The other weekend, I traveled to NYC to meet with my dear friend Libby who is moving to London at the end of the summer. I think our initial instinct was to have "one last hoorah," but in the end I think we struck a good balance. Yes, there was a night where we may have indulged in too many bottles of sparkling wine, but we were just as happy to spend the next afternoon doing nothing else but rewatch the first season of Girls. Going out aside, we also had the chance to cook a few meals together, picnic in the park after a visit to the Union Square farmer’s market, and snack on world-famous chocolate chip cookies on our way to a memorable breakfast at Jack’s Wife Freda. In between meals, we visited an urban garden in Harlem, made it to a centennial Irving Penn photo exhibit at the Met, and, of course, strolled through Central Park—later returning for Shakespeare in the Park’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream."
I made it a point to see other friends too and on my last day, after a few hours of exploring Brooklyn, we met up with my old friend Scott in Greenpoint where he works. Scott and I worked together for a time at the same bakery in Charlottesville before he moved on to hone his craft in the big city. Hone he has, working first at Jim Lahey's widely-acclaimed Sullivan Street and, most recently, at She Wolf Bakery, baking bread for Andrew Tarlow’s New York restaurant empire and a number of the city’s farmer’s markets. Naturally leavened and made with local, organic freshly-ground flour, She Wolf's bread is not only superb, but also (according to Scott's humble opinion) the best in NYC. I don’t disagree. I was hooked back in February when Scott sent me their Danish Rye in the mail. Freezing half of it, I successfully stretched it out to a month's worth of breakfast toast. On this trip, while at the farmer's market, Libby and I picked up a loaf of their polenta sourdough— the sweetness and crunch of the corn went so well with our summer picnic assortment.
When Libby and I arrived, it was too late to watch Scott and the rest of the bakers in action, but we were still fortunate enough to receive a tour of their working space. There's always something special about stepping back into a kitchen like that, a glimpse into where all the magic happens. No wonder I teared a few times... To cap my visit, and the trip as a whole, we then walked a few blocks over to their sister restaurant, Achille’s Heel. The afternoon rays cast a warm golden haze in the time-worn room as we sat at the bar and talked of dreams, goals, the science behind bread, flaws in our food system. Such lively, impassioned conversations always leave me inspired and motivated and I was sad to eventually say goodbye to Scott, Libby, and the City of Dreams. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the eye-opening past few days.
Finally at home, I was inspired too in another way, by an idea Scott threw out when we were discussing the role of gluten (what else do you talk about at the bar?): brownies with buckwheat flour. Any mention of brownies leaves me craving them for days and his comment reminded me that I also had a bag of buckwheat flour at home. I couldn’t get them off my mind. Weirdly enough the next day, my mom stated that she too had an intense hankering for something chocolate. That was all the excuse I needed.
P.S. Thank you to all my wonderful friends who made the trip so memorable. Special shout out to Jacqueline and Drew for opening their home up to me and being such generous hosts! I still need to mail your spare keys back to you…
My typical go-to brownie recipe is intensely fudgy and more truffle-like, using all cocoa powder instead of real chocolate. This time around though, I wanted something a little less dense, to allow the rich, toasted flavor and texture of the buckwheat to come through. These are still impossibly rich, but with an addicting chew and strong notes of coffee. I did a 50/50 all-purpose and buckwheat flour blend because I didn’t want the brownies to turn out chalky. Lastly, the original recipe calls for walnuts. I didn’t use them here, but I’m sure they would be tasty. I may even try them with hazelnuts next time. I skipped the ganache topping because I loved the craggle-top too much to cover it.
adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 16 brownies 2-inch squares
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (5.5 ounces) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon coarse salt
½ cup unbleached all purpose flour
½ cup buckwheat flour
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8x8-inch square pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving overhang. Grease paper.
In a small bowl, combine flours and salt.
Melt chocolate and butter in a large bowl over a gently simmering pot of water until just melted. Remove bowl from heat and stir the chocolate mixture until smooth.
Whisk in sugar. Making sure the mixture is lukewarm at this point, whisk in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Gently fold in flour mixture until just combined. Add walnuts if using.
Transfer batter to prepared baking pan. Bake brownies until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 25-28 minutes. Transfer pan to cooling rack and let brownies cool completely.
Using paper as aid, lift brownie sheet from pan.Using large sharp knife, cut brownie sheet into 16 (or however many you fancy) squares, wiping knife with hot moist cloth after each cut. Alternatively, you can refrigerate and chill the brownies first before cutting- this will ensure cleaner edges. Enjoy!