Thursday, May 21, 2009

recipe: best fudgy brownies yet

My Quest for the Ultimate Brownie Recipe will be a lifelong sort of thing, I suspect. I suppose it only makes sense that in a recipe so simple (really, you could make them in a single bowl with just butter, flour, sugar, chocolate, and eggs), small changes make such a huge difference. I subscribe to the School of Brownies dictating that a Good brownie is rich, dense, and a bit chewy -- something between fudgy and cakey. I've tried a few different recipes lately (I've been going through a breakup, okay?) and here's my favorite so far. They could be a bit chewier. I'm working on it.

Let me know if you try this recipe with any variations! Edible chemistry is fun.

Oops We Ate The Whole Pan Brownies
Adapted from Joy of Baking, which loves to teach me things


1 stick butter
4 oz. tasty chocolate (I used part of a 70% cacoa bar and some bittersweet chips)

1 c. sugar (I used 3/4 c. white and 1/4 c. lightly packed dark brown sugar)
3 tbsp Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract (or 1/2 of a vanilla bean's scrapings)
Pinch salt (up to 1/2 tsp if you like salty + chocolate)

3/4 c. flour (I used 1/2 c. all-purpose and 1/4 c. fine-ground almond meal)
1/2 tsp baking powder

3 eggs (I used 2 whole + 1 yolk)


Set up a ghettofab double-boiler for yourself: Put a couple inches of water in a pot, and then place a second pot or a skillet on top of the first so that it's not touching the water (the top pot should ideally be just a tad too big to fit inside the bottom pot, but not so big that it eclipses the rim of the bottom pot, savvy?). On a low-to-medium heat setting, this will be a safe way to show melty love to your delicate chocolate.

Cut/break your butter and chocolate into chunks and add them to the skillet. You just want them to melt, not simmer. Stir occasionally.

While they're melting, measure your flour (or flours, or flour/nut meal combination) and baking powder out into a largish bowl and whisk them to get everything incorporated evenly.

Now's also a good time to preheat your oven to 350 and butter & flour a 9x9 pan (mine's shiny nonstick metal, which cooks things faster than nonshiny metal, silicone, and glass pans. You could also use an 8x8 if that's what you've got).

Once the butter & chocolate have melted into a delicious, calorically terrifying goop, you can take your ghetto-boiler off the heat. The residual heat should be plenty for mixing the rest of the ingredients… so add the cocoa powder, sugar(s), vanilla, and salt to the skillet, and stir to incorporate. (At no point during this recipe should you attempt to beat/whip/whisk the wet ingredients! Beating incorporates air, which leads to a cakier brownie. Stir firmly but don't crazy go nuts.)

Crack your eggs into a small bowl and stir to break up the yolks. (Egg whites will make your brownies chewier/cakier, and yolks will make them richer/fudgier. You should crack 3 eggs for this recipe, but use whatever white/yolk ratio you're comfortable experimenting with.) Take a tablespoon or so of the melty chocolate mix and stir it into the eggs to temper them, then stir the eggs into the chocolate mix until everything's completely incorporated.

Pour the chocolate mix into your flour mix and stir to incorporate. Batter will be thick and very sticky. Spread evenly into your prepared pan and bake for ~15 minutes if you've used a 9x9 (I'd guess at giving an 8x8 pan 20-25 minutes). Supposedly, a wooden toothpick/skewer inserted near the center of the pan will come out with a few bits stuck to it but not covered in goop when the brownies are done, but I never have any on hand so I couldn't tell you for sure. Other ways to tell that the brownies are done: The top is crackly and separating from the dough below it, the edges are just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan (definitely take the pan out when this happens), and/or they smell too good to leave in anymore. They'll continue cooking from residual heat a good while after they're out of the oven, so I'd error on the side of underbaked, personally. But I'm not particularly scared of/squicked by undercooked baked goods.

You should set the pan on a rack/towel/other room temp, heat-safe surface and let the brownies cool completely before cutting and eating them -- I know, I know, it's asking a lot. But the texture will improve and the flavor will intensify as they settle.

Any questions? Ask! I can't bake for all of you, so I want to help you bake for yourselves.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

antialliteration tuesday: movie night

My friends & I are always talking about starting up an OMG Have You Seen This?? movie night for screening things that are important that maybe not everyone has seen. These aren't necessarily your favorite movies, but they probably changed the way you think about film, or storytelling, or Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Tori Spelling (House of Yes, anybody?).

Here's my current list. I'm NOT linking any of these to websites 'cause, well, a) I'm lazy tonight, and b) the statute of spoiler limitations is WAY up on most of these, so lots of web pages feel comfy tossing tidbits out that I'd rather you discover for yourself. I have faith in you to figure out how to use Google/Wiki/IMDB all by your lonesome if you must.

Tampopo -- A Japanese film about food culture containing several threaded subplots. The main one is about a woman who decides that she wants to open a ramen restaurant, but to be successful must learn the craft from a wise wandering samurai ramen expert. Bizarre and hilarious.

Perfect Blue -- An animated Japanese film about retaining your identity in the commercial music/acting industry, the weird role of pop idols in culture, and dangerous fan obsession. If you ever hear me singing in Japanese, you can blame this movie. Disturbing and Lynchian.

Requiem for a Dream -- A visually stunning and highly overdramatic film about desires and addictions. I think the script is silly, but everyone in it acts their asses off, and the Kronos Quartet's musical score sets the mood perfectly. Strung-out and depressing.

You Shoot, I Shoot -- A Hong Kong parody of action flicks about the unlikely team-up of a filmmaker and a hitman. Cartoony and possibly the most enjoyable if you've seen a good blend of American, Chinese, and Japanese pop cinema.

The Last Dragon -- A blacksploitation/Bruce Lee mashup containing all the 80s you can handle, sho'nuff. Silly and more silly.

Videodrome -- A Cronenberg flick about the worst case scenario of mass media influencing society. And about how James Woods is the best ever. Think The Ring meets seduces Snow Crash in an S&M club for conspiracy theorists. Unsettling and Freudian.

Jacob's Ladder -- This is my Horror 101 pick. It visually influenced a lot of my favorite modern horror media, and while it's a little kitschy, it has some fabulously creepy moments. And Tim Robbins when he's all young and extra-gangly. Hitchcockian and retro-70s-tacular.

Arsenic & Old Lace -- A macabre screwball comedy adapted by Frank Capra from a stage play during WWII. Full of all my favorite things, including Cary Grant, Peter Lorre, Vaseline on the lens, snap-quick dialogue, triple-takes, and 40s pop political jokes that you maybe need to be from Manhattan and the 1920s to fully appreciate. Hammy and romping.

What are some of your favorite movies to subject your friends to? Link me to your blog if you decide you wanna discuss this on your own turf.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Stays Crunchy in Milk

I've been waiting for weeks to get the go-ahead to announce this... Stays Crunchy in Milk has a pub date! Stays Crunchy in Milk is a novel that I edited for Adam P. Knave, aka That Dude Who's Writing That Webcomic About The Burrito-Powered Swords Which I Am Editing And Also Writing For A Little. And the pub date is August 19, 2009! Guys, that's in 97 days.

It's the first full novel I've edited that is actually being published by an actual publisher that isn't a vanity press and which has the potential to be Read By People and Garner Cred and Possibly Earn Itself A Few Bucks, and I'm really proud of it. I've gone through the novel 3+ times now with Adam – two runs for editing, and one for proofreading. And I still enjoy reading it. It's... it's like The Wizard of Oz for vaguely jaded 20- to 30-somethings who've watched too many Saturday morning cartoons. It's about friendship and self-discovery and love and failure and hope and how completely ridiculous 98% of the stuff we loved in the 1980s was, including but not limited to cartoon cereal mascots and My Little Ponies.

And dear god hope I haven't missed any ridiculously obvious typos. Or that if I have, that at least they're funny and not just gibberish. (I think my reigning favorite from Stays Crunchy is still "mutated pastel" instead of the intended "muted pastel". If we've left anything that unintentionally funny in the book, the first person to e-mail me about it wins a t-shirt.)

In addition to having a pub date, Stays Crunchy in Milk has a gorgeous cover and 6 interior art plates by BB artist Renato Pastor, a shiny limited-run hardcover edition, and is open for pre-orders, the purchase of which will enter you to win fabulous prizes. From the mouth of Knave:

"ALL PREORDERS will be entered in the contest. That’s all you have to do, preorder the book. And what could you get?

FIRST PRIZE: A special, one-of-a-kind print (full color) by Renato Pastor depicting YOU with the main characters of the novel. Printed on archival paper and framed for you.

SECOND PRIZE: A special, one-of-a-kind print (black and white) by Renato Pastor depicting YOU with the main characters of the novel. Printed on good archival paper.

THIRD PRIZE: Tuckerization of YOU into Volume Two of Legend of the Burrito Blade, likeness and first name. And I don’t mean just a one-off. I mean a top tier secondary character who is important to the plot.

ALL PREORDERS will also have their copies signed. They will also come with a separate art print by Renato Pastor. How nifty is that? Buy a book and get it signed and also get free art!"

So, I think you should pre-order a copy if it sounds like something you'll enjoy! The trade paperback is priced at $16.95 here in the States (it'll be $18.95US in Canada and $21.95US in the UK), and the hardcover (a signed & numbered edition of just 34 copies [the book is being released on Adam's 34th birthday, and holy shit best birthday present ever]) is priced at $49.95US for people anywhere.

I'm really just giddy about this whole thing. I hope that some of you will read it and love it as much as I do.

Preorder choices!