A cool day, a day that’s full of pale sunlight after a night of spitting rain. March has slipped in not quite lion-like but certainly not lamb-like either. I typically bemoan the rain because I am a sun-baby, but it’s comforting and quiet and honestly California needs it; I will admit I even hoped for rain when it was forecast on Wednesday – a real proper storm (unfortunately it never happened here in San Francisco). When we were in Yosemite a few weeks ago the valley was surprisingly bare of snow, such a difference from two years back, and we had to go up to Badger Pass to actually see a decent amount of it. The ranger we talked to said March is the month, and so I hope it is. Rain and snow as ye may, California. I will bundle up and wait for the sun to come back when it chooses.
Cookbookery continues apace, with the past few weeks involving rather less cake and cookie-baking and more flan and baked fruit and chocolate cream pie recipe testing. This is perhaps my favorite section – not that the others weren’t fun and satisfying to make, but as I have mentioned ever so many times: I am not a huge sweets person (ironic, yes, because I bake so much), except for a piece of rich chocolate cake or a good brownie now and then. So moving on to a plum ‘gratin’ of sorts that calls for only a drizzle of maple syrup and honey and no dairy or other fats is a bit of a relief. Same goes for the roasted nectarines, although those are stuffed with crushed amaretti cookies infused with a tiny amount of butter and yes, those did go down quite easily …
I have been neglecting this wee blog lately, mostly because of the aforementioned cookbook project as well as a few deadlines for both fun and also mundane things (moving abroad, it seems, requires a host of clearances and job applications and all of that fun (?) stuff) that suck away the hours. And I guess I needed a small break; I felt like I wasn’t really cooking too many interesting dishes, and what, then, would I really write about? But it’s funny when you tell yourself to stop doing something: you miss it. And you start cataloguing all the really marvelous things you’d like to share – a wild rice and mushroom soup, for starters, and healthy-ish sweet potato cupcakes and mom’s birthday cake and poppyseed bread and also whole wheat brownies.
All of this flourless baking has taught me a lot — a lot — about the intricacies of baking itself and also just the general conundrum that is eliminating something so ordinary, so seemingly vital, as gluten. My brain has stretched in ways my previous job would never have allowed it to, and I’m constantly thinking of new ways to incorporate oat flour into waffles (seriously) without having them turn into a gloppy mess. But! I’ll also confess that it is very, very nice to occasionally pull out the plain old all-purpose flour for a chocolate cake recipe I could put together almost in my sleep – it’s restful, actually. And so it was with the brownies I made earlier this week.
I felt a little bit guilty for making ordinary brownies because shouldn’t I be spending all of my kitchen time, save for dinner-making, on flourless treats? Perhaps. Soon enough I will be done with recipe-testing, however, and I still will want to bake. Enter my standard brownies that I adapted to make with whole wheat flour (plus a few other changes). On the rare occasion I do bake with regular flour, I’ve been slipping in either a 1-1 substitute with whole wheat flour or at least as much as the recipe can hold without changing its texture too much. This brownie recipe, which calls for just 3/4 cup flour, was a perfect example of how easy it is to add a bit more nutrition to what is admittedly a pretty unhealthy sweet.
Still, we all need to indulge now and again. I ate about four brownies over a few days and then sent the rest to my husband’s office (I do have a very weird sweet tooth – I’m satisfied after a few helpings and then lose interest. I suppose this is a good thing for my dental, not to mention overall, health, but it is slightly strange). After I post this I’m going to attempt a batch of flourless banana-peanut butter-maple muffins which are more my speed: rather less of sugar and more of protein.
Meanwhile … spring is on the horizon. I can feel it by the pricking of my thumbs (but not wicked: nice instead). Despite the lack of lots of rain the fields out of town somehow still are green and the mustard grass has sprung up among the beginnings of the wildflowers. I’m thinking about nettles, and what to cook with them, and am eagerly anticipating asparagus and strawberries. Soon, soon.
Whole Wheat Brownies
It’s a good idea to cut these brownies small because they are very rich and also it’s hard to eat just one at a time. The whole wheat flour is totally unnoticeable, which will make you feel extra virtuous as you’re wiping away the crumbs.
Makes about 16 smallish brownies
5 oz semisweet/bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup finely ground whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan and line with parchment paper.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a pot on medium heat (or in a bowl set over simmering water), stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl; add the sugar, eggs, salt, flour, and vanilla. Whisk well to combine. Spread in the pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until dry on top and almost firm to the touch.
Remove from oven and cool in pan for about 15 minutes before cutting into 2-inch squares.