Brownie Binge

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From the Archives : This was one of my very first posts. Baking brownies this weekend makes me want to revisit the fun I had bingeing on all this decadence.

My earliest recollection of brownies was when I was five. I would wander into the bakeshop waiting for the new batch of brownies to come out. I would take it to school along with a freshly baked chocolate cupcake topped with really dark chocolate icing. My Dad used to tease me that the business is going to go under because I eat half of what came out of the bakeshop/kitchen. Such began my love affair with the brownie. I have tasted different brownies over the years but have not found one that would conjure up those childhood memories of dark chocolate bliss. Anyway, when I had to bake brownies on my own, I tried packaged brownie mixes and was sourly disappointed. It had a chemical taste to it that tasted, well, pre-packaged. So I tried other recipes from cookbooks that required making it from scratch. I had tried one that was a bit too cakey and another which had a disastrous result wherein I had a batch of brownies that would not set no matter how long I had it in the oven and I ended up with chocolate goo. From my deduction, I might have had too much sugar in it. That is when I realized balance in baking is absolutely necessary.

            Finally this past weekend, I not only baked one but two types of brownies that promised utter chocolate euphoria. This round of brownie bingeing had been in the making for a week as I was plotting the recipes and how I could fit the making of them all (3 batches in a row… I would have made more but I had to make the barberry rice dinner in the previous post) in my busy weekend. This best brownie recipe ever comes from Alice Medrich book “Bittersweet”. I just received this book a couple of weeks ago. I had her other book “Cocolat” but I gave it away, whilst reluctantly, since I only made use of one recipe from it, but I must say “Bittersweet” is the better book as it explains this food group very well (I classify chocolate as another food group altogether). In her chapter where she deals with Brownies (which by the way is where I got my idea of naming this post), she explains how the percentage of chocolate in each bar affects the outcome of the recipe.

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Brownies can be judged by flavor, texture, sweetness, denseness, crustiness, chewiness and softness. For bittersweet chocolate brownie fans, chewy may actually mean moist, dense and gooey which is exactly how I want my brownie… so I guess yes I do want crusty but chewy brownies.  There is also that old school technique wherein you should wait for the chocolate to cool first before adding the sugar and eggs. Well this is debunked in the following recipe especially the one for bittersweet chocolate. The temperature of the oven is what was given in the recipe; I actually used 335 °F in my convection oven for the bittersweet recipe and 315 °F for the cocoa recipe. I find that visual timing is more accurate than set times in recipes. The toothpick method is the best for gauging doneness. This is not the end of my brownie experiment. There is another technique which entails refrigerating the batter overnight transforming it into a richer and chewier brownie. For bittersweet chocolate this might make it too rich but for low fat recipes this might work very well. 

           Classic Bittersweet brownies

            6 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate

            7 tbs. unsalted butter

            1 cup sugar

            2 cold eggs

            ¼ tsp salt

            1 tsp vanilla extract

            ½ cup flour

            2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces

            8 inch square pan (lined with foil or parchment paper with 1” overhang)

            Position rack on lower third of oven and preheat to 350°F

            Combine chocolate, butter and sugar in a heatproof bowl and melt atop a skillet with barely simmering water. Stir with a wooden spoon. When chocolate and butter is all melted, and the mixture is hot enough that when you dip your finger into it you would want to pull it out fairly quickly. Remove bowl from skillet, stir in the vanilla and salt. Add the egg one at a time making sure the first egg is fully incorporated. Stir in the flour and beat until smooth and glossy and batter is pulling away from the pan. Mix in the nuts if using then pours the mixture into the prepared 8-inch square pan.

            Bake for about 20 minutes. The brownie is ready when it is starting to pull away from the sides, the top is dry and when you stick a toothpick in the center, it is still slightly gooey. Let cool on a rack before slicing into 16 or 25 pieces.

           Best Classic Cocoa brownies

            I am not a big fan of cocoa in baking but these brownies turned out pretty good! Please use the best cocoa you can find.

            10 tbsp. unsalted butter

            1 ¼ cup sugar

            ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-processed)

            ¼ tsp salt

            ½ tsp vanilla extract

            2 cold eggs

            ½ cup flour

            2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces

            8 inch square pan (lined with foil or parchment paper with 1” overhang)

            Position rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 °F.

            Combine sugar, cocoa, salt and butter in a heat proof bowl and set on top of a skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot enough that when you dip your finger in it you would want to take it out fairly quickly. Remove bowl from skillet and set aside until the mixture is warm, not hot.

            Add the vanilla. Stir in the egg one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick and shiny and well blended, add the flour and stir until you could not see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with a wooden or rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts if using then pour into prepared pan.

            Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center comes out slightly moist with batter, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Lift out using the overhang and slice on top a cutting board.