It all started around the age of 5. Baking with mom. Baking in my house was sometimes an all-day affair. My mom had a friend that would make loads of homemade cookies. We would make seasonal sugar cookies for school...my favorites were the Santa cookies we made every Christmas. We would cut shapes from Pillsbury Sugar Cookie dough - you know, the kind that comes in that giant wrapped log in the dairy case - we would cut the right shapes to form a hat, face and beard. We added chocolate chip eyes and baked 'em. Once out of the oven we sprinkled red sugar crystals on the hat and put a red hot for Santa's mouth. Once the cookies cooled, we piped that tubular white frosting on his hat and beard. It would dry into a sugary crust. One bite sent you reeling. A whole cookie had you on a sugar high for a week.
My dad use to bake homemade French bread...i got to help. It was an all day affair, but i loved the feel of the cool dough as we kneaded and pounded over and over to reap the rewards of the hot, crusty loaves that emerged from the oven by the day's end.
As a child, i developed a love for baking brownies. Back then, I had only known the Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker mixes. Usually adding water, eggs and or oil to the mix. After the brownies had been put into the oven to bake, i can recall licking the spatula and running my index finger around the inside of the bowl, getting every last lick of chocolatey batter.
This was heavenly, until i learned to bake brownies from scratch. The first time i remember making brownies from scratch was in my 20s. I was a nanny in Newton, MA and in the family's recipe box was a very simple cocoction of butter, unsweetened and semi-sweet chocolate, eggs, sugar and flour. An hour later and there was a perfect 9"x9" square of Auntie Shira's brownies. It was Auntie Shira's recipe. She lives in Israel. I sometimes made them with nuts, sometimes without. They were usually requested for a special Friday night dessert. Sometimes we froze half of the batch to portion out when cravings arose (which was frequent in a household with 4 women and 1 male!).
Even though i left my nanny post years ago, i took Auntie Shira's recipe with me, refining it to my own taste over the years. I started using chocolate with a higher cacao percentage. I would add nuts and chocolate chips to the batter. They have become so rich and fudgy, that usually one or two bites will satisfy even the deepest chocolate pining.
In more recent years, i have discovered baking with artisnal and premium chocolates. Some of my favorites are Valhorna, Scharfen-Berger and Ghiradelli 60% chips. Needless to say, i haven't baked brownies from a box in more than 15 years.
Then there are the artisnal chocolate bon bons and bars from Rechiutti burnt caramels and wooden boxes of Burdick assortments, to Dagoba infused bars (especially the one with chiles), Green & Blacks and Equal Exchange fair trade bars.
I even have a coworker who has a penchant for chocolate. She loves milk. I prefer dark. I forget how it started, but we often surprise each other with new and different chocolates from our travels. It has become an unspoken custom, sometimes a few weeks in between exchanges, sometimes months. But no matter when they happen, it's like it's for the first time. There is never a bad time to receive a chocolate surprise, and it's usually just when you need it most.
I think the most exciting chocolate discovery i have made is a chocolate lovers travel club. They run lavish, first-class trips where you spend a lot of time talking about, tasting and learning about chocolate in some exotic destination like Hawaii or the Carribean. They have a trip in the spring where they will charter their own boat, stopping at islands where chocolate is grown. People from all walks of life go on these trips, their one common denominator is a passion for chocolate. I hope to go on one of their trips next year.
I can tell you about some of the most fabulous artisan chocolate...but i'm still yearning to learn more. Origins, manufacturing processes, how to taste, etc...
But getting back to the point, the one thing i have always loved is making brownies. Here i will share my quest to develop my own basic recipe...hopefully the one that will lead to the launch of my own artisan brownie business that i've already named Big Gun Brownies.
If you love brownies as much as i do, i hope you'll follow this blog as i try new chocolates, experiment in the kitchen, research the art, science and economics of chocolate and baking. There will be lots of baking, taste testing and sampling, photos and probably some silliness too.