A few weeks ago, we went over to some friends’ house for dinner. They had been living in China for three years so we had a lot to catch up on. They have three children, two girls and a boy, and our boys thought they were in heaven with all the fun and attention.
We had a delicious dinner and a wonderful time catching up and as we were starting to move toward leaving, Spencer burst into tears. “But we haven’t had dessert!” he wailed. Our friends were a bit puzzled. Dessert doesn’t happen on a regular basis in their house but they gamely pulled some Girl Scout cookies out of their freezer to appease my traumatized son.
We got in the car and Randy said to me, “Maybe we give them too many sweets. They shouldn’t expect it.” So we had a little talk with the boys about how not every family has dessert every night in addition to occasional other treats – hot chocolate, ice cream cones, jelly beans, never all three!- during the day. We suggested that they are lucky that Mommy likes to bake and that they should appreciate the treats that she makes, not expect them. It is a difficult concept for a seven and five year old to grasp. Why would a family, a perfectly normal seeming family, not have treats every chance they get?
I know that many people think sugar makes children hyper or it is terribly unhealthy for them. I respectfully disagree. For the most part, my kids eat healthier than a large percentage of the population. I make almost all of their meals, they don’t eat meat, they eat very little processed food, they have never had even a sip of soda, they have to eat a fruit or vegetable with all meals, snacks have to start with something “healthy”, and dessert does not come without finishing dinner first. And we have the rule in our house, a rule which is terribly hard on them when there is Valentine’s Day candy still sitting in their little Valentine’s card boxes, that if there are homemade cookies in the cookie jar, or homemade ice cream in the freezer, then that is what is for dessert. It’s not perfect but I do try and my kids are thriving healthy little beings who very very rarely get sick. (I just knocked on wood.) I’m not patting myself on the back – I, like most moms I know, am doing the best I can to nourish my children. I just happen to believe that nourishment also happens to include food that nourishes the soul, the kid in all of us.
I’ve mentioned this before, but in my house growing up, we had all kinds of junk food. Ice cream, chips, cookies, full size candy bars. My mom is a good cook and we had healthy meals and we also got dessert every night. Sugar was not something forbidden or evil, it was just a part of our lives. My friends would come over and gawk at the pantry – so much good stuff in there! But because I was always around sweets, they didn’t have any mystique for me. And so I grew to love and appreciate dessert, but not be ruled by it. To this day, both my brothers and I prefer dinner to dessert. We all three have much more savory palates than sweet. My brother Alex has an anything-lemon weakness, cookies are Michael’s kryptonite, and I can’t say no to brownies or caramel – but other than those things, we are salty people.
So I believe in treats. I believe in de-mystifying sugar and not making it something forbidden. I believe in allowing my children the pure unadulterated joy that only a cookie (or brownie or ice cream) can bring. I love when Graham comes home from school, takes a big sniff, and says, “Mmmmm, it smells so good. What did you make?” I love that Spencer has an opinion about his sweets. This brownie for example. He told me, “I like the top part but not the bottom part.” Hmmm. The top part is chocolate brownie and the bottom part is kind of shortbread-y and has macadamia nuts in it. Seeing as there is a gene in his gene pool for not liking nuts in sweets, his dislike is not all that surprising. But I was happy to hear that he could taste the difference in the two parts, that he had an opinion about that brownie, that it wasn’t just a sugar fix.
For the record, I kind of liked these brownies. Brownies are indeed my favorite treat but even I will say that they can sometimes be a little monotonous. Some people might think that walnut chunks are a great way to break up all that chocolate but I say No Way. A little buttery crust on the bottom with some very small chunks of crunchy nuts is a little different story and I thought these were lovely.
One Year Ago: Dal with Winter Vegetables
Two Years Ago: Grilled Haloumi with Cheese and Lemon, Brownie Chunk Cookies
Three Years Ago: Rosemary Flatbread with Blue Cheese, Grapes, and Honey, Smoky Cashews, Pappa al Pomodoro
Macadamia Shortbread Brownies
Adapted from Bittersweet
Makes 25 brownies
For the crust:
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
¾ cup all purpose flour
½ cup untoasted unsalted macadamia nuts, chopped medium-fine
For the brownie batter:
6½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
7 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 7 pieces
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
2 large eggs
½ cup all purpose flour
Make the crust:
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with foil and make sure the ends extend up over the sides by several inches. (This will serve as handles to remove the brownies from the pan once they are baked.)
Combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl. Stir in the flour to make a dough. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and, using your fingers, press the dough all over the bottom of the pan and just a bit up the sides. Bake until the crust is nicely brown all over, 15 to 20 minutes.
Make the brownie batter:
Combine the chocolate, butter, and sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test.
Remove the bowl from the pot. Stir in the vanilla and salt with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs, one at at time, stirring until the fist one is incorporated before adding the next. Stir int he flour and beat with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the batter is smooth, glossy, and beginning to come away from the sides of the bowl, 1 to 2 minutes.
Assemble the brownies:
Spread the brownie batter evenly over the hot crust and bake until the edges puff and begin to show fine cracks, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack.
Remove the brownies from the pan by lifting up the ends of the foil, and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 25 squares with a heavy knife.