Friday, September 5, 2008

the baked brownie, spiced up

the baked brownie, spiced up

If you’ve made as many brownies as I have in my life–and that’s a lot. I mean A LOT. Just ask my hips.–you come to realize a couple things: There are no bad from-scratch brownies.* Seriously, not even the batch that I forgot to add the flour to when I was in middle school, that I am pretty sure my mother still brings up whenever someone mentions what a great cook her daughter is, was destroyed. A little charred at the edges, perhaps, but they still quite tasty in the middle. Because you know we totally ate them anyway.

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And if you’re me, the other thing you will likely realize is that it is impossible to have any brownie loyalty in this world. I can’t tell you how many times I have made a brownie and declared it the best one yet, and the one that would end all brownie-making experiments going forward. “Fat chance,” smirk the not-yet-auditioned brownie recipes, though I can never tell if they mocking my aforementioned hips, or simply my insistence that I will never have to look any further for Brownie Nirvana.

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For years, my perfect brownie was the One-Bowl Brownie, and when I’m in a rush, I still make them. Because they’re awesome. More recently, however, Cook’s Illustrated Classic Brownie became my go-to approximation of brownie perfection. And I still wouldn’t push any single one of them away.

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So what does one do when yet another brownie comes across the horizon promising to put all brownies before it to shame? Well, at first you might try to fight it. A few years ago, a friend of mine was working at a bakery in Red Hook, Brooklyn that was famed for their brownies, and all of their curious varietals, like espresso and key lime and chipotle. She insisted I try them.

“Meh,” I said, “Why do people always have to mess with a good thing? Are we that bored with brownies as we know them? I’m sure not.”

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Of course, that was until I tried them (right there, in the cab on the way home where I had impatiently torn into the package she’d brought me–I had shown a whole hour of restraint, mind you) and realized how wrong I’d been. First of all, this was the best brownie I had ever eaten. It was chewy with lightly crisped edges and a crackly top and an density that had not confused itself with gumminess, as too many rich brownies do.

the baked brownie, spiced up

Second of all, the flavorings were awesome. Do you know what the secret to putting wonky ingredients in baked goods is? Restraint. It’s one thing to make a lime brownie where the flavors fight each other for a seat in the front row–it’s another thing to have that flavor linger so delicately in the background that you really learn to love it there.

That’s what the guys behind Baked** do. And now you can get a piece of it without a subway ride.

the baked brownie, spiced up

* Unless you’re adding pureed carrots or flax seed and if you are, seriously, shame on you. Also: why? Why would you ruin a brownie like that? I demand an answer!

** Yes, this is the same bakery that I mentioned on Tuesday. No, I am not being paid to shill for their book, I am just that in love with it. Did I mention the banana espresso chocolate chip muffin recipe? The red hot velvet cake with cinnamon frosting? The milk chocolate malt ball cake? The pumpkin whoopie pies? And then there is the thing that I am going to bake next, so help anyone or thing that tries to get in my way: chocolate peanut butter bar that include some format of rice crispy treats. Oh, momma.

One year ago: 1-2-3-4 Cake with Lemon Filling
Two years ago: Key Lime Tartlets

The Baked Brownie, Spiced Up
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking and the Baked Bakery in Red Hook, Brooklyn

So, of course the story is even more complicated than this. You see, my friend jotted down the recipe they were using back in the day for the chipotle brownie, so I could try it at home. But I lost it. For three years. And only found it recently, coicidentally, just a couple weeks before someone gave me a copy of the Baked cookbook. Which turned out to have their brownie recipe, improved over the years with more chocolate and more butter (thankyouverymuch) but no chipotle version. And I really had liked that chipotle version.

Below, I have cobbled together the spices from the older recipe with the current one so you can attempt an unofficial version of their very subtly spicy brownies. Not interested in spices? Just skip the chipotle, cardamom and cinnamon. Either way, welcome to your new brownie nirvana.

Yield: 24 brownies

1 1/4 cups (155 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 tablespoons (10 grams) dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle powder (I didn’t have this and used smoky spicy paprika, with a very similiar flavor profile, instead) (for the spicy version)
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (for the spicy version)
1/4 teaspoon cardamom (for the spicy version)
11 ounces (310 grams) dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces or 225 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (105 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13 glass or light-colored metal baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, cocoa powder and spices (chipotle, cinnamon and cardamom), if you’re using them, together.

Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature.

Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Let the brownies cool completely, then cut them int osquares and serve.

Tightly covered with plastic wrap, the brownies keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.


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