Some weeks feel like they stretch into months; others fly by in an instant. The long ones require a little more patience, a little more effort—I have to stop and notice my impatience or mood, and recalibrate. I think about how nice it is to have the luxury of time at home without too many meetings or travel or appointments. I think about things I reliably like (cold cream poured over warm homemade chocolate pudding, the smell of shallots cooking in olive oil, showering with Molton Brown’s bergamot and orange body wash, listening to Sam Cooke when I prep dinner, putting on just-from-the-dryer socks) and I practice shifting my mindset from “what’s coming next” to “where am I right now”.Read More
Wait, I know what you’re thinking. Po, you literally just posted a brownie recipe. And you swore it was perfect! And you also mentioned about 1,000 other brownie recipes you have! You are a woman obsessed. Okay, I might have gotten that wrong. I know it’s not all about me. Maybe you’re actually thinking gosh, I’d love a grilled cheese sandwich right now or truly I wish I could leave work and go get a margarita right now. Maybe you’re worrying about your daughter or trying to remember when your next dentist appointment is or wondering if it’s appropriate to read Harry Potter in public after the age of fourteen (the answer is yes).
Mind-reading isn’t one of my many skills (I kid, I kid), but I would imagine you are a little puzzled by all this talk of brownies. Even a serious chocolate lover might question the need for not one but two recipes in the span of a week.
I’ll start by saying that “need” might be a strong verb choice here. Rather, you would benefit greatly from making this recipe—and adding it to your list of easy, memorizable baking skills.
Here’s why: these are not just any brownies. They resemble a classic brownie—the same crackly sheen on the top, the same fudgy texture, the same deep chocolate flavor. But there’s more to them. Upon first bite, one friend turned to me with his mouth full and mumbled “these are so good” and then quickly followed up with “but what is the flavor in them…cherry?” I laughed and said no, and tried to get him to guess again. He couldn’t.
That’s because the secret ingredient here—almond paste—is so subtle. It doesn’t add enough nuttiness that you can identify what it is, but it makes the brownies more nuanced and flavorful. It also helps to maintain a very fudgy texture without making the brownies too soft.
Personally, I like to underbake my brownies slightly (what can I say, I live on the edge), and the almond paste helps to add some structure to them even when underbaked. They’ll firm up as they cool, and it goes without saying that they are very good frozen. (Sorry, are you tired of me talking about frozen brownies? Too bad. Can’t stop, won’t stop.)
I should mention that I am—ahem—a little bit addicted to almond paste. I add it to everything: apple pie, chocolate chip cookie dough, and waffles. I put it in biscotti and muffins. Evidently this has not gone unnoticed—when I posted a photo of last week’s perfect fudgy brownies, someone commented saying “but no brownie version with almond paste yet…” and I thought, “MAJOR OVERSIGHT”.
This isn’t solely a flavor thing: almond paste improves the texture of so many baked goods, too. It makes cookies a little chewier, waffles more tender, and cakes more moist.
Almond Paste Brownies
Makes one dozen large brownies
1/2 cup (113g, 1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cup (340g, 12 ounces) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips, divided
198g almond paste, cut into pieces
1 cup (198g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
1/2 cup (60g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (28g) cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9” x 13” pan with parchment (you can use a slightly smaller pan if you want thicker brownies; know that they’ll be even softer in that case).
In a double boiler or microwave, melt the butter with 1 cup of the chocolate chips, stirring until smooth. Set aside.
In a food processor, pulse the almond paste with the sugar and salt until the mixture is sandy. Don’t worry if there are some bigger chunks of almond paste—those are delicious.
Place the almond paste/sugar mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer and add the eggs, beating at medium-high speed until very pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Don’t skimp on this step! It gives the batter some volume.
Fold in the cooled chocolate/butter mixture.
Add the vanilla, espresso powder, flour, and cocoa powder and mix until just combined.
Stir in the remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips, and pour the batter into your prepared pan.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
Remove from the oven and let cool fully (if you can stand it!) before slicing and eating.
Let it be known that I don’t throw the word perfect around casually. In this digital era, everyone’s fighting for attention with headlines like “the best chocolate cake” and “10 life-changing chicken recipes” and plenty more that don’t deliver on the promise.
Not only does this come across as disingenuous, but it makes me trust those publications less. The fact is that there are many excellent recipes out there—it all depends on what you’re after. But if we’re narrowing the scope to something really specific and comparing a collection of very similar recipes—for say, flourless chocolate cake or blueberry muffins—then I think we can start tossing the word “best” around. “Best” means the one that yields the ideal version of said food: a blueberry muffin with a tender crumb, tons of juicy berries in every bite, and a slightly sugared crackly domed top.Read More
Cold weather has snuck back in, interrupting a string of very nice spring days. I took a run this morning in Central Park, forgoing gloves and a hat in the hopes that the air would feel soft and warm like yesterday, and my fingers were numb by the time I finished. I sprinted the two blocks back from the park’s entrance and stopped, breathing hard, outside my apartment. I let that (incredibly good) post-run tiredness wash over me, and fumbled to try and untie my front door key from my shoelaces where I store it on runs.Read More
My brownstone is nestled up right next to another one; our buildings share a stoop and set of steps down to the street. When it’s nice enough out, one of my neighbors likes to sit on the top step and read his newspaper. He’s like the mayor of our little block, always waving to passersby. He even sometimes brings his cordless telephone out and takes a call. (I’ve always wondered who he is talking to.)
Every single time I happen to come home when he’s sitting outside, he looks up as if completely surprised to see me, and without fail he says: “Nice day, isn’t it?”Read More