Espresso Brownies

2 Aug

You know it’s a good day when you manage to round up 11 dollars in random change from various bags and backpacks.  Oh yes.

Of course, it was a good day before that, too.  Yesterday and today have been truly lovely, and so quintessentially summer-y.  I had breakfast outside and read, I spent all day reading Vogue, GQ, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Wired, and various blogs, which made me so, so happy.  I love reading things online.  So very much.  I watched some movies.  I made a stop-motion video with some jamming music.  I tried drawing with interesting results.  (I don’t know how to draw, but I thought it would be fun to learn. (It is.))  I have been gliding across a stage set with the very picture of tranquility minus the soul-numbing boredom that I often experience.

 

 

Is this not the essence of summer?

And today, I have done mostly the same, with one very notable exception.

I made these brownies.

These brownies…

Let me warn you.  They sneak up on you.  I had one and thought, “Oh… well.  Now I know what those taste like.”  But I couldn’t accept my own mediocrity, so I had another.

Wow.  These are sneaky little bastards, and not until you’re halfway through one of them will you go, “Ohhhh, man.  That is.  A brownie.”  Seriously, these brownies are basically coffee in solid form.  And the chocolate, oh, the chocolate.  These are not fudgy, which initially put me off, but they are very chocolate-y nevertheless, perhaps in a more subtle way than your average brownie.  They also have dark chocolate espresso chunks in them.  Which.  As you can imagine, is divine.

They’re dry, they’re dense, they suspend their flavor in a tense fermata before washing over you quite suddenly.  They are a surprise.  They are an “Oh!” halfway through. They are so, so very good.

The recipe is from Fat Witch Brownie, which is a New York-based bakery with a location in Chelsea Market and a couple more besides.  I finally went to the bakery recently, and it did not disappoint.

Ingredients:

  • 7 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped espresso-flavored chocolate (optional, but come oooon)

Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler or whatever improvised contraption you can come up with.  Set aside to cool (I mean it–you’ll cook the eggs before this stuff even gets into the oven otherwise).

 

Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla together until combined.

 

 

Add the melted chocolate and continue beating.

 

In a small container, mix together the boiled water and espresso powder until the crystals have melted.

 

So not like that.  Then pour that into the batter.

 

Beat until well-combined.  Have you ever thought about how amazing egg beaters are?  The concept is seriously cool: spindles of metal that whirl around very quickly, stirring everything up while you move it about in a bowl.  Two stirring actions are being performed at any given time, like the Moon rotating the Earth rotating the Sun.  And the idea that you can take separate ingredients that are quite nasty apart and spin them together with enough force, then essentially set fire to them, and come up with brownies.

Science is cool, huh?

Especially baking science.  Oh yeah.

 

This stuff is so gross.  I only keep instant espresso crystals for baking.  While I made these, I add a double shot with two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk stirred in, because I actually care about the kind of coffee I drink.  I just cant believe people drink those crystals.  Ugh.

Measure out the flour and salt and sift them in tandem into the batter.

Is it still called batter if not everything’s in it yet?  I’ve always wondered.

Then chop your optional-but-not-really chocolate.

 

I used Green and Black’s espresso dark chocolate and didn’t bother actually measuring a quarter cup.  I don’t know anything about the company except what I just read about 30 seconds ago on their site, but it seems reliable.  If Scharfen-Berger made espresso-flavored chocolate it would change my life and these brownies, but alas, they do not.  I suppose you could go for something seriously fancy if you went to a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but I guess that’s not necessary…  Just… preferable.

Green and Black’s seems interesting though.  I will have to read up on these folks.

 

Stir the chunks into your batter, and pour the batter into a 9×9 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or longer because you were trying to e-mail your flatmate about furniture and then started worrying about buying an entire apartment’s worth of furniture, which is an idea you feel highly allergic to.

Allow to cool, and then eat all of them.  I’m currently working on this part of the recipe.

All right, I have to tell what these brownies make me think of.  First of all, the word that best describes them is “strong”, and not just for the sheer force of the chocolate and espresso flavors.  Strong, because they are emotionally powerful.

Don’t laugh at me, I’m being serious.  There was no better way to say that, okay?

When the real taste finally hit me, these brownies sort of swept my mind out the kitchen door and over to Greenwich Village.  In particular, a little coffee shop called McNulty’s.  Ever since my family moved to New York, I can remember going to McNulty’s with my parents to pick up freshly ground coffee.  I can remember the labelled bags in our freezer with names like Irish Cream (which my mom hates), Mocha, Mocha Java, and Colombian Vanilla.

That store has an ambiance.  In the winter, it insufferably suffocating, warm, and close.  The already-small shop, crammed to the antique doors with jars upon jars of tea, coffee-making apparati, and bags of beans, will coax streams of sweat from you in minutes.  And you will be in there for many, because the lines are long and wind around the tea jars towards the back of the store.  In the summer, it’s just as hot, but somehow bearable, perhaps because the weather is as well, and you’re already stripped to the skin if you’re wandering about the Village.

The men who work there have probably worked there since the primordial soup boiled on the surface of the Earth, and have probably not aged since then.  They talk about baseball with my dad, hockey with my mom. They pour beans into the brass scale, expertly tossing in just enough to meet the demanded weight.  They fold the grounded beans into paper bags, whipping a strip of paper tape over the top to seal them shut.

But what got me, in regards to these brownies, was the smell.  Of course a coffee shop will smell divine.  Obviously.  But this place has boards up at the ceiling with the neatest handwriting you’ve ever seen spelling out at least a hundred different beans.  Imagine that much coffee in one place.  Imagine the density of the aroma, the overpowering fragrance of a metric fuck ton of coffee in a small, old ground floor room of a small, old building.  Imagine that.  That is what these brownies taste like.

Like the smell of McNulty’s; like the coded chatter of baseball scores that I have never bothered to understand but have listened to all the same; like the repetitive motion of tape on bags, tape on bags, tape on bags; like coming into the shop off of pretty, tree-lined Christopher Street and joining the reverent queue around the tea jars; like the whiteboards crammed with names of more coffee than you can actually imagine.  They taste, essentially, like the earliest memories I have of New York City.  Am I being melodramatic?  Are you rolling your eyes at me?  Then why don’t you just go and make these lovely little things, read this post again, and see who’s scoffing now.

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