Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Best Cocoa Brownies
It went something like this:
Mom left for work, my younger brother and I were going to spend the morning at home together in front of the TV. Simple enough, we were not mischievous kids, leaving us at home from a early age was never a big deal, she was never gone for that long.
That particular sunny summer morning she was gone long enough for us to think that we needed brownies. We had mastered making lunches that consisted of microwaved quesadillas, Kraft macaroni and cheese. Brownies? Why we decided to make brownies is a mystery. Living in a rural area we could not sneak to the corner stare for treats, we were going to bake brownies. I am not sure how old we were when we tried to bake chocolate for the first time and neither does my mom because she never found out. I must have been school age because I did read the recipe and was slightly able to understand measurements.
Everything was going smoothly, I could reach the flour standing on a dining room chair, eggs, butter from the freezer all easily accessible. Chocolate... cocoa powder? What is cocoa powder? I got it, Hershey syrup, chocolate syrup will work perfectly. I did not understand substitutions nor that butter needed to be room temperature, not frozen solid.
We heated the oven, poured the "batter" with chunks of cold butter the size of marbles onto a bone dry cookie sheet and baked it. It baked and baked and baked, slowly turning into a smoking thick mess. When the house started to smell, we pulled the chocolate lump from the oven and my brother held the door open as we hid the evidence on the back porch.
It took me nearly 20 years to bake brownies from scratch again. I never fancied brownies, my taste buds scared from too many boxed brownie mixes that were too sweet and oil laden or deli counter pathetic frosted pucks. After thumbing through several recipes, reading numerous descriptions, I decided that it was time to conquer my fear of brownies and make a gooey brownie that was a close cousin to the chocolate cake that I adore. My life is forever changed and I have learned from my mistakes.
Best Cocoa Brownies
Inspired by SmittenKitchen - Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet
Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies (the size you see pictured yielded 6 for ease of shipping)
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks, 5 ounces or 141 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (9 7/8 ounces, 280 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 7/8 ounces, 82 grams) 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 (66 grams, 2 3/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup almond, 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, it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added.
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.
Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.
Eat half, stick the other half in the freezer for when the craving hits.... Or package them up and send them off!