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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dark Chocolate Brownies

So, as the weather gets cooler, I find my tendency to bake increases.  Maybe it's a comfort thing, or maybe its an instinctual thing for putting on some extra insulation for the winter... I dunno.

In any case, I baked some brownies yesterday.

Baking is one area in which I find it is best not to mess with a recipe too much.  However, over the years, and armed with a basic understanding of chemistry, I've found there are some things you can do.  The most important thing to always consider is the ratio of dry to wet ingredients.  This can not really be changed without fundamentally altering the end result.  Of course, amounts can be increased and decreased, provided the ratios remain constant.  This is why I've come to think of baking more as a science than an art, compared with cooking.

Anyway, I've spent several years 'tweaking' what I can with this brownie recipe, and this latest iteration is something with which I think I've become satisfied.

I'll include the latest version of the recipe here, but don't feel as though you need to take it at face value; you should certainly feel free to tweak it some yourself.

I do highly recommend the dark cocoa.  It is truly what makes this recipe.  I find dark chocolate to be super bitter by itself, and often wonder why you can't just overcompensate with some butter and sugar the way regular "milk" chocolate does.  These brownies do just that; they use quite a bit of cocoa - enough for them to be called "dark" - but there is enough fat and sugar in the mix to render them sweet rather than bitter.

Here's the recipe:

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So, following the recipe above, I began by blending together the flour, baking powder, and salt, in a medium mixing bowl, and setting that aside for the time being.

Next, I whipped the butter.  A cup of butter is no small amount.  And not really good for the faint of heart (literally).

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Next, add the cocoa, sugar, and vanilla, and mix some more.

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When this mixture is relatively uniform, beat in the 3 eggs, and the batter should immediately fluff up.

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Now, slowly add the dry ingredients mix, in batches, mixing all the while.

This thickens the batter substantially, and my cheap-ass electric mixer needs to be cranked up to full, and starts to emit some strange burning smells.  :)  We've been looking for a nice kitchen-aid stand mixer for years now... but just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Once fully blended, it's ready to be scraped into your greased baking pan.  Again with the science - the thickness of your baking pan (or sheet) influences cooking time a great deal.  It has to do with storing heat; thicker pans store more heat than thinner pans. Because this particular batter requires some heavy baking (over 30 minutes) I can use this really thick aluminum pan.

While the brownies are baking, I'm going to quickly whip together a Dark Chocolate Frosting.  I whipped some more unsalted butter (about 1/4 of a cup) in a medium mixing bowl.

Next, I added about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, about 3/4 cup of icing (confectioner's) sugar, and just a bit (about 2 tablespoons) of the dark cocoa.

Voila!  Frosting complete.

I checked on the brownies after exactly 30 minutes, and stuck a bamboo skewer into the middle.  It came away a little wet still, so I popped it back in for another 5 minutes, after which it was perfect.


This is an important step which the impatient brownie-eater may overlook.  It is imperative that the brownies be cool-ish before applying the icing.  Because this icing is basically butter, what do you think will happen if you spread it on hot or even warm, porous, brownies?  It will melt, and likely seep right into them.  No good.

One thing I like to do is get a sink full of cold water, and gently set the pan in to cool for a couple minutes.  This works very well; just be smart about it and don't get any water in the brownies, and for the love of all that is sweet and pure, do NOT do this with a glass dish, or anything remotely breakable!

Anyway, I spread the frosting on the now cooled brownies, and then covered the pan with cling film and put it in the fridge for about an hour before we had any.

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Something which surprised me was that I find cold brownies better than warm brownies!  I swear it tastes different!  In any case, I no longer serve up freshly baked brownies immediately, while they're still warm, and instead cool them in el frigo for a bit.  Don't ask me why...

Dark Chocolate Brownies... Yum.