Allow me to introduce my grandmother, Virginia Mae Hall.
She was a special woman who affected my life profoundly in a number of ways, and I know there are many out there who would say the same. She died about six years ago this March, and every year as the morose date approaches, I experience the same emotion. It’s not sadness or anxiety or longing, although those feelings still strike me at random times- driving in the car, doing the dishes, reading a book before bed. No, it’s a feeling of complete and total gratitude for having had her in my life that wraps itself around me every March 2nd.
People who have been lucky like I have understand what makes a wonderful grandparent. Yes, spoiling is usually a part of it, not necessarily in money or things, but in time, patience, stories and laughter. The feeling I most associate with her is an overwhelming one of love and acceptance. She had an amazing outlook on life, and even when things got dark or depressing, she managed to find something to laugh about.
I will never forget that about her.
Grammy is the person who planted the seed for my love of baking and ultimately cooking. Though I’ve mentioned it before (and I’m sure I’ll mention it again), my family spent our summers and winter breaks with my grandparents at their home in Calistoga every year. I looked forward to the treats she whipped up for us, and eventually became interested enough to help her make them. Seven layer bars, chocolate chip cookies, apple crisp… All made her kitchen and home smell amazing, and few desserts survived the next day.
Sometimes when I stumble across the recipe for an amazing sweet piece of decadence, I like to imagine Grammy being the one who led me to it. The brownie recipe below was discovered in Bon Appetit’s February issue and was baked for my best friend’s birthday at the beginning of March. I know my grandmother would approve of its fudgy middle and slightly crackly top, and she would certainly endorse the use of treats to enhance any celebration.
That’s another thing I loved about her, but truly… it’s only one in a list of a million.
Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 ¼ cups sugar
¾ cups natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup walnut pieces
Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 8x8x2 inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2 inch overhamg. Coat foil with nonstick spray.
Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and ¼ teaspoon (generous) salt. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture one at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip into 4 brownies.
Tip: I didn’t have a square pan, so I used an 8” round and it worked just fine.