Dear Dr. Nobel,

I’ve never quite understood why there isn’t a Nobel Prize for food. Seems to me there’s one for just about everything else. Don’t those judges in Stockholm ever get hungry? Granted, there’s a lot of ‘beige’ food in Scandinavian cooking (these are the folks who came up with Lutfisk), but still, they do have to leave the country sometime, right? And anyway, whoever came up with gravlax, or putting lingonberries with Swedish Meatballs (a damn fine combo) surely would understand the concept. It’s not like there isn’t a wealth possible recipients. For a start, how about Mr. Reese? Now there’s a fella who deserved the prize. Peanut butter and chocolate…GENIUS! And as far as making a contribution to world peace, my brother and I can attest that Reese’s peanut butter cups prevented major wars with our mother. Why, just hold out one of those orange and brown packages in her direction and détente was achieved on the spot. What about the person who thought up chocolate-covered pretzels? That has to be worth a piece of jewelry with Alfred’s puss on it. Plus there are foods completely unrelated to chocolate (shocking, I know.)  Orange olive oil cake, gelato, osso bucco, tarte tartin, good balsamic on strawberries, or ice cream or both! What about fried zucchini blossoms (frying flowers…BRILLIANT), pumpkin ravioli with brown butter and sage, schnitzel, spaetzle, sushi, or cheeseburgers? I’ve only scratched the surface here! I say we start a write in campaign immediately. After all, Alfred Nobel was a chemist. I bet he was a good cook too.

As you may have guessed, I believe a life without chocolate would not be worth living. So my first submission to Stockholm is naturally one with chocolate in a starring role. And if there’s a combination of sweet and salt too? That’s as close to heaven as I’m going to get. My fleur de sel brownies are such a little square of nirvana.  They have also been known to establish world peace…well, in my world at least.

I’ve also included a recipe for my favorite orange olive oil cake. This wonderful Florence Fabricant recipe appeared in the New York Times a little over 10 years ago. I first had orange olive cake on a trip to Rome, and it was, well, a religious experience. (Food IS my religion, and I am a very pious observer.) I walked into a bakery along the Via Veneto and there it was…an orange olive oil cake the size of a wheel of parmigiano reggiano. I ordered a slice and an espresso, sat down by the window, and well… let’s just say the moans coming out of my mouth were better than you get on one of those phone lines. I think people on the street actually stopped and wondered ‘che diavolo?’ I have been making this cake ever since with very ‘satisfying’ results – I hope it has the same effect on you!

Fleur de sel brownies

Makes 24 brownies, or one BIG one, if you are having that kind of day…

  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3/4  cup coarsely chopped salted peanuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13×9-inch pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides. Spray foil with cooking spray.

Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 1 ½ – 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and nuts, mix well and pour into prepared pan.

BAKE 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. (Do not overbake.) Cool completely. Use foil handles to remove brownies from pan before cutting to serve.

For ganache frosting:

  • 7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (if using bittersweet, add 1 tsp honey)
  • 1/4 cups butter
  • a pinch (about 1/8 tsp) fleur de sel or other flakey sea salt (maldon or gray salt work fine too) plus ½ tsp for sprinkling on top
  • 1 tsp strong coffee or espresso

Melt the chocolate with the butter, coffee, and pinch of salt over double boiler. Stir until completely incorporated and spread over cooled brownies. Sprinkle up to a 1/2 tsp fleur de sel or malden salt over ganache (you want just a hint of salt on top.)

Chill thoroughly before cutting. These can be made a day in advance. Store in refrigerator and take out 15-20 minutes before serving. Calories: 260/serving.

Orange olive oil cake (from Florence Fabricant)

Serves 10

I usually make this in a 10”springform pan, but it also works well in a 13” x 9” baking pan and cut into 16 squares for a picnic dessert. It only gets better over time so it’s a good make-ahead recipe.

  • 1 tsp. butter for pan
  • 1 ½ cups flour, plus flour for pan
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¾ cup sugar
  • Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges (2/3 cup juice)
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat over to 375° degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch spring-form pan.

Whisk flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. Beat eggs, then gradually beat in sugar and continue beating until thick. Mix orange zest, juice and olive oil together. Add to egg mixture in thirds, alternating and ending with flour mixture.

Spread batter in pan and bake about 50 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean. Cool on rack 15 minutes and remove sides of pan. Continue cooling, then dust with confectioners’ sugar. Calories: 380/slice

Article first published as Fleur de Sel Brownies and the Need for a Nobel Food Prize on Blogcritics.

4 thoughts on “Dear Dr. Nobel,

  1. Brava! I concur completely…..I am enjoying these posts immensly , sitting here chuckling (oh, that’s right. I’m your Mom) Nevertheless, Brava

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