Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Brownie Walks Into A Bar: Alice Medrich's Latest Book!

Reliability in baking is everything. I own a LOT of baking books. And believe it or not, I actually use most of them. I tend to have favorite recipes that I rely on in each cookbook -- cookies from one, cakes from another.

But there are a few cookbooks that are my "go to" books for any baking occasion or baking question.

Any cookbook by Flo Braker or Cindy Mushet's Art & Soul of Baking fall into that revered category.

And now I think I might add one more cookbook to that short list -- the latest cookbook from Alice Medrich called, "Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy - Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies. I love that title -- it's so very comforting.

Although I have certainly known about Medrich and her famed chocolate truffles that were the cornerstone of her long closed chocolate dessert shop, Cocolat, I've yet to own one of her seven (!) cookbooks.

Medrich has been baking and teaching for many years and like Flo Braker, worked with Julia Child.

I recently met Medrich when she spoke about her new book at Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco.

And as I listened to her speak, I felt I had met another kindred baking spirit. I also felt fortunate that her new cookbook contained updated versions of some of her classic recipes such as her famous bittersweet brownies.

Medrich is exacting as all bakers must be but also loves to experiment and think out of the box to come up with great tips and tricks. For example, I get annoyed trying to melt chocolate or butter over a saucepan of barely simmering water. I always seem to burn myself or feel like a klutz -- especially when I'm using an instant read thermometer.

Medrich has a great solution -- she uses a wide skillet with a bowl set into the simmering water -- so easy and it works.

And I love the tone of her writing voice -- for example, when she is talking about baking many trays of cookies at one time she says, "repeat the performance until you drop or all the dough is used up -- whichever comes first."

I also like how this book holds the novice baker by the hand but gives the more experienced baker new baking tricks.

Medrich's cookie book features about 15 brownie recipes. And each recipe seems to use a different mixing method. Sometimes she calls for using an electric mixer versus the usual mixing by hand or cold eggs or even to beat the eggs and sugar with the salt. All result in brownies with a slightly different texture. Leave it to Medrich to give even the humble brownie a bit of a twist.

I'm looking forward to trying them all.

But first up -- I had heard about her classic bittersweet brownies and this book features an updated version of that recipe. I was anxious to try it and I had my opportunity when the Super Bowl conveniently presented the opportunity to have a party.

And to add to the fun, we had guests visiting from the Midwest. When I grew up in the Midwest, we made our brownies from cocoa powder -- Hershey's cocoa powder. Those brownies were cake-like and definitely not fussy or fancy.

To make it a bit more even, I used Ghirardelli Chocolate -- bittersweet chocolate bars and their unsweetened cocoa powder. It was especially relevant given that we had taken our visitors to Ghirardelli Square the night before the party.

Medrich's New Bittersweet Brownies were a vision of crackly goodness and the Cocoa Brownies were smooth and fudgy.

I cut both pans of brownies into small squares and piled them high on two separate cake stands. I encouraged the guests to try both and let me know which one they preferred.

The result -- the cocoa powder brownies were preferred by all the Midwesterners and by most of the teenagers who had grown up in California. My daughter liked the Cocoa Brownies so much I made them for her birthday the following week.

I preferred the Bittersweet Brownies as did most of the adults from California. Although I will always have a soft spot in my heart and stomach for my own cake-like, cocoa powder brownie recipe from Indiana.

I guess I'll always have a bit of Indiana in me.