Friday, January 9, 2009

"No dear, that's the spaghetti"

For a few years there in the '80s my family and several of our neighbors and friends would stay for a week each summer at Salt Fork (not South Fork, as in the setting of "Dallas," though when I was very young I didn't understand the difference). We'd rent cabins by the lake, catch catfish, swim, laugh, ride horses, make "grass" skirts out of Queen Anne's Lace. The kids would participate in recreational and craft projects led by the lodge's naturalists -- we made a lot of those yarn God's-eye things and I now realize that this "enrichment" was an excellent way for the adults to enjoy a little (early) afternoon gin and tonic without us knee-biters running about the cabin. I was too young and too much of a geek to care, though. I thought it was awesome to learn about Ohio birds.

(Perhaps foretelling the riding that was to be in my future, here I am on a Salt Fork horsie in 1982.)

I can still feel the bottom of the lake between my toes -- the softest, silt-iest, smoothest mud I'd ever felt. I loved wading around barefoot while the bigger boys baited my hook with a fat worm.

(A catfish collage, if you will. Clockwise, starting with upper left: I show off our catch in my ridiculous hat and Dr. Scholl's; seconds later, I seem to have grown somehow wary of the catfish, scooting away from them and almost out of the frame; Dad is much better at displaying his catch; by the next summer, I was a little more sure of my fishing self, even if I was still wearing the same Dr. Scholl's. [I have no idea who that dude is behind me; Husband says he's "all socks."])

One year our beloved friends Jack and Luta flew up from Texas to go to Salt Fork with us. The day before we were due to check into our cabin, Mom and Dad had to make an unexpected trip to New Castle, PA, for Mom's aunt's funeral. Jack and Luta stayed home with me, and Luta suggested we make a batch of her Palm Beach brownies to take to Salt Fork with us. Always the happy baker's apprentice, I enthusiastically obliged.

There are three things you need to know about this story: (1) Luta is hilarious, at once full of Southern gentility yet completely uncouth. (2) Jack was hard of hearing. (3) Mom used to keep boxed pasta in an upper cabinet, right next to the flour and sugar canisters.

We're mid-way though the recipe, and the wet ingredients are whirling about in the bowl of Mom's old electric mixer. Luta reaches high above the counter to take the flour out of the cupboard and in doing so bumps an open box of spaghetti, which tumbles out of the cabinet and falls -- purposefully, as though it was aiming for it -- directly into the mixer. This not being her mixer, Luta isn't familiar enough with the machine to turn it off quickly. While she can extract the longer strands of pasta that survived the drop intact, she cannot rescue many of the smaller broken pieces which have already integrated themselves into the chocolate batter.

"Oh well. Doesn't make any sense to waste these ingredients. Dianne, we are making spaghetti brownies." She motions to Jack, across the room, "Did you hear that? I dropped spaghetti into the brownies." Jack nods.

(Dad, Mom, Luta, Di and Jack in front of Salt Fork cabin #48, August 1983.)

A few days later, we're all at Salt Fork, lounging about the cabin. Jack asks where the brownies are, and Mom directs him to the refrigerator. Jack, chewing and crunching, says to his wife, "Luta, these are good, but I think some of the walnut shells got in them."

"No dear," Luta replies, completely straight-faced while the rest of us snort with laughter, "That's the spaghetti."

Jack answers earnestly, "Why did you put spaghetti in them?"

(Jack relaxes after breaking his tooth on a spaghetti brownie, Salt Fork, August 1983.)

Thus spaghetti brownies were born. Never again were Luta's Palm Beach brownies known by their proper name. And never again did any of us reach for the flour without considering how spaghetti would taste in whatever we were baking.

I get it now, now that I'm an adult who actually makes the spaghetti brownies, as opposed to when I was a kid who only ate them. I get why Luta didn't want to toss the batch after the pasta infiltrated it. Spaghetti brownies are freaking delicious and the ingredients are significant enough not to want to waste them. A whole tablespoon of vanilla, almond extract, powdered espresso, nearly four cups of sugar, five eggs. A large amount of many good things is what makes the brownies so rich and delectable...too much to throw away just because of some rogue spaghetti on a suicide mission.


Adapted from Luta Roberts' recipe

Please note that these brownies need to cool for 6-8 hours before you cut them, so plan ahead. They need to be refrigerated and have a wonderfully dense, almost fudge-like, consistency. And, because they are baked in aluminum foil inside the pan, there is no bakeware to clean! Bonus.

8 oz. unsweetened chocolate
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
5 large eggs
1 T. vanilla extract
1 t. almond extract
1/4 t. kosher salt
2 1/2 T. instant espresso
3 3/4 c. sugar
1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. walnut halves

Place rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Invert a 13" x 9" pan on the counter top and shape a piece of aluminum foil over it. Remove, turn the pan upright and place the foil inside the pan. Butter the foil, or spray it with a cooking spray (I like Pam with flour).

In a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, melt together the chocolate and butter. (When the chocolate and butter have melted together, remove the mixture from heat and set aside to cool slightly.) While the chocolate and butter is melting, place the eggs, vanilla, almond extract, salt, espresso and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes.

(It was during this 10-minute mix, incidentally, that Luta reached for the flour and a spaghetti fate befell the brownies.)

Add the flour and mix to combine. Add the slightly cooled chocolate-butter mixture and mix again to combine. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir with a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and make sure all the ingredients are incorporated. Add the walnuts and stir to combine.

Place the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing the top.

Bake for 20 minutes. Don't bake them any longer than 20 minutes -- they never look "done" and cooking them any longer will result in an over-baked brownie. They are supposed to be fudgy and a little "raw" -- that is their delicious charm. Let cool, in the pan, to room temperature. When the brownies are at room temperature, invert the pan onto a cookie sheet, then turn them right-side up onto another cookie sheet. Wrap the pan in plastic wrap and let them cool an additional 6-8 hours (I cool them in the refrigerator) before cutting.

(Husbands are good for licking bowls. And wearing Snoopy apparel.)

Use a serrated knife to cut, and wipe off the blade between cuts if necessary. Wrap the brownies in wax paper or plastic wrap; do not let them dry out.

Makes 32 brownies, with or without spaghetti.


bookgrrrl said...

Forgive my ignorance, but do you happen to know if I can use the same amount of espresso powder instead of the instant espresso?

Dianne said...

You know, I don't know the answer to that, though my hunch is that the pure espresso powder is probably a little stronger than the instant. So my guess is you should use a little less -- maybe 1 1/2 T. instead of 2 1/2 T.? I've never tried it, so let me know how it tastes if you do give it a try.

I hope they turn out very yummy for you, and thanks for reading!

Dianne said...

I just checked Luta's original recipe, and it reads "2 1/2 T. instant espresso or other powder coffee," and "powder" is underlined. So it might be better to substitute a regular instant coffee, instead of using the pure ground espresso? I'll have to try it this way soon and see how it changes the taste, if at all.

bookgrrrl said...

Thanks! I probably will just go out and get instant espresso - I was just wondering about the espresso powder because that's what I have on hand.

Private Label Skincare said...

Love Salt Fork! Lots of childhood memories there...and the brownies sound divine!!