Give Me Some Comfort (Food): Brownie Points

Oh brownies. In the grand scheme of life, there is almost nothing more tempting or more wonderful than freshly-baked, slightly gooey brownies. In high school, I used to make brownies almost every weekend, when Jeremy would come over and my mom would pop a batch in the oven. We'd turn on a movie and dredge our brownies in ice cream and chocolate syrup, secure in our teenager metabolisms (youth! so innocent...).

Good brownies--moist, springy, chocolatey and fudgy--are just utterly fantastic. Slathered with some chocolate frosting or left unadorned, their tissue-thin surfaces shiny and delicate, they are instant crowd-pleasers. But by that same token, bad brownies--thick, heavy, and dry--are one of the most unfortunate things ever. The disappointment in seeing a big, beautiful brownie, taking a bite, and discovering that it is dry, chalkly, or--ugh--filled with nuts (or fruit!) is quite unlike anything else.

Of course, sometimes the best brownies are the ones that never make it to the pan. I think my weekly brownie-trips with Jeremy were subtle attempts to sneak spoonfuls of brownie batter, which I would happily eat for the rest of my short, fat life if it didn't make me sick so quickly. With the richness of the egg and flour and the pure chocolate essence of a melted Hershey's bar, brownie batter is frightfully addictive (and unlike Dave, who will even eat chunks of unkneaded bread dough, I don't usually sample my food before it's completely prepared, less because of possible fears of salmonella and more because I am a stickler for instructions. Brownie batter in oven, not stomach!). One memorable night, though, when I was still in college, Kevin and I found a box of brownie mix and although we managed to track down eggs and oil (from the friendly Cabot dining hall staff!), we didn't have access to an oven. Unperturbed, we worked our way through most of the whole bowl, while our respective significant others looked on in disgust (and jealousy?).

My favorite brownie recipe is one that's almost as old as I am (I brought these suckers in kindergarten, to great acclaim). Made with regular brownie mix, scoops of batter are dropped in paper-lined cupcake tins and topped with a tiny Reese's peanut butter cup. The batter puffs up around the peanut butter cup, forming a little round pillow. The chocolate of the peanut butter cup doesn't quite melt, while the peanut butter emerges hot and gooey. They are just so, so good. I'm not sure if my mom invented these or if she got the recipe from somewhere else (which I'm more inclined to believe. My mom is more the recipe follower than inventor), but last year I started baking them again, encouraged by my boyfriend's oven and hungry roommates. The roomies, who are environmental grad students and also geology nerds, said the brownies looked like a certain kind of volcano and christened them Caldera Brownies.

1 box of brownie mix (usually needs oil, water, and an egg)
1 bag of miniature Reese's peanut butter cups
Paper cupcake liners

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Prepare the brownie mix according to the instructions on the box
Unwrap about 2 dozen peanut butter cups
Line a cupcake tin with the paper liners
Using an ice cream scoop, fill the liners with batter--about 2/3 full
Gently press a peanut butter cup into the center of the brownie batter until the top of the batter is even with the top of the peanut butter cup
Bake for 17-20 minutes
Let cool 5-10 minutes and serve warm