Over the years I have been fortunate to receive bits of baking wisdom from everyone who I call family, especially the most immediate members – my mom and dad. They fall into two baking camps: the celebratory and the everyday.
My mom is the celebratory baker. She bakes for the holidays and has made her fair share of dazzling birthday layer cakes for festive family gatherings. I have learned the secrets to her cinnamon rolls that are reserved for celebratory brunches and I have watched her take almost every single one of her holiday linzer tortes out of the oven. She has demystified the process of anything that requires multiple steps to achieve baking bliss.
On the other hand, my dad is the every day baker. He makes scones and pancakes from scratch and whips up batches of Sunday afternoon chocolate chip cookies. He is also a wise man who has taught me the importance of a firm handshake and to always leave the house with a coat and whenever I find myself at home he manages to slip me a bit of cash on my way out the door “just in case.”
I have learned my fair share of life lessons over the years but I never did learn how to change a tire. I have only myself to blame for this major life oversight that happened during my teen years and can be explained by me being sixteen and an impatient adolescent. I was supposed to learn before getting my drivers license but somehow I succeeded in letting the rule slip through the cracks. Then I moved to New York and I managed to avoid the need to learn anything about driving all together!
The most important life lesson of them all is the afternoon ritual of an iced tea and a brownie. My dad and I are both fast talkers so over the years the phrase has lost all meaning as separate words and has just become one indistinguishable sound – anicedteaandabrownie – meant to signify that the sun has past noon in the sky and it is therefore an acceptable time for sugar and chocolate and iced tea.
It doesn’t take much to satisfy the craving but not just anything will do. There are anicedteaandabrownie requirements: the brownie must be dense and fudgy and homemade and cut small. The iced tea is always black and unsweetened and served with extra ice. These are the brownies that my dad and I grew up making on summer afternoons. They aren’t particularly fancy and unlike most of the things I make now they are not spiked with jazzy additions like bourbon or wine or toasted-salty-cardamom-cayenne-spiced-pecans.
But these straight-up classic brownies come together in a flash to give you more time for the important things, which is really what the afternoon ritual of anicedteaandabrownie is all about.
P.S. If the day happens to require something a tad stronger than unsweetened iced tea may I suggest this fabulous cocktail as a substitute.
Straight-up Classic (Bonus!) One Bowl Fudge Brownies
Makes 25 small squares
Inspired by my Dad (but adapted from the back of a Baker’s Chocolate box)
3 ounces (85 grams) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (62 grams) flour
Preheat oven to 350. Generously butter an 8×8 pan and line with two overlapping sheets of parchment paper. Butter the parchment and set aside.
In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt together the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until smooth and completely melted. Turn off the heat and carefully remove the bowl (it will be hot!) from the pan of water and set it on a towel on your countertop.
Use a wooden spoon to stir in both sugars, then add the vanilla and salt and stir until combined. Add both eggs and mix until fully incorporated. Finally add the flour and stir vigorously until the batter is smooth and glossy.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes. The brownies are done when a tester comes out with several crumbs attached (be sure to not overbake as a slightly underbaked brownie usually always wins). Let the brownies cool for several minutes then use the parchment to remove them from the pan. Slice n’ serve.