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Nature Theatre of Oklahoma Brownies

NTOK brownies[1]
Life, love, and marriage all work in weird and mysterious ways. I’m old enough to know this, and young enough to find it captivating, so when Santa Maria told me she wanted to go see the Nature Theater of Oklahoma at the Public Theatre, I didn’t bat an eye. “This is why I married her,” I said to myself, “because she’s kooky,” thinking also, “What on earth would a nature theatre be doing visiting New York City?”

Well, the joke was on me—the Nature Theater of Oklahoma is a very local (i.e. downtown) ensemble company that gets its name from “last chapter of Kafka’s unfinished novel ‘Amerika’,” according to this Bomb Magazine interview with the founders. Its latest production, “Life and Times: Episodes 1-4,” is a ten-hour affair, which can be seen either in one marathon session, where food is served, or in various single-night episodes.

The show is described on the Public Theatre’s website as a “person's account of their own life from earliest memory through adolescence.” The Daily News goes into more detail: “Specifically, it’s the life of Kristin Worrall, a Nature Theater member. The show’s text - including countless utterances of “um,” “like,” “yeah” and “haha” - is drawn from phone chats between her and Pavol Liska, who founded the company with his wife, Kelly Copper.” If you want to read more about what that might mean, Hilton Als gives it a rave review on The New Yorker’s website.

Personally, I was less interested in the production than in making Santa Maria happy. If she wanted to go see the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma on Mars, I would have built her a rocket. So, I did what could to get her tickets, and through the generosity of the company, a pair were set aside for her. All she had to do, in exchange, was to make the brownies that are served during the marathon sessions. The recipe comes from Worrall herself, which means that even if you don’t get to the show, you can still experience a little bit of the drama and excitement nonetheless. Just make the brownies. Here’s Santa Maria’s full report, followed by the recipe, which Worrall has generously offered to share, both in single batch form and expanded to feed 900 folks.

Warning:  this post is full of extreme opinions, proceed with caution.

Unlike Stay at Stove Dad, I am a passionate baker and sweet tooth.  I am picky about books, men, and baked goods and I am extremely picky about husbands and brownies. I waited a long time to marry (in dog years I would have been nearly 300) and I never, ever buy brownies (because to do so results too often in heartbreak).  I never even bake brownies, for I have never found a recipe that is really good, let alone great.

But this is a great brownie recipe, and I only baked it as a small gesture of thanks for tickets to the show, for which I am grateful. It is straightforward, and, actually, very easy.

The aroma of these brownies is enough to drive your neighbors delirious.  Luckily, if you cut modest, 2” squares, you’ll have plenty to share.  I sent sending care packages to SASD’s work friends, two dear friends – one down the block, one visiting from Northampton, and to two neighbors.

Give yourself at least 30 minutes to cool the chocolate/butter mixture.  (I usually cavalierly disregard directions, but I was too worried about making the brownies “heavy and dry” to risk it). One note: You don’t need to use a double boiler for the melting of the chocolate if you have a VERY low ‘melt’ setting on your stovetop.

I adapted it a few ways: I didn’t have instant espresso powder (and had no desire to buy an entire container of it) so I used finely ground, organic “Love Buzz” coffee. I used regular (Maldon) sea salt.  And I used old-school Baker’s unsweetened chocolate squares along with Green and Black’s 70% organic dark chocolate.  All other ingredients are organic. 

Be careful to follow temperature and timing directions closely – your knife should come out mostly clean (from the center when testing doneness), but okay to have a tiny bit of adhesion of the batter.  I think the 1 T of coffee is a key ingredient.

Kristin Worrall’s Nature Theatre of Oklahoma Brownies

  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 2.5 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (Callebaut is my favorite)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 T butter 
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 T instant espresso powder
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 t baking powder
  • 1 T coarse vanilla sea salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line a 13x9 baking pan with parchment paper.

Melt butter and chocolate together in a double boiler. Let this mixture cool before using; if you don't, the brownies will be heavy and dry.

In a small bowl combine the flour and baking powder.

Beat the eggs together in a large bowl until light and foamy. Add the salt, vanilla, and espresso powder. 

Continue beating while gradually adding sugar.

Stop beating and manually combine the chocolate mixture to the eggs with a few swift strokes using a large spoon or spatula.

Before the mixture is uniformly colored, fold in the flour/baking powder mixture until just barely dispersed.

Add to pan, and bake for 25 minutes, rotate pan and sprinkle top of brownies with coarse vanilla sea salt.  Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until done.

And in case you need to make a bigger batch, here's the ingredient list converted to make 900 brownies (which is how many Worrall made for the NTOK Marathons):

19 lbs. unsweetened chocolate
13 lbs. semi-sweet chocolate
24 lbs. butter
26 dozen large eggs
2 cups sea salt
2 cups vanilla
6 cups instant espresso powder
74 lbs. granulated sugar
27 lbs. all-purpose flour
2 cups baking powder
6 cups vanilla sea salt
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