I've been thinking a lot lately about everything that goes into saying yes. Take this notion in the simple terms of saying yes to making brownies. From the moment I saw these in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home over a year ago, I was sold. I had said yes, which is an accomplishment itself—think of all the recipes you see but for some reason or another, don't feel compelled to make. But saying yes to brownies means also saying yes to the grocery store; the grocery store parking lot; re-securing a parking spot on your street, which is having its sidewalks repaved so there are tow-away signs up and down the entire block complete with convoluted, handwritten fine-print as to exactly when parking is permitted and when they're going to tow your ass; the heaving of your two overloaded canvas bags (You remembered them! Yay!) from the car through the little courtyard area of your apartment building where the 14-year-old, almost deaf neighborhood cat likes to inconspicuously hang out (Watch your step!), and finally, up the stairs to your little apartment. Great! Ingredients, check. Only it’s your day off and the afternoon slips away as you waste too much time going down unplanned, weird Internet search alleys so that it's almost 11 by the time you get started on your non-work-related writing, and then it's lunchtime, and then you have to go back to work because of the aforementioned time you wasted on the Internet, and then it's 4:30, and you really should think about dinner before you start thinking about brownies, and besides, there is still enough cookies and cream ice cream in the freezer to provide dessert for tonight. And so, it's not like you have said no to the recipe, but the recipe doesn't get made... and you basically have.

And I truly don't want to sound like I'm complaining—I live for this stuff—but it just really makes you think about all that goes into saying yes when sometimes it's just so much easier to say no. Yes equals work. No equals nothing. 

Ad Hoc's version:

our version:
Brownies can be a tricky thing to find time to make when you live within walking distance of Sweet Lady Jane and Urth Caffe, the former of which offers squares of sea salt brownies for a dollar a piece. I guess it would fall under: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for a dollar? Maybe. At some point though, around a month ago, Matt came across the recipe I’d printed out and taken with me to the grocery store. “Oh! Are you going to make these?”

A week later, this question became: “Hey, weren’t you going to make those brownies?” And then: “Whatever happened to those brownies you were going to make?” And so, with Matt’s newfound involvement and general enthusiasm for some homemade Thomas Keller-esque brownies, a year later and a month after gathering the ingredients, I finally finished what I'd started.

But during this latency period, I must have forgotten that Mr. Keller’s brownies require three sticks of butter. Anyone who is into spontaneous acts of baking—which is basically what this endeavor had become—knows that most recipes call for two sticks of butter. I honestly cannot think of a recipe that calls for more unless it’s for an unusually large serving size or unless you are doubling or quadrupling (Anything less is waste time.) the recipe.

I had two and a half sticks of butter and everything else the recipe called for on hand. But more than that, I was at that point where I felt no other option but to cross these brownies off my to-do list. After all, I had already said yes to them, grocery-shopped, procrastinated for weeks, and had another person involved, another person who was not only living testament to my procrastination, but was also excitedly awaiting the results. And so, I made due. I winged it a bit. I haphazardly cut each ingredient’s measurement by what I non-mathematically felt was equivalent to the missing half stick. (See the recipe below for details on what this meant.)
What I failed to haphazardly cut was the baking time. The brownies were a little overcooked. But even so, they were really, really good. I can hardly imagine them being any better. With thoughts on the Sweet Lady Jane sea salt versions, we sprinkled some Himalayan salt on top before baking. Matt really loved this added saltiness, though I thought it didn’t really work the way it does with the SLJ version—their salt chunks are chunkier so the salt comes in subtle and lovely bursts. Of course, it didn’t stop me from eating brownies for dessert three nights in a row. Oh, and all of this Ad Hoc/Thomas Keller talk reminds me: Matt and I are headed up to Sonoma for a wedding next month. Maybe we can stop by the real Ad Hoc and see just how far we were off? C’mon, Matt—what do you say?!
And so, we’ve come full circle: How can I take what I’ve learned and turn it into getting Matt to say yes to this side trip to Yountville, which Google Maps says is just an hour from the Sonoma airport we’re flying into? Hmm…

Brownies via NPR via Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used 2/3 cup.)
1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder (I used 3/4 cup.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I used 3/4 teaspoon.)
3/4 pound (or 3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces (I used 2 1/2 sticks.)
3 large eggs (I used 3 too.)
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar (I used 1 1/2 cups.)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract (I used scant 1/2 teaspoon.)
6 ounces 61- to 64- percent chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces (about 1 1/2 cups) (I used 1 1/4 cups.)
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. We use a 9-inch square silicone mold, because it keeps the edges from overcooking; if you use a metal or glass baking pan, butter and our it. Set aside. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside.

Melt half the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Put the remaining butter in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir to melt the butter. The butter should look creamy, with small bits of unmelted butter, and be at room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer tted with the paddle, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then add one-third of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining our and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester or wooden skewer poked into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs sticking to it. If the pick comes out wet, test a second time, because you may have hit a piece of chocolate chip; then bake for a few minutes longer if necessary. Cool in the pan until the brownie is just a bit warmer than room temperature. Run a knife around the edges if not using a silicone mold, and invert the brownie onto a cutting board. Cut into 12 rectangles. Dust the tops with powdered sugar just before serving. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)


Matthew said...

I loved these, though there's something special about those sweet lady jane salt brownies. xoxo

dulci said...

omg you HAVE to go to Yountville (Matt are you reading this??) I stayed in Yountville on a trip to Sonoma/Napa and it was such a great place. Obvi because of French Laundry, but there are lots of other great restaurants there too. My favorite was Bistro Jeanty - a tiny little French spot with Bread Pudding that haunts my dreams nightly.

Doooo it!


Jessica said...

Yours look AMAZING. I sincerely hope they don't "tow your ass". Also, have not made it to Yountville, but I'm planning a weekend trip as part of a San Fran vacation this summer! Hope you get there next month! If so, you better post pics!
- Jess

miriamdema said...

it would be a beautiful drive from sonoma to yountville. i also second the eating at bistro jeanty. super yummy. buy your bake goods to go at bouchon and enjoy them over the next few days....but totally eat at bistro jeanty.

kevin said...

I third the opinion! Go to Yountville!!

Mary Anne said...

yum! i can't wait for your sonoma trip! (so i can see the pictures...)

Amelia Morris said...

@dulci Matt says he really wants to go to Yountville but isn't sure this trip "is the right time." which is a big fat NO in my opinion. Can't really complain though. I mean: Sonoma!!!

Heather Taylor said...

guess what? i ate them and loved them. well done!

Robin said...

Spontaneous acts of baking are the best perk of adulthood so far. But I am really writing to say that I went to Ad Hoc for the first time last month and recommend it highly--it is really fun!

Anonymous said...

this is the forth time i've heard about sweet lady jane salty brownies... gotta try them. yours look great btw.

Sunday Taylor said...

I have this cookbook, and would love to make these brownies. They look amazing! You will love Sonoma, the little town is so charming, lots of cute shops and good restaurants, and many great wines to choose from wherever you are.

Marsha and Mark said...

This post is torture during Passover!!!

Anonymous said...

this is probably not the best thing to read at 10 am when you're hungry.

those look like the bomb diggity.

Natalie (NJ in L.A.) said...

Wow, these look especially delicious! I hope one day that I may taste one of your creations. Maybe a future food swap?

Amrita said...

This is going on my ever-growing to-make list. The list looms scary and long...but I'll let you know as soon as I make these. You're going on my reader!