Originality (Part 1). And brownies.

These brownies are not a vintage recipe. They are, in fact, on the cutting edge of brownie-making. I am, however, reading an article on originality for my favorite class (a super-geeky intellectual property seminar), so I figured this would be an optimal time to do that post I promised on cooking and creativity.

Baked, in Red Hook, Brooklyn, produces amazing, well-crafted baked goods. I’m more than a little obsessed with their apricot-rosemary bars – they’re really good streusel-topped fruit bars, and Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito had the excellent idea of baking rosemary into the shortbread crust to really make the fruit pop. They also came up with a recipe for black hole-like brownie – dense and dark, with irresistible pull. In 2008, they were kind enough to publish this recipe in their first cookbook. Of course, the recipe is now all over the internet.

Recipes are not copyrighted, so Matt and Renato can do nothing about this. Yet, they followed that first cookbook up with a second last month. The above-mentioned apricot bars are included in this compilation, and I’ve already found that recipe posted online. There was talk this summer among mixologists about copyright protection for cocktail creations; this is not really legally feasible for a whole slew of reasons but, perhaps more importantly, it seems to cut against cooking culture and tradition.

The article I read this week proposes varying levels of copyright protection keyed to the level of a work’s originality. Recipes, by their nature, would very, very rarely reach the level of originality required under this rubric for strong protection. Even something really exciting and “new” like the Baked rosemary-apricot bars build on an underlying recipe and rework it by adding a single new ingredient. The Baked Brownie is new and different – but brownies themselves are old hat. But how different is this recipe from the 1960s Tennessee brownie recipe I posted a few weeks ago? Come to think, how far is the Roman fish dish I wrote about from the scrambled eggs and lox you can find at most diners?

I took the Baked Brownie and substituted bourbon for vanilla (as I always do with chocolate recipes). Smitten Kitchen (linked above) added chipotle chili powder. The process of tweaking goes on, and the communal nature of cooking and food is reinforced by copying. And those are enough thoughts for today…more coming soon…

For now, have some pretty pictures and the superb (and easy) recipe I’ve been nattering on about for several paragraphs now:

I actually made 2 pans. Because I am constitutionally incapable of making non-massive quantities of food. The profile view:

And, finally, the recipe:

The Baked Brownie (Makes 24)

1. Use a dark cocoa powder, like Valrhona. A pale, light-colored cocoa does not have enough depth.
2. Make sure your eggs are room temperature and do not overbeat them into the batter.
3. Make sure you check your brownies often while baking. Once the brownies have been overbaked slightly, they have reached the point of no return.

1 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. dark cocoa powder
11 oz. quality dark chocolate (60-72%), chopped coarsely
8 oz. butter (2 sticks), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract (or bourbon!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light colored metal pan 9x13x2 pan.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the salt, and cocoa powder.
4. Configure a large sized double boiler. Place the chocolate, the butter, and the instant espresso powder in the bowl of the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined.
5. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both sugars. Whisk the sugars until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. Mixture should be room temperature.
6. Add three eggs to the chocolate/butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not over-beat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.
7. Sprinkle the flour/cocoa/salt mix over the chocolate. Using a spatula (DO NOT USE A WHISK) fold the dry into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour/cocoa mix visible.
8. Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with your spatula. Bake the brownies for 30 minutes (rotate the pan half-way through baking) and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan (seriously – mine finished in 28 minutes). The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
9. I know it’s tough but…Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.