Monday, 13 January 2014

brownies for sk and the best of friendship

alice medrich's best cocoa brownies
sk, do you remember your bedroom in the f-7 house, the one with the lilac walls? you always emphasised that it was lilac and not purple. we spent long summer afternoons there when the sun blazed relentlessly. my dadi used to say one should stay indoors in the summer because the lu (hot air) could give one heatstroke. i remember that the concrete on the front porch would get so hot that when water was thrown on it, the heat would rise from the ground and the water would evaporate almost instantly. your air-conditioned bedroom was a sanctuary of cool.

that was the summer we were preoccupied with the highbrow question of ‘life’ and so we spent hours talking about the meaning of it. we read poetry and literature and dispensed our thoughts to those who would listen. we also took to writing ourselves. 

june 1998 was your last summer in pakistan before moving to the us. it was sweltering but that did not prevent us from watching ‘something about mary’ in secret at your aunt’s house. the room had no air-conditioner and was not used in summer which is precisely why we chose it. the fan blew hot air in a vortex. we drank chilled seven-up and ate melted american mars bars, laughing and giggling our way through the film.

when you moved, the passage of our friendship was marked by written letters, postcards and a proliferation of chat messengers and programmes like icq, msn and mirc. the summer holidays would bring you back to islamabad, giving us ample time to catch up. i spent one summer with you in dc exploring the smithsonian museums and making endless wishes at the sight of fedex vans touching the colour purple (the purple promise) and by facing backwards and throwing pennies into fountains. 

last year we both realised that we have been friends for almost two decades. honestly it really does not feel that long. in fact it feels like yesterday. i can remember our eleven year old selves vividly. you tall with long hair with loose curls at the bottom and me plump with an unruly ponytail. we were the generation for whom the land-line was akin to a modern day mobile. we would get home from school, racing through lunch so that we could call each other. it was important to discuss the day’s happenings especially since we were in different schools through our 'o' levels. now we rely on whatsapp to keep up with the minutiae of our daily (married) lives. 

the best of baking is licking the batter
this christmas when i was ‘spring cleaning’ i found a picture of you in my old f-7 house kitchen dutifully licking a bowl of brownie batter. it reminded me of the many times we made brownies and chocolate chip cookies, always searching for a recipe that was fudgy, chewy and crisp at the edges. our efforts were uneven mostly because of the capriciousness of my gas oven that refused to heat evenly. but added to this was getting good quality chocolate. every month (much to mama’s consternation) i would put away some of my pocket money to buy a bag of hershey’s chocolate chips for cookies and cadbury’s cocoa for baking. over the years of baking, i have discovered that brownies made with cocoa can be variable. hence sometimes the brownies would be cake-like and at others they would be just shy of perfect. whatever the result we always ate them warm from the oven with mugs of nescafé coffee.

as i was writing this, i decided to find a brownie recipe made with cocoa in memory of those baking sessions. it had to have the type of personality we love. in other words a brownie that is fudge-like with a dense crumb and a deep chocolate flavour. i admit that these are a little more sophisticated than the kind we ate in our teens – the chocolate is darker and more satisfying, there is a generous pinch of fleur de sel to emphasise sweetness and the zest of two clementine’s because it is a classic pairing. more importantly these brownies have a very even temperament. i have made several batches and they have all turned out perfect. 

before we get to baking, i just wanted to say that although we may have upgraded our brownies and coffee, our friendship is still very much the same, if only better. in our third decade, i hope we see more of each other in person. 

{best cocoa brownies} 
alice medrich by way of smitten kitchen

one hundred and forty grams unsalted butter 
two hundred and fifty grams golden caster sugar 
sixty-five grams cocoa powder (i use callebaut) 
a quarter teaspoon fleur de sel 
half a teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
two large eggs, cold 
sixty-five grams plain flour 
the zest of two clementine’s or any other oranges (optional) 
seventy-five grams toasted hazelnuts (optional) 

line a twenty by twenty cm square tin with baking paper making sure to leave an overhang on two sides. this will make it easier to lift the brownies from the tin. preheat the oven to one hundred and sixty-five celsius. 

you will need to melt the first four ingredients in a double boiler so place them in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl on pan with barely simmering water. stir the contents of the bowl from time to time until the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth. it should be hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. 

now remove the bowl and set aside. the mixture should cool very slightly until warm, not hot. do not worry is the mixture begins to look gritty as it will come together once you add the eggs and flour. add the vanilla and stir it with a wooden spoon. then add an egg at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition. the batter should look thick and shiny and the eggs should be well incorporated. add the flour and stir until incorporated and the batter is a uniform colour. 

now beat the batter well for forty strokes (i actually counted and this process is fairly quick) using a wooden spoon. stir in the zest and/or nuts if using. spread evenly in the pan and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes. i would check for doneness at the twenty minutes mark by inserting a skewer in the middle. if it comes out slightly moist with batter the brownies are done. if not bake for a further five minutes. 

lift the brownies using the baking paper and allow them to cool fully on a rack before cutting into square. i find that wetting the blade of the knife with hot water makes it easier to cut even squares.


  1. Delicious ode to friendship. And the Alice Medrich cocoa brownies are the best!

    1. thank you! i can't believe it has been so long. and yes, i agree these medrich brownies are quite something. are you a fan too? the orange zest makes such a fantastic addition.

  2. M, this is such a beautiful tribute to your friend - and how better to do it than with choccies? Here's to old friendships, but new ones, too! ;) xo

    1. s, you must try these brownies. they are good in the way where boxed brownies intersect with reality. this tribute has been a while in coming. old friendships are something special! and as you say here's the new ones that have similar qualities. xx