In the kitchen: S'mores Brownies

Food is a very sense-memory thing for me. (Sense-memory being an acting technique buzzword in which certain stimuli help to evoke memories or emotions, helping you get into character.) I've never used food as a way to get into character for a role I've played, but it certainly triggers memories and emotions for me in my day to day life. BBQ chips remind me of time spent snuggled up on the couch with my Dad, watching our weekly episodes of Star Trek or any of the brilliant James Bond movies. Warm, currant-filled scones remind me of my  Great Grandmother, Nana - she made the BEST authentic Scottish scones I've ever eaten - made on a hot griddle, not in the oven. The way her Granny did it. A salty, savory dirty martini instantly gives me butterflies and takes me back to that time I fell in love with the Man of my Dreams while sipping on one at a charming theatre bar out on Long Island. These are things that not only remind me something intellectually, but eating or drinking, or even the aroma of them gives me goose bumps or makes me smile.

I'll give you another, easy example: s'mores. What do you think of when you bite into, or even think about a s'more? For me, I think: camping, family, campfire, warmth, deliciousness, chilly nights, smoke, childhood, friends, burnt marshmallows. There's something about a s'more which can instantly transport you back to the last time you sat bundled up in a plastic, fold-up chair situated just close enough to the roaring fire to keep warm, but still far enough away so that you didn't fill your lungs with the burnt, smokiness billowing from it. To me, it is a comforting sense-memory. One that makes me feel warm inside. Relaxed. Content.

We've been back from our honeymoon for almost a month now, and already I'm jonesing for a night spent in the middle of nowhere, underneath the stars. You'd think two weeks would have satiated me for awhile, but apparently not. I am happy to be back in our home with our furry beasties tucked happily in our apartment and the energizing vibrancy of the city outside of it, but re-entry into Real Life can be quite jarring after several weeks away. And it's amazing how quickly I forgot that relaxed, content feeling I had while sitting around the campfire dreaming big dreams with My Love 'neath the stars. 

So although I can't transport my Real Life to the campsite (at least not yet, anyway), I can bring a little bit of the campsite to my Real Life. And that is precisely what I did when I made these…

Ooey, gooey, s'mores heaven. Or: Camping in a brownie. The graham cracker crust makes a nice, crunchy base for the cakey brownie. After a quick, rough chop to some chocolate and another graham cracker, I added that to the top of the brownie before piling high with mini-marshmallows and popping under the broiler for a few minutes. Some folks like a melty marshmallow - I prefer a burnt marshmallow. A bit of smoke and charred sugar to add to the gooey sweetness inside. Different strokes for different folks. Even the smell of these brownies is enough to take you back to The Happy Place, but the taste! So good. Good enough that it inspired me to embrace my current location, put a few brownies on a plate and sit on couch in the living room with My Love - the room lit by candles, not campfire - dreaming big dreams 'neath the noisy footsteps of our upstairs neighbors.

And that will do for now.

S'mores Brownies
Recipe by Alison Walla

For the crust:

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
110 g. graham cracker crumbs (about 1 cup, or 8 graham crackers)
25 g. granulated sugar (about 1.5 tablespoons)
Pinch of salt

For the brownie:

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks)
270 g. granulated sugar (1 1/4 cups)
85 g. unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutch-process. (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
112 g. all-purpose flour (about 3/4 cup)

For the topping:

1 Cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 cups mini-marshmallows

Crumbs of one graham cracker (about 1/4 cup)

To make:

Pre-heat oven to 325ยบ.

Line the bottom and sides of an 8" cast iron skillet (or an 8" baking dish) with foil and lightly grease the foil. Set aside.

For the crust: In a small bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and salt until well combined. Add the melted butter and mix with a fork until the crumbs are evenly and well coated. Pour into prepared skillet/dish and flatten out using the back of the fork. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the edges look a little dry and the crust is nice and golden.

For the brownie: Combine the sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and butter in a medium sauce pan. Place over medium heat and mix all the ingredients together, stirring occasionally, until all the butter is melted and the mixture is thick and hot. (Watch it carefully, so that it doesn't burn on the bottom!) Remove from heat and allow it to cool until it is warm, rather than hot.

When the chocolate mixture has cooled a bit, mix in the vanilla and then add the eggs, one at a time. The mixture will be thick and shiny and beautifully chocolatey. Once the eggs are fully incorporated, continue to beat with for about a minute - 40 more strokes or so. Add the flour and mix just until the flour disappears - do not overmix. The batter will be very thick.

Spoon the brownie batter over the graham cracker crust and smooth out the top. Place the skillet back in the oven and bake for another 30-35 minutes - until a toothpick comes out just slightly gooey. (If you like a more fudgy brown, bake a little less.) The top of the brownie will have a nice, dark matte look to it. Remove from the oven. Set the oven to Broil.

For the topping: Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the baked brownie. Dust some of the graham cracker crumbs over the chocolate chips, and top it all off with as many mini-marshmallows as your little heart desires. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the marshmallows.

Place the mallow-topped brownies back in the oven, making sure there is 6-8" between the brownies and the broiler. Broil for 1-2 minutes - or if you're like me and you like burnt marshmallow - a solid 2 minutes. Just watch them carefully - never take your eyes off them, really - until they're browned/burnt to your taste.

I suggest letting the brownies cool a bit before you cut into them, just enough to let the marshmallow cool off a bit. It will help with the cutting. Speaking of: When you cut the brownies, I also suggest dipping your knife in a glass of water before each cut. Sounds a little tedious, but this will help keep the marshmallows from sticking to your knife and thus creating a sticky, rather unattractive brownie.

// A few notes... //

When creating this recipe, I tried it several ways, but the version posted above was my favorite. However, the variations beg mentioning...

Should you be more in the mood to Sandra Lee these brownies - feel free to use a boxed brownie mix for the brownies. Voila! Semi-homemade... but really good semi-homemade.

Should you be gluten-intolerant - feel free to use the faux graham crackers (found at Whole Foods) for the crust, but be sure to add a bit more sugar - 2 + tablespoons - and your favorite G-F brownie recipe. Of course, you could always Sandra Lee this, too and used a G-F boxed brownie. Note: I would NOT use the King Arthur Gluten Free brownie mix. Much to my surprise, it was not very good. Dry and very fake tasting. However, after some research, Betty Crocker sells a mean G-F brownie mix. Just, FYI.

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