When you're safe at home you wish you were having an adventure;
when you're having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.
- Thornton Wilder
I wonder when it was the first time I made brownies for my sons. Such a common, all-American treat, you think, so of course they have been eating them since they could sit up at the table and pick apart food with their tiny fingers and shove it between rosy lips with a giggle. Ah, but you forget that my children were born in France and lived their tender years in Italy. They were raised on quatre quart, French pound cake, vanilla spritz cookies, ciambelle and torta della nonna. Focaccia was a much more common after school snack than brownies ever were.
But at some point, I realized the importance of sharing the treats of my own childhood with my sons, the treats of my own culture, their culture as well. With this realization came the habit of home baking; I had to supply the goods that were not easily found in Europe at that time, so making them myself from scratch it was. Chocolate chip cookies and quick breads, layer cakes and Bundt cakes and, of course, blondies and brownies. And somehow or other these all-American treats quickly became my family's comfort food.
My men no longer have a sweet tooth. Husband will eat a slice of cake or tart for breakfast if it is there, maybe at four o'clock in the afternoon if he is feeling a bit peckish, but this is definitely not a given. Sons can go weeks without anything sweet, rarely a snack, pulling out the hummus, cheese and baguette when they can't wait for the next meal. But when they crave something sweet, they come to me for something home baked, something comforting and familiar, a lemon tart, chocolate chip cookies, or a simple, moist one-bowl chocolate cake.
Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke,
or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.
- Charles Dickens
Away for almost a week, I arrived home to realize that no one, not husband, nor son, had made the effort to grocery shop, so the cupboard was bare. "We cleaned out the cupboards, the freezer and the stuff from the back of the refrigerator!" husband exclaimed rather proud of himself, I think. Son, on the other hand, grumbled about the lack of food as if his father had left him for starving. Don't think they cannot get along without me! Husband cooks better and more often than I, and both are adept at shopping. But they just hate to grocery shop without me. I knew it was time to take things in hand.
My younger son has been accompanying me on the weekly shopping trips where we pick up staples, pasta and rice, milk and juice, sacks of potatoes and onions, coffee and jam. And he has been tossing boxes of marble cake into the basket of late; he's 23 years old, so who am I to forbid it? "I can bake you a marble cake, if you like," I offered (followed by his usual shrug and eye roll.) But when it came right down to it, I decided to combine marble cake and his favorite snack: brownies.
Just slightly fiddlier than regular brownies, these are dense and moist and absolutely delicious. Husband gave then a double thumbs up!
VANILLA AND CHOCOLATE MARBLE BROWNIES with pecans
Adapted from Linda Burum’s Brownies
For a deeper, richer chocolate flavor, use unsweetened (as for regular brownies) or bittersweet (80 or 90% cocoa). I used dark semisweet chocolate (70%) as it was all I found in my cupboard; I found that while this produced a less chocolaty brownie overall, it highlighted the slightly caramel flavor of the vanilla swirl and brought out the taste of the pecans. These brownies were a huge hit and will be made over and over again.
4 oz (110 g) melted chocolate (see note above)
2 cups (240 g) sifted flour (sift before measuring)
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
Rounded ½ tsp ground cinnamon
18 Tbs (255 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature if possible
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups (125 g) coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
Break the chocolate into pieces and place either in a small microwave-friendly bowl or the top of a double boiler/bain marie; heat the chocolate until partially melted, remove from the microwave or from the heat and stir until completely melted. Set aside to cool at least slightly.
Coarsely chop the nuts and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly butter or spray a 15 ½ x 10 ½ x 1 –inch jelly roll pan or 13 x 9 x 2 – inch baking pan or line with aluminum foil and lightly butter the foil.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until creamy on low speed. Beat in the sugar in four additions then beat in the eggs one at a time, adding the vanilla with the last egg. Scrape down the sides and beat until creamy and whipped up a bit.
Beat in the flour mixture in about 3 or 4 additions. Fold in the chopped nuts while scraping down the sides of the bowl and blending in the last of the flour.
Divide the batter in half (I actually weigh the batter into a clean bowl; I remove heaping spoonfuls and place this vanilla nut batter in mounds around the baking pan until down to half the weight in the mixing bowl); drop the vanilla pecan half of the batter in mounds around the baking pan.
Beat or stir the cooled, melted chocolate into the remaining batter, blending well, then drop the chocolate batter in mounds in between and around the vanilla mounds of batter in the baking pan. Swirl the batters together with a knife to marble.
Bake… this could take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour depending upon the size of pan used (and depth) and your oven. When baked, the top of the brownies should be glossy and crispy, the center set; a tester stuck into the center should come out mostly clean.
Remove the pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool before slicing.