Friday, December 19, 2008

grasshopper brownies

grasshopper squares

My grandmother was a pretty fly lady, though I am not sure anyone called her “fly” in her lifetime. She loved anything glamorous and I’m pretty sure she saw the point of doing a whole lot in moderation. She’d send my sister and I (beware, frightening New Jersey-in-the-80s references ahead) glittery and puff-painted jaw clips and manes from the flea markets in Florida, she never discouraged the splattered and acid-washed jeans and neon slouch socks I wish someone would have formed an intervention over (shudder) and I specifically remember her finding me a pair of silver moccasins that in my mind couldn’t have been any cooler.

melted chocolate

So, it should come as no surprise that when she made brownies, she didn’t just make any old brownies. Instead, they were three layer affairs; one chocolate, one mint and then a chocolate topping and she didn’t just stop there. Nope, Grandma took an Andes Candy, divided it in half on the diagonal, and sank it like a shark fin into that chocolate and her “creme de menthe brownies” were possibly the most glamorous thing I had ever seen and my favorite brownie to eat.

mmm, eau de freshly baked brownie

I unearthed the recipe a few years ago — a thin brownie not heavy on the chocolate (which came from a can of Hersheys syrup!), a quick butter/powdered sugar buttercream flavored with creme de menthe and a melted chocolate chip topping — and I am so ashamed to say this, but they just didn’t live up to the memory I had of them. I knew I could make tweak the recipe to make them better somehow, but it just seemed wrong.

brownie batterlight brown sugarin ye go!puddle o'mint white chocolate ganachedidn't lick the bowlgrasshopper squares

But these… they’re richer. The chocolate flavor is more intense. They’re a bit neater and more compact and I would never call them “better”, I’ll just say that this is the way I had always remembered the others tasting. I don’t think she’d complain one bit if I handed her one of these instead of her version; she’d enjoy them thoroughly. And then she’d tell me to stand up straight, and perhaps wear some colors once in a while.

chocolate mint brownies

Lady, you’re killing us with the sweets: I know, I know. We’ve been desserts overboard this month, but I can’t let you all go into the biggest baking weekend of the year without one last totally gorgeous and indulgent confection. A fantastic dinner party dish is coming next (I mean, I hope it is as delicious as the last time I made it!) and then some moderation. Perhaps in the new year. How else will we find cause for resolutions?

One year ago: Austrian Raspberry Shortbread Surely, you still have time to make these, yes? I hope you do.
Two years ago: Robert Linxe’s Chocolate Tart

Grasshopper Squares [aka Creme de Menthe Brownies]
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2005

I have one gripe with these squares: The ganaches are too soft. I honestly don’t know why they require so much cream as they never really firm up, even in the freezer. It makes for a delicious bite but not a whole lot of stackability or transportability. What I would do next time is try to make the ganaches with half the cream and see if they firm up better — they should. If you feel comfortable doing so (you’ll want to chocolate with the cream, rather than pour it over) I have a feeling it will be a nicer consistency. But even if you use the full amounts, you won’t be disappointed in the taste.

Final note: With white chocolate, the quality is especially important. The original recipe’s comments on Epicurious are filled with complaint from people who used Ghirdelli and other white “chocolates” (filled with artificial ingredients) which split easily once heated and never came back together. This has happened to me before when I used Ghiradelli. Although pricier, both Valrhona and Callebaut make exceptional white chocolates; I used the latter.

Makes anywhere from 72 normal-sized brownies to 117 one-inch squares (I think the perfect size)

For brownie layer
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
10 1/2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not extra-bitter or unsweetened and no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

For mint ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream (see recipe notes)
10 oz fine-quality white chocolate, chopped (see recipe notes)
2 tablespoons green crème de menthe (I skipped this and found the mint flavor strong enough; compensated for the tinting with a single drop of green color)
1 teaspoon peppermint extract

For chocolate ganache
1 cup heavy cream (see recipe notes)
10 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped

Make brownie layer:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and line with 2 crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang on all sides. Butter foil.

Melt butter and chocolate with brown sugar in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in eggs and vanilla until combined. Whisk in flour, cocoa, and salt until just combined.

Spread batter evenly in baking pan and bake until set and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs adhering, about 20 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 1 1/2 hours.

Make mint ganache:
Bring cream to a simmer in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan and remove from heat. Pour over white chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Stir in crème de menthe and extract and chill, covered, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 1 hour.

Make chocolate ganache:
Bring cream to a simmer in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan and remove from heat. Pour over bittersweet chocolate in a bowl. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Chill, covered, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 30 minutes.

Assemble layers:
Spread mint ganache over top of cooled brownie in a thin even layer using offset spatula, then chill until firm but still slightly sticky, about 30 minutes.

Spread chocolate ganache over mint and chill until firm, about 2 hours.

Lift dessert out of pan using foil overhang. Run a heavy knife under hot water and wipe dry, then trim edges of dessert (1/4 inch off each side). Cut dessert into squares and peel from foil.


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