Years ago, I was visiting my best friend in San Francisco, when she introduced me to the “Adult Brownie,” from Andronico’s, a Bay Area grocery chain. The rest of my life, since that moment, has been just…so-so.
I had that “Adult Brownie” high again at the Wake n’ Bakery near Mount Baker (no, the baked goods do not actually contain cannabis). I stopped there with friends on the way to the slopes and almost didn’t leave. One of us bought a Dream Bar and shared a few bites with the other adults. We locked eyes and closed ranks. I’m pretty generous with my children, but they were not getting this bar.
Recently, I had a similarly fateful experience on our return drive from Crater Lake. I had skipped second breakfast, and was in my default state of ravenousness. My family descended on Whole Foods like locusts. You’ve heard not to shop when you are hungry, or have P.M.S., and grocery chains everywhere have -wisely – tried to hush up that bit of conventional wisdom. I filled my basket with hummus, potato chips, grapes, blueberries, quince-elderflower cider, yogurt, a vegan donut (for my daughters!) sesame tofu, and…truffle brownies.
The first ingredient listed on the brownies was butter – this generally foretells delight. The other ingredients weren’t out of the ordinary, and flour was low on the list – also a good sign since I hate a cakey brownie. I could see by the texture (dense, moist, no air bubbles) that they leaned more to truffle than brownie and that’s my favorite direction to lean. I was going to try these at home.
Soy lecithin was the only ingredient listed that is not readily available to home cooks and furthermore, kind of creepy. I assumed it made them oilier. Do I like brownies to be oily? I wish I could say no, but in any case, I was omitting it. It was obvious not all the ingredients were listed since I detected hints of coffee, dopamine and something more subtle…oxytocin? I decided to put my friend Susie, the flavor scientist, to work on this recipe.
I dropped off one of the brownies and told her, “Pay attention while you eat.” “Oh, you want me to reverse engineer it?” she asked. Yes, preferably in a lab coat. I assured her she’d thank me later, but that I was open to receiving gratitude anywhere in the process.
It has been years since I’ve had any kind of success at homemade brownies. After a few tries that were always too airy, too cakelike, I threw in the apron. I want a brownie to have that dense, chewy texture and crackly top. I’d sworn off trying, but at this point, the universe had sent three messages. All the important communications I’ve ever received from the universe have been about treats. Who to marry? Where to live? Oh please. Just close you eyes and point to one! But regarding baked goods, wait for a sign.
Susie tried a recipe from Tasty.com that included espresso powder. They were splendid, but we agreed they needed to be more bitter and dense. I decided to reduce the white sugar by 3/4 of a cup, and the flour by 1/4 cup. At Susie’s suggestion, I eliminated an egg; six eggs seemed excessive. My batch contained chocolate that was 72% cacao and therefore, less sweet.
I don’t know what to tell you about the time this recipe takes, except that the ten minutes of egg whipping is a good chance to do calf raises. Why I did not simply put my kitchen aid on this job instead of standing there with the hand mixer, clock watching and telling myself to try meditation, is entirely due to my desire to be a martyr. What would I do for the perfect brownie? Anything, up to and including standing for a full ten minutes.
We were also engaged in this project in the midst of the filthy cloak of smoke that overtook the West. Susie and I both knew that if we needed an oxygen tank to complete this, so be it. We had itchy eyes, scratchy throats, and a slightly woozy feeling, but we were MAKING THOSE BROWNIES.
All I can say about what we ended up with is this: they were beyond perfection. You didn’t know that was possible did you? It reminds me of a church I saw in Spokane called Beyond Grace. The name of it made me laugh. What’s beyond grace? Well there’s something beyond it, and it’s these brownies.
Link to the Tasty.com recipe here, bearing in mind our alterations if you want a darker, denser, less sweet brownie. I know you do; the universe said so.