All of a sudden, it is autumn. The temperature has dropped and the sun has swung away from our apartment, leaving it chilly all day long, the sheets icy when we slip into bed at night. Light fades early, the perfect excuse to stay inside with big bowls of soup, then hunker down on the couch with blankets and a mug of tea. I even woke up on Monday morning to the gentle rumble of thunder—a rare occurrence around here, to put it mildly. Rain was a gift all on its own, thunder icing on the cake. I put on a record and cozied up with my coffee, the gray sky keeping the house dark and moody even as the morning inched along.
Cozy is just what I want at this time of year, the season of festive gatherings of all kinds, of holiday preparations, of exuberant meals, of joy for the sake of it. This can also be a complicated season for many, of course, for a whole host of reasons. But I must admit that I love it rather indiscriminately.
I invited over friends this past Saturday night, guinea pigs for a dinner party’s worth of summery recipes I was testing for my friend Erin‘s forthcoming book. I now have leftover pineapple and watermelon in my refrigerator, which isn’t exactly holiday-season fare, but the festivity was right on point. I had one of my characteristic breakdowns a couple of hours before dinnertime, when the spring rolls weren’t looking quite as beautiful as I’d hoped and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish everything and/or shower and/or set the table before everyone arrived. (This, I should say, has nothing to do with Erin’s very helpful instructions or stunning-but-simple recipes, and everything to do with my penchant for anxiety.) But when my kitchen was full of friends, laughing and sipping Casa Coste Piane Prosecco (i.e., the best prosecco), I remembered that everything always turns out just fine, and this is the point, after all: connection, celebration, laughter, full bellies at the end of the night. We drank a lot of gamay and ate our fill and had a grand time. (And I can tell you, Erin’s book will be a stunner! Mark your calendars for fall 2016.)
It was my dear pal Celia’s birthday a couple of days later, and her husband threw an amazing party, the sort where she was surprised multiple times over, every time another friend walked through the door. Joe made loads of his famed pizza, and we drank great wine, and I felt so grateful. I met Celia rather unexpectedly, when Ben and I checked out an apartment in Oakland in the complex that she and Joe and their adorable kid lived in at the time. If they hadn’t been moving out of their space, I imagine we might have chosen that apartment just to have them as neighbors, lovely as they seemed right off the bat. But we picked another spot and went back to Michigan, our home for a few weeks more, where I realized that I had been reading Celia’s blog for months. So I sent her an email. And now here we are three years later, fast friends, and I don’t know how I got so lucky but I couldn’t be more glad.
And all of this is what this season is about, is it not? Festivity and loved ones that sweep in to remind you that it doesn’t actually matter if you didn’t have time to wash the floor, or, for that matter, if you’ve accomplished what you thought you would by this stage in the game. Because it turns out that life is good anyway, and by some grand serendipity and grace, you’ve found your tribe, and there’s wine to boot. Maybe even brownies if you’re really lucky.
For that, I am here. Or rather, Tartine Bakery is here. For Ben’s birthday earlier this month, he requested brownies with ice cream. I went on the hunt for a recipe that seemed sufficiently special for the occasion and landed on these, from Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson’s first cookbook. The brownies as purchased from the bakery are pretty incredible, and I knew I’d be thrilled if these were only a shadow of those beauties. Happily for all of us and our bellies, the home version stands right up to the bakery classic. Fudgy, decadent and the easiest Tartine treat I’ve yet to replicate in my kitchen. They are perfect for kicking off the holiday season, celebrating whatever goodness you’ve got going on, birthdays and plain old weeknights. I am only slightly embarrassed that we polished off the entire pan in just over a week, with very little help, but I am telling you anyway, as a testament to their goodness.
Ever so slightly adapted from Elizabeth Prueitt & Chad Robertson’s Tartine
Makes one 9-by-13-inch pan of brownies, to serve 12 – 18
3/4 cup (6 oz / 170 g) unsalted butter, plus additional for the pan
1 pound (455 g) coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (or chips, of course)
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (4.5 oz / 130 g) all-purpose flour
5 large eggs
2 cups (14 oz / 395 g) light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, such as Maldon (for topping, optional)
2 cups (10 oz / 285 g) walnut or pecan halves (for topping, optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish.
In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until it melts. If you have trouble melting the chocolate, put the pan back over the heat for 10 seconds and stir until melted. Set aside to cool.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until the mixture thickens and becomes pale in color, about 4 to 5 minutes. (Alternately, use a mixing bowl, whisk and a very strong arm.)
Using a rubber spatula, fold the cooled chocolate into the egg mixture. Then, add the flour. Fold it in quickly but gently with the spatula so that you don’t deflate the air that has been incorporated into the eggs.
Pour the batter into the prepared dish and smooth the top with an offset spatula. In you are using the flaky salt and/or nuts, evenly distribute them across the batter.
Bake until the top looks slightly cracked and feels soft to the touch, about 25 minutes. (A cake tester won’t help you here, as it will come out wet even if the brownies are done.) Let cool completely on a wire rack.
Using a sharp knife, cut the brownies into squares. They will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 1 week, if you can make them last that long.