My dear home group of friends is wonderful. We talk, share, learn together, pray together, support each other. And they are willing guinea pigs for my food.
Last week I hosted, and tried out brownies, dressed up in two very different ways (the brownies, not me). The base of both was a simple brownie recipe. I made an 8x8 pan with the Williams-Sonoma recipe (divine) and mini-muffins with the Betty Crocker recipe (faster and yummy, but not-quite-so-divine). I have no photos. Bad me! We ate all the evidence.
Brownies are one of those first recipes so many people make, simple but delicious. I like a brownie with a slight crisp on the top before getting into the dense, chewy interior. I also like them in little bites so you can savour the richness without overdoing it. Granted, you could go back for many more little bites and overdo it anyway but THAT'S NOT THE POINT.
Version 1: make the sweet sweeter.
To 1/2c butter, melted in a skillet, add 1c brown sugar. Heat this over medium heat until it boils and caramelizes and your kids walk into the kitchen in a sort of trance saying, "mmmm, what IS that?". Then smile and shoo them out because it is VERY VERY HOT. It's a balance, letting the sugar boil just enough to get the caramel taste, but not burning it. So, watch it carefully! Remove this from the heat and whisk in milk or cream (1/4 cup) and sifted confectioner's sugar (ummm, about 1 1/2 cups. This is me we're talking about here, I added it until it tasted right). This further sweetens it, and thickens it a bit too. Let the whole thing cool and it will thicken some more, until you can drizzle (cool a little) or spread it (cool it more) over the brownies. Ta-dah!
Version 2: a bit of contrast.
These take more time or less time, depending on how you look at it. A few days before this, I had made up some crème fraîche. The making takes a number of days, but those days take no effort, relying only on the magic of microorganisms. To 1 cup of whipping cream, add 1 tablespoon of buttermilk. Put a loose lid on and let it sit at room temperature until it gently sours and thickens. Then pop it in the fridge where it will keep for a week. It takes the barest of technique (measure, pour, stir, and don't leave it too long) but a bit of bravery (see the blog from when I first made it). Once it's made, though, it means you can top the brownies in no time. Apparently crème fraîche can also be bought, but I have yet to see it in stores. Perhaps I don't move in high enough circles, grocery-wise. But it really is a snap to make.
The crème fraîche was whipped up with a whisk until it thickened a bit more, then I added sugar to taste (about 1/4c to the whole batch I'd made). This was spread over the pan of brownies, then popped into the fridge. It never quite sets hard, so the topping remains a slightly sweet, tangy, soft and creamy layer, but it also didn't run off the sides when I cut the brownies.
Both versions got good reviews, and it was nice to have something to top basic brownies and offer a bit of contrast. I did feel like I had to warn people about the crème fraîche ones, though, since one expects sweet for a dessert and the tangy flavour would be a bit of a taste shock. I still want to do one version yet, one that somehow mimics the Starbucks whipped-cream-salted-caramel topping they have at this time of year. Yummmm.