Monday, August 20, 2012

my favorite brownies

one-bowl, chewy-fudgy brownies

I understand that when a website but 5 11/12 years old boasts not one or two but eleven brownie recipes that it’s possible, perhaps, or at least worth considering that the brownie category: it’s been exhausted. The brownie beat reporter can retire. The archives are full. I get it, I do. Shouldn’t we be discussing blueberry pie, summer harvest tians or backyard grillery? Probably.

unsweetened chocolate
butter

But the thing is, I really wanted a brownie. And more so, I wanted my favorite brownies. And despite having an alphabet of brownie recipes on this site from Adorable Hearts to Baked Bakery to Cream Cheese, Cocoa, and Creme de Menthe, I actually haven’t shared my go-to brownie recipe in its purest form, what I dub my Forty Minute Naptime Brownies. And for that, we need to talk about, well, Jacob.

melting the chocolate and butter

sugar

I don’t mean to shock you, but my son, the light of our lives, and don’t even get me started on how I plan to gaze adoringly at the photos from shirtless “pig-sketti” night last week long into my rocking chair days — were he to have a singular flaw, it would be that he’s just never been that into sleep. He was 18 months old before he took a nap longer than 40 minutes and I am not allowed to talk about the oh-so recent age when he started mostly sleeping through the night because it scares my friends who haven’t had kids yet, and I promised to stop doing that. Lest you think this post is going to become a disposal ground for my parental woes, fear not. The upshot of this is that when you have a child who takes short naps, you learn to excel in short baking projects, and I can now make these in my sleep. You know, whenever it is granted.

flaky sea salt
a puddle of batter
cut

My favorite brownies take 10 minutes to put together and embody everything I love in a brownie; they’re bittersweet and chewy, where so many brownies excessively sweet and fudgy (or worse, the dreaded cakey and chocolaty in color only). Like many of my favorite recipes, they’re defined not by what they have in them but what they don’t; there’s no brown sugar or brown butter, baking powder, Dutched cocoa, cake flour, nuts, coffee granules, chips or frosting. Seriously, I think if a brownie needs frosting to sing, it probably wasn’t a great brownie to begin with. There are seven ingredients and the most important one, as it should be, is the unsweetened chocolate. Why unsweetened chocolate? If you want a baked good with deeply rooted chocolate intensity without using a half-pound or more of chopped bars (these use just three ounces of chocolate, which means you can splurge on the best stuff), you’re going to have to start with unsweetened chocolate, every time. These brownies understand that.

deb's favorite brownies

And although they take well to all to all sorts of dolling up (from cream cheese to white chocolate mint ganache to being cubed and buried in cheesecake, true story), they need none of that to make for a speedy in preparation, cooking and clean-up time square of mood management, one you can tuck into even before your resident Nap Conscientious Objector (no more Muhammed Ali board books for you, kid!) wakes up. Because I don’t know about you, but when I decide I want a brownie, I want it exactly then. These brownies will not make you wait.

naptime brownies

One year ago: Hazelnut Plum Crumb Tart
Two years ago: Raspberry Limeade Slushies, Sweet Corn Pancakes and Eggplant Salad Toasts
Three years ago: Summer Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad, Lobster Rolls, Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting and Grilled Eggplant and Olive Pizza
Four years ago: Grilled Eggplant with Caponata Salsa, How to Poach An Egg, Smitten Kitchen-Style, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake and Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
Five years ago: Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake and Plum Almond Tart

My Favorite Brownies

I’ve talked about these before. A larger, thinner version of them formed the mosaic in the brownie mosaic cheesecake. I riffed on them with bittersweet and white chocolate instead of unsweetened for some schmoopy heart brownies. But I’ve never given them to you straight, and I must, because from time to time someone asks me what my favorite brownie recipe is and I have to email it to them, which makes me feel like I’ve failed as a food blogger.

In an effort to put some unique spin on these, I’ve done many things to them over the years: I’ve browned the butter, replaced half the white sugar with brown or replaced some of the flour with cocoa powder. I’ve added pinches of cinnamon and toasted walnuts and chocolate chips. All of these things are good. None of them are needed. If you promise not to fuss, you could be eating these in under an hour. I’m not even going to pretend you’re still reading, knowing that.

Updated to note: If you only have semi- or bittersweet chocolate (60 to 72 percent), I created a version of these brownies with that last year, the darker half of this duo. But, the chocolate intensity is definitely dialed down. However, the sugar level is also adjusted to accomodate for the sweeter chocolate.

New note, 8/21/13: FWIW, I found a new way to ruin our lives, er, make these awesomer and that’s to bake them in mini-muffin pans. This is ideal for brownie edge lovers, as they become nothing but edges with the fudgiest of centers. Spray the pans first with a non-stick spray and fill them almost to the top. They bake for about 16 minutes before a toothpick comes out batter-free. Let them sit in the pan for 5 minutes on a cooling rack before unmolding them, or they break easily. Mine had a frustrating yield of 29 (i.e. just enough to require more than a pans worth) but it made for such perfect, delicious, two-bite servings, I forgive them.

Makes 1 8×8 pan of brownies which you can cut into 16 2-inch squares (shown above), 25 smaller squares, or 32 2×1-inch bites, which is what I usually do.

3 ounces (85 grams) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
1 1/3 cups (265 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt (about 2 grams)
2/3 cup (85 grams) all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment, extending it up two sides, or foil. Butter the parchment or foil or spray it with a nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. You can also do this in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour with a spoon or flexible spatula and scrape batter into prepared pan, spread until even. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free.

Let cool and cut into desired size. If you’re like me, you will prefer these and all brownies, cold or even frozen. But I bet you’re normal and will just eat them hot from the pan. If desired, dust the brownies with powdered sugar before serving.


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