“Stacey’s Emergency” Brown Butter Pecan Brownies

by Cara Nicoletti on September 29, 2014

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One morning, about two weeks after September 11, 2001, my mom did something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. My sister and I were eating cereal at the kitchen counter before school, and like every morning, my mom had The Today Show on the tiny kitchen TV. That TV was almost always on when she was in the kitchen, the hum of All My Children in the background while she made lunch, Oprah while she prepared dinner, Jeopardy or Seinfeld right before we sat down to eat. No one, including her, was ever really watching it. Those weeks after 9/11 were the exception, though. We couldn’t peel our eyes away from the TV, despite the fact that we had already seen the same footage over and over and over again.

Finally, one morning, when the plane flew into the tower for the thousandth time, my mom marched over to the TV and said, “Enough.” She switched the channel to PBS, sat down at the counter with my sister and me, and we watched Sesame Street until it was time for school. That became the new tradition. Despite the fact that I was a sophomore in high school, I looked forward to watching Sesame Street every morning with her. It made my world feel calmer, safer.

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There is a fine line between staying informed and becoming obsessed. There comes a point where all you are doing is watching—absorbing violence and disaster and sadness and feeling totally helpless to stop it. I’ve been feeling that way lately, I’m sure a lot of you have. After my last post, which was my heaviest and most personal in the history of this blog, I think we need a break. Taking a break doesn’t mean burying your head in the sand and denying that the world is terrifying and completely out of control right now. It just means taking a break. Shutting it down. Resetting in the most shamelessly brainless way.

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The Babysitter’s Club books are a reset button for me. Will I regret admitting this to you later, when I’m trying to sound smart and write about James Joyce? Definitely. But I mean it. These books are so brainless that I was embarrassed to read them even as a third-grader. I had to sneak them home from friends’ houses or hide in the library in order to read them. These books, with their simple plot-lines and inane chatter, imbued me with a brain-buzzy kind of calmness.

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Recently, on a particularly overwhelming day, I impulse-bought Babysitter’s Club Book #43: “Stacey’s Emergency” at a used book store. The dilemma in the book is this: Stacey loves chocolate, but Stacey has diabetes so she cannot eat chocolate. Ignoring her diagnosis, Stacey steals Ring Dings from Claudia’s house and stuffs them in her purse, she eats chocolate bars in the privacy of her bedroom, foams like a rabid animal while making fudge at a babysitting job, and (ROCK BOTTOM), even shoves M&M’s in her mouth in the bathroom of a commuter train. Eventually, Stacey gets really really sick because, you know, cause and effect.

Unlike the news of the world, THIS is a problem I can get my head around.

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My totally inappropriate response to finishing this book was to immediately get up and make the chocolatiest brownies I could muster. I’ve been trying for years to make brownies that are better than (or as good as) the ones you get from boxed mixes, and this is the one. They are chewy and dense, the brown butter adds coziness and depth, and the pecans a give them a perfect crunch. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend “Stacey’s Emergency” but I would recommend that you shut your brain off and go make these immediately.

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Ingredients:
2 ½ sticks of butter, cut into cubes (plus more for greasing pan)
2 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, chilled
2/3 cup + 2 Tablespoons unbleached cake flour
¾ cup roughly chopped pecans

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Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 325°F. Butter an 8×8 baking pan and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, leaving about 2 inches of paper overhanging on each side (this makes it easy to lift the brownies out). Butter the parchment and set pan aside.

In a medium saucepan, brown your butter until deeply golden-brown and fragrant. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla until mixture is smooth and shiny. Allow this mixture to cool for about 3 minutes before adding in the eggs, one at a time, stirring between each addition until each egg is incorporated.

Transfer this mixture to a mixing bowl and add flour. Stir with a wooden spoon for 60 strokes.
(A reader let me know that when she did this by hand, her brownie batter was very very thick, but in her kitchen aid it came out just like the pictures. I didn’t have this problem, but do feel free to throw everything in your mixer–just be sure not to over mix. Thank you, Liz!)

Pour batter into baking sheet, sprinkle with pecans, and bake for about 1 hour, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Lift brownies from pan using parchment handles and transfer to a cooling rack to cool before cutting into 6 large brownie or 8 medium-sized brownies.

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Leave a Comment

Brettski September 29, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Well there goes any hope of healthy eating this week, my mouth is watering!

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Perry September 29, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Thank you for this much needed relief Cara. You have such a magical way of mixing humor and wit with a pinch of salt and a chunk of chocolate. I love reading your posts. Always looking forward to the next one. Thanks
-perry G

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Seymour Salett September 29, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Cara,
sounds delicious. Brownies , thick and chocolaty and one of my favorite indulgences . I’ll have to get Linda to try the recipe.
Seymour

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danielle @ this picture book life September 29, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Love this and The Babysitters Club.

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Gemma September 29, 2014 at 8:59 pm

This is just what I needed! These look absolutely amazing.

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Akaleistar September 29, 2014 at 10:39 pm

The news can be an awful reminder of how terrible the world can be, so it’s nice to be reminded that there are good things in the world like brownies and The Baby-Sitters club :)

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kristie @ birchandwild.com September 29, 2014 at 11:53 pm

Ha! This is awesome! I owned that book and remember it well. I even remember having a similarly inappropriate response to stacy’s dilemma when I ate m&m’s while reading the book!
These Brownies look amazing!

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Elizabeth Aquino September 30, 2014 at 12:59 am

I love it. I am quite a bit older than you but totally relate to being embarrassed by certain reading material. I was a voracious and quite sophisticated reader all of my life, but in my mid-teens, I was a bit obsessed with Harlequin Romances. This was the late seventies — no internet — but I bought a membership and had a little box filled with them sent to me every six weeks or so. I wonder if there are any good food scenes in them other than Fabio-like men ravishing blonde women astride horses.

Now, I’m off to make brownies in lieu of even listening to news on NPR.

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Charlotte Messervy October 5, 2014 at 8:15 am

This is terrible to admit, but I’ve been avoiding the news while on my round-the-world trip. Reading your last post really captured the angst and dread that I’ve had about it all (but obviously in a much more personal sense given what happened to you, which I was so sorry to hear about). I just looked at CNN and then immediately pulled up Yummy Books… so thank you for this post. It was just what I needed too!

Charlotte, currently in Lisbon
charlottemesservy.com

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Marian November 2, 2014 at 11:08 am

I grew up with my mom’s boxed brownies — they were the best, she would underbake them and then put them in the fridge for that perfect , super-fudgy texture — and I’ve always wanted to figure out how to recreate them with out a mix (even though the mix holds significant real estate in my heart, and always will). Just sent this to her and am forcing her to make them with me when I come home in a few weeks. While I’m there I might steal a few old “reset” books, too. xx

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uncle bob December 19, 2014 at 4:38 pm

This is your great uncle bob in buffalo. If you send me some of those brownies i will look for the Baby Sitters Club Books which i believe are somewhere in the house. Could be in the Garage, I think we have all of them.

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Flannery November 17, 2015 at 11:15 am

Hi Ms. Cara,

First of all, those brownies look really good. I’ve never read the “Babysitter’s Club” series before (Never have really gotten into them), but I get you about the entire obsessed and taking a break-type feeling. I mean, I’m just 16 years old (at this time of writing, and a high school junior), and I have just become fed up with it all. I don’t plan on resetting it on the most brainless way possible (Not that type of person), instead I plan on watching some non-news TV or stuff or looking up food blogs to comfort my pain. (Including yours, you have a very comforting and warm style).

And as for the entire thing involving your mother turning off the TV and “Sesame Street” watching becoming somewhat of a comforting ritual? I can relate to that. My mom and 13-year-old sister (If she isn’t watching the 1D concert on Showtime. Ugh.) are gonna watch the “Holiday Baking Championship” on the Food Network to help get over my fears.

Also, my parents are doing an open-house Holiday party and I’m in charge of food, so I think that these brownies would be a great bet. Thing is, we still haven’t decided on guests yet, and I’m worried about the pecans, since I’m pretty much sure there are people who have a nut allergy or who don’t like nuts. Will the flavor be affected in any way by the omission of the pecans? I also might need to double or even triple this recipe, so can it feed a large crowd? How do I do that? Are these good with Kids? Because I bet these would be a hit with the little ‘uns at the party.

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