How “The Great British Baking Show” sparked an idea in Laina Villenueve’s “Kat’s Nine Lives”

Years ago I gave up watching TV to write. There is only so much time to squeeze out of a day, and I needed more time to get the story brewing in my head down on paper. I did okay until my wife started to watch The Great British Baking Show. She would tell me about it at dinner, but after bedtime, I diligently sat myself down on the opposite side of the house at the computer.

One evening, I went to snag a few Oreos from her. I stood, transfixed by Paul and Mary as they assessed a technical challenge. “Do you want to sit?” my wife asked? I didn’t. I wanted to write. Yet slowly, I lowered myself onto the couch.

My writing productivity suffered as we binged-watched (as much as mothers of three can…) all three seasons.

One evening we were at my parent’s house, everyone standing around the range, and my sister started talking about soggy bottoms and proper layers. “It’s a bit of a mess, isn’t it?” Logically following, the show creeped into Kat’s Nine Lives, specifically because of some brownies.

You see, at the end of 2017, The Los Angeles Times ran a column on the best recipes of the year. There was one for Triple Chocolate Brownies. I checked the first bit of the recipe and, finding I had all the ingredients, I rounded up the kids and said, “ready, set, bake!” Okay, maybe I made that part up, but it sounds good, right?

“Total time: 1 hour, plus chilling and cooling times | Makes about 3 dozen brownies

Note: To toast the walnuts, spread them out onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake until lightly golden and fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes.”

  • 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) butter
  • 2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
  •  1 1/3 cups (4 ¼ ounces) cocoa
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (4 ¼ ounces) flour
  • 8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate, divided
  • 1 1/3 cups coarsely chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup heavy cream

 

I realize you might be freaking out about the whole three sticks of butter thing, but my mom explained that it’s due to the recipe calling for cocoa powder. A note on that, we have made the recipe with both milk and dark cocoa powder. My daughter and wife prefer the milk, but I think the dark cocoa is marvelous. We made two batches at the same time to taste-test and accidentally got three ounces of cream cheese in one, and they turned out super fudgie.

Now it occurs to me that you might be asking yourself how any of this applies to Kat’s Nine Lives. As you tackle Step One, consider this question: which could you live without, chocolate or sex?

“Line a 13-inch by 9-inch baking pan with foil. Lightly grease the foil.”

Kat and Wendy debate this in the book as Kat samples the brownies, which begins to heat things up between them.

“In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the butter and sugar over low heat, stirring frequently until the butter is fully melted to form a smooth syrup. Stir in the cocoa and remove from heat.”

A good kiss can certainly melt a woman, but there is more than that one moment to consider. Kat has a lot of things to work through, the ingredients who make her who she is, things that a potential girlfriend might not care for. Consider all that needs to be added in Step Three:

“Remove the mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the cream cheese, pressing any bits against the bowl to smooth them out and incorporate into the mixture. Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully combined, then stir in the salt. Add the flour and stir vigorously until the flour is fully incorporated and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.”

Anyone who reads romance knows that there is a cooling off, a time where characters clear their heads and assess. Brownies sound really good, don’t they? The list of ingredients prepares the palate like a sexy, intriguing woman might. I have to admit here that when I first read the recipe, I didn’t register the bolded bit of the Step Four:

“Stir in 6 ounces chopped chocolate, along with the nuts, if using. (I’d wait a half hour or so before you do this because if you stir it in immediately, it just melts, and then you don’t get the chunky texture) Spread the mixture into the prepared pan. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, preferably overnight, before baking.”

Overnight? Imagine me explaining that to my three young bakers. Life, like romance, requires patience, which is the insight Cath Walker, my editor, had about both Kat and Wendy.

For those who are patient, though, things do heat up! Step Five:

“Heat the oven to 325 degrees and place a rack on the lower third of the oven. Uncover the brownies and bake just until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out slightly moist, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely on a rack.”

That’s really it. The brownies are finished. The couple finds their happily ever after. But remember we started with what Paul and Mary would say, and remember that they care about presentation. So. Steps Six and Seven:

“Remove the foil-lined brownies from the pan and spread the foil out on all sides to form a border around the brownies (this will keep your countertop clean as you decorate). Lightly cover the cooled brownies with powdered sugar. Then, over a double boiler, or using a microwave-safe container, melt the remaining 2 ounces chocolate. Remove from heat. Stir in the cream to form a ganache. Place the ganache in a piping bag, or a sealable plastic bag with one of the corners snipped off and drizzle the ganache over the brownies.”

I couldn’t wait to share the product with my sister, and I beamed when she announced that the texture was perfect and that they were absolutely scrummy. Bake yourself a batch of brownies and savor my fifth book. I can’t wait to hear what you think!

 

 

Kat’s Nine Lives will be available in October 15th.

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