Friday, October 29, 2010

Not Gloating

The July/August 2009 issue of Vegetarian Times had a recipe for the best brownies I’ve ever eaten. Over the years I’ve tried dozens of recipes, and this one was it. The best.

I freelanced at VT the summer of 2007, and I know the painstaking methods the magazine employs when it comes to recipe testing and editing. When I found a mistake in the instructions for the brownies, I read the text six times because I was sure I was missing something. VT couldn’t have made a mistake. But, after the sixth sentence-by-sentence read-through, I had to concede that someone had erred.

Whoever edited the recipe forgot to include the step of combining the wet and dry ingredients. Anyone who bakes understands that this step has to occur whether or not the recipe instructions say so. This has been corrected in the online version of the recipe

Please believe me when I say I’m not gloating. I’ve made far more embarrassing errors that found their way into print during my career in magazine publishing.

For the almost-five years I worked at Entertainment Weekly, I lived in dread of having to work on music stories. Since I knew nothing about current artists, reading about them was about as interesting to me as settling down with a thick wad of engineering specs.

The last Grammy issue I worked on before relocating to the Left Coast was a bear. We were past deadline, exhausted and trying to finish the last piece of the night, a feature on the nominated artists. I was the last copy editor to see the piece before it went to press.

There was a photo of someone named Beck on one of the pages. I’d never heard of him. I distinctly wrote a query on the side of the page proof as such: Jeff? My intended meaning: Do you mean Jeff Beck? The associate editor working on the piece apparently mistook my query for musical acumen and sent the piece to press with the photo caption identifying Beck, the alternative-music genius, as Jeff Beck, guitarist for the Yardbirds and number 14 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. (And, I later learned, the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel!)

The magazine ran a correction in the following issue―no big deal; the New York Times does it daily. It was very professional and did not mention me by name or even refer to “a musically bereft copy editor” as the source of the error. I wasn’t upbraided for the gaffe. Far worse. I was teased mercilessly. So mercilessly, in fact, that the following month I had no choice but to move across the country to escape utter humiliation and salvage some vestige of my reputation.

When I find an error in a magazine or book, I don’t gloat. I’m humbled because I know how intense deadline pressure is and how easy it is to miss something. With so many magazines downsizing, life is not getting any easier for editorial staffs.

So, if you find an error in a recipe, allow common sense to prevail.  The ability to cut another some slack is a wonderfully human quality, because even the most diligent of us occasionally make mistakes—even when we’re not under deadline pressure.

Gooey Gluten-free Brownies
Makes 16 squares
Adapted from Vegetarian Times, July/August 2009

If you don’t want to go gluten-free here, nix the xanthan gum and sub 1 cup all-purpose flour, which is what VT has in the original. The original also calls for melting the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. If you roll that way, be my guest, but I find the microwave extremely useful for chocolate melting. You can also use a combination of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate, which yields extremely tasty results. My favorite chocolate to bake with is Ghirardelli, but, heck, we’re not communists, so use whichever kind you like best. (If you are a communist, use whatever chocolate is the community cupboard. But make sure you ask first.)

Canola oil spray
⅔ cup GF Classical Blend, or your favorite gluten-free flour blend
⅓ cup coconut flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken up into small pieces
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1½ cups light brown sugar
3 large eggs, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 8x8 baking pan with canola oil.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and xanthan gum.
3. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate and butter in microwave. Keep an eye on it—don’t let it start to bubble up and erupt. When everything is mostly melted, remove bowl from microwave and whisk chocolate and butter until smooth. Let mixture cool a bit.
4. Whisk brown sugar into chocolate-butter mixture. Fold in beaten eggs. Stir in dry ingredients until combined.
5. Spread batter evenly into baking pan and bake until brownies are set, about 25-30 minutes, depending on how gooey you like them. (We like them pretty gooey, so I baked for 25 minutes.) They’ll still be kind of soft in the center. Don’t overbake. Cool brownies in pan on wire rack. Slice into squares when you’re ready to serve.

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