Monday, July 19, 2010
When in doubt, bake.
“When in doubt, bake.” I spoke these words to my husband on Sunday afternoon, to explain the batch of brownies I had just put into the oven. They were already filling our downstairs with the smell of sweet cocoa, and I realized at that moment that I tend to bake whenever I need to feel grounded, or when I have a few spare hours and can't figure out what I feel like doing.
My sentimental mood was probably instigated by the Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie Marathon that I stumbled upon, and after three straight movies I was ready to get off the couch but retain my feeling of nostalgia. I found myself flipping through my recipe box, with one eye on the next movie, searching for something sweet.
I had no chocolate chips in the pantry, so “Johnny’s Brownies” were the perfect recipe that afternoon. In my Mom’s cursive writing, it was written on a yellowed index card and had a big red checkmark next to the title, which indicated that it had been tried successfully. Who knows what the original title of the recipe had been; over the years it became “Johnny’s Brownies” because my uncle liked them so much in 9th grade. At least that’s what it says in the corner of the card: “Favorite 9th Grade Recipes – Johnny.” In fact, all of my family’s recipes have notes like that, indicating the date the dish was made (my grandma’s recipes list dates from the ‘40s), what should be done differently next time (“Try it cooler – 400° is too hot!”), and often a note of the occasion for which the dish was made (“Shannon’s Graduation Open House,” “Sheila’s Bridal Shower,” etc.)
I like the precision of baking; I’m not one to make up my own recipes or throw in different ingredients. And there is pleasure in leveling off a cup of flour and knowing I’m doing it exactly the way my Great Grandmother did. I roll our pie crusts with the rolling pin my mom used to make peach pies in the summer and cut-out sugar cookies every Christmas. Even the ingredients are comfortable: the small round can of baking powder fits perfectly into my hand; I can’t open a bottle of vanilla without pausing to inhale. These recipes, these routines, put me in sync with all the women before me – down to the bare essentials. It’s no wonder, then, why I find myself baking, often.
Below is the recipe for brownies that I made on Sunday, while George laid nearby on our rug with the rooster on it. These don’t need any icing. And the batter is great. Mom taught me to scoop the batter into the dish with a spoon so that you intentionally cannot get it all out of the bowl. Then after it’s in the oven, use a spatula to get out the rest, so you can lick it off. It’s best that way. I think I bake for the doughs and batters instead of the final product!
1 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
Add 4 eggs and beat.
1 1/3 cups flour
1 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Add and mix well. Bake at 350° in greased cookie sheet 20 min – or deeper pan for 40 min. Cool and frost.