Friday, December 9, 2011
You know it’s mid-December when a sense of panic slowly begins to encroach, growing exponentially with each passing day. The minutes tick by, while looming work deadlines hover and daunting holiday tasks remain undone. Long work days are followed by even longer nights. Calendars fill and a flurry of activity ensues, followed by a feeling of exhaustion and the need
to curl up tightly in the fetal position in your bed and not get up until January 2 for a long winter’s nap.
Wow, that may be too dramatic, even for me. You get the point, though. In the university setting, both profs and students alike are overwhelmed with end of the semester activities. It is in part for this reason that our penultimate class before the dreaded but necessary final exam was designed with a celebratory slant; here are photos from our autumn harvest dinner in case you missed them earlier this week. Academics alone don’t own end-of-the-year anxiety, though, and I am certain you have your share of stresses, whether work, personal, or both.
This is all starting to sound gloomy, which is not at all my intention. Let’s take a turn for the merry! Holiday angst notwithstanding, I really do love the season, which brims with food, cheer, and song. Yesterday I attended the annual Dunster House Messiah Sing at Harvard, one of my own personal traditions since moving to Boston in 1997. This weekend’s activities include attending the Boston Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker and a holiday party with friends. I also need to get into the gym for a yoga class and outside for a brisk winter run. And finish holiday shopping and tree trimming. Uh, wait, that requires starting holiday shopping and purchasing said tree. I can do this—breathe—really I can.
(She glances apprehensively at the two foot stack of papers to read and grade, watching the emails in her inbox accrue like rapid fire—wait, are they actually replicating? The feeling of panic builds again, and she tries desperately to resist the seemingly magnetic pull from the desk to her bed…)
Chocolate Brownies to the Rescue!
Well, not exactly. Eating as a way to assuage anxiety isn’t healthy, and that’s a topic for another day. (Or your shrink.) I hope my readers know me well enough at this point to always remember that I’m rarely serious. I will remind you of this every so often for fear there is someone reading my blog for the first time, concluding “Dr. Newby recommends baking brownies and eating all of them as a way to deal with holiday stress, so it must be good for you!” If you even for one moment think that, I’ll reiterate my comment above about calling your shrink. Now is good.
The simple fact is that there’s been a bit of a brownie theme of late. It began in November, when I made brownies for my theatre company; everyone loves them. I was then asked to bake brownies for a Diwali party in November. (More on these stories here.) I used one of Martha Stewart’s “top chocolate desserts” recipes, but when I initially tried to find it online to share with you all I found was a video clip of her baking brownies with Snoop Dogg. My brownies were a big hit, so I made them again as a special treat for my class this week. I finally managed to find the recipe online, and so I’m revisiting the issue again because several students asked me for the recipe.
I made a few changes to the recipe and portions that you might consider as you begin your holiday baking. First, I used white whole wheat flour rather than refined white flour, which often works quite well in desserts with big flavors like pumpkin, chocolate, and spices. Second, I added a cup of semisweet chocolate chunks to the batter, because I love warm brownies with gooey melted chocolate. (Normally I’d use dark chocolate chunks but the batter was made with dark chocolate; do whatever brings you unadulterated joy.) Third, I made the brownies in a 9×13 pan, not an 8″ square pan. The first time I made them I used a square pan, as suggested, and found them on the thick side. If you do use a larger pan, however, you need to reduce the baking time to about 25 minutes or so; keep an eye on them because oven temperatures vary and no one likes dry, overcooked brownies. When in doubt, take them out.
I used a cute little star cookie cutter—’tis the holiday season, after all—and topped each with a tiny dollop of maple buttercream. The operative word here being little. You can’t tell from the picture of the brownies due to lack of scale, but they are only 1.5 inches from point to point. Yes, I did just geek out and measure it on a ruler (left). I started to simply report my findings but then decided to take a picture of the evidence to show you. Yeah, I’m a little embarrassed, but you know I love getting quantitative about such things.
Not only are these mini brownie stars adorable, they are a great way of watching energy intake. This is why I tend to make all of my holiday baked goods “mini” sizes, which satisfies the sweet tooth and hardcore chocoholic without packing on tons of extra calories. Portion size is a really important concept, no matter what or when you are eating, brownie or bagel, holiday or Tuesday. (Note: this strategy doesn’t work as well if you embark down the fallacious trail of “it’s really small, so I can have seven!”) I’ll be writing about additional strategies for enjoying the holidays healthfully next week, so keep in touch. And this does NOT mean a lack of indulgence, either, as evidenced by today’s piece. I adore holiday baking; it’s something that happens but once a year, and I look forward to sharing some of my favorite treats with you in the coming weeks. With a little luck, maybe I’ll even be able to avoid a repeat of last year’s all-nighter baking binge on Christmas Eve, now just 15 days away.
In the meantime, I’m just going to take a wee nap.
Note: The brownies are topped with a bit of maple buttercream, and that recipe is here.