I sometimes go through phases where I wander down the seemingly never-ending rabbit hole known as YouTube. I recently came across a video by pastry chef extraordinaire, Claire Saffitz. She was whipping up a batch of her Malted “Forever” Brownies. I clicked on the thumbnail purely for its entertainment value, and no intention of attempting them myself. As I listened to her expound on the process of developing this recipe, I considered how long it’d been since I tried my hand at brownies.
I’d long abandoned my pursuit of the perfect brownie, because my dear friend, Smalls’ brownies are a magnum opus, and far superior to any brownies I’ve ever made.
Brownies are a simple delight; an opportunity for chocolate to stand on its own and display its depth of flavor. They are at their best with a perfectly crackled top layer just above the dense, chewy confection with flecks of salt. Of all the raw doughs and batters deemed forbidden for consumption, brownie batter surpasses them all. There’s just something about that thickness of the batter with the grit of the granulated sugar amidst a spoonful of chocolate. Darn near irresistible!
After watching Claire, and engaging my inner dialogue, I decided I should take a crack at her recipe in case Smalls is too tied up to answer my distress call for brownies.
Oh, and the brownies were pretty amazing! Make sure to chill them for an hour after they cool it’s key.
I enjoy foreign films and shows. It isn’t particularly highbrow material, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. My favorite foreign films are those centered on food, like That Is Not What I Expected. It’s a subpar Chinese romantic comedy, but I came for the food. The film follows a quirky chef, a severe businessman, and their shared one of kind experiences with food. Here is one of my favorite scenes from the film where the businessman goes through great lengths to make his instant ramen perfection.
You can see the clip here:
Where was I going with this? Oh yes. As I watch these films, I notice the stark contrasts between American cuisine and other countries. Our meals tend to focus more on meat and starches, especially at breakfast. We serve waffles, pancakes, cereal, biscuits, bacon, sausage patties or links, etc. I admit that these all taste great, but often it feels too heavy. I find myself seeking more out of my experience of breaking the fast. Our American breakfasts are mostly varying shades of brown. Of course, an egg adds a pop of yellow, but it’s hardly distinguishable from the subtle golden color of the waffles.
For breakfast, I want to eat something more vivid and nutritional, and there are only so many variations on sweet potato and kale. As I considered various international cuisines, I recalled my 8th grade earth science teacher, who often shared memories with us of her life in Turkey. I grabbed my laptop, pulled up Pinterest, and searched “Turkish breakfast”. Menemen showed up repeatedly, and then I saw it. It was a vision to behold: Gimme Some Oven’s Menemen, accompanied with crusty bread.
I tossed some in some kale and mushrooms to up the vegetable content for the family and it was a success.
I also got to use my pizza stone for the first time, thanks to Ciao Florentina’s excellent recipe for Rustic Italian Crusty Bread. It was perfectly crusty and chewy.
The combination of texture and flavors between the menemen and the bread provided just the breakfast experience I’d been craving. It was as magnificent as I’d imagined.
Have you tried any new recipes? What do you have for breakfast? I’d love to hear what you are cooking up.
Note: Cakes are my least favorite baking activity. Occasionally, I find them to be a welcomed challenge. Unless it’s a chocolate cake or a request for something that stirs my creative nature, it’ll probably be a no from me. Bear this in mind as I go through the events of this delivery. You’ll have a greater understanding of the level of frustration I experienced.
I’m running out of my kitchen with a spatula, extra frosting and no time left to get this cake to the woodland fantasy themed shower with a pedestal awaiting its arrival. My sister is behind the wheel as I sit in the passenger seat and the cake is lowered into my lap. My job: to ensure a safe transport. BUMP! I check on the cake. It’s fading fast, and we’ve only backed out of the driveway! Sis is taking every turn as carefully as she can, as I fight my conflicting desires at every turn; to tell her to press the gas one second and slow down the next, even more than she already has. We make it to a straight and at this point we’re both fading, me and my once beautiful semi-naked cake. The third layer is sliding to the left and frosting is spreading on the inside of the box. Regrets race through my mind; the biggest one being that I didn’t add enough powdered sugar to the frosting to ensure stability. I was so worried about the sugar overpowering the flavors! Crazy talk, I know…now!
Making the turn into the neighborhood, we’re nearly free and clear. Or so I thought. Numerous unavoidable speed bumps lay in our wake. With each one, the cake is going down and I am losing my calm. I feel a tear drop now as I fight to keep this cake straight and against more tears fighting to pour out. I don’t need a sloppy cake AND puffy red eyes. We finally get to the house and the cake has slid around so much the frosting has come off in various spots. It’s an embarrassment.
My mother texts, “Hey, can you do a naked cake?”. My initial thought, “Who are you volunteering me to make a cake for this time?” I respond, “I’ve never done one, but it shouldn’t be too difficult”. And it really shouldn’t be. It’s a partially frosted caked. The client and I discuss the details of the order and it’s settled. I will make a 10” 4-layer apple spice cake with browned butter cream cheese frosting. It’s a darn near perfect flavor profile for a woodland themed shower in autumn.
A week beforehand, I make a mini 6” version of the cake. She’s a beauty and I am feeling confident. I watch a few more video tutorials to identify my frosting technique to ensure the picture-perfect cake.
The day before the shower I get up early to bake the layers and it’s good that I do because 2 of the layers baked completely different than the other 2 layers due to different baking pans. This is not a big issue. I have plenty of time to bake two more layers and I do so, successfully.
I whip up the frosting and it’s spot on! I’ve spent the entire day in the kitchen and decide to assemble the cake tomorrow, the day of the shower.
I leave church a little early to give myself plenty of time to assemble the cake before the time of delivery. I get home and start assembling but there’s an issue: my layers are sliding. I made the frosting primarily with flavor in mind, not the fact that this cake would have to sit outside of the refrigerator for a couple of hours. I continue adding layers. Putting the cake in the freezer is helping, but the moment it sits out too long it slides again. I decide to add dowels and it’s working while it’s completely still, but this cake had to withstand a car ride. And now, we are back where we started: on one of the most memorable rides of my life. It was only a 15-minute ride, but it was a race for this cake’s life.
We finally arrive at the baby shower and it’s time to jump into action. My sisters and mom, also in attendance, helped me bring the cake and tools into the kitchen. With no time to waste, I must revive it. The cake is central to the table display…great. After much pushing, adjusting, frosting, napkins, warm water and refrigeration the cake is restored. Between the assistance of my family and the encouragement of the client, both the cake and I recovered.
Once the final decorations were added and it was set up, I could almost say I was proud of it, while simultaneously praying that the house would stay cool. I wasn’t sure how long it could take sitting out. I placed it on the pedestal that awaited its arrival and left feeling “meh” about it all.
This will, no doubt, go down in Flour and Parchment history. I look forward to any more lessons I have to learn on this journey, but hopefully none as emotionally torturous as this one.
3 cups peeled and finely chopped apples (about 1 1/2 lb.)
1 cup pecans, optional
½ cup room temp, softened salted butter
12 oz. cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
1.5 tsp of vanilla
Preheat oven to 350° F
Stir together 3 cups flour plus next 7 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in eggs and next 3 ingredients, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in apples and pecans (optional).
Scoop a cup at a time into greased and parchment lined 2 9” baking pan to ensure even layers.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until thoroughly baked.
Allow to cool to room temperature completely.
While cooling, make the frosting.
Take the butter and place in a saucepan on medium heat and stir as until completely melted. You will see the fat of the butter begin to brown, I let it brown until I smell a deep, nutty aroma, similar to caramel and then take off the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Transport to a glass dish and refrigerate until solid.
Add paddle attachment to stand mixer and whip the browned butter until soft and toss in the softened cream cheese and beat until well blended and “fluffy”.
Add vanilla and add powdered a ½ cup at a time until frosting has reached desired consistency or flavor (whichever matters more 😉)
Place first layer down and add about 1 cup of frosting use spatula to spread then add the second layer and frost all over the top and sides.
“I love food!” I hear this on a regular basis. We live in a
society that has a passion for food, or so they say. Recently, I discussed the
joy of food with an elder at church. I listened to her describe a dish she
prepared, and noticed that she described it with all of her being. As she went
through the steps, she mimicked the mixing and pouring. As she described the
smells, textures and flavors she closed her eyes visualizing it all as she told
me about it. I was enraptured.
At that moment I thought to myself, “This is what it is to
have a sincere appreciation for food. She handles her food with such care and
is mindful of all that goes into it. Food for her is more than a source of
nutrition but an experience”. I think about all of the self-proclaimed
“foodies”. They take the best photos, write with painstaking detail, trying all
of the newest, greatest and trendiest cuisine that the industry has to offer
but I never felt anything like I did as this woman drew me into her culinary
This begs the question: what does it mean to love food? Many
people think eating constantly demonstrates love for food. I would argue that
it’s the exact opposite. Some would assume that the size of the woman is as
great as her love for food. You, too would be wrong. Someone who appreciates
food appreciates it so much that the idea of rushing through it is unthinkable.
She takes 30 minutes minimum to eat. At first that may seem like the reasonable
amount of time, but I challenge you to make your meal last as long. You may be
For all who love food but don’t cook, why?! Food is not
experienced in consumption alone, but in preparation. It is one thing to enjoy
the final results, but to see and be a part of its beginnings are something to
behold, as well. To see a mass of flour, yeast and water transform into
beautifully brown and tender loaf. Don’t underestimate the feeling of seeing
the fruits of your labor.
I know that I could learn a lot from my elder especially when it comes savoring my food as I eat it and not inhaling it. But, I would like to think I have some of it right. I love the process of making dishes, coming together and sharing with others.
So, for the love of food, take your time, relish the taste,
try that recipe and make it an experience.