Brownie Points

Browniepoints

It has been more than a year since I literally drowned in brownies here. Then, my quest was for the best tasting concoction that would not taste like it was made from a box. During my trip to San Francisco last August to take a chocolate techniques class from Alice Medrich, she had to rock my comfort zone by making available MORE recipes for brownies. Apparently she was constantly tweaking what were already the best brownies ever.

Luckily for my sanity, most of them followed the same number of ingredients and technique. My interest now was more peaked than ever about using different percentages of chocolate to come up with relatively the same textures and qualities for all batches. Alice used a lot of Scharffen Berger chocolate in her tests. Since this chocolate had vanilla in its flavor profile she suggested skipping the use of any vanilla extract. I wanted to use my favorite Valrhona Equatorial in the 55% chocolate category because I felt this was a well-balanced semi-sweet chocolate. In her new version of her brownies, Alice labeled them 8.07 – one of them was now known as Robert Steinberg’s recipe which is labeled 8.07 RS ( I think this recipe is also in The Essence of Chocolate). What I noticed with her new versions is that she uses less flour so really you’ve got a very fudgy chocolate brownie with a nice crackle in the outer layer. The 55% recipe is from her Bittersweet book that I have not tried in my original brownie experiment.

 

 

 

Valrhona Equatoriale

(55%) original

Scharffen Berger

(62 %) 8.07

Scharffen Berger

(70%)  8.07 RS

chocolate

10 oz

11 oz.

8 oz.

butter

5 tbs.

3 ½ tbs

6 tbs.

sugar

2/3 cup

2/3 cup

1 cup

vanilla extract

1 tsp.

*

*

salt

¼ tsp.

¼ tsp.

¼ tsp.

cold eggs

2

2

2

all-purpose flour

½ cup

1/3 cup + 1 tbs.

1/3 cup + 1tbs.

 

 

Directions: (for all recipes)

Position a rack in the lower theird of the oven and preheat to 350 °F.

 

Place chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the chocolate is melted and the mixture smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger quickly after dipping it to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet. Mix in the sugar, vanilla (if using) and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until the first one is incorporated before adding the second. Add the flour and stir vigorously until the mixture is thick, smooth and glossy, and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about one minute. Spread evenly in the lined pan. Bake until the batter just begins to pull away from the edges of the pan and small cracks appear on the surface, about 30-35 minutes. A toothpick plunged into the center will emerge with moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool on a rack. Lift the edges of the parchment or foil liner and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares. Brownies can be stored, airtight, for 2-3 days.

 

 

Cooking Notes:

Among the three recipes, I preferred the one made with Valrhona Equatoriale, 55%. And so I wouldn’t be biased I asked the “Hungry” hubby to taste it as well and he agreed that the 55% one produced a brownie that was intensely chocolatey with a smooth finish (brownie tasting can almost be like wine tasting you know). With a higher percentage of cocoa butter the batter is a lot stiffer. My least favorite was the one made with Scharffen Berger 62%. I was most disappointed with this because I had high hopes for it being the middle percentage. I suspect that the chocolate needed to be reduced because at 11 ounces it does seem extremely high. This brownie had a bitter catch on the palate which I found disconcerting. The 70%, as always, was a pretty good bet if you want a deeper chocolate punch.

There are two important aspects that need to be pointed out in the directions of the recipe. Noticed that you melt the chocolate and butter until when you dip your finger in it, you want to immediately take them out. Now this may be a tolerance-dependent factor but for me that temperature is between 140 °F to 145 °F on an infrared thermometer. It is also important for the mixture to be this hot when you add the sugar because that is what makes the crust crackle and become shiny.  The second point is beating the flour in just right. It is interesting to watch the batter transform from a cake-looking batter to a homogenous shiny blob that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and just drops into your prepared pan with no problem. For the Valrhona Equatoriale, I must say my arm almost fell off from the stiffness of the batter.

 

This was a fun experiment – one that I have longed to try for quite sometime now. I made four batches all in all because I made the 62% twice just in case I made a mistake in my measurement the first time. I still came out with the same result. I would try to reduce the 62% chocolate to 9 oz next time, just to see if that was an anomaly in the recipe. In the meantime – brownies anyone?

 

Also, the nice folks at Foodie View asked me to write their recipe roundup this week. Since this month is the month of love, I thought it most appropriate to talk about For the Love of Chocolate .

Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes x 2

Ccakedorie

Think quick, what is that one childhood sweet treat that you hold dear to your heart up to this day? Mine is a chocolate cupcake topped with a thick layer of dark chocolate icing. That cupcake was my one of two (the other being a brownie) favorite sweets to take to school. Sometimes classes would run too long that I would scuttle hastily to eat my cupcake! One day, because of my rush to eat it, I dropped it smack on its crown! Picture a five year old holding an empty cupcake wrapper staring down forlornly at the dusty school grounds where her day’s sugary indulgence had just landed. Though I can smile now at that memory, at that time it was pretty gut-wrenching (pun intended) to lose my precious cupcake!

After finding much success with Brownies, it seems befitting to do the same with cupcakes… rediscover that piece of childhood nostalgia that evokes a feeling of utter chocolate contentment.

           So what sparked this trip down memory lane? Why, the popular event, Sugar High Friday, of course! This time it’s "SHF #27" , hosted by David Lebovitz  with the theme: Chocolate by Brand.

I am very particular when it comes to chocolate desserts; the chocolate has to take center stage. I have had much success with the Valrhona and Scharffen Berger brands… I use the former’s block chocolate and the latter’s cocoa powder and nibs a lot in my baking and experimental adventures.

Chocbrand_1

I have recently acquired a packet of Valrhona cocoa powder and wanted to try it out. The color was such a deep chocolate it really peaked my curiosity, will it keep its dark color when mixed in with flour and baked? Then came the recipe selection. I thought it was déjà vu when I saw two recipes called Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes. One was from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours, and the other by Stephanie Hersch from the book The Essence of Chocolate. This gave me the idea of baking not one but two different recipes of this well-loved baked sweet. As I scrutinized the recipe, I observed that both used cocoa powder, however the similarity ends there. Aside from the obvious egg, flour and butter ingredients, one recipe uses buttermilk and additional melted chocolate while the other uses plain milk. Truly interesting (as I scratch my chin in anticipation)! To achieve a true test, I should, in fact, use the same cocoa powder for both recipes but I decided that that would be just too boring. I wanted this round of cupcake baking spree to be enjoyable/pleasurable so I threw out all the Test Kitchen rules about not changing too many variables at the same time. After all who would want their two cupcake recipes to potentially taste the same. It was not hard to decide which brand to use for which recipe. The obvious reason that since Stephanie Hersch’s concoction was from the Scharffen Berger book, I used the cocoa powder with the same name. I used Valrhona for Dorie’s recipe that she labeled as a cupcake for grown ups which kind of went with my impression of Valrhona as a grown up chocolate largely due to its black packaging.

Chocolate Chocolate Cupcake #1

           Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking From My Home To Yours”

For the cupcake

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Valrhona unsweetened)

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

1 stick (8 tbs) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

½ tsp pure vanilla extract

½ cup buttermilk

2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

For the glaze

3 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (Valrhona bittersweet 70%)

1 tbs confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Fit the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan with paper muffin cups, or butter them with flour and tap out the excess.

To make the cupcakes:

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

            Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until it is blended into the butter. Add the egg, then the yolk, beating 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the vanilla, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add half the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear. Scrape down the bowl and add the buttermilk, mixing until incorporated, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients. Scrape down the bowl, add the melted chocolate and mix it in with the rubber spatula.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin molds.

            Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until the tops of the cakes are dry and springy to the touch and a knife inserted into their centers comes out clean. Transfer the muffin pan to a rack and let the cakes cool for 5 minutes before unmolding. Cool to room temperature on the rack before glazing.

To make the Glaze

            Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of shimmering water. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let stand for  5 minutes.

            Using a small whisk or rubber spatula, stir the confectioners’ sugar into the chocolate, followed by the pieces of cold butter. The glaze may be very thin at this point or may be perfectly spreadable. If it is too thin to spread or use as a dip (I often dip the tops of the cakes into the ganache, then give the cakes a little twirl as I pull them out, so they have a squiggle of glaze in the center), stir it over ice water for a few seconds – really less than a minute. With a small metal icing spatula, give each cupcake a crown of shiny ganache, and let the glaze set at room temperature (or in the fridge if you are in a hurry). If the ganache loses its gloss and you miss it, give the tops of the cakes a puff of hot air from a hairdryer right before serving. 

Ccakesharf_2

Chocolate Chocolate Cupcake #2

       Adapted from “The Essence of Chocolate” recipe by Stephanie Hersh.

For the Frosting

            1 cup heavy cream

            8 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

            

For the Cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Scharffen Berger unsweetened)

10 tbs (5 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

1 large egg

¾ cup whole milk

To make the cupcakes

            Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line 12 muffin cups (3/4-cup capacity) with paper liners.

            Stir together the flour and cocoa powder in a small bowl, and set aside.

            In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until pale, light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.

            Add the egg and beat until incorporated. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately in two batches each, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Continue mixing until the batter is a uniform color.

            Fill the muffin cups about two-thirds full. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cupcake spring back slightly when pressed in the center.

            Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a cooling rack, then remove and allow to cool completely on the rack.

            Once the frosting has thickened, dip the top of each cupcake in it and then twist as you lift out, or spread a small amount of frosting on top of each cupcake. If the frosting become to firm to spread, warm it slightly in a microwave or over a double boiler, stirring gently.

To make the frosting

In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium-low heat, until it just begins to simmer. Add the chocolate and whisk until the chocolate has melted completely and the mixture is smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and let it cool for about 2 hours, or until the ganache has thickened enough to frost the cupcakes. If you’d like to thicken it faster, place the ganache in the refrigerator. The ganache will thicken around the edges first, so be sure to stir it every 5 minutes once it has begun to set. Remove it as soon as it has thickened or warm to room temperature and stir.

Cooking Notes:

           I did not have the chance to make two types of frosting/glaze/icing (whatever you call it) but I included the recipe so you can try it. The reason for this is that some cupcakes disappeared (read “eaten”) before they had a chance to cool down so there was no sense making all this icing. I used Dorie’s recipe for the topping with just butter, powdered sugar and melted chocolate. In my opinion this seemed like it had more shelf life and stability (which did not matter anyway since all the cupcakes were gone by the next day) than the one made with whipping cream. I followed both recipes’ suggestion of just dipping the cakes in the icing, swirling it and using a small spatula to shape it further – this really is the easiest way.

So which cupcake tasted better? Let me see…Dorie’s cupcake was very good in that it definitely supplied that sophisticated flavor; the “hungry” hubby, who maintains he doesn’t like sweets and has been blaming me for proving him a liar, likes this one better. As for me, taking a bite out of the Stephanie Hersch cupcake version brought back that beloved flavor from decades ago. It had the finest, tender crumb which gave one a very good mouth-feel. I think Dorie’s version was denser because of the addition of the melted chocolate and less butter or it could be just from the way I beat it. Also the Valrhona cocoa powder I used in Dorie’s recipe definitely turned out deeply dark chocolate cakes.

I’m still finding a way to effectively fill in the cupcake cups. I’ve tried the teaspoon method  which proved to be time consuming. Using a pastry bag seemed to work very well but was a waste of the pastry bag. Then it suddenly occurred to me that I could use a measuring cup with a spout that could make it  easier and less messy. I’ve also seen batter dispensers but I want to work with what I already have. What do you all think?