Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Nose Never Lies

A smell can sometimes trigger the most powerful memory, or an equally strong emotion. The recipe I've chosen to post today got me thinking about the smells around me that I adore:
  • DH's colognes - He has a such a variety, but it doesn't matter which one he puts on, because it instantly mingles with the scent of his skin and becomes his smell. Drives me wild. Meow!
  • The damp earth on the morning after it rains - When I was growing up in Dubai, and a proper rainshower was a rare phenomenon, there was nothing like that fresh, damp earth smell the morning after. And although it rains a fair bit here in the US Northeast, there are times when I catch that particular smell again, and it makes me sigh in contentment.
  • Fresh jasmine - My grandmother's garden in Pakistan had a large jasmine bush that bloomed in the early evening, and its perfume was intoxicating as it spread through the house. Jasmine is also a flower I associate with Pakistani weddings, because all the brides wear bunches of fresh jasmine buds in their hair. I did too. Romantic, no?!
  • Roasted nuts on the streets of NYC - Even though Manhattan is a tangle of intricate smells, not all of them pleasant (NYC subways! eew), what I will always remember is the smell of roasted nuts which were sold by street vendors on every corner. It makes me salivate just thinking about it! And brings back memories of the "perfect days" I've spent just aimlessly wandering the streets of my beloved city.
  • Old books - I know some people go crazy for the smell of a newly printed book, all shiny, with the spine intact. But for me, it's the slightly moldy smell of really old books that gets me excited. There's something mysterious and other-worldly about them. For instance, I have this ancient copy of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca that was passed down to me by my mom, who got it from an older relative, that I truly treasure. Its faded, tattered cover and yellowed, mottled pages make me feel like I'm right there at Manderley with all those brilliantly disturbed characters!
And finally ...
  • Almost anything that comes out of my oven - whether it's sweet or savory, nothing can beat the smell of freshly baked nummies. Whether it's that drool-worthy combination of buttery puff pastry and cheesy, herby goodness that is my Zucchini, Tomato & Herb Tart, or the rich, decadent aroma of my Almond-Semolina Halva, or especially these Katherine Hepburn Brownies. As a matter of fact, I haven't met anyone who has the power to resist a freshly baked brownie!
I finally have my own copy of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours, and I'm over the moon about it (thanks to DH, that big 'ol sweetheart!). Like many of you, I'm always in search of the perfect brownie recipe, and the one Dorie's got in her book is apparently a play on Katherine Hepburn's own famous brownie recipe. Now, I love Katherine Hepburn. She was spectacular, with that voice, that laugh, and those strong facial features that softened every time she smiled at her on-and-off screen husband, Spencer Tracy. She was fiery, gutsy and ballsy - all qualities that I admire! And she was a Connecticut girl. So it only seemed fitting that I give her recipe a fair shot.
Katharine Hepburn Brownies (recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan)
Makes about 14-16 squares

Click here for printable recipe

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp instant coffee granules
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional - I didn't use these)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, and line the bottom with a rectangular sheet of parchment paper, with the two smaller ends hanging about an inch over the rim of the baking pan. (makes it easier to remove the brownies after they're baked).

3. Whisk together the flour, cinnamon and salt.

4. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. When the butter has almost melted, add the cocoa powder and instant coffee right into it. Stir until melted butter, cocoa and coffee is mixed well together. Turn off the heat and let this cool for 5 mins.

5. Using a small whisk. beat the eggs into the chocolate mixture, one at a time. Next, gently stir in the sugar and vanilla, followed by the dry ingredients, chopped chocolate and nuts (if using). Scrape this batter into the baking pan.

6. Place the pan on a baking tray in the center of the oven, and bake for 30 mins. Brownies will still be gooey, but the top will have that prized papery crust. Let the brownies cool for at least 30 mins. Use the overhang from the parchment paper to lift the brownies from the pan onto a cutting board. Cool completely before cutting into squares (and surreptitiously plopping that corner piece straight into your mouth - go on, I won't tell the kids).
Verdict: The texture of these brownies is precisely what I like - gooey and fudgy on the inside, with that essential papery crust on top for texture. I love how the little pieces of chopped chocolate provide bursts of liquid bliss in your mouth, in each bite. I love adding that depth of coffee flavor to chocolate, but I think I'll omit the cinnamon next time. I'll certainly use this recipe next time I have chocoholics coming over to visit, and I see no problem in giving this to kids (as long as they're not mine, muahahahahaha! Yes, I'm evil). But this is a grown-up brownie, no doubt about that. I know this because although DH loves brownies, after having these he has decided that he likes kiddie brownies - you know, the ones that are too sweet and cakey, and mostly come out of a box. *Sigh*, well I can't win 'em all. Never fear though, these did not go unappreciated - I think I did them justice *imaginary insert of my flabby thighs here*.