Saturday, January 30, 2010

best cocoa brownies

really dark cocoa brownies

People who really, really love chocolate are dubious about cocoa. Even if you buy the most resplendent cocoa in the world, baking things with it that taste as rich as treats with bars of 70% is a rarity. Thus, if you’d told me about a killer recipe for cocoa brownies a couple weeks ago, I wouldn’t have believed you, but since then, two things have happened.


The first is that I had one. It was a tiny square, scattered among little tears of homemade marshmallows, near a puddle of homemade hot fudge sauce and carousel-ed around a cocoa nib buckwheat panna cotta at 10 Downing last week that nothing short of blew my mind because did you know that the opposite of sweet in the world of chocolate needn’t necessarily be bitter? Sometimes it’s just not very sweet, period, so you can really taste the chocolate. It was awesome*, all of it.

set upcocoa cascade w/creepy hand silouettecocoa, butter, sugar, salt"double boiler" around here

The second is that I looked up a well-regarded cocoa brownie recipe and the description did me in. Here cocoa is not listed as a compromise — something to use just because might already have in your pantry, something shelf-stable for a brownie mix longevity, etc. — but as an intention. For the “chewiest, candylike top”, the only fat in Medrich’s brownie is from butter, not a mix of butter and the cocoa butter that comes in bar chocolate and all of the sugar is pure granulated sugar, and not a mix of it and the milled sugar used in commercial chocolate production. I had never considered either thing before, but there I was nodding along, eagerly agreeing.

puddle of shiny brownie batter

The result is something that could convert those that believe the all roads to fudgy, dark and rich brownies must be paved bricks of tempered chocolate. And now I’m going to say something that will surely make a good lot of you turn away from this recipe and never look back, although you shouldn’t: I believe these brownies will be especially beloved by people who enjoy box mix brownies. They share a moist, dense crumb, though fortunately — for me at least, who finds the taste of boxed brownies to staggeringly lack — not a flavor. Because the only wet ingredients are eggs, butter and vanilla (and the vanilla could be swapped with a scrape of a fresh bean segment rubbed into sugar), they’d also be ripe for a Homemade Brownie Mix Gift Kit. You know, if you were feeling generous enough to share, which may not be your first reaction.

cocoa brownies, 1.5-inch squares

* Speaking of “awesome”.

Brownies, previously: [I cannot pick a favorite. I have no brownie loyalty, and frankly, if I did, how would I ever discover new recipes like this?] Classic Brownies, Peanut Butter Brownies, The Baked Brownie, Spiced Up, Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake, Pumpkin Swirl Brownies, Belgian Brownies, Outrageous Brownies, Cheesecake Marbled Brownies, Grasshopper Brownies and Brownie Roll-Out Cookies

One year ago: Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad
Two years ago: Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree
Three years ago: Icebox Cake

Best Cocoa Brownies
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet

Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies (the size you see pictured yielded 25)

10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (65 grams, though some brands may weigh more) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or a heaping 1/4 teaspoon flaky salt, as I used)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (75 grams) walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added. [Note, many people who have tried this recipe have found that this step works just fine in the microwave. Couldn’t test this because we don’t have one, but it sounds like it would work.]

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion but it took me at least 10 minutes longer to get them set. Let cool completely on a rack. (I go further and throw mine in the fridge or freezer for a while; it’s the only way I can get them to cut with clean lines.)

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.


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