Beethoven and Brownies

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I don’t usually play with the medium I’ve chosen to express myself. There’s something that seems so unromantic about the Internet, as though typing one’s words and sending a hyperlink into cyberspace is somehow less literary than writing at a desk with a quill. I don’t particularly like my handwriting, so after a brief stint with legal pads and pens in order to take myself more seriously, I reverted to the glow of my screen, the haunting sound of my operating system starting up.

But then comes the aspect of my blog that is the “B,” the end of “web,” the fact that I’ve chosen to house my musings, not in a diary or even a word document, but on the Internet, where a multitude of media, from text to images to video is available to me. I don’t usually impose music on you, but I feel a need today, so please, stop what you’re doing. Turn up the volume. Shut your eyes. Click play.

It’s impossible to refute the beauty of something like that, the sounds of Beethoven’s Fifth.

The Destiny Symphony.


I knew the music; I think everyone does. I knew the banging of GGG E FFF D, the tonality of C Minor. Growing up, classical music, not rock, was blasted through our house, so loudly from my father’s office that if you pressed your hands to his closed door, you could feel the bass vibrating. Onetwothree Four. “C’est ainsi que le destin frappe à ma porte.”

I didn’t know it was called the Destiny Symphony, not until a few weeks ago in class, when we were studying Camus’ L’étranger–I could study it every year and never tire of it–and my professor wrote those four simple notes on the board. And then he knocked.

Onetwothree Four. “C’est ainsi que le destin frappe à ma porte.” It is thusly that destiny knocks at my door. Mersault shoots the Arab four times: Onetwothree Four. Destiny’s knocking. Knocking so hard it shakes loose the sun, like a dream, like a myth. It seems impossible, but don’t let it be. Close your eyes. Listen, and it suddenly becomes possible.

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I won’t pretend I know enough about literature or music to say anything that hasn’t already been said on the topic. At any rate, it’s not about what I have to say. It’s about what I feel, what I wanted to put into words but couldn’t, so I won’t. I’ll let Beethoven and Camus do the talking for me today, as I wander through memories of organs so loud I’d have sworn the notes had climbed into my bones to rattle me, of breathlessly tiptoeing through echoey churches to light candles for people I never knew, because with sound and size like that, a church has the power to do anything.

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My chosen medium of communication suddenly feels trite, but then again, I don’t know that Camus and Beethoven would have known that their work would have the same bone-rattling effect on me that churches do. I do think they’d like brownies; if you’re going to feed an unrepentent criminal and a crazed madman something, you’d best make it dark chocolate brownies, heavy on the tongue and likely to make you think a moment or two.

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Archetypal Brownies

Note: This recipe comes, as so many great ones do, via Molly aka Orangette. I can’t leave well enough alone, so I add a tablespoon of strog coffee to the batter.

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter
4 ounces best-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ounces best-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. espresso powder
4 large eggs

Center a rack in the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt; set aside.

Melt the butter and the chocolate together in the top of a double boiler over—but not touching—simmering water (or in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water), stirring frequently. When the chocolate and butter are both melted and smooth, add 1 cup of the sugar to the mixture, and stir it for 30 seconds; then remove the mixture from the heat, and stir in the vanilla extract and espresso powder. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

Put the remaining 1 cup sugar and the eggs into a medium bowl, and whisk by hand to combine. Little by little, pour half of the sugar and eggs into the chocolate mixture, stirring gently but constantly with a rubber spatula so that the eggs don’t scramble from the heat. Beat the remaining sugar and eggs on medium speed until they are thick, pale, and doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Using the rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped eggs and sugar into the chocolate mixture. When the eggs are almost completely incorporated, gently fold in the dry ingredients.

Pour and scrape the batter into an unbuttered 8-inch square pan (I’ve found a heavy nonstick metal brownie pan to be ideal, although the original recipe recommends ceramic or glass). Bake the brownies for 25-28 minutes, during which time they will rise a bit and the top will turn dry and a bit crackly. After 23 minutes, stick a knife or toothpick into the center to see how they are progressing. They should be just barely set—not too raw, but still fairly gooey (mine generally take the full 28 minutes, if not a touch more). Cool the brownies in the pan on a rack. When they’re completely cool, cut them into rectangular bars to serve.

6 thoughts on “Beethoven and Brownies

  1. a) Swoon. 🙂 Girl, you are an artist. Where are my smelling salts.

    b) I remember when we took those pictures… that candied light, that lazy afternoon. (…realizes she just spoke in iambic pentameter…)

  2. The pictures are fab with the rainbows and fractured light. and the brownies we know are to die for!!!

  3. One of my favorite concert memories was going to what I refer to as ‘a Fifth of Beethoven’ – the Fifth Piano Concerto (my favorite) followed by the Fifth Symphony. It was wonderful!
    And your brownies look good, too!

  4. I was in the car the other day when B’s Fifth came on and I had to stop myself from entering the house in order to listen to the whole symphony. No matter how familiar it is, it still has the ability to entrall you. It’s just one of the best pieces of music every written. Thanks for reminding us all, and for those lovely photos of the light coming from the windows – and oh yes, for the brownie recipe too. I like your addition of the coffee.

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