January 27th, 2009

Rose-coloured Reviews Baker’s Chocolate Brownie Recipes

Unlike most not-very-good-cooks, I was actually taught to cook, rather thoroughly. Technically, if you asked me to, I could make you a lattice pie-crust, salmon teriaki, a roux, or cabbage rolls. But if that’s really what you want, would you please go into the other room and sit quietly without talking to me. Complex cooking makes me very nervous, because I know my own scoring record is only about .500 with hard things, and there’s really no telling how it will turn out. Really, if you don’t want any sort of stir-fry/curry/egg derivative, maybe we should just go to a restaurant?

As with most things, my theoretical knowledge of cuisine far outstrips my practical ability. This does, however, enable me to read a recipe with fair insight. I can recognize wonky proportions, overlong cooking times, and bad ideas in general.

And then there’s one of the few things I am actually pretty good at in theory *and* in practice: copyediting. I was trained to copyedit recipes according to the very thorough and exacting Canadian Living house style (can’t find it online, sorry), which makes me hyper-aware of improper metric/imperial measurement conversions, incomplete instructions and all the various ways recipes can leave a cook lamentably at sea.

Because I am too incompetent a cook to easily correct an error in a tricky recipe, and too competent an editor to overlook them even in an easy recipe, I general steer clear of internet recipes. Home cooks too often approximate, leave out steps, get bored after typing out the ingredients list and leave the instructions at “Mix ingredients, put in pan, cook until done.” Cook until done, you see that one all over. Terrifying.

When I wanted to make cheesecake brownies last night and didn’t have a recipe, for reasons too stupid to get into, I wound up Googling with good results for once. I have learned that websites from sources that would be embarrassed at errors are your best bet. By that I mean, those associated with either printed cookbooks or notable chefs or a brand-name products. Only a far better cook than I can deal with recipe sites where people post annonymously.

The Kraft foods websites are very very commerical, but also their recipes are thoroughtly tested, and they very rarely lead you astray (they do suggest you put Jell-o powder in your lemon chicken, but they are quite upfront about that).
The Baker’s chocolate brand is a good one, and their recipes are solidly doable, though some of the ones on the website are pretty inane. It seems like a giant waste to make heart-shaped brownies–all the non-heartshaped scraps!! But this recipe will actually make you a perfectly good pan of brownies, just don’t bother cutting them out! It’s a very nice simple recipe, one bowl and the microwave. I always forget that the reason I don’t often make brownies is not that they are hard, it’s that the ingredients to make the really good ones are expensive. Still, it matters: buy the real dark chocolate squares, and get the pecans instead of walnuts; in my opinion so much better. Actually, my personal preference is for raisins in brownies but, yeah, everybody hates that. Pecans are a good second choice.

I wanted to make a cheesecake topping, but I could only find recipes for a) pan sizes I don’t own or b) to go with packaged brownie mix or c) to go with ingredients I didn’t have (this lack of purchasing enthusiasm might explain some of my culinary failures). Anyway, I wound up making the topping from recipe, although if I’d read to the end I would’ve noticed the comment about it not really being enough cheesecake to cover 13×9 inches, at least for some people.

As it turned out, it was sufficient if you spread it carefully and don’t demand too thick a topping. I liked that neither the brownies nor the topping were terribly sweet, although the brownies are very chocolatey/fudgey and both were quite rich (I used light cream cheese, but I don’t really think that mitigates much). I used the baking time for the plain brownies, 30-35 minutes, but at 32 minutes they were already starting to singe slightly at the corners. The problem could’ve been that I baked them in a weird silicon pan, or it could’ve been that my coolling rack has fallen under the stove and I had to cool them on oven mitts. Well, I have a lot of problems, anyway.

Once they were pretty well coolled, though, it was easy to cut them up into solid discrete squares without a lot of crumbs. And once I’d trimmed off those tiny burnt bits (which I then ate, they weren’t even bad) it was a pretty good gooey-looking set of brownies. The swirls on top, which looked smudgy and odd when raw, are very pretty in the final version. I think these are a good kid/adult food, as cheesecake is sufficently mature, and brownies sufficiently kiddish, and they look pretty enough to appeal to both categories.

The revews from eaters are quite favourable thus far, if not terribly articulate. “Yummy” has come up twice, though, which is really all I ask for.

Oh the boys on the radio

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