Friday, October 13, 2006

classic brownies

classic brownies

People, I’m getting as predictable as a Cathy cartoon. Take out your calendars, tick 28 days from now, and inevitably, this page will be topped with yet another chocolate-supporting confection. All month long, I look at this dark food of the gods, daily, I submit to a bittersweet bite, yet rarely do I desire to transform it into things. Baking disperses chocolate across flour, eggs, sugars and etceteras. It dulls its mighty intent, and personally, I prefer my chocolate potent.

it's the moon, i swear

But then the moons change and suddenly I can’t get that last brownie recipe I saw somewhere, anywhere, out of my mind. Maybe this is The One, I’ll think, the one that will become my only. I look to my One and Only for support.

“Please convince me that it would be a bad idea to make brownies,” I’ll plead.

“Brownies?! You’re going to make brownies?! Woohoo! Hooray! Yay!” and that ear-to-ear grin terminates my attempts at hip-slimming righteousness in one flash.

This month’s I-dare-you-to-look-away recipe came from Cook’s Illustrated. Can I tell you how much I love Cook’s Illustrated? For a person like me, the type who holds a near-obsessive need to know that their recipes will always work in precisely the way that they were intended to, who craves knowledge that they were infinitely well-tested and thought out, and not just made a certain way because that’s how it’s always been done, CI is a godsend. Sure, it foregoes a little artistry in the name precision, but it also supplies you with you-don’t-need-to-look-any-further perfections such as these.

here to taunt

This is it, this is the recipe that has finally, and honorably, one-upped my beloved Baker’s One Bowl classic. I say honorably because the writer, Erica Bruce, takes her favorite recipe, one that sounds surprisingly similar to mine with an additional egg, a little flour and butter, and looks for ways to tune it up. The first thing she nixes is half a stick of butter, finding her typical brownie a little on the greasy side. This does the trick, but she has an unintended gritty side-effect she’s only able to lose by replacing all-purpose flour with the cake variety, which adds the bonus of a “delicate chew.” Next, she ups the sugar content by ¼ cup, after rejecting light and dark brown sugars for making the recipe too wet as well as leaving a distracting taste. Finally, she pumps up the chocolate flavor by adding 2 additional ounces of unsweetened chocolate (She finds that cocoa makes little flavor difference, and the semi-sweet chocolate flavor gets dispersed too easily.) as well as a small amount of baking powder to give them some lift. It was in these last two that she really caught my attention, as I’d long wanted to bump up the chocolate flavor in my Baker’s recipe and was impressed that you could add some leavening without making them cakey and blah.

This recipe will be laminated and framed.


A cooking note: Yes, I underbaked them. Again. This is a terrifically bad habit of mine, an aggressive overreaction to the dry cakes and brownies that abound. Some recipes benefit from baking times on the skimpy side. This does not. You must bake them until they are completely done or they can be too (yes, I know, hard to imagine) gummy and dense. That said, they are utterly perfect from the freezer, where they have been relegated out of sight in a feeble attempt to get them out of mind.

Looky here! Artist Claire Murray has (adorably) illustrated this recipe, replete with UK ingredient and measurement conversions. Check it out.

Classic Brownies
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Be sure to test for doneness before removing the brownies from the oven. If underbaked (the toothpick has batter clinging to it) the texture of the brownies will be dense and gummy. If overbaked (the toothpick comes out completely clean), the brownies will be dry and cakey.

1 cup (4 ounces) pecans or walnuts, chopped medium (optional)
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into six 1-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups (15 3/4 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhand pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.
  4. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs on at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.
  5. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. (Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature, for up to 3 days, or, ahem, in the freezer until your resistance gets the better of you.)


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