I’ve made so many brownie recipes in my lifetime, there should really be a separate 3-ring binder to keep track of them all. Ideally, my notebook would include all the recipes, ranked from best to worst, with detailed notes on why they succeeded or failed. Otherwise, I’m at risk for making the same so-so brownies more than once, and that would be a darn shame. Life’s too short for mediocre brownies.
At the moment, I have two reigning champions. In the deep, dark, rich, fudgy, perfect chocolate brownie category, there’s the Baked brownie. In the buttery, nutty, gooey, perfect blondies category, we have Bobby Flay’s blondies (which, unforgivably, I haven’t photographed or written about yet).
These cherry-fudge brownies with a sweetened whipped cream topping are dark, dense, and fudgy, studded with dried sour cherries. The recipe calls for a hefty shot of black pepper — utterly unexpected and totally delicious. I’ve been drawn into the sea salt frenzy this past year, whipping up batches of sea salt caramels, salted caramel ice cream, and even sprinkling a little extra salt on chocolate chip cookies before they go into the oven. It was nice to give the old sidekick, black pepper, a chance to shine.
These brownies offered a nice change of pace, but they will not unseat my beloved Baked brownies. And that’s a disappointment and a relief, both. I find comfort in returning to a well-loved family recipe, the one written out by hand on an index card, spattered and stained, annotated, amended. The Baked brownie may well become such a treasure. And yet, I equally love the discovery of a new recipe that surpasses all other versions.
Cooking is a quest, for those of us who love it, with endless opportunities to improvise, experiment, rise and fall, succeed or fail. It can provide immense pleasure as a solitary pursuit in the pre-dawn hour or as a bustling enterprise where one generation stands alongside another to learn the special touch or secret ingredient or, simply, to experience the pleasure of chopping, stirring, and mixing, elbow to elbow. And when we all sit down together at the table, Virginia Woolf describes it best:
“Now all the candles were lit up, and the faces on both sides of the table were brought nearer by the candlelight, and composed, as they had not been in the twilight, into a party round a table, for the night was now shut off by panes of glass, which far from giving any accurate view of the outside world, rippled it so strangely that here, inside the room, seemed to be order and dry land; there, outside, a reflection in which things wavered and vanished, waterily. Some change at once went through them all, as if this had really happened, and they were all conscious of making a party together in a hollow, on an island; had their common cause against that fluidity out there . . . Of such moments, the thing is made that endures” (To the Lighthouse, 97, 116).
Thanks to April of Short + Rose for selecting this cherry-fudge brownie torte and giving me a reason to pull out my dusty, but cherished, copy of To the Lighthouse. You can find the brownie torte recipe on her site or on pp. 284-285 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.