Overkill brownies.

I didn’t realize when I took this photo that there was a dry macaroni noodle in the shot, the sort of thing I’d usually try to notice and correct, and that remains in the frame partly because we were in a real big hurry to eat these brownies and my making everyone wait while I took photos was, I’ll admit, a little rude. I’ll crop it out for Instagram, but let the record show that these brownies are the kind of thing that inspire a sense of urgency.

And they are – as I have been told I am so many times – just “a bit much.” They’re show-offs, all fudgy and chewy, with a delicious secret buried beneath a smear of cream cheese frosting – nine whole, perfect Reese’s peanut butter cups. If you’re going to go to the trouble of making dessert for company, it should always be “a bit much,” or why bother? You can eat fruit and yogurt on your own time.

Overkill brownies

  • 1/2 lb. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 tbsp. butter + 2 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces, divided
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract, divided
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 9 Reese’s (or comparable) peanut butter cups (about three packages)
  • 4 oz. (1/2 package) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup cocoa, sifted

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8″x8″ baking pan, then line it with parchment paper.

Using a double boiler, a glass bowl over just-simmering water, or a microwave (three rounds of 30 seconds, stirring each time), gently melt chocolate chips and six tablespoons of butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Beat the sugar, salt, and one teaspoon of vanilla into the melted chocolate, then add eggs eggs one at a time, beating continuously. Add the flour and stir until just moistened; batter should pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Pour batter into your prepared pan. Press peanut butter cups into the batter (three even rows of three).

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out mostly clean. If in doubt, err on the side of under-baking these.

Let brownies rest in the pan 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before frosting.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, remaining butter, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, and remaining vanilla until smooth and spreadable. Frost cooled brownies.

Cut into 16 pieces.

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Something to Read: The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook

30days

Williams-Sonoma is ridiculous and I love it.

Our last apartment was about half a block off Granville Street, and three blocks away from Vancouver’s only Williams-Sonoma. It was a weird place to live, because the rent was very affordable and many of the apartment buildings were very old, but all the stores were for the fancy rich people who lived up the hill in Shaughnessy. There was a Restoration Hardware, an Anthropologie, and a lot of expensive art galleries. Occasionally I would see an outfit I liked in a shop window and wander inside to look, discreetly search for a price tag, and then high-tail it out of there because who can afford $800 jeans?! Also most of the restaurants in the neighbourhood sold only bland food because rich people don’t like to taste flavours.

But I’d go into Williams-Sonoma a lot, mostly to fondle the expensive enameled cast-iron and copper pots. I rarely bought anything, though occasionally some of their cookbooks would be on sale, and once I bought this great vinaigrette mixer-spritzer that I later broke because I am not gentle with things.

When we were first married, I didn’t have the impressive cookbook collection I now fill an obtrusive shelf in our dining room with, and I wanted to have a few reliable books I could refer to. I happened to be in Williams-Sonoma, and was delighted to discover that The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook (you can buy it for less here) was actually very reasonably priced for a big, fat, hardcover cookbook. The cover price was $40, but it was (miraculously) on sale for only $20. The recipes are easy to follow, even for a beginner cook, and they don’t call for unusual or expensive ingredients. I later acquired a copy of Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of French Cooking (I think when my aunt was thinning out her cookbook collection), which has also turned out to be pretty good.

wscookbook

It’s been well used, and certainly worth more than what I paid. One recipe in particular has proven itself invaluable, as it turned out to be Nick’s favourite dessert. Nick doesn’t eat much dessert, and didn’t eat much dessert even pre-diabetes (I do not understand this). But this one pleased him so much that he insisted I bring it to his parents’ for his birthday one year, and his family loved it and now it’s in the family cookbook and we have it almost anytime there’s an occasion that calls for dessert.

Panna Cotta

  • Butter (for greasing six ramekins)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 packages, or four teaspoons, unflavoured powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean (you can use 1 tsp. vanilla extract if that’s what you have in your pantry)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)

Lightly grease six ramekins with butter. Set the cups on a small baking sheet.

Pour one third, or 1/2 cup of the milk into a small pot. Sprinkle the gelatin over top, and let sit for about three minutes.

Add the rest of the milk and the sugar and heat it until the sugar and gelatin is dissolved, then take the pot off the stove and stir in the cream and vanilla bean. Whisk everything together, then pour the mixture into ramekins. Cover ramekins with plastic wrap, then place in the fridge to set, which should take four to six hours.

To serve, remove the panna cotta from the ramekins by sliding a knife gently around the circumference. It should come out easily, but you can serve it in the ramekins too if you want. It saves dirtying more dishes, which counts for a lot around here.

Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream. In the winter, I warm frozen blueberries with a bit of maple syrup, then let the compote cool to just about room temperature before spooning over the panna cotta.