In a blogosphere featuring things like bacon ice cream and chocolate-covered pickles, the flavor combination of these brownies doesn’t seem that out there. Sure, it’s a little strange to make an icing out of goat cheese, or to pair it with brownies, but it’s definitely not innovative or completely unusual. Some of you might just wonder why I can’t leave well enough alone and just make normal brownies; it might seem a little like a gimmick.
So I want to explain why I like to to experiment with new flavors and baking ideas, why I think I and other food bloggers and chefs can’t seem to resist playing around with well-loved classics.
Let me take you on a little detour. For the first day of my history and literature tutorial last semester, I had to read an excerpt from Terry Eagleton’s book on literary philosophy called “What is Literature?”. One of the schools of thought that came up in the article was the Russian Formalists, who believed that the purpose of literature was to defamiliarize the familiar. Literature deformed traditional structures of language, making them strange and forcing us to struggle to understand their meaning, and thus causing us to comprehend their meaning and content with new appreciation. Eagleton compares it to how poisoning the air gives us a new awareness and awe of our facility of breathing.
Perhaps this isn’t a flattering comparison for either literature or food, but I believe bakers aim for a similar reaction when we push the bounds of traditional recipes. We aren’t trying to ruin the comfort food you take for granted, but rather to give you a new appreciation for them. A while back I read a review of Grant Achatz’s restaurant Alinea; it singled out one of his dishes, which looked more like a piece of modern art than food, yet its smell and taste were incredibly nostalgic, evoking memories of autumn and woodsmoke.
I’m not presuming to understand why Grant Achatz cooks what he does, but on the consumption end of things, I think such dishes involve this process of defamiliarizing the familiar. Finding old flavors and memories in such a strange setting make them particularly poignant. In a class called Science and Cooking at Harvard, I met similar chefs who worked in gastronomy; they showed us the weird and cool things they could make, explained the scientific reactions behind them. But what was missing from the lectures was the question of why, why someone would want to eat these dishes.
It isn’t just that the food tastes good or sells well or teaches chemistry to a bunch of humanities students terrified of lab work, but that it tastes both familiar and strange; and in tasting strange, it makes us appreciate the the familiar anew.
And so, to the brownies. I think the tang and savory flavor of the goat cheese complements the richness of the brownies, bringing out the chocolate and keeping it from being too sweet or overwhelming. The cherries’ juiciness and tenderness becomes particularly noticeable as it cuts through the creaminess of frosting and the dense fudginess of the brownies (this recipe is definitely on the fudgy end of the brownie spectrum).
I first discovered the brownie-goat cheese combination through my roommates. Lynette is a huge goat cheese fan, and I’ve come to expect the little Ziploc container of goat cheese in our fridge, which she dips into every night. When we went to Toscanini for ice cream, she went immediately for the brownie and goat cheese flavor. It was fairly mild, with the goat cheese barely noticeable, but I’ve intensified the flavors in this recipe. Familiar, yet new.
Cherry Brownies with Goat Cheese Frosting
Click here for the printer-friendly recipe.
Yields: 16 servings | Brownie batter adapted from Alice Medrich’s Cocoa Brownies
For the Brownie Batter
10 tablespoons butter, cubed
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon instant coffee
2 eggs, cold
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup pitted and quartered cherries
For the Goat Cheese Frosting
4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey, or to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Place the butter, cocoa powder, sugar, and instant coffee in a large microwavable bowl.
- Microwave until the butter is completely melted, stopping every 30 seconds to give it a stir. The mixture will be very thick.
- Stir for about a minute to cool the batter slightly, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat the mixture until it is smooth and shiny.
- Mix in the flour and salt, and then fold in the cherries.
- Spoon the batter into a greased 8x8 inch pan or a 9-inch circular pan. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the center is barely set. (When you insert a toothpick into the center, it won’t come out clean; you want it to be thickly coated with moist crumbs).
- Let the brownies cool completely.
- Whisk together all the ingredients for the frosting until light and fluffy. Spread over the brownies.
- Cut into small squares or very thin slices.