Improvisations in Chocolate

Lately I feel like I’m making up each day as I go along.

I both relish and resent this in the way that I relish and resent adulthood.

What should I be doing right now? Writing a poem? Or writing my Master’s thesis?

If I paint my new room while listening to This American Life, is that a good use of my time? The paint on the roller squishes satisfyingly, the interstitial music is soothing, the color is the perfect seafoam green, but will I regret this?

Should I be a scientist? Or should I be a writer? And how long do I have to do one or the other before I know the right choice? And how do I even start?

In college I was off and on fascinated by improvisation. The best games my friends and I played were make-believe. A space for make-believe is a wonderful thing to take into adulthood. In a game of Manhunt in the cool dead of night, there are moments that feel like someone might actually be out to kill you. When a hand grabs your arm out of nowhere, it’s okay if your screams are filled with real rage. It’s a game, it’s a play, it’s practice. For that moment you can be whoever makes the most sense.

That’s a sort of assuredness I have a hard time finding in my life right now. Who am I supposed to be, anyway? Should I try to make people happy, or should I breeze by them on my way to achieving some antisocial goal? And what am I trying to achieve, anyway?

Oddly enough, I find solace from all of this uncertainty in the kitchen. Like playing games with my closest friends, cooking is like a sandbox. The greatest failure is only inedibility. I can clatter through my cabinets in a furious race towards a goal, leaving a glorious mess in my wake, with only half of an idea of how I’m going to get there, and most of the time I win. What could be better than chaos followed by chocolate?

Like in the case of these brownies I made. When a chocolate craving or tragedy strikes, the only solution is immediate brownies. But immediate brownies are impeded by lack of ingredients. I forgot to get eggs. I stomp around my kitchen, cursing at the cabinets.

But like I said, the kitchen is a sandbox–and there are always new toys to play with and new improvisations to try. A few months ago, my Chickpea mother bought be a tin of cracked golden flax seeds, which sits in my freezer with the purpose of making my morning yogurt nutritious and crunchy. I am the weird hippie’s child who craves chia and flax seeds. But have you heard of “flax eggs”? A tablespoon of cracked gold flax, two tablespoons of water—so the internet tells me—let it sit, and you will have something not only egg-like in texture (chia and flax’s fabulous goop), but egg-like in action for baking.

I made three flax eggs. Watched as they gloopified. Folded them into melted chocolate and flour to turn out an alarmingly stiff batter. Folded in chips and chopped walnuts (the next batch was pistachios—even better). Baked them. And of course, they were perfect. Squidgy, rich, dripping when warm—and just that hint of whole-wheatiness imparted by the flax, which actually goes wonderfully with dark chocolate. In the kitchen as in childhood, and maybe as in life, a mistake doesn’t have to be defeat. A mistake, followed by improvisation, might lead to lower cholesterol, greater nutrition, and slumpy, crunchy, perfect, irresistible brownies.

Not-Quite-Vegan Chocolate Chip Pistachio Brownies

I have made these brownies twice now, and they are perfect because they are delicious, and they are imperfect because soon I’ll find a different recipe that will be better. There’s nothing special about this recipe—in fact, it’s based off a Nestle brownie recipe—but it’s lovely and worth making to brighten your winter. And if you, like me, have flax and no eggs, brownies are still within reach. If you have salted butter, but not unsalted, you can still make brownies. If you have only semisweet chocolate, or only bittersweet, it’s still time for brownies. Pistachios are excellent with chocolate, but walnuts work fine (or anything else. Almonds! Dried cherries! Make it up!).

I apologize for no photos on this post, by the way—I had them, and this week my computer died and I lost all of my photos. I’m embracing chaos and blogging anyway. I will probably be making a batch of these soon to console myself.

1 stick (1/2 lbs) unsalted butter (I have used salted and it was luscious), diced
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
3 eggs OR 3 flax eggs (3 tbsp ground flax + 6 tbsp hot water, allowed to sit 10 min)
1+1/4 c AP flour
1 c granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 c bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 c chopped pistachios (or other chopped nuts)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 in. baking pan (I used much smaller—roughly 8×8—and increased baking time by about 10 minutes to fine results).

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and semisweet chips over lowest heat. Be careful not to scald the chocolate: do the on-the-burner-off-the-burner-stir-stir melting chocolate dance. Stir constantly until the mixture is perfectly smooth. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and save some drips for yourself in the saucepan.

Basically, dump everything else into your mixing bowl. First, add your (flax) eggs. Stir to combine.

Add flour, sugar, vanilla, and baking soda, and stir until everything is evenly distributed. The batter will have the texture of rapidly setting cement. I find it best to use my hands at this point.

Still using your hands, incorporate the bittersweet chips and pistachios. Glob the batter into your baking pan, and bung it in the oven for 18-22 minutes. Your mileage may vary: I baked my brownies until the middle barely jiggled when I shook the pan—which, in a smaller pan, took about 10 mins longer than expected. You want the middle not entirely set, and a toothpick stuck in the center to come out a little crumby. Let the brownies rest on a rack or atop an unlit burner for at least half an hour for things to set up, and then cut into squares and serve to your friends.

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