Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cocoa Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting

My mother is the baker, and I am the cook. That has always been the case in our family. My mother is analytical and scientific in her reasoning, and therefore excellent at measuring with care and substituting ingredients and amounts appropriately
    
I'm  more of a creative type when it comes to the kitchen. I create as I go, and very rarely follow a recipe to the dot. Part of my fondness for cooking is the ability to change a dish as I see fit, at any point during its creation. I get frustrated by the patience required by baking, the waiting game and inability to change a recipe once it goes in the oven. The point is, I am not really a baker at heart. This is, I understand, a very odd proclamation to make in the middle of a brownie recipe. Hear me out. 
           
I bake as therapy. You see, I can make a stir fry without much thought at all. But Cocoa Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting? Those require some concentration. And sometimes, in the midst of a particularly bad week, I need to bake. Because when I bake, my mind refuses to wander. I concentrate only on the task at hand.
     
I know, as a frequent multi-tasker, that I don't need to focus all of my attention on leveling off a cup of sugar with the back of a knife. But, somehow, that's just what happens. 
     
Everything else melts away as I bake, using techniques my mother has taught me over a lifetime.
It's quite hard to feel that anything is amis in the world when you watch peanut butter and butter being  whipped together into a light and fluffy frosting. And if that doesn't do it, sampling peanut butter frosting can make just about anybody smile. (Except a person with peanut allergies. Obviously).

The very act of creating a batter, pouring it into a pan and waiting every so patiently for the result is becoming  slightly more appealing to me. Here's why: earlier this evening I stared at an empty 8" x 8" square pan, and now it's filled with delightful, soul-healing, smile-creating brownies. That is quite an accomplishment, if you really think about it. 

I must use this last paragraph to tell you about the brownies themselves and not just about me. Salty. Sweet. Delightful. I should not have waited to make them for nearly four months.  (I've been waiting since May to make this particular recipe, ever since I saw it on Not Without Salt.) It's no surprise I love them, based on my ongoing (and I might add, very justified) love affair with the chocolate and peanut butter combination (as seen here and here). 
Cocoa Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting
Adapted by Ashely from Not Without Salt, from Alice Medrich


Ingredients
Cocoa Brownies
1 1/4 stick (10 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large, cold eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
 1/2 cup all-purpose flour


Peanut Butter Frosting
3/4 stick (6 Tablespoons) softened butter
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
pinch salt


Recipe
Cocoa Brownies
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8" x 8" square pan.


First, put a medium/large pot with a few inches of water on the stove and turn on the heat (to medium) to bring to a simmer. Be sure a bowl can fit inside of it, with room to stir ingredients, and without touching the simmering water. This is basically a makeshift double boiler. It should look a little like this:

Now that you know that bowl fits in the pot the correct way, take it out and put the following ingredients in it: Sugar, Cocoa Powder, Salt. Mix those ingredients together well, with a fork or a whisk. Then, cut the butter into 1 Tablespoon pieces. The idea here is to get them small enough to melt rather quickly (quicker than if you just threw the whole block of butter in there). 


Place the bowl with the cocoa mixture over the simmering water and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon. Once the butter is almost melted (you should see only 3-4 small pats of butter left in the mixture), remove the bowl from the pot (with oven mits on) and let the mixture cool to warm. The residual heat will melt the rest of the butter. 


Once the mixture is no longer hot, add cold eggs one at a time. If you haven't allowed the cocoa mixture to cool, you will make scrambled, chocolate eggs (accidentally). Stir the eggs into the mixture with a wooden spoon, then add the vanilla extract. Once all of this is well combined, add the flour. Once the flour is integrated into the cocoa mixture (read: you can no longer see any flour), stir the mixture 40 times. 


Pour the batter into the pan, spread evenly and bake for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out nearly clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack.


Peanut Butter Frosting
In an electronic mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Then, incorporate the powdered sugar (I like to add 1/4 cup at a time). 


Frost the brownies once they are room temperature. Sprinkle very lightly with a pinch of kosher salt. Enjoy. Serves 16 brownies.

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