October 1st, 2010

Swirling Brownies Forever

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Of all the recipes I have posted, of all the recipes I have ever cooked, these brownies—marvels of rich marbled chocolate—are what I have made the most. Thousands of batches!!

Because of so many Auspicious Numbers—this marking the 100th Good Food Matters BlogPost, and 30 Years of Brownie Baking, all on the heels of 10-10-10 my daughter’s wedding—I wanted to share with you the recipe and the story.

It all started in an old warehouse in downtown Nashville.

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It was called Goodies: the brainchild of Barbara Kurland, who rented the three story brick Victorian warehouse in 1976 as an emporium for little eateries and retail shops, along with art galleries, and studios for artists and craftsmen.

Rent was Cheap.

More than true urban pioneering–our riverfront district was not to be “developed” for another decade or so—Goodies was a place for underdogs and their dreams. For $30 or $50 or $100 a month rent, you could try your hand at whatever business you’d fancy.

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Over its seven-year life, Goodies served as stage for more than 125 assorted ventures. Some were long standing–a stained glass shop, a photography studio, a museum card store, a saucy hot dog stand. Others, such as the painted pebble sculptor, the iris reader, the holograph artist, made their appearances and vanished, odd blips on the downtown screen.

When my daughter turned one year old, I was offered to take over a little food kiosk inside Goodies. Barbara’s daughter Amy had been running it, selling little quiches, chess tarts, and walnut brownies. She had decided to go the Culinary Institute. My sister and I decided to go for it.

Simply called “The Bakery,” the Kurlands had outfitted that warehouse kitchen sparely but to health codes specs. When my sister and I took over, we inherited two used refrigerators with defunct defrosters, a hand sink, a triple sink, a single hot plate and a relic of the sixties: an avocado green residential electric double oven that distinguished itself with its minimalist heating properties. The upper oven only operated at 400 degrees and the lower either on warm or broil.

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No matter. You’d be surprised at what good things you can make with limited and/or funky equipment. We expanded the menu with sandwiches, salads, cakes-of-the-day, and tweaked the brownie recipe to make these swirly cream cheese delights.

Back then, I used a 4 qt. glass bowl–“Duralex” made in France, tempered to withstand high temperatures–for melting the chocolate in that minimalist oven. Countless searing rounds had fused bits of chocolate and sugar to the inner diameter of the bowl, distinguishing it with the look of a spinning comet’s tail.

Today, a microwave will do the same work, without the same cosmic results.

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That funky kitchen and kiosk formed the foundation for a successful run in the catering business. And, the cream cheese brownies became one of the favorite treats–turning up in thousands of box lunches and on thousands of dessert trays. There are few ingredients and the basic recipe can be embellished with any variety of nuts. It can be mixed by hand for one batch, or multiplied by 8 (as we did years later when the business had grown and we had a 20 qt. Hobart mixer. )

The creativity comes in the swirling.

Globs of almondy cream cheese are spooned into warm batter, and with a chopstick or stem of beater, you can marbelize that creamy goodness throughout the chocolate. Tonya, who baked untold batches for us in the catering kitchen, always said she felt like she was writing a poem when she swirled. Or drawing a picture.

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This morning, I was writing a couple of cream cheese brownie poems.

I have been busy making and freezing swirly slabs in preparation for the wedding reception. They will be cut up into nice bites, served with some petite chocolate cupcakes, alongside a grand tiered Wedding Cake. The wedding day is fast approaching–Sunday October 10th—10/10/10 !!

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And so, dear friends, this 100th post will have to hold us for a few days–I invite you to make these brownies and swirl away. Craft your poem, paint your chocolate portrait. Have a warm brownie and cup of coffee. We shall visit again soon. I’ll post again, after the Big 10-10-10 doings! x Nancy

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NANCY’S BEST MARBLED CREAM CHEESE BROWNIES

The Brownie
4 oz. (squares) Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) Butter
2 c. Sugar
4 Eggs (at room temperature)
1 c. All Purpose Flour
2 t. Vanilla
pinch Salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, convection oven (350 degrees conventional). Coat 9×13 baking pan with butter or pan spray.

In a heatproof (pyrex) bowl, melt chocolate, butter, and sugar together. Stir until you are certain that sugar is dissolved and no lumps of chocolate remain. Beat in eggs, One At A Time. Add vanilla and salt. Beat in flour. Do not overbeat. Pour batter into coated baking pan and add The Swirl.

Bake in the center of the oven for 25 minutes.
Makes 1 dozen big brownies.

Swirling Material
1/2 lb. Cream Cheese
1/4 c. Sugar
2 t. Almond Extract
1 t. Vanilla

Beat cream cheese well with sugar and extracts. Taste for sweetness, and intensity of almond, and adjust.

Using a tablespoon, gently but generously dollop several blobs of cream cheese mixture in spaced spots allover the top of the brownie batter. Take a “swirling tool” (like a chopstick, or the end of an electric beater) and begin rhythmically swirling and drawing the material through the batter, making your marbleized pattern.

Beware of overswirling your design will disappear and you could lose the separation of the chocolate and the almond cream cheese.

After Baking: Maldon Finishing Salt
This is optional, but I found that a mere scatter of this chippy salt over the top (added after the brownies come out of the oven) brought another compelling flavor dimension to brownie.

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The One Hundredth Post!!

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 27 Comments »