Sometimes a little heat can be just the ticket to making things...interesting.
In food, spices turn up the volume on the eating experience, filling the one partaking with a gentle warmth that seems to radiate, awakening the senses, making them heightened and better able to receive an experience of the culinary kind in all of its glory.
Spices such as cinnamon and cayenne have an earthy and very primal note to them, and when they're sprinkled into something either sweet or savory, create a unique and mysterious quality that simply cannot be ignored.
Frankly, they often leave one craving more.
While too much spice can be overwhelming on the palette, just the right amount piques curiosity, and creates a longing to taste more of what's being offered.
It invigorates and prompts one to try to discern the subtle nuances in what is being presented.
And so it is as well with those wonderfully enchanting “spices” of the emotional and spiritual kind that exist between human beings, as they awaken us to one another and create a bit of “sweet heat”—the good kind of friction—that attracts us to each other and causes us to want to understand one another better, and in more intimate ways.
Though my husband and I are truly two peas in a pod, and one another's best friends, we certainly have our occasional heated tiffs, or, shall we say, moments that are sprinkled liberally with some “spice”.
There are times that we go back and forth on something for quite a long time, approaching it from this angle and then from that angle in our separateness, until finally the warmth from that spiciness begins to permeate into each of our souls, drawing us irresistibly closer to one another instead of further apart.
Then, and only then, do we find ourselves in authentic territory where truth resides rather than defensiveness, and where self-preservation dissolves into genuine feeling, honesty, and clarity.
And because of this, there has not been one single time that we haven't come out of a disagreement better off and even closer as a couple than we were before we had the tiff.
But it is only because there is first a willingness to taste the spice, and not turn away from it, fearing it.
See, there's something quite magical about spice that draws people in, somehow causing us to want to connect and let go of our differences.
The sweet heat that emanates from spice intoxicates, in a way, and somehow enlivens us to what is happening around us.
And yet, it mysteriously warms and soothes at the same time.
Yes, sometimes a touch of spice is exactly what we need to taste on our tongues in order to create some sweet heat that will bring us out of any apathy that may be present.
All we need do is revel in the little sprinklings of it, find the nuances in it, and allow it to work its invigorating magic on us in every way.
Taste what's good and pass it on.
“Sweet Heat” Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Makes 18 rich and super fudgy brownies
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• ¼ cup cocoa powder
• 1 ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (you can use ⅛ teaspoon for a little less “heat”, if you're not sure)
• 1 cup unsalted butter
• 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli brand 60% cocoa chips)
• 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
• ½ cup, packed, brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon instant espresso coffee granules (I use Medaglia D'Oro brand)
• 4 eggs, room temperature
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• ¼ teaspoon orange zest
-Preheat your oven to 350°, and line a 11 x 7 x 1 ½” glass baking dish with enough foil so that there is a slight overhang (for easier removal), and lightly mist with cooking spray; place the prepared baking dish on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You can use a 9 x 13 pan, too; just know that the brownies will be slightly thinner, and you will need to adjust the baking time to about 25-35 minutes.)
-Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne pepper, and set aside these dry ingredients.
-Place the butter and the chocolate into a small to medium-size glass bowl, and place the bowl over a pot of very gently simmering water (double-boiler method); allow the butter and chocolate to melt together, stirring occasionally to blend.
-Once the butter and chocolate is melted, carefully pour it into another large bowl, scraping ever last bit of it out, and allow it to cool slightly for about 5-10 minutes.
-Next, add both of the sugars, plus the instant espresso coffee granules, into the melted butter/chocolate mixture, and using a whisk, gently whisk those in until well blended.
-Add one egg at a time into the mixture, gently whisking until it is blended in; add in the vanilla and the orange zest, and whisk those in.
-Next, add the dry ingredients into the mixture, and gently whisk those in until they are incorporated, taking care not to over-mix.
-Pour the batter into your prepared pan, and bake for about 55 minutes, or just until a toothpick inserted comes out fairly clean (it's not quite the same doing a “toothpick test” on fudgy brownies as it is a cake—you still may get a little batter, but it shouldn't be too wet.)
-Allow to cool in baking dish for about 10 minutes, and then using the overhanging foil, lift the brownies out and allow them to completely cool and set (which can take 3-5 hours!) before cutting.