiled root vegetables.  With maybe some horseradish on the side, if really lucky.  If you’re anything like me, you make that boiled dinner while dreaming of April’s first spring lamb, butterflied and cooked on the barbecue grill.

Patience, I know, and soon there will be spring peas.  And western Massachusetts’ asparagus. The region’s first lettuces.  Until then I have my marinated steak, cooked to pink perfection in the house on a grill pan.  I have my purees – both of them, because in the end I couldn’t decide to make one over the other.  In one fell swoop I have used up a couple of languishing roots, and that is something to cheer.

There is always chocolate to cheer as well when there is nothing new and tender and green to eat. Chocolate knows no season and no borders.  It is perfect anytime, anywhere.  Chocolate is also a darned helpful antidote for doldrums and fevers of all kinds, I find.

So to help myself through this dark and stormy day in March, and to round out my dinner menu besides, I decide to make some brownies too.  Not any ordinary brownies, but brownies that can be tweaked to guide anyone happily from St. Patrick’s Day to their favorite spring celebration. Because these just might help you too, I offer you Brownies Two Ways.

 

Variation 1: Black Irish Brownies

Ingredients

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. Dutch process cocoa

2 Tbsp. black cocoa (available through King Arthur Flour Catalogue)*

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

3 sticks unsalted butter

3 cups sugar

6 eggs, at room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

2 Tbsp. Irish whiskey (such as Bushmill’s)

1 tsp. espresso powder

1½ cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Method 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 13” by 9” baking pan and line the bottom with waxed paper or parchment.  Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, sift together cocoas, flour and salt, and set this aside. Dissolve espresso powder in whiskey and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat.  Remove from heat source and stir in the sugar with a wooden spoon.  Add the eggs, two at a time, stirring well after each addition.

Stir in vanilla and whiskey-espresso powder mixture.  Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and, using a hand held mixer, beat on lowest speed only until everything is just combined.  Add nuts and beat again on low only until nuts are evenly distributed.

Bake 45-50 minutes.  To test for doneness, insert a toothpick or wooden skewer in the center of the brownies.  A few crumbs should stick to the tester and look moist rather than wet.

Cool completely in pan, invert onto a rack, and cut into 24 bars. 

 

Variation 2:  Chocolate Basket Brownies

Ingredients

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. Dutch process cocoa

2 Tbsp. black cocoa (available through King Arthur Flour Catalogue)*

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

3 sticks unsalted butter

3 cups sugar

6 eggs, at room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla

1½ cups assorted chocolate chips: ½ cup each of semisweet, milk and white chocolate chips, or a single variety of your choice

Method

Follow steps 1-4 as above.

Stir in vanilla.  Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and, using a hand held mixer, beat on lowest speed only until everything is just combined.  Add chocolate chips and beat again on low only until chips are evenly distributed.

Proceed as directed above, baking 45-50 minutes.

Makes 24 bars.

*Black cocoa is the cocoa that gives commercial sandwich cookies their near-black appearance.  A little goes a long way: use too much and you’ll have very bitter brownies or cookies.  If you do not wish to order black cocoa, simply use 1 1/4 cups of Dutch process cocoa.


 

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