What is your go-to comfort food recipe? That one thing you can bake, stir, chop or pick that cheers you when you're down, makes any celebration sweeter, or reminds you of someone - or somewhere - that holds a special place in your heart.
Turns out that for many people all over the world, it's brownies. Rich, sweet, gooey, chewy (and easily made gluten-free) chocolate brownies.
When I launched the "meals in the mail" project a few months back, I asked people to do two simple things:
1. Send me their favourite recipe in the mail, and
2. Tell me what makes it special to them
Now as I sort through all the heartfelt letters, delicious recipes and creative mail that came my way, themes are starting to emerge. And one of those themes is this: everyone loves brownies.
I tender in evidence, these seven recipes.
Sonya in Australia, for example, shared her recipe for dark chocolate brownies with salted caramel (below). She said:
"Home-made brownies can say a lot of things - I'm sorry you lost your job, let's celebrate the winter solstice - and this recipe has even survived a trip in the post. When my friend Jemma's second baby arrived, I baked these brownies, sandwiched them between two thick slabs of cardboard, and dropped them in a post box. They survived the journey from Canberra to Sydney in one piece."
Then Nanette in The Netherlands shared her recipe:
"I got this recipe from an English girlfriend when I was 25. Even 30 years later and some little changes, it is our favourite family brownie recipe. The whole family makes these brownies for birthdays, or just when someone is in need of chocolate or comfort food."
From Canada, Sherry shared buttermilk brownies and a tribute to her mother Elaine:
"This is my mom's brownie recipe and I can't even begin to tell you how many of these I have enjoyed over the years. My mom is an amazing woman... in addition to raising three kids with a husband who was away much of the time, she worked full time and still managed to be there for all of our girl guide meetings and art shows. The brownies were and are still a go-to recipe that even the pickiest eaters enjoy."
Jessica in Australia shared the recipe for Caramello brownies that won her boyfriend's heart:
"I first made these to impress my boyfriend and it must have worked because we're still together seven years later! They're always a crowd-pleaser and make your house smell great when they're baking."
And then from Denmark, Linea shared her hygge-inducing Lazy Brownie recipe:
"This cake tastes like a little piece of chocolate heaven if you use good ingredients and a tiny bit of love! I love that moment of silence when everyone takes a bite and just enjoys the chocolaty-ness! My favourite thing to bake in winter-time and eat with a cup of tea."
Laura in New Zealand shared the brownie recipe that helped her make it through some tough times:
"This recipe belongs to Kate, my boss at the New Brighton Library in Christchurch. Even though both of us no longer work in that library, her brownies helped the team get through some rough patches. They never let me down."
And in Austria, Miya shared a recipe for olive-oil and sea-salt brownies that came to her via a friend in America, who adapted it from a recipe in the NY Times:
"I love this recipe for several reasons. Firstly, it's genuinely easy but decadent and delicious! Secondly, my husband produces olive oil in Greece so it's one of my favourite things to make for him if he needs something to showcase his products - an act of love, if you like. Last but not least, it was given to me by my hot-mess New Yorker friend Meaghan. We met in our first week of moving to Vienna 10 years ago, and have lived in and out of each other's homes ever since, sharing a love of music, baking and the charming contradictions that make Vienna what it is. So I'm passing this recipe on to you and your community in the spirit of our friendship and the city it was born in. Wholesome yet a little decadent, simple yet a little extravagant, familiar and cosy but also a bit of a hot mess. And if you ever come to Vienna, you're invited to coffee and cake!"
So if you're wondering which of these seven recipes for brownies I'll share in the finished book, the answer is...
All of them. Naturally! Firstly, because this cook-book is not only about the recipes, it's also about the stories, the memories, the connections, and of course the mail. And secondly, because maybe you might want to try a little experiment when you read the book: a brownie bake-off for you and your friends, shall we say? I wonder what your favourite secret ingredient will be. Sea-salt? Caramellos? Buttermilk? Olive oil? A mother's love?
Meals in the Mail is a cook-book project celebrating meaningful, nostalgic and comforting recipes from close to 250 people from all over the word, written by hand, and sent by post (often with stunning illustrations on the recipes, or the envelopes, or both).
People who sent in recipes for meals in the mail will all receive a copy of the e-book for free, and get first dibs at buying the physical cook-book, which will be on a limited print-run.
If you'd like to be among the first to hear when both versions of the cook-book are available for sale, and to get updates on the projects and sneak peeks at the recipes, the best way is to sign up to my newsletter (right now I'm also giving away a copy of my mini e-book "Making Mail: 10 steps to writing letters that become keepsakes," to all subscribers).
And now, back to the question I asked at the start of this blog post. I'm dying to know: what's your go-to comfort food recipe? (Is it brownies??)