Ruth Reichl’s Artpark Brownies

February 01, 20136 Comments

Maybe it was the full moon. Or perhaps it was a balmy 70 degree day in January, a rare treat in and of itself, but especially sweet since it had been preceded by bitter, Arctic-like temps only days before. Or maybe, just maybe, I was sorely overdue for a colossal kitchen screw up. Because those have to happen from time to time to maintain appropriate balance in my kitchen microcosm. In any case, I became inspired to bake (mistake #1). It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted anything sinful and chocolately here. I then realized there isn’t a single recipe on this site for real brownies (mistake #2 – what’s taken me so long?!) – the kind made with squares of chocolate, butter, sugar, flour, eggs and precious little else. The kind with zucchini in them don’t count nor do they matter in January when zucchini is out of season.

I just finished reading Ruth Reichl’s deliciously funny memoir, Tender at the Bone. I’d read her later work, Comfort Me with Apples, years before and enjoyed her witty writing and clever storytelling immensely. However, I skimmed through the recipes as part of the story and never returned to actually try to make any of them (mistake #3? I’m starting to lose count). In Tender at the Bone, Ms. Reichl recounts childhood memories of her mother’s creative and slightly dangerous (read: spoiled ingredients) cooking. Most of Ms. Reichl’s cooking skills came from housekeepers and babysitters. Such is the case with her famous brownies, mentioned at several points in the book. And the recipe, printed right there on page 244 in black and white, looked very simple to me (yet another mistake! I’m not counting anymore), so I gathered the ingredients and made a batch.

Before I continue, let me say that I think it’s important to share recipes that didn’t turn out perfectly – whatever the reason may be – in the interest of transparency and so that perhaps you can learn from my foibles. Not every experiment in this kitchen has a happy ending. I know this recipe is well tested. I know this is a recipe that works. I also know that the very act of preheating the oven with a baking project in mind causes me to lose a few IQ points. This pan of brownies was no different from those that came before it, sadly – but the differences weren’t the fault of the recipe.

I’m sure these brownies are nothing short of amazing when executed properly. The key is to follow the directions as they are written. I can’t seem to do that when the instructions call for any of these steps 1) sifting flour, 2) “spoon and level” or 3) beat with an electric mixer.

Hence, it is with many disclaimers that I share the recipe for Ms. Reichl’s Artpark Brownies. She called for unsweetened chocolate. I used a Ghiradelli baking bar that had been sweetened. I didn’t pick up on this crucial detail until I slid my finger under the glue holding the wrapper onto the bar. And then there it was. Oops. She called for the flour to be sifted. I’m too lazy for that so I just dumped it in (not spooned, leveled haphazardly with my index finger). She also – perhaps most critically – called for the oven to be heated at 400 degrees F, then turned down to 350 degrees F for a baking time of 40 minutes. This final step, which I failed to follow out of oven-induced IQ depletion syndrome sheer forgetfulness, was the final nail in the sad brownie coffin. But then, I’m not one to dispose of a pan of brownies. Even ones ruined by sloppy bakers.

Were they tasty? Yes, when you cut away the tough burnt edges and ignored the dried out top layer. Within 24 hours, the pan held nothing but crumbs with a guilty-looking knife laying uselessly in the center. Were they fudgy? In the middle, far away from the edges, I’d say they were moist and fudge-like. Where they chocolately? Um, sort of. They’d have been better had I bought the right kind of chocolate. The deep, dark kind meant for this type of recipe.

I know you are a more reliable baker than I. I say that with confidence, knowing my 7-year-old boasts superior baking skills to mine. So do me a favor. Next time you have a hankering for ooey, gooey, chocolately brownies, make these (correctly and according to the instructions, as best you can). Then you can tell me how legendary they are indeed. You can wax poetic about how you’ve never tasted anything quite like them. And when global warming or the moon’s cycle hit me like a bolt of lightning, I’ll think back to your rave reviews and give them another try.

6 responses to “Ruth Reichl’s Artpark Brownies”

  1. ellen says:

    a very entertaining read before bed time. I can so relate to reading baking instructions. why do i not read the recipe in its entirety first? Instead, I do a cursory read and find myself blundering my way through key steps.

    • Alicia says:

      Thanks for commiserating with me, Ellen. The worst of it is that I DO read the whole recipe first. And then I proceed to screw it up step by step despite knowing what I’m supposed to be doing Ridiculous.

  2. Lynda says:

    Ha! I admit I am not a great instruction follower either – that’s why I prefer to write recipes for OTHER people to follow 🙂
    I have made the chocolate cake recipe from that book time and again. It’s a perfect crowd and kid pleaser.

  3. Amanda says:

    Two words: Dorie Greenspan. I know you are not a baker, but her baking book is amazing and covers both one-pan, hard, (but not impossible), to screw up brownies to elaborate, beautiful cakes.

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