Zoe's Black and White Brownies
Over the course of the past few months, Zoe has developed a major interest in cooking. She loves getting in the kitchen with me and making food, even stuff she isn’t particularly interested in eating herself. She watches cooking shows like a fiend, and has sucked up their conventions and vocabulary like a sponge. When she cooks, she narrates each step for an imaginary audience, describing the flavour and texture of each ingredient in the most lavish terms, often describing things as “divine.” She explains the purpose of each ingredient, why and how she is adding it to the dish, and what her audience might want to substitute if they don’t have or like it. It is bananas crazy to watch.
I can not tell you how much her new hobby thrills me. I know I am not supposed to want my children to be like me. I are supposed to want them to be wholly and authentically themselves. And I do. Really. But I also can’t help but love it whenever one of them shows enthusiasm for something I am passionate about. I think all parents must feel this way, right?
So, I knew that Zoe was super interested in cooking, but one day I really stopped to watch her in the kitchen. I was struck by how good she had become without my really noticing it. Like, legitimately good. She measures flour by fluffing it up with the measuring cup, digging the cup in and scooping up a heaping amount, then levelling it off with her finger. She knows to pack the brown sugar, and sprinkles salt from a height so it distributes evenly. She understands the difference between beating, stirring, and folding, and when to use each one. Cooking with her has basically become like cooking with a partner. I delegate jobs to her and she just goes ahead and does them. Magic.
When I watched her crack six eggs into a bowl without a single shard of shell creeping in, I knew she was ready to become more independent. We decided that brownies would be a good first thing for her to try on her own, because they were simple and didn’t require an electric mixer, a sharp knife, or the stove top. I got out my treasured recipe for Fran Maurino Brownies, named after the mom of my friend Lindsey. I have been making these brownies since university, when Lindsey and I would eat pans of them while cramming for English exams. I sat across the kitchen island from Zoe on a stool, drinking coffee and verbally guiding her here and there. She turned on the oven herself, got out the ingredients, measured them, mixed them, and put the batter in the pan.
When it was time for her to put them in the oven, I panicked a bit. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead, and part of me wanted to jump up and take over. But I didn’t. Instead I watched as she slipped on oven mitts, carefully opened the oven door and slid the brownies in the oven. She set a timer on the Google Home. When the timer went off, she carefully removed them. She used a skewer to make sure that they were done. I exhaled. I was happy and a little bit proud of myself. Proud that I had let her do this thing that stretched the boundaries of my parenting comfort zone, this thing that had filled her with pride and built up precious confidence. Plus, the brownies were legitimately delicious. She had added her own personal twist—white chocolate chips— and renamed them “Black and White Brownies.” This still makes me laugh, because it makes me think of Elaine Benes and The Black and White Cookie.
This past weekend, the girls joined with another pair of siblings their age in the neighbourhood to run a lemonade and brownie sale. The other kids sold the lemonade and raised $116 for the local humane society. Zoe and Mae sold brownies and raised $110 for our local food bank. It was a long, hot day, but at the end of it we were bursting with pride.
Zoe’s Black and White Brownies
Yield: About 24 2” brownies
1 cup melted butter (if using unsalted, increase salt to 3/4 tsp)
1 cup good quality cocoa powder, such as Green and Black's
2 cups brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant espresso
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9 x 13” pan with parchment paper.
Melt butter in large, microwave-proof bowl (Zoe uses an 8 cup glass measuring cup).
Stir the cocoa into the butter, followed by the brown sugar.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is well incorporated before adding the next.
Stir in the vanilla and salt.
Very gently fold in the flour. When there are just a few white streaks remaining, add the chocolate chips and continue to fold until everything is just barely incorporated. Do not over mix!!
Dump the batter into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is dry but not yet cracked, and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out almost-but-not-quite clean.
Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then pull the brownies out by the parchment and cool on a rack for a little longer. Slice the brownies and store them in an airtight container.
This is a double batch. If you would like to make a more modest amount, or you would like thinner, more delicate brownies, cut the recipe in half and bake them in a square brownie pan. Reduce baking time to 18-20 minutes.