Thursday, July 4, 2019

My Favorite Brownie





"Who needs yet another recipe for an apple pie?" I wrote a couple of years ago. Having thought about it for a minute, I proceeded to enumerate other offenses ("who needs yet another recipe for roasted chicken, chocolate chip cookie, or avocado toast"), showing no mercy for cooks who continued to "pollinate" cyberspace with those recipes. Needless to say, chocolate brownies topped the list. "You must be realizing -- don't you," I continued to preach, "that there are at least gazillion brownie recipes on the Internet already. So, who needs yet another one?"

Well, the time has come to eat my own words.

Allow me to admit my ignorance. And apologize. I am ready to acknowledge what I failed to recognize before. Apple pies, roasted chicken, and chocolate chip cookies are personal. Brownies are personal too, perhaps more than any other food on the planet. We all have an ideal brownie in our head, a list of attributes that define that oh-so-perfect-chocolaty-bite; alas, our brownie architypes might not be universally shared. Some like their brownies dense and fudgy, some like them airy and light. They can be moist or cakey; they can be cloyingly sweet, sweet-but-not-to-sweet, even bitter. Dark, stormy, thick, chewy, chunky, soft, salty -- one could go on forever. There are 52,000 shades of brownies out there and one recipe cannot capture them all.

Just in case you are wondering, this epiphany of mine occurred last winter, when I made a batch of brownies to indulge Miss Pain.

"Decent job," my daughter said while munching on her second brownie. "They are good, but they are not like Isabella's." (Isabella is 12. She is Miss Pain's best friend and a cooking prodigy. Isabella turns one perfect tart after another, caters her own birthday parties, and according to Miss Pain, makes the best brownies in the world.)

"Can you ask Izy for the recipe?" I asked.

"I cannot," replied Miss Pain. "It's like asking a personal question. You don't ask people for a recipe, you wait until they offer it on their own."

"Can't you make Isabella 'offer' the recipe," I continued to press.

"Nope," replied my daughter and walked away.

I had no other options left but to reconstruct Izy's miracle. We started by outlining the requirements for the perfect brownie. While Miss Pain was unwilling to ask for the recipe, she was more than willing to contribute her opinion, and soon we had our specifications written on a page of my recipe notebook. Miss Pain tore the page and taped it on the refrigerator. Here we go:

Spec 1: It has to be VERY chocolaty. (Very dark chocolaty.)

Specs 2, 3, 4: It has to be fudgy, and both dense and creamy at the same time. (Sort of like superposition, if you know what I mean.)

Spec 5: It has to be one inch thick. (We do not tolerate thin brownies.)

Spec 6, 7: It has to be barely sweet, with a hint of salt.

Spec 8: It has to be serious. (I did not come up with that.)

Spec 9: It has to have toasted pecans. (To break into the fudge. Plus the flavor. Toasted walnuts were mentioned too. I prefer walnuts if you must know.)

Once we laid down the specs, all I had to do is find the right recipe. And that's where I encountered a needle-in-the-haystack-situation. I first tried a recipe that seemed to be the crowdsourced favorite. It came with a stellar star rating and several thousand (glowing) reviews. It was good, but it was not our brownie. Ditto with the second, third and fourth crowd favorites. After that, I tried a recipe by the Famous Culinary Personality. Nope. Another Ridiculously Popular Chef. Nope. I switched to the fellow food bloggers. No. No. No. And no. According to Google, the search for "chocolate brownie recipe" yielded 214,000,000 results; somewhere in that infinite pile of bits lay the recipe for our perfect brownie, yet, I realized with sadness, I may never be able to find it.

So, I abandoned the recipes and began experimenting. Combined some successful candidates, and made adjustments. Iterated. Went back and forth, over and over again. A couple of months (and a small Charlie's Chocolate factory of brownies later) the journey has come to an end. I am delighted to report that we have our brownie. And it feels good. I mean dark cocoa good. Like digging into a piece of chocolate mud good. Like that perfect sweet bite with a sip of icy cold water on a hot summer day good. It's so dense that it weighs a ton, but it's still perfectly creamy -- a mouthful of dark, concentrated goodness. And most importantly, it has my daughter's stamp of approval.

Happy 4th of July all! Miss Pain is returning from the camp tomorrow, and a big plate of brownies is already waiting for her.







Fudgy Dark Chocolate and Pecan Brownies


* 120 grams (4 oz) pecan halves (walnuts also work lovely)
* 200 grams (7 oz) dark 70% cocoa chocolate (I use Lindt 70% smooth dark or Valhrona 71% Noir Amer)
* 170 grams (12 tbsp) butter
* 20 grams (scant 3 tbsp) Dutch-process (alkalized) cocoa
* 260 grams (9 oz) sugar
* 1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract (I use Nielsen Massey)
* 3 large eggs
* 95 grams (3.3 oz) all-purpose flour
* generous 1/4 tsp salt (with this amount the saltiness will be barely detectable, if you want it to be more prominent, increase the quantity to 1/2 tsp)


hardware

* one 8 by 8 inch square baking pan
* parchment paper



One hour before baking, bring the eggs to room temperature.

Preheat the oven at 325F convection (350F regular bake).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the pecans on the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until pecans are toasted and dry, stirring occasionally. Let the pecans cool completely. Chop the pecans into coarse pieces. You may do this well in advance.

Line the pan with the parchment paper. It's important to do this neatly, because crumbling the paper will create dents in the cake and ruin its sides. There are several methods around, here is how I like to do it. To line the pan with parchment paper, take a piece of a precut parchment paper, or cut a length of parchment paper long enough to line the bottom of the pan with about three inches hanging over the sides. Repeat with another piece of parchment paper. (The brownies are heavy, and I found that it works better if you line the baking pan with two pieces instead of one.) Center the pan on the first piece of paper. With a pencil draw the outline of the bottom of the pan. Lift the pan -- you will have the drawing of an 8 by 8-inch square in the middle of the paper. Continue to draw, and now draw the line that extends each side of the square on both ends until it reaches the edge of the paper. With the scissors, cut out the four small squares in the corners of the outline. (Take a look at the photo at the beginning of the post to see the shape.) Fold in the sides. Repeat with the second piece of parchment paper. Oil the baking pan lightly, and place in the first piece of parchment paper, so that it fits snugly and covers the pan like its second skin. Oil the paper again gently, and place in the second piece of parchment paper.

Preheat the oven at 325F convection (350F regular bake).

Break the chocolate into small pieces. Cut the butter in tablespoon-sized pieces. In a medium saucepan combine the chocolate and the butter and set over very low heat to melt. Stir frequently. (If you have strong burners, and it is not possible to get the heat to very low, use a double boiler.)

Transfer the chocolate mixture into a large bowl. Add the cocoa and mix well. When the cocoa is fully incorporated, add the sugar and mix well. When the sugar is completely incorporated, add the eggs, salt, and vanilla. Mix vigorously for about two minutes with the spatula. At first the mixture is going to be somewhat grainy but keep on mixing; gradually it will become very thick, glossy and smooth. Add the flour, and give it a couple of stirs, but do not over-mix. Add the nuts and give mixture another stir or two, so that the nuts are evenly incorporated. Pour the mixture into prepared pan, and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes for a very creamy brownie, 35 min otherwise. (The brownies should be just-set in the center. Do not bake longer, even though you might be unsure if they are done.) Remove the pan from the oven and leave the brownies to cool completely. I like to give them a couple of hours of rest, and two or more hours in the fridge before cutting. Cut into 16 or 20 pieces -- they are pretty filling so smaller pieces are better.



2 comments :

  1. I'm sure all that work paid off! Thanks for sharing!

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    Replies
    1. Well, I hope other will like it like we do. I am curious to find out, so if you ever get to make it, please let me know. Best, A

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