White chocolate brownies have it tough. They share a name with a baked good that needs no improving on; their chocolate is rejected by self-titled “real” chocolate eaters for being a pale imitation of the rich, nutty and bittersweet awesomeness of darker chocolates; this same chocolate is so sweet that you must dial back the sugar in your brownies to adjust for it, removing moisture, risking leaving them cake-like and if it couldn’t get much worse, they’re barely white. More like, pale-yellowish-beige. Yum, right?
I was one of those white chocolate rejectors for a long time but I finally made peace with it when I stopped judging it through the lens of chocolate — which is bitter and complex in ways that white chocolate cannot be — and accepted it for what it is, a buttery sweet confection that, when used carefully, plays exceptionally well with others, like mint, berries, nuts and, well, dark chocolate. And since I’d come full circle with my reasoning, I made a batch of white chocolate brownies and a batch of dark chocolate brownies and hadn’t figured out what I was going to do next, only that nothing bad could happen from there.
I don’t know what came over me next — maybe the extreme cuteness that has descended upon our apartment for the last 16 months has finally drained me of any remaining trace of sarcasm, eye-rolling or groans around treacly twee things, but suddenly I was digging out a tiny cookie cutter and making heart-shaped belly buttons in my brownies:
And swapping bellies:
And encouraging you to do the same:
So, how long until I can start contributing to bake sales at the kid’s school? Because I think I’ve found my calling at last.
One year ago: Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes with Mint White Chocolate Cream
Two years ago: Alex’s Mom’s Stuffed Cabbage and Toasted Coconut Shortbread Hearts
Three years ago: Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares
Four years ago: Mom’s Chocolate Chip Meringues
Elsewhere: There’s more cute on Bon Appetit, where I made Heart-Stuffed Shells in a Ricotta Sauce as part of a Valentine’s Menu. If you’re an artichoke fanatic like I am, you’re going to melt over these. Instead of being stuffed with 16 cheeses (okay, I’m exaggerating) and swimming in more cheese, as I remember shells from the 1980s, these are stuffed with a bright lemon-Parmesan-garlic-artichoke filling, and the ricotta is saved for a bechamel-like sauce.
White and Dark Heart Brownies
So about the light brownies: as I said above, white chocolate brownies are tough. I looked at every recipe that I could find for them and rejected each on different accounts. (Those that had reviews were never reviewed well.) I finally started reverse engineering my old fallback, the one-bowl brownies I’ve been making since grade school that despite their absence of browned butter, imported chocolate, Dutched cocoa and paragraphs of direction, are really spectacular. I increased the chocolate, knowing that the flavor of white chocolate is hard to find in confections, even in larger quantities and top qualities. I decreased the sugar. I increased the thickness, just a tad. But I left the important part there, that it’s a one-bowl brownie, something that’s doubly important because you’ll be making two batches. Two bowls; we can manage that, right?
I’m not going to call this the best brownie I’ve ever made — in fact, I was so convinced that it wouldn’t work, I didn’t even take photos of the process of making them — but it exceeded my expectations. They’re chewy, their sweetness is not completely out of control and they each taste enough like their primary ingredient to earn their titles. But? They’re so much better in the context (or as the belly button) of their darker brownie compatriots. Also, cuter. Once a year, you can make something just because it’s cutest thing to do.
This recipe makes 16 2-inch square white or dark chocolate brownies. To make a pan of each and reverse the middles, you’ll need double the ingredients listed below. You will end up with 32 reversed-center brownies.
3 ounces (85 grams) semisweet or good white chocolate*, coarsely chopped
1 stick (4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 1/8 ounces or 175 grams) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
1/4 teaspoon table salt or 1/2 teaspoon flaky salt (about 2 grams)
2/3 cup (83 grams) all-purpose flour
1-inch heart or other shaped cookie cutter
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over opposite sides of pan. Repeat with second piece of foil in opposite direction. Butter foil.
Melt white or dark chocolate and butter together in a large bowl over a simmering pot of water (or in the microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring between each) until it is 90% melted; remove from heat and stir the mixture until it is smooth. (I do this too keep things from getting too hot.) Whisk in sugar. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Add flour and salt together, stirring until just combined. Spread into prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes (for the dark chocolate version) and 30 to 35 minutes (for the white chocolate version).
Repeat this recipe with the other kind of chocolate and a second 8×8-inch square pan. If you don’t have two matching square pans (understandably) simply wait until you can remove your brownies from the pan as directed in the next step, and start again.
Cool pans on a wire rack in the freezer if you’re going to make cut-outs; frozen brownies are much easier to make clean cuts from. Once solid, transfer brownies in their foil “sling” to a large cutting board and cut each pan of brownies into 16 even squares, about 2×2 inches each. Still cold (and if they warm up and soften too quickly, pop them back in the freezer for 5 minutes), carefully, slowly, gently, press your cookie cutter into the center of each brownie and set the cut-out aside. Insert the dark cut-outs into the centers of the light brownies, and vice-versa. From here, you can let them warm up to room temperature or wrap them up in the freezer until you will need them.
* I generally dislike the qualifier “good” in recipes; it suggests that if you don’t use the very! best! olive oil, butter, wine, etc. your recipe will be terrible. Feh. But good white chocolate is a world apart from the cheap stuff. Namely, it is white chocolate, and not “white baking chips” which will melt into a yellow-oiled chunky… ugh, trust me. You’ll be glad you used something better.