Happy Teachers’ Appreciation Week, everyone!
It’s crazy how much you take for granted until you’re the one standing in front of the classroom–that, and the amount of baking that you end up doing for your students in any given school term because you genuinely love them and want them to be happy human beings, even if they sometimes ask you questions whose answers are on the syllabus and expect responses when they email you 5 hours before a paper is due. I guess it’s good practice for the 40-kid family I plan on having someday.
Facetiousness aside, though, I owe a lot to the teachers in my life who pulled me through my brighter years and supported me through my tougher ones. Two in particular stand out to me: the first is my high school English Lit AP teacher, who was a total tough cookie and set us a timed essay on our first day of class after having us write multiple essays throughout the summer on 1984, My Name is Asher Lev, Typical American, and (I think) something broadly Shakespearean. He had a reputation in the school for being something of a hardass, but I never received anything but fair judgment and respectable guidance from him. Granted, I was a pretty strong writer already in senior year and didn’t struggle nearly as much as my peers did in that class, but I also knew it was because I worked my butt off that year to put out my very best work for this teacher. And in a way, that year was the year when I first learned what it’s like to fall deeply, irrevocably in love with literature.
The second is a very special lady whom I admire to the stars and back. Katharine taught my children’s lit seminar at university during my junior year, and I was lucky enough to spend that quarter with her exploring New York City in Stuart Little, strolling through the rolling cityscapes and hills of the Rootabaga Stories, laughing and crying over the images in American-Born Chinese and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In fact, that last book is sitting on the desk next to me right now, waiting for me to finish this post so that I can craft a lesson plan around it when I teach it next week. Katharine’s zest for life and zeal for books kept me coming back for more, and more, and more. Without her, I can’t say for certain whether I’d be where I am right now: at one of the best universities in the country teaching English–and children’s!–literature and earnestly awaiting the publication of my first academic article on E.B. White. Though we don’t talk much these days, Facebook tells me she’s now out there doing animal and environmental education outreach programs for young children and helping make the world a brighter place, as she did with mine.
This week, I hope you’ll all take some time out to appreciate the teachers in your lives–whether it’s somebody who taught you or simply a teacher that you know, educators are amazing folks with the dedication and vision to help shape our future generations. You might even want to make them a pan of these sinfully good, gooey brownies, which are filled with fudgy layers of brownie, homemade caramel, and sticky crunchy coffee toffee.
In fact, I’m off to celebrate right now: with a spoon straight to this pan, that is. (Yeah, so I kept the whole thing to myself–sue me. Or don’t. I don’t get paid nearly enough for that. Trust me, I’m a teacher.)
Is there a teacher who changed your life goals or outlook? Share your Teacher Appreciation Week stories below!
For the brownies:
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the caramel:
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
For the coffee/toffee layer:
- 1 cup white sugar
- 3 tablespoons strong brewed coffee
- 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 3 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 cup toffee bits
For the brownies:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x9-inch baking pan and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, cocoa powder, and sugar until smooth. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Fold in flour and salt.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20-23 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out mostly clean with moist crumbs clinging to it. Do not overbake--doing so will result in a much cakier brownie! Your brownie should be fudgy and very moist.
For the caramel:
- Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk constantly and allow mixture to boil for an additional 5 minutes, until golden in color. Remove from heat.
For the coffee toffee layer:
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a second medium saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar, coffee, and corn syrup to a boil. Allow mixture to boil for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and quickly whisk in baking soda--your mixture should aerate and lighten in color.
- Pour the mixture evenly across the prepared pan and allow it to set for 30 minutes.
- Pour caramel evenly over cooled brownies. Spread coffee layer over caramel--you may need to use a spoon or knife to scrape the (very sticky) coffee layer from the parchment paper. Top with toffee bits.
- Refrigerate brownies for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving. Caution: they will be very sticky, so if you need to, simply take a spoon to the pan and enjoy with a scoop of ice cream!