An ode to brownies


Chapter one


I decided to push my luck a little this week.  What is so controversial that I feel like I have to push my luck?  Chocolate.  I love, need, want chocolate.  My boyfriend tends to avoid it.  Why?  I suspect it is childhood trauma.  In fact, I would almost say it is child abuse (but I’m just kidding you, so don’t get all riled up). 


Here is some background about the chocolate situation in this house.  My boyfriend grew up with a Mom who studied nutrition during a time in our history when people were very keen on health food.  She not only taught her kids that sugar was very bad but she was convinced that my DBF had an allergy to chocolate.  This could be true, he seems to be sensitive to milk so milk chocolate could be a problem… but… his Dad, I suspect, did not like chocolate and used this as an excuse to ban the substance from the house.  When the mention of chocolate comes up within the family it is jokingly referred to as that stuff nobody can eat because of my poor BF and his problem with it.  His Dad grins from ear to ear when the subject comes up.


Well, he has no physical problem with it.  He can eat it and I have seen him eat it and he does not get a rash, his lungs do not explode and he does not fall over in a coma.  He just doesn’t eat it because his Mom’s good habits are severely ingrained into his psyche. 


Chapter two


I missed Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend this year due to my family crisis.  My Boyfriend promised to make it up to me.  He asked me what I wanted and I told him that I wanted a box of expensive chocolate from a local chocolatier.  He obliged by buying a larger box than he would have and he filled it with half of what I would love and half of what he would want to try.  He ate 95% of his share of that box of chocolate.


I suspect that he has had his fill of chocolate for a while.  A box of the finest chocolate available doesn’t really stop me from wanting more chocolate.  In fact, it probably feeds a flame that should be controlled or put out. 


Chapter three


I was shopping in Trader Joes last weekend and came across a bar of unsweetened baking chocolate.  Years ago I made the fudge brownies in the Moosewood Cookbook.  They were so delicious that my sister, who isn’t the happiest human being on the planet, and her wonderful husband (who we all wish was really our family’s brother/son ‘cause he’s so fabulous) ate most of them and my sister was happy.  Really happy.  Almost an entirely different person.  She was kind to me.  This was highly unusual and a most welcome turn of events.  It was unfortunately temporary.  But hey, that is the magic of these brownies that call for unsweetened baking chocolate, which is a rarity in my cupboard.  Once I had the chocolate in hand, I immediately thought of making brownies.  I started to fantasize about what kind of brownies they would be.  Why would I do that when I have a recipe?  Well the genius thing about the Moosewood fudge brownie recipe is that Mollie Katzen leaves the details and creativity to her readers.  Like her quiche recipe, it is a template that gets you started.  She provides the means to get to a moist yet cakey, fudgy good brownie.  She gives a few suggestions how to flavor them and then your imagination can run wild from there.


I made some other brownies one year for Christmas.  They were filled with raspberry jam and topped with hazelnuts.  The concept was good but the result was a dry brownie:  a disappointment for sure.  When I began to brainstorm my brownies, I decided I wanted to fill them with jam.  Brandy soaked tart dried cherries sounded like a good contrast to the chocolate so cherry jam would work well for the filling.  I wanted nuts.  Pecans sounded just right.  I set about to create my wonderful concoction.


Chapter four


My boyfriend had a bite of the brownies and declared them to be perfection.  That’s all he had and he suggested I donate them to my coworkers.  I decided to do no such thing!  I ate one last night accompanied by a cold glass of milk and I took one to work with me.  Will these brownies cause contention?   Will I gain ten pounds?  Will my boyfriend secretly scarf them down himself?  Only time will tell.




After reading this blog post hundreds of people made these brownies.  They were all very content.



Cherry, brandy soaked cherry and pecan fudge brownies

Adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen


2 sticks unsalted butter, softened


5 oz unsweetened bitter chocolate, melted and cooled


1 ¾ cups dark brown sugar


5 eggs


1 ½ tsp vanilla extract


1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached white flour


1 cup tart dried cherries


½ cup or more brandy


6-8 oz cherry jam


1 cup pecans


Prior to making the brownies, soak the dried cherries in the brandy.  If you use just a ½ cup brandy you may need to stir the cherries periodically as you let them soak for at least one hour to make sure all of the cherries soak up the brandy.  When you are ready to use the cherries, drain them and reserve the brandy for another use such as drinking. (It gets flavored with the dried cherries and is something you won’t want to waste).


Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over a high simmer.  Cool the chocolate before proceeding with the recipe.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F.


Butter a 9”x13” pan


Cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer.  Add the eggs and mix well.  Add vanilla and then beat in the melted chocolate and the flour.  With a spoon or spatula, fold in the drained cherries and the pecans.


Spoon half of the batter into the pan smoothing the surface so that the batter covers the entire pan.  Spoon the cherry jam all over the top of the batter, carefully spreading it over the top of the batter so that most bites of  your brownies should get some jam.  Spread the remaining batter over the jam.


Bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool the brownies and then cut into squares.





Several years ago, I stumbled upon a book called “Clearly Delicious:  An Illustrated Guide to Preserving, Pickling & Bottling” by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz.  It is the kind of book that could be described as a coffee table book.  It is loaded with beautiful pictures of gorgeous bottles filled with amazing things to fill up your pantry and give to your loved ones as gifts.  The book was printed in 1994.  This date probably coincides with a time in my life when I first discovered Martha Stewart magazine and dreamed of having the kind of lifestyle that Martha, Gourmet magazine, and Sunset magazine promised their readers.  I’m sure that visions of an orderly pantry full of shiny beautiful jars and bottles filled my dream life.  In reality, I made a few of these infusions and friends and relatives sporadically got to sample a few of these culinary experiments around the holidays.  One surprising thing I learned from this book was that you could make your own liqueurs by soaking fruits and herbs in alcohol such as Vodka or Grappa.  After I had this epiphany, I went to a restaurant called Chad’s and the bar had a giant macerating jar filled with premium vodka and Strawberries.  This wonderful concoction was used for martinis.  I was hooked on this idea!  In the intervening years I found several books that had a recipe or two for different liqueurs.  One great resource was “Classic Liqueurs:  The art of Making and Cooking with Liqueurs” by Cheryl Long and Heather Kibbey.  During this time, I made Kahlua, Raspberry Liqueur, and Limoncello.  I made macerated fruit concoctions such as Prunes in Port and Pears in Brandy.  Then I forgot about this brief passion of mine.

 Creating alcoholic beverages is strange for me considering that I own bottles of alcohol that are a couple of decades old.  I enjoy an occasional glass of wine but I really don’t enjoy cocktails.   I use hard alcohol for cooking but I rarely drink it.  One day I was looking for something amongst the dusty ancient bottles in my cabinets and I found the last of the Limoncello I made.  I made it from Meyer Lemons.  Meyer Lemon peel has a resinous, piney flavor.  When the liqueur was new, this flavor was overwhelming to me and I considered the liqueur a failure.   My best friend got the rest of the batch and she loved it.  I found it undrinkable.  When I discovered the dusty old bottle, I poured my self a shot expecting it to be terrible.  Over the years it has mellowed and now it tastes just like Limoncello should.  The urge to create an alcoholic beverage suddenly overwhelmed me with a burst of enthusiasm I had completely forgotten about!

 Around the time that I rediscovered my little bottle of alchemical history, I had also discovered a wonderful food blog called Lucillian Delights – An Italian Experience.  Ilva’s blog is a joy to read and an experience for your eyes.  She is a very creative cook.  Right before I found my lost bottle of Limoncello, I read this post about Rose sugar.  I had read books that talked about flowers and flower essences in food before and the idea always held a certain fascination for me.  I started to obsess about the idea.  My best friend (and Limoncello lover), had given me a David Austin rose bush which I have grown in a large terra cotta pot.  This Rose bush has moved between three homes over the years and still thrives.  This year, it bloomed like crazy and I wanted a way to capture the spicy aroma of these oddly beautiful vintage blooms.  I kept thinking, could I make rose liqueur?  I searched for a recipe but couldn’t find one.  I found a reference on the Internet to liqueur flavored with Rose petals and Vanilla but did not come across a recipe.  I went back to an Italian recipe for Raspberry liqueur which was very well received one Christmas and started an experiment.  Five weeks later, I have liqueur that is subtly laden with spices and a soft floral flavor and aroma.  The rose flavor could be stronger.  Next time if the Rose harvest is larger, I may add more rose petals.


Rose Liqueur:

Petals from 8 Organically Grown Roses


1 Vanilla Bean, split down the middle


1 two inch chunk of Canela (Mexican Cinnamon) or 1 stick Cinnamon


2 whole Cloves


2 cups Sugar


1 bottle Vodka


5 one inch wide strips of lemon peel

Rinse the Roses under cool running water.  Garden grown roses could contain creepy crawlies and dirt so carefully inspect your flowers before you use them.  Turn Roses upside down to drain and allow them to dry.  Pluck the petals from the blossoms and drop them into a covered jar large enough to accommodate a bottle of Vodka.  Add the spices and sugar to the jar.  Add Vodka and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  The Rose Petals will float. Eventually, over time they will loose their pigment and sink to the bottom of the jar. They may look unappetizing but don’t be alarmed.  Let the infusion sit for at least 5 weeks. When you are ready to bottle the liqueur, wash your bottles in the dishwasher to sterilize them.  Alternatively, the bottles can be boiled for several minutes.   Allow the bottles to cool.  Pour the liqueur through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup or bowl, pressing on the solids.  Discard the solids.  Pour or ladle the liqueur with the aid of a funnel into the bottles.  Most normal people will not allow an infusion like this to last long, but this liqueur can last months in a sealed bottle at room temperature, stored in a cool dark place.