by Nicole Kimberling
This column is the first Nicole Kimberling wrote for us and was originally published in LCRW 27. As new issues come out we will keep adding columns and at some point there will be enough for a book!
Equipment: cupcake tin & baking liners, waxed paper, plastic wrap, rigid shipping container, packing material, packing tape, pen, a piece of cardboard big enough for ten cupcake-sized brownies to sit on, oven, timing device, mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons, cooling rack, a little cash, hands, and at least some love to spare for another.
Time: Approximately three hours total, plus travel time. Actual labor time: 30 minutes.
Step Zero: Read whole recipe.
All the way to the end. No skimming. During the twelve years that I cooked professionally, 50% of all major failures I observed could be attributed to incomplete reading. (The other 50% could be divided into categories labeled: inattention, inebriation, injury, and romantic angst.)
Step One: Acquire Target
Consider which of your friends most needs an infusion of affection into their lives. Once you’ve established your mark, ponder his or her taste. Adventurous? A Classicist? A boozehound? Do you suspect the target is missing some bygone era? Is he or she merely poor and hungry?
Step Two: Choose Additional Flavorings That Will Delight Target
- Mexican Chocolate: cinnamon and vanilla (1 tsp each).
- Masala: including a combination of sweet masala spices such as clove, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper equaling approximately 1 ½ tsp total spice mixture. Note: cinnamon should make up about half the total volume, or ¾ tsp.
- Spiked Coffee: any sort of whisky (instructions on including liquor, with measurements, follow in Step Five) plus instant coffee or espresso powder (1 tsp dissolved into whisky).
- Liqueur Cabinet: Grand Marnier, Amaretto, Tuaca, Frangelico, Brandy, etc.
- Mini candy: tiny M&M’s, wee peanut butter cups (available at Trader Joe’s) smashed up Heath bar chips, etc, equaling 1/3 cup.
- Cherries Jubilee: dried cherries equaling 1/3 cup, plus brandy.
Step Three: Acquisition
Go buy (or borrow) any equipment or flavorings you don’t already have plus a box of brownie mix—I prefer Ghirardelli Double Chocolate. Virtually all box mixes call for one or two eggs, neutral cooking oil and water as well, so gather accordingly.
Step Four: Read Instructions
Read instructions on dry mix box, then prepare to ignore or augment some, but not all of them.
Step Five: Mix Batter
Preheat oven to temperature indicated on box.
Put liners in cupcake tin.
Dump dry mix into bowl. Note: choose a bowl that will leave a lot of room for stirring, this will save you much vexation. Also, save box for later reference.
Add dry flavorings, such as spices, dry fruit or wee candy.
Stir with fork.
STOP to consider whether or not you are using liquor. If you are not, then continue onto the next instruction. If you are, then look at the box and locate the amount of water required by the mix. Replace some of the water with liquor. If you are using whisky or brandy you can replace nearly all of the water with booze. Just pour the whisky into the appropriate measuring cup, leaving a little room to top it off with water at the end—perhaps a finger’s worth of space. If you are using something thick and powerful like Grand Marnier you’ll want to be more sparing—perhaps 1/3 booze to 2/3 water.
Add egg(s) oil and water (or liquor-water mixture) in amounts indicated on box.
Add vanilla, if using.
With a fork, stir. But not too much. Maybe 40 strokes. Batter should be lumpy and even streaky in places.
Divide batter evenly into 12 lined tins.
Step Six: Bake
Check brownies @ 20 mins. Shake pan, very gently. If you see obvious liquid jiggling in center of brownies, reset timer and try again every 2–3 minutes until the centers of the brownies are basically stable, but not puffy. If the centers are puffy the brownies are overcooked so if 50% of the brownies look dangerously close to puffiness, pull them, even if some brownies still seem liquidy.
Remove from oven and let cool completely still inside the baking tin, but set on a wire rack. This is critical because baked goods like brownies are not completely cooked when they’re removed from the oven. Rather, they continue to cook with residual heat so its important to show compassion and give them a fighting chance at crossing the finish line at room temperature.
Step Seven: Cull and Judgment
Choose ugliest brownie and taste it. Choose second ugliest and give it to a bystander for second opinion. Tragedy can occur during baking, so you should verify positive results.
Step Eight: Pack
Place remaining 10 brownies on cardboard, wrap with waxed paper and tape shut. Wrap that whole package again, tightly, in cling film. Place in shipping container and add packing material to ensure that brownies don’t fly around inside the box. Add note to lucky friend, if desired. Seal and address.
Step Nine: Ship By Method of Choice
Brownies will survive 2 days en route with no ill effect.
Step Ten: Wait for love to return to you.
This usually takes the form of an email. However, you may receive a text, phone call or even a reciprocal gift. But if you receive no reply, don’t be bitter. Love is a thing to be given without expectation of compensation. That said, you can probably cross the unresponsive target off your list of people to make brownies for in the future. You’re not a chump, after all.
Step Eleven: Identify Next Target and Repeat