Last week, I got my hair cut for the first time since August. A haircut should be a fun, pampering activity, but I always treat it like an unfortunate task, akin to a pedicure (another necessary evil I’ve heard some people also enjoy). I always feel like I’m losing something, watching my discarded curls fall to the ground and get swept away. Those are curls I’ve spent years growing! Curls that remind me of college, or high school, or childhood.
After the haircut, I want to be soothed, even though I’m happy to feel lighter curls bouncing around my neck.
That’s where these decadent, nostalgic brownies come in. They remind me of college, or childhood, but in a good way.
I can’t remember if we first made a variation of these when I was a kid, or if it was when I helped cook for the Adams House teas as an undergrad. We made them with mint extract and green dye added to the buttercream, which is probably the version you’ve seen before…if you’ve seen these before.
For these decadent, three-part brownies, you make a square pan of my favorite dense brownies and let them cool. Then you spread vanilla buttercream and let that cool too. Last, you drip melted chocolate glaze over the buttercream, let that cool. Finally, you cut into the glazed brownies to reveal the layers.
(All that cooling is what once got me in trouble with the squirrels. We had baked the brownie layer but didn’t have room in the fridge for it to cool. We decided to let the wintry Boston air do the cooling for us, so we put the brownies out on the deck. When we went to retrieve them, two squirrels had beat us to the feast. I’ll leave it to you to guess whether we served the remnants to unsuspecting students anyway.)
In other words, make sure you have some extra refrigerator space. And someone special to share in the sweet nostalgia.
From my kitchen, albeit small, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
For the Brownie Layer
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Buttercream
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch of salt
For the Chocolate Glaze
3/4 cup chopped chocolate
2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon water
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter an 8-inch-square baking pan. Line the bottom with a rectangle parchment the covers the bottom and runs up two sides, and butter that too. Clear a space in the freezer for the pan, and line the space with a dish towel.
Melt the chocolate with the butter in a saucepan over low heat (this can also be done in the microwave). Remove from the heat and stir in the sugars. Stir in the eggs, vanilla, and optional espresso, and mix until smooth. Add the flour, salt, and nuts/chips/candy and stir until smooth. Pour into the pan.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is crackly but the brownies are still quite moist. Cool slightly, then put the whole pan in the freezer until thoroughly cool, or leave overnight.
To make the buttercream, combine the egg and sugar in a heatproof bowl–-metal works great-–and set it over a pot of simmering water. Whisk constantly but not too hard, until the egg-sugar mixture is warm (a drop on the inside of your wrist should feel hot but not burning). Be careful not to curdle it. If you’re using a thermometer, you want it to read 160°F.
Remove from the heat and beat on high speed using a handheld or electric mixer (I wouldn’t recommend doing this by hand). After about 5 minutes, it should have increased in volume and be light, airy, and cool. Turn the mixer to medium and add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing until incorporated. At points, the icing may look curdled. When all the butter is in, the texture will become creamy. Add the pinch of salt.
(You can store the finished buttercream up to 5 days in the fridge, but let the icing come to room temperature before using–you may have to re-whip to get the texture back.)
Scoop the buttercream on top of the brownies. Use an offset spatula or butter knife to get the top as smooth as possible so that the chocolate glaze goes on smooth. Refrigerate the brownies for about an hour.
Make the chocolate glaze by melting the chocolate with the butter and water in the microwave in 20 second bursts. Stir the chocolate every so often to smooth is.
Pour the chocolate onto the buttercream-topped brownies and use an offset spatula to smooth it, touching it as little as possible. Return the brownies to the fridge and cool until the chocolate is set, about 1 hour.
Pry the brownies from the pan using the parchment paper overhang. Place on a cutting board and let thaw about 10 minutes. Using a chef’s knife, cut the brownies into 16 squares. If the chocolate coating chips and breaks as you cut, then it’s still too cold. Leave the brownies for about 5 minutes, then try again.