Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chocolate Brownies for a BirthDay

Tomorrow is Anu's birthday. Anu, her first born. It has been 8 years since that snowy day in Boston.The snow had been heavy that day, almost 4 inches had accumulated by noon. Her doctor, Dr.Richardson, could make it only 3 hours after the scheduled time of her C-section. Three whole hours after the time her Mother-in-law had deemed the most auspicious.

It didn't matter though. Nothing did except that a baby was arriving in their life that day, albeit three hours late.

She started taking out the flour, the eggs, the butter to melt, the brown sugar

When the Doctor finally congratulated and the nurse brought the wailing baby wrapped in a white hospital blanket with blue borders all she had felt was relief, a culmination of the journey she and her husband had undertaken over the years. Yes, that is what it was, relieved, tired and nauseous is what she had felt even later in that bright wallpapered room. When had the love come in, the worry, the protectiveness, the eagerness to change a diaper, wipe a snot, the enthusiasm to drive to a swim class and then the ballet ? She wasn't sure, they had just crept in as she folded the laundry, she guessed.

She took out Anu's favorite chocolate sprinkles and the Hershey Cocoa Powder

"Rrrrrrring", the phone went, in the monotonous tone, jolting her out of her reverie. She ignored it, thinking of the pile of work needed to be done before her husband and daughter came back from the piano class.

The sugar goes into the melted butter, mixed to be together

The phone went "Rrrrrrrrring" again. It was Ma, she was sure. Even after a decade Ma could never keep track of the time difference between the far east and west. She must be calling to wish Anu a day early. If told she would say, "Aaajkei to unish, ekhankar hisebe or jomnodin hoye geche" (Today is the 19th here, it is already her birth date in my part of the world")

Two eggs into the wet mix. A tsp of vanilla for the sweet smell

"Hello AnuMoni, aaj tomar jonmodin (Hello Anu Moni, today is your Birthday)", Ma said, without even waiting to hear the voice on the other end.

"This is me Ma, Anu is out and it is not even her birthday today, not until tomorrow", she said.

"Amader ekhane unish hoye geche (It is already the 19th here)", Ma continued, obstinacy and hurt in her voice. Ma had wanted to be there, to welcome her first granddaughter 8 years ago. But the straw haired, pale faced officer at the US Consulate in Kolkata thought otherwise. He refused Ma a visa. One stamp and a grandmother was denied the happiness of being united with her first grandchild.Ma still carried that grievance and some more.

The Flour, the coccoa powder, the baking powder and a pinch of salt. Dry into wet

"Paayesh ta baniye rekhechis? Kal to ar shomoy pabi na"(Did you make the Paayesh, you won't get time tomorrow), Ma asked.

"You know Anu doesn't even like Paayesh. What is the point ? I am sending cupcakes for her school tomorrow and at home I will make some chocolate brownies", she said

"Jonmodin e ektu paayesh banabi na. Paayesh ta shubho ( Paayesh brings good luck. Won't you make even a little on her birthday)", she could imagine her Ma sitting by the black telephone, a cup of tea in hand, her brows furrowed while the maid swept around the morning dust with a broom. Her Ma trying to send across good wishes over the oceans, trying to maintain the age old traditions, she steadfastly refused.

"Dekhbo (I will see)", she said. She didn't want to argue any more. There was no time really. She wouldn't make the paayesh, she didn't have hours to stir and thicken milk, to make a dessert her daughter would not even touch.

Mix till each component loses its own identity to be one

Busily she started taking out the flour, the eggs, the butter to melt, the Hershey cocoa powder. This was an easy recipe, the brownies would be in the oven by the time Anu was back.

She melted the butter and added the fine sugar, stirring with a steady hand, willing the sugar to dissolve.

She cranked up the oven to 350F. Greased and floured an 8 inch square pan and lined with butter paper. Poured the batter into the baking dish, smoothing out the top. Slivers of almonds placed gingerly on the surface would look lovely but Anu hated almonds

On her birthday and Dada's, Ma would be up early, very early. The Milkman would be there early too. Ma would have told him to get an extra liter of milk, with a special request to keep it water free because paayesh had to be made, there was a birthday to be celebrated. The maid would have scrubbed and washed the deep bottomed brass pot, the day before. It would be on the stove, gleaming as it caught first rays of the morning sun.

The brownies baked in preheated oven for 30 minutes.

Ma would pour out the pristine white milk, still warm, into the pot. A few tej pata and fragrant whole green cardamom would be thrown in. And then Ma would stir and stir, careful so that the milk did not boil over, careful so as to not scald the bottom of the pan. She wouldn't utter a word as she did so. For this was sacred, the paayesh would be first offered to the Gods, requesting blessing for the birthday child from the unknown.

As the milk thickened, she would put in a handful of gobindo bhog chaal, the short grained rice, smeared in ghee. The rice spread its fragrance as it cooked. Everything else in the house would stop that morning. Baba did not get his tea, breakfast got delayed and the maid was asked to come back later as the paayesh simmered on the stove and Ma stood watchful over it.

It would take more than an hour for the payyesh to come to the right thickness. And then Ma would take it off the heat and add the patali, the khejur gur, fresh and deep brown if it was dada's birthday in winter. The whole house would be infused with that rich, sweet smell, that reminded you of cold winter mornings and dew drops clinging on to the leaves. The thick paayesh studded with golden raisins would be kept in the Puja room till the Gods had their fill. And then Ma would bring in bowlfuls for her and Dada in silver bowls, scalloped along the edges, saved for special occasions.

She never liked Paayesh, she didn't like anything sweet, she would refuse to have more than a spoonful of that dedicated love. Dada would gorge on it.

Suddenly she craved some of her Ma's paayesh, bowlful of sweet creamy paayesh with plump golden raisins made perfect with time. The warm, chocolate smell of the brownie did nothing to satisfy that craving.Sighing she took out the milk and last of her patali from the refrigerator. Maybe two decades later, Anu would crave paayesh some day. Till then she would just keep the house smelling fragrant on this special winter evening.The blessings from her forefathers would pass on.

This is a part of my Food Fiction series. Anu is not my daughter, it is NOT my daughter's birthday, this IS fiction. It might seem strange but it is the simplest food that has all the fiction entwined around it. This post goes to Of Chalks and Chopsticks -- 2nd Edition an event started by Aqua and this time hosted by Me. What is your Food Story ? I won't be doing round up until Sunday, so if you are running late, send me your entry, I am waiting.



Here is the recipe for Khejur Gur er Paayesh

Here is Paayesh with Sugar

Today's dark, decadent, delicious chocolate brownies are from Sailu's Kitchen. Thanks Sailaja.
BS, deserves a special mention for this one, since she not only helped me bake, she also helped me take the pictures. We baked yesterday night and since I have no night time lighting equipment, BS held a flashlight, so that I could take my pics.

Chocolate Brownies

What You Need

All Purpose Flour ~ 1/2 cup
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder ~ 1/3 cup
Baking Powder ~ 1/4 tsp
Salt ~ 1/4 tsp or a pinch

Butter ~ 1/2 cup i.e. 1 stick
Brown sugar ~ 1/2 cup
Regular Fine Sugar ~ 1/2 cup

Eggs ~ 2
Vanilla extract ~ 1 tsp

Milk ~ 2 tsp(if needed)

How I Did It

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour an 8 inch square pan and line with butter paper. I placed an aluminum foil inside my square pan and greased it.

Put butter in a microwave safe bowl and zap it for a minute so that it softens. Stir in the sugar. Mix with a whisk for 2-3 minutes.

Whisk in eggs, one after the other and add the vanilla essence. Beat with whisk or hand mixer.

Add the dry ingreds i.e. cocoa, flour, salt and baking powder into the wet mix until no trace of flour is left. Mix using a spatula. I had to add 2 tsp of milk at this point as my batter was very thick.

Spread batter into prepared pan. Smooth out the top. Add the chocolate sprinkles if you want.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Do not overcook. After 25-30 mins, put in a knife to see if the brownies are done.

Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares at room temperature and serve with cold ice cream. Store in an airtight container. Warm while serving.


  1. what a sweet post!! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  2. I loved reading bengali texts in between, it brought back so many memories. I know how even now, in our families rice pudding is considered good luck on birthdays. Beautifully written story. I wish I could write like that.

    Amazing looking brownies, will give a try. I love them :)

  3. At last! :-)
    A sweet story Sandeepa ... and so many recieps interwoven ... a bonus. I don't like anything sweet too ... and never chaler payesh ... but that brownie I'll definitely love to have. :-)

  4. for a minute i was a lil sad you know, thinking why is she speaking coldly to her mom, oh then i saw fiction :) obviously who infuses so much love and creativity can never be cold :) its all like gorom gorom beguni and chaa :) with some muri!

    will have to try it this weekend :)

  5. You're telling my story too. :)
    My daughter doesn't really like "payasam" and would prefer a cake.

    So we have a compromise. Each one of us has two birthdays every year. A "date of birth and a cake" birthday and a "star birthday with payasam". :D

    Happy birthday to your little (not so) one. She'll be all grown up before you realise it.

  6. what an adorable story! brownies are a fave in our house in all its variations.

  7. Nice! Story and the treats!

  8. Sandeepa,
    Sweet story and so ture..Someday hopefully ,even my lil one will crave for that Pulao/payesh or chatni :)...
    hugs and smiles

  9. Brownies look yummy...nice story to read :)

  10. Brownie making process intermingled with the story is delicious. Now I am craving some pay(esh)aasam.

  11. I am falling in love with Bengali language, so beautiful just to read and I even understand "Janmodin"!!:)

    Beautiful story. As much as I love moist Brownies, I would go for Bengali Chehna Payesh too. I made once for RCI Bengal, still remember the taste, must make it again.

    Good post, enjoy the Brownies err..dada will steal more of them I know! ;D

  12. Perfect looking brownies. Nice recipe. Brownies are my all time fav. YUM! YUM!!!!

  13. Beautiful story. Food stands for so much more than just something to stuff into our bodies, doesn't it?

  14. Me love paayesh.Nothing compared to chocolate brownies.I have my stash of gobindabhog.I make a good one, but not as good as Ma and my kiddo has given the verdict that Dimmi's "payish" is better than mine

  15. Such a lovely story, brought back memories of amma cooking so lovingly and me turning up my nose:)

  16. Me too, love Payesh! and brownies! and your lovely story! and the beautiful pics! Great post :-)

  17. Very cute story. You are particularly good with painting pictures with words ie descriptive stuff.. and dialogs.. those also come across really really well! Thanks for the story and dessert! Looking forward to the round-up. Cheers!

  18. I hated payesh growing up and dreaded it on my birthdays in a little silver baati with a silver spoon.

    Anu was me and probably a thousand other Bengali girls who cringe at homemade mother's love. Things are different now.

    This story is a winner.

  19. Lovely! I love how your pictures tell a story too! you are a talented cook and writer, thank you so much for sharing :)

  20. So true for any Bengali mother of today who are living outside West-Bengal! And why does most of the girls did not like eating payesh and their brothers (either elder or younger ) will wait to lick even the last bit. Very nice story with all the original ingredients!

  21. Very cute and realistic story, Sandeepa! All western kids will love cake (espec choco) - the brownie pieces are excellent!

  22. Sandeepa -
    Shokaal shokaal kadiye phel-le? Lovely story

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Beautiful - didnt know we had so many talented story tellers :) Thanks!

  25. gorgeous brownies!! I do love a good brownie and your look incredible!

  26. That's a really nice post. I loved the way you entwined the story with the recipe:)
    As for the brownies, now I know what I'm doing this Sunday afternoon!

  27. What a lovely story - I had tears in my eyes for the imaginary mother and daughter dialogue, while in real life i have never had a mother making payesh for me as she passed away when i was 3 years old.

    Beautiful story Sandeepa, a winner. very heart warming, very real.

  28. goodness ... this's a fiction ... all the time i was thinking it's real ... n off course i was confused why u were refering her as "she" rather than "i" ...

    It's simply Awesome ... the Brownies looked yummy too :)

  29. Such a beautiful story and so wel narrated.
    The brownies have come out very well and the pictures are beautiful as well.
    Even though I love brownies, they would not do it for me for birthdays, it has to be kheer/payesh :-))

  30. yum! totally delectable! b'days are perfect only with chocolate :D

  31. The story is true for many of us I think! Changing times and changing tastes!

  32. u gals are confusing me now.. dunno when its blogging and when its fiction.:))

  33. Ha ha, as Mallugirl said, I too dunno what is fact and fiction or rather, how much is fact and how much is fiction.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the story and am enjoying the Bengali tutorials. I'm sure I know a lot more Bengali now after your last few posts.

  34. What a great story (and I really love your style of writing). Those brownies look divine as well!

  35. I love brownies and I've been on the search for a brownie recipe!! Looks great!!

    Would you mind checking out my blog? :D

  36. loved reading your story..veru imaginative:) the brownies look perfect!

    btw, I'm hosting a Magic Bullet giveaway on my blog and it'd be great if you could participate!

    hope to see you around:)

  37. Hi Sandeepa,

    Sorry for writing so late.. I wanted to post my comments yesterday but after reading your food fiction I just cried as it was so real for me...It happened with me..My mom cudn't come for her first grandchild's birth...

    I must congratulate you, you write so well..
    Jano, recently aami Tia'r(my daughter) onnoprashon was a great sucess.I could never imagine ki aami kore uth te parbo ki na..there were total 30-40 ppl..never arranged party's for these many nos. In the menu aaloo'r dom n prawns malakari were from your recipe..Thanks again for sharing your wonderful recipes.

    Brownies are looking so awesome..planning for a surprise for Tia's dad on 20th june, Father's day(his first one) and he loves will prepare on that day... B

  38. Hi Sandeepa. I have been visiting your blog for a while but just now commenting. My family is Bengali and I love coming here for Bengali recipes. This post was really touching. I don't know how many times I've made brownies, cookies, or cake, just to realize afterward that what I really want is payesh, patishapta, or sooji! There is really nothing quite as satisfying as Ma's desserts. :)

  39. Wow, these brownies look so rich and moist. Great story as well! Thanks for posting it. Have you ever tried
    Brownie Cookies? They're pretty tasty too!


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