Tuesday, September 23, 2008

If Mom Made Brownies Like This I'd Have Moved Next Door

This Cook's Illustrated article talks about trying to find brownies like Mom used to make. My mother is a terrific baker, legendary for her many varieties of homemade cookies, but when it came time to make brownies she and all the other Moms reached for a box of Betty Crocker. And, contrary to what our anal-retentive Cook's Illustrated friends have to say, some of the boxed mixes (mmmm... Ghirardeli Double Chocolate Brownie mix) are pretty good.

There's "pretty good" and there's a transcendent chocolate experience, and everyone should have one of those at least once. That's asking quite a lot of a simple baked good, isn't it? But this brownie can rise to the occasion and it's absolutely worth the effort and expense.

I know, I know, I bust on CI's Goldilocks reviews (this was was too soupy, this one was too dry, this one was just right!!) but really, their recipes are unparalleled.

My preference was to leave the nuts out, since a co-worker is allergic and there was absolutely no way I was keeping all of these at home. It calls for cake flour, and it really does make a difference to use cake flour and not all-purpose. Look, if you're going for a definitive dessert occasion, spring the $2.50 for the cake flour to take it all the way. Ditto for decent chocolate. You don't save up to go to Hawaii and stay in the hotel room, you don't get your driver's license and insist on sitting in the back seat. If you're in, you're IN.

This is not really a new-to-baking recipe. But if you're feeling more confident in the kitchen than you did six months ago, why not give it a try when you have some time to devote to it? At the very worst it will end up as an intensely chocolatey goo that would be great on ice cream, or as intensely chocolatey crumbs - that would be great on ice cream. If this is a first-time effort on a more complicated recipe, don't promise to bring them to the neighborhood potluck. Who needs that kind of pressure? Commit to bringing napkins or bakery cupcakes, and wow them with these if you're happy with the result. Better yet, tell someone who knows how to use a double-boiler that you'll trade brownies for some company in the kitchen and a quick lesson.

1 cup (4 ounces) pecans or walnuts, chopped - optional
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine (not "bittersweet" - use unsweetened chocolate or "baking" chocolate. Ghirardelli or Lindt is preferred; Baker's chocolate is the Waikiki Holiday Inn)
12 tsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract - to experienced bakers this sounds like too much. It's not.

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. If your oven doesn't have a true middle, use the upper-middle.

2. Cut aluminum foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into the length of a 13x9-inch baking pan; allow excess foil to hang over the pan edge. I stopped there and it worked fine; the recipe says to cut another length of foil to put width-wise in the pan. Do be sure to use at least one - the foil overhang serves as a handle to let you lift the brownies right out.

3. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooing spray.

4. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven 5 - 8 minutes. So says the recipe - I say DO NOT let them go as long as 8 minutes. Nuts have a funny way of becoming toasted, then burnt, then just bursting into flame.

I will not entertain questions about this.

5. Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.

6. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl/double boiler, stirring occasionally, until smooth. When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth.

7. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer (dry spaghetti works, too!) inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes.

8. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Slice into 2"x2" squares and serve.

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