Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lesson learned.

There is one particular thing that I'm always all loud about not even BOTHERING to make from scratch. "Too cake-like," I insist. "Never gooey enough," I lament. "Too dry, too crumbly, too heartbreaking when you want a fudgy chewy almost raw inside but baked to perfection BROWNIE!"

This basically results in me never making brownies at all, which is a shame really. They are such a simple delightful dessert that nearly everyone adores. But in my defense it really is very hard to replicate that perfect boxed brownie without a mix full of whoknowswhat and a ton of vegetable oil. It seems like Cooks Illustrated tries to tackle the perfect unboxed brownie at least one every couple of years, and come up with various ways to boost the chocolaty flavor that I'm never really interested in trying (Espresso, anchovies, beef stock? Just kidding on the last two but you get the idea.)

For me, a perfect brownie has to hit the three major points of perfection:

1. It has to be shiny and crackly on top like pahoehoe lava.
2. It has to be chewy and decadent enough inside to make me feel naughty.
3. It has to have gorgeously dense chewy edges, such that people will come to blows over the four sacred corner pieces.        

Brownies in their natural habitat at Volcano National Park, HI
You probably could have guessed it by now, but I've found a recipe from scratch that hits all of these important points, and properly learned my lesson that fabulous brownies CAN be made from scratch. It even gets bonus points for its inclusion of big crunchy walnut pieces and nutty, lovely brown butter. And it gets even MORE bonus points by being really really easy. This is a rare dessert on Effing Delicious that doesn't require you to soak kids cereal in milk forever, or burn things with a blow torch or preform any science experiments at all. You just brown some butter, and mix all the other ingredients right into the pot. Pour it in a pan, bake and just see if you can let them cool before diving in. 

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts
from Bon Appetit, February 2011, with my notes

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup walnut pieces 

Position rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 325˚F. Line an 8x8 metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly to sides of pan and leaving a 2 inch overhang on two sides. Coat foil with nonstick spray. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. (Be careful here, because butter goes from browned and nutty to burnt and rancid pretty quickly! My butter took less than 5 minutes to reach perfection so watch yours!)

Remove from heat and immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons of water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan. 

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few scrumptious crumbs really don't want to over cook these so err on the side of underdone, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using the foil overhang, remove from pan and cut into 16 pieces. Store in airtight container at room temp for up to 4 days...but they'll surely disappear before then.