Ok, as an inducement to read past the long ranty paragraphs that are coming I have to promise you that this post is actually about AN INNOVATION THAT MAKES THE WORLD’S BEST AND EASIEST BROWNIES EVEN MORE PERFECT (albeit not easier, but not much harder, either.)
For the past month I have been off the social Internet but more importantly for the purposes of this discussion, off wheat. Not off gluten — I have been eating spelt, rye, etc — just wheat. I like experiments and I also like denying myself things and feeling virtuous about it, so at first this was fun. Actually it’s still fun, because I feel way less creaky and joint-achy and old-before-my-time than I did a month ago and getting out of bed is much easier and a workout doesn’t leave me sore for days anymore. I’m not at all saying you should quit wheat, odds are wheat is fine for you. But wheat is not my friend. Acknowledging that something doesn’t have to be intrinsically evil to be bad for me, personally, was the big obvious lesson of this experience. (See also: the Internet.)
There have been un-fun moments, of course. Sitting outside this bakery for a couple of hours and smelling all the baked goods baking was, in the immortal words of Claire Zulkey, not a party. But, although I didn’t believe this at first, it turns out you can make some okay baked goods without wheat. Not a lot of them, and definitely damn all those prepackaged gluten-free cookies straight to hell. But brownies and cookies, which are supposed to be dense and chewy, can get along without wheat flour very well. Especially these brownies, especially if you use my ONE WEIRD TIP.
That tip is: ghee, aka clarified butter. Ghee was previously known to me only in the context of Indian food and Ayurvedic medicine and I thought there was some esoteric process that went into making it which explained why it was only sold at the health food store, and for like $15, but it turns out to be very easy and satisfying to make at home; you basically just melt a bunch of butter then forget about it at a low heat for a while, then scrape the white milk solids off the top and strain the remaining clear oil into a clean glass jar. David Lebowitz has good photos and step by step instructions. He also says you have to use “good” butter but I have used butter from, literally, Wal-Mart.
According to my witch doctor, ghee is better for you than butter because it is butter without lactose (those white milk solids) or “impurities”, and is a nonhydrogenated fat (somehow.) According to me and pastry chefs, ghee is better than butter in some baked goods because it has a lower water content, which is great when you want chewy, caramelized, perfect brownies. And if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making a whole batch of ghee — though you should, even if you digest lactose perfectly it’s better than butter for scrambled eggs or frying anything — you can make a small amount of lazy person’s ghee in the first step of this recipe, which is adapted (barely) from Smitten Kitchen.
Preheat your oven to 350.
STEP ONE: In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt a stick of butter over low heat and then go do something else for a while, half an hour or so, but near the stove so you can use your nose to be sure the butter’s not burning. When you come back to the stove, the butter will have separated into a layer of clear yellow oil and a layer of white crud on the top. Scrape off the white crud (strain it if you’re finicky/hate lactose) and proceed with
STEP TWO: Wipe out that ghee saucepan with a paper towel, then use it to grease an 8X8 pan (if using larger pan, start checking for doneness sooner in step four.) Dump that golden oil into a heatsafe bowl with 3 oz. broken-up bittersweet chocolate and stir til it melts. If melting isn’t happening, you can stick the bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds or, if you lack a microwave, quickly rinse your saucepan, fill with a couple inches of water, heat it up and put the bowl on top to create a double-boiler effect. Once it’s melted go on to
STEP THREE(ISH): Whisk in 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, then 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon of vanilla, then 2/3 of a cup of any kind of flour you like (all-purpose, spelt, and Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free work absolutely equally well) plus 1/2 teaspoon of flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon of table salt.
STEP FOUR: Dump the batter into that greased pan! Salt lovers (me) might consider sprinkling additional sea salt on top. Bake 30-35 minutes, checking for doneness (toothpick comes out clean) early and often.
Cool completely before you cut them up, obviously, and eat them happily somewhere far away from a computer screen.