From New Year’s on the outlook brightens; good humor lost in a mood of failure returns. I resolve to stop complaining. – Leonard Bernstein
It’s the same thing, year in and year out. December comes to a lively end, a rousing, bubbly conclusion, flowing by faster than we could ever have imagined. As the end of one year draws nigh and slowly dawns a bright new year something odd and inexplicable takes over us. All power of sensible reflection comes screeching to a halt and irrational thoughts flood through our poor over-holidayed brain. All of those heavy meals and sweets must have made us delirious, intoxicated by one too many candy cane or marshmallow Santa. Hours of sitting too close to a blazing fire may have softened the old noggin. Maybe it was all that sentimental “Good will towards men” stuff that melted our hearts, all those Christmas specials, carols, and old black and white films that did the job. Spending time with loving spouse, beaming grandparents, or too many giddy little kids, thoughts of jolly Old Saint Nick sliding down yet another chimney or all the dazzling, glittery candles and fairy lights that blinded us, made us go all wobbly and weak-kneed and completely lose all reason. Or we just got drunk on one too many glasses of Champagne, the cheer and Auld Lang Syne of yet another New Year’s Eve. But every year it happens again and no matter what we’ve told ourselves, no matter how many times we’ve seen that it only ends in disaster, something – what, oh dear, what? – makes us do it again.
New Year’s Resolutions.
The time is once more upon us when we sit down and, pen and paper in hand, draw up that impossible list of resolutions, that endless list of promises to ourselves, promises rarely kept. Glancing over past lists, we shake our head in disbelief and wonder how we can, year after year, set the bar so high, pledging ourselves to exercise regularly and lose 10 pounds, visit grandma every Sunday, never raise our voice to children or spouse, drink less smoke less eat less change our diet, quit our job and live the dream, plan that round-the-world tour we’ve been dreaming of. Even our promise to clean up our desk and stay better focused on our work falls flat after a mere few weeks. Or days. New Year’s Resolutions are as ephemeral as that genie in the bottle, as fleeting as time itself. Yet here we go again.
Yes, the New Year has swiftly come and gone in a flurry of guests at the Hôtel Diderot, so many more than we had expected, and so many last minute. It could have been the unseasonally mild winter weather and no snow in the mountains that brought them to the Loire Valley on a whim, yet this year we have seen rooms snapped up one after the other as the day waned from afternoon to evening, folks passing through on their way to somewhere. Or simply to have a few quiet, restful days from home. Breakfasts have been full the past two weeks since my return from Florida, some even overflowing into the bar, but rather convivial affairs with everyone tasting and testing all of the jams and enjoying themselves heartily. With the Christmas and New Year festivities, it’s been late mornings as guests have all been arriving for breakfast after 9 am and, usually, all at once.
Busy busy we have been all week! Between breakfasts all morning and finding restaurants for guests in the evening, we carried out the hotel’s end-of-the-year inventory and are calculating our end-of-the-year financial situation and happily find ourselves in an excellent situation after an excellent year. And while the receptionists were scrambling to slot guests arriving out of the blue into empty rooms and the cleaning team was trying to keep up, Jean-Pierre and I were preparing the signature of the provisional sales agreement, the promise, for the sale of our apartment in Nantes as well as organizing the renovation of one of the old hotel rooms for the last week of January.
And we are excitedly anticipating the celebration of our first anniversary of owning and running the Hôtel Diderot. Already. Mindboggling.
Jean-Pierre and I had a quiet, intimate little New Year’s Eve dinner for two of wine-braised beef with potatoes from Chef Blandineau and a gorgeous bûche from Patisserie Ayrole. And a bottle of bubbly. We watched films and went to bed later than usual, but still ready to be up and at work before dawn the following morning.
The first of January arrived finding us both in an upbeat mood. As I was dressing and preparing to head downstairs to open up the front gate and set up for breakfast, I dared utter the words New Year’s Resolutions to Jean-Pierre. Before I could speak the words that were on my mind, mention my promises to myself to work, clean, organize, he interrupted me summarily, “do not make New Year’s resolutions!” And I do believe that he may be right.
One thing that I did promise myself is to get back in the habit of baking again before high season begins. And what better place to begin than with something easy and soothing to eat, just a tad luxurious to make myself and my husband feel pampered, a very adult brownie. A subtle hint of almonds, the warmth of Amaretto, a lightness that melts on the tongue, a deep, intense chocolate flavor. Put the diet off for a few more days for it’s the perfect moment to savor something rich and decadent, something earthy, indulgent and, yes, sexy. Just for us. So just take a breath and, before we commit ourselves to those big, impossible resolutions, let’s have a little more cake and think it all through.
- 3.5 oz (100 g) or more crunchy Amaretti cookies, ground to make ⅔ cup measure
- 5 oz (140 g) good-quality semisweet chocolate (see notes)
- ⅔ cup (150 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 1 cup (200 g) sugar
- 4 large eggs, separated and left to come to room temperature
- ⅓ cup (45 g) flour (lightly spooned into measuring cup and levelled)
- 1 ½ Tbs Amaretto
- 2 – 3 Tbs slivered almonds for the top
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175/180°C).
- Butter a 9 x 9-inch (22-cm square) square baking pan.
- Grind the amaretti cookies to a powder using a robot mixer and then measure out ⅔ cup (about 100 g).
- Melt the chocolate in a small bowl or pan over simmering water, stirring constantly as it melts. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to tepid.
- Separate the eggs. Place the egg whites in a medium-sized bowl with a few grains of salt and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the softened butter with the sugar until smooth, creamy and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating in each until combined. Add the melted and slightly cooled chocolate and beat until smooth and blended. Beat in the Amaretto. Beat in the flour, then the crushed amaretti cookies.
- Using very clean beaters, beat the egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase to high speed and beat until soft peaks hold. Gently yet firmly fold the whites into the chocolate batter, a third at a time, until well blended, no white chunks are visible and the batter is smooth.
- Scrape into the prepared baking pan and smooth. Sprinkle the slivered almonds over the top.
- Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the top is puffed, a dull brown color and set. Be careful that the top doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack before cutting into squares.