General Discussion 25


Jim Leff | Sep 24, 1999 05:14 PM

We were talking on another board about the brownies at
Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor Michigan (a great deli
and even better bakery...their breads are incredible,
and available via mail order). I'd let drop that I
don't like their most popular item, their brownies. A
former Zing employee laced into me, and since the
conversation is of broader interest, I'm starting this
new thread here.

RL Johnson said: " The brownies are great!!!!!! Is
this a nut issue?"

Listen, I probably shouldn't have broached the brownie
issue, I realize it's a volatile one. No, nuts are good
(I saw--in Zingerman's latest catalog--their curiously
defensive introduction of the new nutless model). But,
since you seem to want to blow the lid off the topic,
here goes.

In my way of thinking, brownies aren't merely small
brown squares of chocolaty fudgey cake. That's not it.
Brownie is a FLAVOR. They must have an oven flavor
(which is so elusive...commercial bakeries never
achieve it and, though I've asked experts for years,
nobody's ever satisfactorily explained why) and a
micron-thin parchmenty skin. Parchment plus oven flavor
plus chocolate plus (essential!) walnut--all in correct
balance--yield a distinct Brownie Flavor which is more
than the sum of the parts and actually pretty divorced
from pure chocolate-hood (to digress, the same's true
of paella. Meat/seafood and yellow rice in a big
shallow pan do not a paella make. Paella is a FLAVOR,
it's a completely discrete thing, so unless that
distinctive nature is evoked, you're just eating stuff
with rice).

Commercial brownies (actually, commercial baked goods
of all kinds) never have the requisite oven flavor
(sort of analogous to what Asian food devotees refer to
as "wok flavor") or the parchment, nor do they achieve
the right balance. They overdo the chocolate (in both
quantity and quality) in an attempt to achieve a
premium-tasting product. Might be good, but it's not a
brownie. Zingerman's "brownies" are of that ilk.

Really, the only way to consistent obtain a brownie
flavor is with Duncan Hines (or was it Betty Crocker?)
mix in your own oven. Substitute in Valhrona (which I
otherwise LOVE) for the cruddy cocoa powder envelope
and you're dead. Some things require less prestigious
ingredients (e.g. hamburgers from chuck vs. sirloin,
etc etc). This is a central chowhound truism that
"foodies" never understand. Ingredients are a means,
not an end. But I digress again.


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