Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tips for Baking Perfect Brownies

Brownie Secrets:

Here is a compilation of tips from my own baking experiences and from known bakers around the globe. Brownies are often among the first recipes a beginning baker attempts. In fact, many of us baked our first proud batch of brownies as children. And, just as likely, we've puzzled for years over why such a "simple" recipe can have such variable results: too dry, too blah, too underbaked in the center.
And there are other questions as well: What makes a brownie "cakelike," "fudgy," or "chewy"? Why do some brownie recipes call for a mere two ounces of chocolate and others for as much as six ounces? What effects can different types of sugar create? Is there any way to remove brownies neatly from their pan?
If these questions have you frowning over brownies, cheer up! We've assembled the best tips and secrets to make your next batch-and every batch-a success.

Brownie Types
The classic brownie consists of just a few ingredients: butter, sugar, chocolate, eggs, and flour. Fudgy brownies (which purists often claim are the only real brownies) have a minimum of flour–about half a cup–and no leavening such as baking powder at all. Melting the butter rather than creaming it with sugar yields a denser, fudgier outcome. Unsweetened chocolate is the standard, with a full cup of sugar required to balance its bitterness. Either granulated or brown sugar may be used; substitute one for the other in equal proportions. The deeper the color of the sugar, though, the more pronounced the molasses flavor. It's all a matter of personal taste.
1. Cakelike brownies are really … well, little cakes! They contain less butter and more flour than fudgy brownies, as well as a bit of baking powder to make them softer and lighter. Often the softened butter is creamed with the sugar rather than melted with the chocolate. (Creaming incorporates air into the mixture, which causes the brownies to rise higher.) Many cakelike recipes also call for a bit of milk to add tenderness.
2. Chewy brownies usually get their texture from two factors: an extra egg (or even two) and a combination of different types of chocolate. Of all the chocolate types, unsweetened chocolate has the highest proportion of starches, which create a stiffer-textured brownie. Semisweet chocolate produces a creamier texture. Put the two together, often with a few tablespoons of cocoa powder to round out the flavor and thicken the texture, and you get a rich, satisfyingly chewy result.
3. Blondies are really butterscotch bars, made with brown sugar, butter, and eggs (and usually nuts as well), but no chocolate. Typically, blondies have a cakelike texture.

A Note about Fat
Brownies aren't a low-fat treat. Besides the butter–as much as 8 ounces, or one full stick, per batch–there's the cocoa butter in the chocolate itself. For a calorie-trimming alternative, look for recipes that use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of bar chocolate, or substitute 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, plus 1 tablespoon butter, for each ounce of unsweetened chocolate. ("Dutch-process" cocoa has the smoothest, mildest, and richest flavor.) Most cocoa powder has only 10 percent to 12 percent fat, compared to unsweetened bar chocolate's 50 percent to 55 percent. And many tasters can't tell the difference!

Preparing the Pan
First, use the pan size specified in the recipe-usually but not always 8 inches square. Baking in a too-large pan will yield thin, dry bars that may taste fine but won't resemble true brownies. Baking in a too-small pan may result in brownies with undercooked centers.
Be sure to select a light-colored, shiny pan, which will conduct heat evenly. Glass or dark-colored pans can cause the edges to overbake or even burn.
Always grease the pan thoroughly with shortening, softened butter, or cooking spray. (Do this even if the recipe doesn't specify.) After greasing the pan, many bakers like to line it with pieces of parchment paper or aluminum foil that have been cut larger than the size of the pan so that the edges hang over the sides like a sling. Thoroughly grease the lining. After the brownies have baked and cooled, the lining may be lifted out of the pan and inverted on a platter. Gently peel away the foil or paper, then cut the brownies into squares.
Brownies can also be baked very successfully in a well-greased mini-muffin tin, which eliminates the problem of cutting into squares.

Mixing and Baking
Most brownie recipes begin with melting butter and chocolate together. The safest way to do this is in a double boiler or any small pan placed over a pot of gently simmering water. If you're an experienced baker, you can place the butter and chocolate directly in a saucepan over a low flame. Be sure to stir the mixture constantly. Butter and chocolate may also be melted together in a microwave oven on medium power, opening the oven and stirring the mixture every 20 to 30 seconds.
Overmixing the ingredients can cause brownies to turn out tough or for a thin crust to form on top. Mix wet and dry ingredients just long enough to blend them, taking special care not to overbeat after the eggs are added.
To improve the texture of brownies, place the unbaked batter (in the prepared pan) in the refrigerator for several hours or even overnight.

How Long to Bake Brownies?
Experience is the best guide, but here are some general rules. For fudge-style brownies, remove the pan when the sides have shrunk slightly away from the edges of the pan. The center will still be slightly gooey, but will firm up during cooling. Cake-style brownies are done when a toothpick inserted into the center has a few moist crumbs attached to it.
To prevent burning the bottoms of your brownies, place the pan on a preheated cookie sheet or pizza stone.

Cutting and Storing
Brownies will be easier to cut if you place the pan in the freezer for several minutes. Dip a sharp knife in hot water, wipe it dry, and move it across the pan in an up-and-down sawing motion.
Pastry chef and chocolate expert Alice Medrich, who has written several books about baking with chocolate, swears by something she calls the "Steve ritual," after a friend who discovered the technique by accident. She bakes her brownies for a shorter time at a higher temperature (375 to 400 degrees), then placing the hot pan in ice water about ¾" deep. The sudden change in temperature produces a crisp crust and a soft, dense center.
After you cut the brownies, either cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil or remove the brownies and place them in an airtight container. If they contain perishable ingredients such as cream cheese, place them in the refrigerator. At room temperature, they'll keep for three to four days; in the refrigerator, about five days.
Freezing brownies may affect their texture, so it's best to take a few precautions. If the brownies have been cut into squares, wrap each square in plastic wrap, then in foil, and then place the wrapped squares in an airtight freezer bag.
Alternatively, you can freeze the whole pan briefly-just long enough to harden the brownies. Then remove the brownie "block," wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then in foil. Place the block into a large airtight freezer bag and freeze.

Hints and Tips:
  • They keep well in an airtight container.
  • Trim the edges so that the cookies will be uniform. Use a sharp knife and wipe the blade with a damp cloth after each cut.
  • Don't Refrigerate. It will dry out brownies
  • They'll keep for 4 to 6 months in the freezer. 
  • For short-term storage, layer them between wax paper or parchment sheets inside of a container with a tight-fitting lid. You can store your brownies this way for up to five days. For longer-term storage, freeze them. Wrap them individually in plastic wrap and put them in a heavy plastic bag. They will last for several months.
  • Only use glass or shiny metal pans. Dark or non-stick pans will cause brownies to be soggy and low in volume.
  • Line pan with aluminum foil. This saves on cleanup.
  • Only grease bottom of pan to allow for rising.
  • Allow brownies to cool in pan before cutting.
  • trim the edges so that the cookies will be uniform. Use a sharp knife and wipe the blade with a damp cloth after each cut.
  • Cut cooled brownies with plastic or table knife to insure smooth-sided bars.
  • Always use toasted nuts. This enhance the flavor of the nuts.
  • A recipe calling for an 8 x 8-inch pan can be doubled and baked in a 9 x 13-inch pan. A recipe calling for 9 x 13-inch pan can be doubled and baked in half-sheet pan, 12 x 18-inches. If you take a recipe that calls for a 9 x 13-inch pan and multiple it by 1.5, you can use a 10 x15-inch pan.

Quick Fixes for Bad Brownies

If your brownies don't bake up to your expectations, one of these could be the reason why…


Batter wasn't spread evenly in the pan.
The oven rack wasn't level.


If you use a pan that's larger than the one called for in the recipe, brownies will be thin and dry.
Oven temperature was too high.
Next time, check brownies sooner than the baking time called for in the recipe.


You used a pan that was smaller than called for.


Dry ingredients were overmixed. Stir them in with a wooden spoon till moistened.


Make sure that the brownies are completely cooled before cutting them.
Do not use a sawing motion when cutting.
Warm the knife blade in hot water, dry and cut. Clean and rewarm the knife after each cut.

Sources : 

Brownie Links :

Friday, June 24, 2011

Polygamy : A Right or Privilege?

"No woman should be forced to endure in a polygamous marriage against her will, but should be given the legal option of obtaining divorce and compensation. Monogamy should not be regarded as being exclusive for non-Muslims, nor polygamy as being exclusive for Muslims, but should depend on the choices made by individual couples."
Food for Thought :

Stages of the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) Married Life. 

First, let’s remember that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) led a life supported only by the bare minimum of necessities. His wives were not idly wasting away the hours in a luxurious harem but led a life of labor and sacrifice, while he was mostly busy away from home overseeing his numerous duties as a Prophet. So, obviously, lust was not a factor, as he wasn’t even at home most of the time. Further, most of his marriages occurred at an age when lust is not a major factor in any man’s life:

1. He remained single until age 25.
2. From age 25 to 50 he was faithful to only one wife, Khadijah, who bore all his children except one. She was 15 years older than him, with children from two previous marriages. She was his greatest ally when he received the Call at age 40 until she died when he was 50 years old. He remained in love with her until he died and often talked of his life with her with great nostalgia.
3. Between ages 50 and 52 he remained unmarried and mourning his late beloved wife. He lived alone with his daughters.
4. Between ages 53 and 60 he married all his other wives for many noble reasons detailed below. It’s unimaginable for a man to suddenly turn lustful at this age, especially as he was constantly traveling, with bloodthirsty enemies on his heels.
5. At age 60, Allah revealed to him verse preventing him from marrying any more until he died, which was at age 63. The Qur’an says what means:

*{It is not lawful for you (to marry other) women after this, nor to change them for other wives.}* (Al-Ahzab 33:52)

Good Reading : 
A large-scale study currently underway across Malaysia uncovers proof that polygamy harms everyone involved: from emotionally scarred children, to wives who think they’d be better off as single-parent households, and even husbands who admit “I wouldn’t recommend it for my son; it’s quite stressful.” This issue in Malaysia has been going on for many years. Let's see what has been voiced out. 

Datuk Dr Raj Karim, regional director of International Planned Parenthood Federation ESEAOR:
BEING able to marry more than one is a privilege which should be respected, not abused. Men should really think of the consequences of such a move which is a trust put upon them to do good. There is a responsibility attached to it .

For example, it is permissible if the wife is ill or childless but these days, men marry out of desire or lust. I don't think that should prevail. Authorities should not make it any easier for men with such intention.

That kind of "tourism" should not be encouraged. In fact, such men should go through the hardship of knowing about care and responsibility.

Men will have to think of the effects of polygamy on their family and children in the long run, when everything falls into place and when they realise that everyone needs to be looked after. Even men who are in polygamous marriages have admitted it's not easy.

Neglect (of one family or the other) will lead to social problems. IPPF is planning an advocacy kit for adolescent boys for the World Health Organisation and one of the things that case studies have uncovered is that a lot of social problems stem from the fact that some boys do not have a role model (traditionally played by the father).

There is no substitute (for the absentee father) and fathers need to understand this.

Norazizah Borhan, vice-president, International Federation of Women Entrepreneurs, and chairman of Perdasama:
If polygamy is practised as it should be, then I have no problems with it. But unfortunately, men do not respect the Islamic laws on polygamy and this is why I am against it.

Askiah Adam, newspaper columnist:
No child of a polygamous marriage is about to thank him for anything other than the misery of coping with guilt. Who do you go on loving: a father who has wronged his wife but not the law or a mother who is emotionally ravaged by the man she once loved and trusted? In the end, that child is forced to judge against the part-time father. 

Farhariza Ajir, SIS:
As a 23-year-old Malay woman, I am deeply shocked and saddened by the whole thing. I am sad that Muslims in this country are now (if not before) a laughing stock of the world. While others are concerned with crucial issues such as poverty, human rights, education, hunger, war against terrorism, etc, what we portray here is a Muslim community obsessed with sex and having multiple families. It is pathetic that many of these polygamous men see it as testimony of their manhood, flaunting their prowess to their equally pitiable friends. 

The distressing part of polygamy made-in-Malaysia is that these men are the ones who, after imposing their second (and subsequent) marriages on their first wives, have the audacity to ask these unfortunate women and children to redha. Where is the justice of it all? Why are they greedy and why are the men not redha that they have to be content with being faithful and loving to only one wife, only one family?
 Yes, I am sad. Sad that we are victims of men who are only out to serve their own twisted purposes as opposed to focusing their energies on the betterment of the ummah.

Zaitun Kassim, lawyer and activist:
Many other countries, including those in the Middle East, are protecting women more and more by making it difficult, and in some cases, prohibiting men from entering into polygamous marriages.

For example, several countries in the Middle East allow for marriage contracts to carry a condition where women have the right to sue for divorce if their husbands marry another wife. More and more, women in these countries are recognising their rights and exercising them.

Yet in this country women are made to feel guilty if they oppose polygamy and are told they are against Islam if they speak up against polygamy.

Professor Dr Faridah Habib Shah, Science and Technology Commission of NCWO, official and director of Biotechnology Division, Malacca:
Why should men be allowed to "threaten" women or emotionally blackmail them as they now have an easy way out? It's not nice that the first wife remains insecure knowing that her husband can easily marry a second wife without her consent or knowledge. This is not solving the problem and we are only encouraging men to behave irresponsibly.

Dr Norani Othman, senior research fellow, IKMAS (Institute of Malaysian & International Studies), UKM, member of SIS:
AS USUAL many Muslim men, including those in state religious authorities, have an extremely myopic, unrealistic, unjust and fantasy view of polygamy (a marriage in which a man is allowed more than one wife).

The Quranic injunctions allowing men to take more than one wife explicitly place great and humanly impossible conditions (see al-Nisa, 4:3 and 4:29). Yet Muslim theologians and religious authorities deem it fit to allow polygamy, virtually at will, leaving it merely to the conscience of men to be altruistic (in his motive/reason for polygamy), and to be fair and just to all his wives.

Since the Quranic injunctions allowing polygamy are so strict and humanly impossible to achieve, one may even propose that polygamy be banned EXCEPT under extreme conditions such as the need to take war widows as a second, third or fourth wife in order to take care of orphaned children.

This, in fact, was the asbab al-nuzul or context of the revelation of the Quranic verses endorsing polygamy. If the reason to take another wife is due to passion or lust, then "Muslim men have just to learn to hold their passion or lust at bay"!

Why can't our state religious (or Islamic) authorities take the view that polygamy is a contingent, occasional and CIRCUMSTANTIALLY WARRANTED RESPONSIBILITY rather than an inalienable right of a Muslim male and that monogamy is the expressed Quranic ideal?

The justifications given are absurd and mind boggling. In fact they are not based on Islamic ethic or the Quran. If any state religious authorities intend to allow polygamy, then one of the conditions is for the first wife to be duly informed and that she also accepts the "new circumstances" of her marriage contract. The foreknowledge and permission of the first or existing wife or wives may also ensure that the husband remains true to his stated motive for undertaking polygamy and that he maintains equal responsibility and care for all his wives and children.

Azalina Othman Said, Puteri Umno chief:
THE issue is not whether a woman agrees that her husband take another wife or not. Instead, it is men being poorly educated about polygamy. Polygamy is allowed in Islam provided a man is able to be fair to all parties. Consent from the first wife is merely a procedure. It is not the law.

Men who are keen on taking more than one wife should be educated (through courses) about the responsibilities of being polygamous so that they understand what it entails.

If young couples who wish to marry must attend marriage courses to prepare them for married life, so should married men who wish to take another wife.

Zaitoon Othman, president, Muslim Lawyers Association Malaysia:
This contradicts laws in most states where married men must get approval from the Syariah courts before taking another wife.

As it is, we try to unify laws in the country since civil and Syariah courts have varying ways in handling certain cases. Instead of avoiding conflict of jurisdiction in Islamic law, we are now encouraging it.

The first wife's consent or the court's approval may be procedural (as the man does not need anyone's permission to get married) but it certainly acts as a deterrent so that people don't abuse the privilege (of being able to have up to four wives at any one time).

Sadly, many forget that marrying more than one comes with huge responsibilities.

Can you imagine the rude shock a wife and children will have if they discover that the husband/father had secretly gone off to marry another woman? There will surely be familial upheaval as each member will be affected.

Haslinda Hamzah, 38, freelance language instructor:
THE consent of the first wife is necessary. And a man must not abuse his wife's rights by depriving her of financial support, which is bound to happen should he take another wife without her knowing. 

Farah DiBa Khan, consultant dietician:
I CAN'T say I'm all for it. Men should discuss the issue with their wives first, but more often than not, they don't.

Most men marry for the wrong reason - having grown tired of their first wife being one. An oft-quoted excuse is that the second wife is a better companion.

Now, if the first wife is unable to conceive, and the couple is desperately trying to have a child, there are reasonable grounds for the husband to take on a second wife - provided that his first wife gives her permission.

It is stated in the Quran that the husband must treat his wives equally. Think about it: is he really going to do that? It is easier said than done. 

Faridah Abd Wahab, 26, assistant manager in a firm:
I BELIEVE one should have a concrete reason for polygamy. Nowadays men cite financial capacity to validate their intention for polygamy but if one were to follow the Rasulullah's way, the fair treatment of wives requires more than attention to material comfort.

The Prophet (pbuh) was very fair to all his wives and this included every aspect of the relationship, be it emotional or physical. I doubt most men are able to treat their wives as fairly as he did. He is bound to favour one over the other.

When you share a life with someone it is only fair that major decisions are discussed together.

To disregard the first wife by omitting the need to have her permission is simply disrespectful to the sacred institution of marriage. Furthermore, being the "second Thailand" does not ensure things would go smoothly. 
In fact, it can create confusion and further problems.

Norani Nordin, 26, lecturer:
IT IS not hard to see how men can abuse this new policy. However, I am not 100 per cent against it. I think men will go the distance if they want to marry more than one but for this policy to work properly, there should be a stringent and efficient system to monitor the practice of polygamy.

Personally, I believe this policy has negative implications on marriage and the family institution. It can create disharmony in the family members.

Latifah Yusof, student:
IF the man doesn't inform his wife about the second wife, and leads a double-life, so to speak - he's living a lie. And it's not right if the children from both marriages live without knowing of the others' existence.

Nellie Abdullah, administrative secretary in a telecommunications firm:
IT'S only fair that the wife is informed about it. Perhaps then the couple can work on the shortcomings or the issues that the husband is not satisfied with.

And permission is necessary - after all, marriage is a partnership. It's really unfair that men are free to marry as they wish, but women have no say.

Polygamy seems to be used for the wrong reasons. For example, when a man gets tired of his wife, or he doesn't find her attractive anymore, he'll just marry another.

Compiled By The Life and Times Team, New Straits Times, Features Section - January 9 2003

References :

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Marriage - by Kahlil Gibran

“Love one another, but make not a bond of love: 
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls”

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

By Kahlil Gibran (January 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931)
From The Prophet (1923)
Section : Marriage
Lebanese American artistpoet, and writer. Born in the town of Bsharri in modern-day Lebanon (then part of Ottoman Syria), as a young man he emigrated with his family to the United States where he studied art and began his literary career. He is chiefly known for his 1923 book The Prophet, a series of philosophical essays written in English prose. An early example of Inspirational fiction, the book sold well despite a cool critical reception, and became extremely popular in 1960s counterculture.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

3 Life Secrets

Think Good Thoughts.
Speak Good Words.
Do Good Actions.

Three steps that will bring more to you 
than you can ever imagine.

What happens every 60 seconds on the internet?

Some digital facts just for knowledge sake.
 Adapted from Your Digital Space - a very cool Tech site.

Every minute on the internet:
  • More than 168 million emails are sent
  • 695,000 status updates and 510,040 comments are published on Facebook
  • Google serves more that 694,445 search queries
  • 370,000+ minutes of voice calls done by Skype users
  • 20,000 new posts are published on Tumblr
  • 13,000+ hours of music streaming flows from Pandora
  • More than 13,000 iPhone apps are downloaded
  • 6,600 images are published on Flickr
  • 600 videos (about 25 hours of content) are uploaded to YouTube

Click image to view large version

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Dignity of Being a Dad - Happy Father's Days

The Dignity of Being a Dad
Re blogged from the Ji'Kinam blog, A Brotherhood for Dads. 

No one can describe to a man what having his own child will mean to him. Words simply cannot do justice; each man needs to discover it for himself.
Still, we need talk about what being a father feels like so we can better understand and leverage the strength it brings us to do whatever it takes for our kids. We also need to pass what we learn on to the next guy so he is equipped to step up for his kids. We need to share our experiences; not the tired, poor, stretched, etc. feelings, but the profound ones: how doing our job for our family makes us feel as men.
As men, our stereotyped desire is wanting to be seen as attractive, sexually active and successful with women. Pick up any men’s magazine: in keeping with the fantasy, among the articles on six pack abs and turning her into a nympho, you will be hard pressed to find any evidence any of us are married, or worse, are tied down with children. So while we still buy the magazines (hey, it’s a fantasy), we know better.
The reality is that we men broadly report that being seen as honorable, resourceful and respected is much more important to our sense of manhood. Before our child arrives, we have already learned that having one woman who cares deeply for us, loving her, protecting her, having her belong to us and us to her, knowing she can count on us no matter what, is a great feeling that brings out the best in us as men.
We then made the big leap – a child, fatherhood and family, with our mate turning into a mom – and run into another stereotype: the notion that fatherhood is emasculating, that becoming a father, with all that diaper changing, baby talk, nurturing, etc. somehow make us less of a man. And we learn otherwise.
We find that taking care of a sick baby through the night is not for wimps, and that providing for a family can require a great deal of strength. As we teach our child new things and he gets excited when he sees us, we learn how incredibly important we are to him. It takes time, but we discover that caring deeply for a child - protecting him, having him belong to us, us to him, knowing he can count on us no matter what - gives us a mission in life, a purpose larger than ourselves.
Fatherhood challenges us, but it also enlarges us and reshapes our perception of what is important in the world around us. As we take stock of this new world, we find that doing our job as a dad is inherently honorable and respectful, and brings to us the dignity that goes with the territory. Far from being emasculating, being a dad makes us men in the finest sense of the term.

Re Blogged from :  Ji'Kinam Blog : 
 Ji'Kinam: Brotherhood of Dads

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