There’s a story behind my most recent batch of this recipe: a seven-pound, one-ounce story, to be exact. It all began on the very first day of law school, when I scanned a room full of strangers and noticed a girl with a dark head of the finest shorn hair I’d ever seen in real life. I could tell, just from that cut, that she was my kind of girl. And not long after we were introduced and began blathering on (much in the same way we do today, I imagine), I knew we’d be friends. My greatest fear in going to law school was that I’d never meet anyone like me, that I’d be forever surrounded by the kind of people whose faces you see on giant billboards, above a phone number reading 1-800-LAWSUIT and a catchy slogan like “WE LIVE TO SUE”. And that’s why finding J (and, later, our most fearless legal leader, K) was so important to me: I just didn’t think it was possible, not in law school, not anywhere. We make all our life-long friends in high school and college, right? With people our own age? Not me. I met my best friend, my sister from another mother, at the ripe old age of 21. She was 30. She didn’t even flinch when I spent days stressing about just about anything there was to stress about (in fact, she was happy to stress along with me). She watched just as much Oprah and reality TV as I did. She sat on her couch critiquing dresses before the Oscars. She’d spent her formative years as an actress, so far removed from the world of law, recording albums and writing plays. She shared my fierce love of avocado grilled cheese sandwiches. We were meant to be.
And then there were these brownies. I’d like to think we bonded over this recipe. I used to bring them into school around exam time, or when we were extra-stressed (I say extra because it’s in our nature to always be some level of stressed at any given point and it wouldn’t warrant brownies until it reached the increased threat level). J, K and I would grab fistfuls and take them into class. With one bite, all thoughts of torts and contracts and civil procedure melted away. I’ve always referred to them as my “Stolen from a Housemate Brownies”, because I found the recipe scrawled on the back of an old Advanced Oral French syllabus which was left by a former college housemate at the end of the school year (for the record, we didn’t get along, that housemate and I, but I always loved her brownies, and to this day they remain the richest, smoothest and most delightful brownies I have ever made). But, when I make them now, I don’t think of college at all. I think of J, and how becoming her friend was worth the price of my law school tuition.
So on the evening of January 13th (after a day spent feeling completely “fatutzed” (read: full of anxiety and anticipation) following a call from J in labor that morning), when I came home from work and collapsed in a pile of tears over an email reading simply, “Baby boy is perfect. Will call you tomorrow first thing for details. Love you”, it felt right to soothe my soul by making a batch of these brownies. J has had another “pooh” (read: baby), another perfect boy. Her first was born two weeks before I moved to London, and I will spend the rest of my life reminding him of how proud I am he decided to arrive early so that I could meet him. I’ve missed so much of his young life. And this time, I wasn’t even there during J’s pregnancy. Words can’t describe how much I missed talking about names, watching her run to the bathroom in the middle of class, baby showers, nine months of anticipation and – our old buddy – stress. If I hadn’t had made these brownies on baby boy’s birthday, I might have spent the night curled up in a ball, contemplating all I had missed, reflecting on the fact that his birth feels like a bookend, something calling me home and reminding me that, despite all my new adventures, friendships and experiences, I am so far from so many people I need and love. But, thanks to these brownies, my soul was soothed for the evening, baking in my kitchen in honour of the new arrival until it smelled just like my old NY apartment and its red couch on Oscar night. If ever you desire to melt your troubles away, call on this recipe. It’ll be like coming home.
This batch is for Ryan Henry. I wish you a sweet life, richer than the richest brownie.
Stolen From a Housemate Brownies
1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups sugar
7 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place a rack in the middle of the oven.
Take a 13×9 inch pan and turn upside down and cover with aluminum foil (shiny side down) to make a mold. Place foil mold inside pan. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, place on the foil and smear evenly over the bottom and sides of the pan.
In a 3 quart pot, melt the remaining butter over low heat (make sure there are no bubbles/it does not reach boiling point). Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Add eggs 2 at a time and mix after each addition until incorporated. Add vanilla.
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter mixture to the bowl and stir until combined.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs (not quite clean).
Cool on a wire rack and then place in the refrigerator overnight to firm. Remove from refrigerator and cut brownies into squares. Serve at room temperature.
Yield: 16 -32 brownies (depending on the amount of pure, rich chocolate you can handle!).