KIDS AT HEART
For an American, nothing means home and childhood quite like brownies or chocolate chip cookies. And when so far away and nostalgia hits, what do we crave except brownies or chocolate chip cookies?
We may have grown up eating brownies that came from boxed mix and our chocolate chip cookies may well have come from a package with a weird little elf on the front or sounding a bit too much like a strange sailor, but we loved them all the same. Handfuls of cookies all to dunk in a tall glass of icy cold milk or smuggling brownies into our bedroom to eat hidden under the covers or in the jerrybuilt tent clothespinned to the hedges lining the backyard, it all stuck with us throughout the years as the ultimate childhood feast, topping the list of all-time favorite comfort foods.
Away at college, the cookies came under cellophane, as big as our heads, bought at the all-night corner shop on the edge of campus with money that should have bought food a bit more substantial, the brownies the size of 3 x 5 cards chockfull of nuts and chocolate chips that we knew were heading south straight to our hips, yet both were as necessary to our education as all the textbooks and classroom time combined. All-nighters spent giggling at the latest gossip, sitting up in our jammies stuffing one cookie after another into our mouths, pretending to study or crying over bad dates and lousy guys.
Finally learning how to make our own, reading the recipe off the back of the chip package, measuring, sifting, stirring, dipping fingers into the raw, uncooked dough which we then popped in our mouth, learning to bake the chocolate chip cookies and brownies from scratch to bring to parties, offer as gifts, arrange on trays for a Christmas party or package up pretty for Valentine’s Day. And we were so proud of those perfect, chewy, gooey treats. Oh, we may have made elegant, rich, dark truffles rolled in cocoa and carefully placed in tiny golden paper cups, eliciting oohs and ahhs from admiring guests, or wonderful apple and pumpkin pies carried into countless dining rooms and placed on Thanksgiving buffet tables, or any number of desserts much more impressive than simple, homey chocolate chip cookies and brownies, but isn’t simple and homey just what we need more often than not?
And now we are all grown up with kids of our own, all gangly arms and legs, who run into the house, slamming doors, sending pets skittering every which way, and clamoring for something sweet to eat. Or teens, skulking into the kitchen and dropping dead weight into a chair at the end of the table, never looking you straight in the eye and whining “what’s there to eat? There’s never anything good to eat in this house” and then tentatively asking in that round-about way they have of asking without quite asking “can you make some chocolate chip cookies? Or brownies?” Ah, they will never admit it, but they are still kids at heart. As we are.
As an expat, it thrills me to know end when my kids request something all-American and I know that somehow I have instilled my own love of those things of my childhood: sitting around a table playing board games or doing a puzzle “en famille”, pizza nights in front of an old black & white movie or something scary, eating hamburgers with their hands and not a knife and fork, and preferring a good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie or a chewy, chocolaty brownie over an éclair or a palmier come snack time.
Here are the basic recipes; everyone knows them. The cookie recipe is a classic and the brownie recipe is for what my son refers to as “you know! “Normal” brownies! What you think of when you think of brownies!” Easy enough for even the kids to learn how to make.
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
2 sticks (1 cup, 225 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
¾ cup (150 g) granulated white sugar
¾ cup (165 g) brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsps vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsps salt
2 ¼ (280 g) cups flour
1 – 2 cups mini chocolate chips as you like
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts as you like (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with the 2 sugars together until blended, light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended, and then the vanilla.
Blend together the flour with the baking soda and salt. Gradually beat into the butter mixture, stirring by hand at the end if it gets to stiff to finish with electric beaters.
Stir or beat in the chips and chopped nuts.
Chill if desired.
Drop by spoonfuls, as large or as small as desired, onto cookie sheets, leaving space in between for spreading.
Bake for 9 – 11 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies, until golden brown around the edges and barely set in the center.
Remove from the oven and carefully transfer to cooling racks with a spatula. If they are too soft to move, allow to cool slightly on the hot cookie sheets (they will continue to cook for a bit).
“NORMAL” FUDGY BROWNIES
½ cup (1 stick, 115 g) unsalted butter
3 oz (90 g) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Lindt dessert 85%)
1 cup (200 g) sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 (85 g) cups flour
¼ tsp baking soda
½ - 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9-inch square pan.
In the microwave or in a bowl over simmering water, melt the chocolate and the butter. Remove from the heat and allow to cool as you continue stirring until all the chocolate is completely melted.
Stir the sugar into the melted chocolate/butter. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.
Stir the baking soda into the flour and then stir it all into the chocolate mixture until just combined.
Stir in the coarsely chopped nuts.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 – 30 minutes for the smaller pan, 20 - 25 minutes for the larger until just set in the center. Remove from the oven onto a cooling rack and allow to cool.
These brownies were amazingly chocolaty for a brownie that was actually much lighter than what I usually make. They are gooier than brownies made with cocoa powder. And they seemed to get denser and better the second day.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD TREATS? WHAT REMINDS YOU OF HOME?