In our family, kitchen skills skipped a generation. My mom does a lot of things extremely well, but cooking is not one of them, and baking she never even attempted. My grandma Rose was an excellent baker, and though her repertoire was limited, the things she did bake were legendary. An angel food cake so light it seemed to float off the plate. Honey cake in the fall for the high holidays. And rugelach - not the standard flaky cream-cheese pastry, but a sturdier, almost crisp cookie crescent painted inside with cinnamon sugar and studded with walnuts and raisins. She made huge batches of those several times a year if we were lucky and left us with a freezer full of zip-top bags. (In case you're wondering, they tasted better frozen.)
More on the rugelach another time, and back to my friend Judith. In Judith's family, every generation baked. And bakes. This is a family where the women never seem to need much sleep and, as a consequence, always have a few things in the oven, a few projects at the sewing machine, several full-time jobs, and the patience to read to the kids for hours on end. Boy, do I envy that. Me, I need my eight hours. And more patience.
When Judith and I were in our early twenties and lived a few blocks away from each other in New York, I knew nothing about baking. I tried, because it seemed like something I'd like to learn to do. But I was ill-equipped, both in skill and in equipment. Judith bought me my first cooling rack after watching me put freshly baked cookies on the broiler tray from my toaster oven. I still have that rack and still use it. And still think of her every time.
There are always delicious home-baked treats in Judith's house, as I assume there were always delicious home-baked treats in her mother's house during her childhood. Now Judith's two little girls are carrying on the family tradition and bake too. When I make delicious home-baked treats for my family, especially these brownies from Judith's mother A.M., I hope I'm making my house a little more like hers.
These are deep, dark, fudgy, squidgy brownies. I have rarely been able to get them out of the pan without ragged edges - none of those neat precise squares for me. I think they taste better this way.
A.M.'s brownies, with a few twists of my own
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 stick butter
2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp almond extract (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Melt together the chocolate and butter over low heat. Let cool a few minutes. Stir in the sugar, then the eggs, beating well. Add the salt, flour, cocoa powder and extract(s). Pour into a greased 9x13 pan and bake 35-40 minutes, or until the brownies are set and the middle has cracked a little (that's how you know it's done, and not liquid, in the center). Let cool, cut, and dig in.
Preheat the oven