You haven’t baked in a long time, and you’re going through a lot right now. You miss
your grandmother, who always wanted to be called “Nana.” “It’s classier,” she’d say, “I’m a classy lady.” She was your best friend, as much as that made some of the people you know laugh. You always looked up to her. One of your most vivid memories of her is how she always made her cheesecake brownies when you came to visit. They were somehow both rich and light, made with real melted baker’s chocolate rather than cocoa powder. The cheesecake was fluffy and marbled. Lately, you keep trying to call her again, even though it’s been over a year since you lost her. Her name, “Nana,” still sits in your Favorites list, with a cat face emoji set as her last name, representing her beautiful Siamese, and her lifelong love of the creatures just like her. You never processed that she’s really gone. It’s hard to comprehend that you’ll never hear her tell you about her bluebird houses again, will never send you birthday gifts or remind you when things get bad that you can always come stay with her. You’ll never hear her voice again, hold her hand, hear her make jokes about Donald Trump, hear her talk about global warming and say, “I’m sorry we did this to you, Delaney. I’m so sorry for my generation. I’m sorry the world is burning.” She was always woker than you. There’s one thing you can do to bring her back: you can make her brownies. You and your mom found her recipe as you cleaned out her house. So, you decide it’s time to start the process.
Step 1: Have something else you really need to do.
You need to be working on revising your novel. You just sent the third draft to your editor, and you’re waiting on her feedback, but the sequel still needs to be mapped out. You want to have it ready. Every time you try, you think about the laundry. The dishes. The fact that you’re about to start your dream job, and be a librarian, but what if you’re not good at it? You’re scared. You can’t process that so many amazing and terrible things are happening at once. You can’t believe you can’t call Nana and tell her the good news. You finally find the pictures you took of Nana’s recipe stored deep in your photo library, mixed among the ones for her funeral slideshow and the pictures of the marquee in her town announcing her funeral. You try not to think about it.
Step 2: Go get the ingredients.
2 4 Oz packages of Baker’s German sweet chocolate
10 tbsp. butter
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
2 cups sugar
1 cup and 2 tbsp. flour
3 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. almond extract.
1 greased 9×9 in. pan
The recipe also lists 1 cup chopped nuts as optional, but that’s not how you remember her brownies, so you decide not to incorporate these. You’re out of almost everything, so you go to the store in between Florida afternoon storms. You have to go to the store twice to get everything because you realize you’re out of vanilla extract, almond extract, and flour only after you get back from the first trip.
Step 3: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt chocolate and 6 tbsp. of butter in the microwave at 30 second increments. Set aside and allow to cool.
You melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds. The only microwave-safe bowl you have is the one with a chip missing at the rim, and you know you will need to wear an oven mitt to grab the bowl or else it will burn you. You also decide to make yourself a healthy frozen meal after this, and call your mother to tell her you’re making the brownies. You think about how your mom and your grandmother used to talk on the phone when they cooked and baked. You don’t bring this up. You hang up when you rifle through your pans looking for the 9 x 9 pan and realize that clanging isn’t fun background noise.
Step 4: Cream remaining butter with cream cheese, then add 1/2 cup sugar and cream until fluffy. Stir in two eggs and 1 tsp of vanilla. Stir in two tbsp of flour.
Use your hand mixer that your grandmother brought you to do this. There’s a chunk of pancake batter stuck on the outside of the mixer that won’t come off. You wish you had a standing mixer for the thousandth time, even though your apartment does not have the counter space. You wonder why your grandmother kept using the word “cream” in this recipe. It squicks you out.
Step 5: In a separate bowl, beat 4 eggs until light. Add remaining 1 1/2 cup sugar. Beat until thick.
When light, the eggs become bubbly and fluffy, and look a bit like a frothy soda. There’s a beauty in this. Adding in the sugar thickens it to a consistency almost like icing. It’s strange to watch them transform like this. You want to try a bite, but realize that it is raw egg, and this not a good idea.
Step 6: Fold in baking powder, salt, and 1 cup flour.
You wonder why they call it “fold.” Folding reminds you of working retail, using a board to get the perfect, crisp fold on a shirt, creating the illusion that not a single person has ever worn it. In this way, customer after customer can believe they are trying on a shirt that no one else has ever worn. This doesn’t seem appropriate for adding ingredients to a recipe. You do this step with a spatula, but the egg mixture is so thick that even the gentlest stir causes bits of flour to hop out of the bowl.
Step 7: Blend in chocolate mixture. Then, stir in the almond extract, vanilla, and, if desired, nuts.
As you do this, you finally start to cry. You miss her. You miss her so much. The smell of almond extract is what does it. Every time something good happens, you still want to call her. You want to tell her about your new job. You want to tell her about the shows you’re watching. You want to tell her about the editor who is working with you on your book. Everything, everything feels less meaningful without her to talk to. But, you have to move on.
Step 8: Spread half the chocolate mixture in in a greased 9×9 inch pan.
It’s hard to tell how much “half” is. You’ve never been good at math. You see most numbers backwards. Even fractions are hard. When you cut pizza it’s always woefully uneven. When you don’t have something concrete to use to measure things, it’s hopeless. You just hope you poured in half. You smooth it with a spatula.
Step 9: Pour cheese mixture over and spread carefully with a spatula.
This is where you always mess up. You’re never careful enough. You remind yourself of a Great Dane puppy, gangly, unwieldy, too eager. You try to be careful, but you always spread the cheese mixture a little too hard and it becomes too well mixed with the chocolate so there isn’t an even cheesecake layer above the brownie.
Step 10: Drop remaining batter on top and swirl with a knife until just marbled.
Nana isn’t very helpful here! How many drops is too much? How big are they? Where should they go on the pan? Is it best to do a four corners method, or eight small drops? You do your best. Nana always did this perfectly, but it’s usually a bit of a disaster for you. When you swirl the batter with a knife, you keep accidentally stirring a little too hard, and the knife will slip a little too low and make a scraping noise against the bottom of the pan. It upsets you every time. The cheesecake layer is definitely not marbled. Fuck. It will taste good anyway.
Step 10: Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35-40 minutes.
You usually have to bake them longer than this. Your oven is unreliable. As they bake, you try to find something, anything new you’d like to watch. You give up. You watch King of the Hill. You cuddle with your cat. Every 10 minutes, you open the oven and test the consistency of the brownies with a knife. It takes nearly an hour and a half before the knife comes out clean rather than coated in a delicious, chocolate and cream cheese sludge.
Step 11: Cool, cut, and serve.
They taste exactly the way you remember. They may not look like Nana’s, but the taste takes you back to being a child at her grand house, playing in her backyard that reminded you of The Secret Garden. For a moment, for a moment, you can forget that she is gone.
Categories: Delaney's Voice