- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

T here’s nothing you can’t do with a brownie. It is a veritable chameleon among desserts, perfect to match with any number of flavors. You can dress it up to create a fancy dessert, or pack it plain in a lunch sack or basket for a trip to the beach.

Some brownies are as velvety and moist as fudge candy, while others are full of nuts, lean and chewy. Some partisans prefer cake-like brownies with a fine, soft texture that resembles a Southern-style chocolate layer cake. Years ago, my late sister was a cook at a cafe in Southern Alabama, and the cake brownie was her specialty.

The chocolate in brownies also pairs well with coffee, mint, liqueurs and dark rum, candied fruit and peel, grated lemon and orange rind, assorted nuts, peanut butter, shredded coconut, cream cheese, marshmallows - the limit is the baker’s imagination. The batter can be sweetened with sugar, honey, maple syrup, sweetened condensed milk, or a combination of sweeteners.

At the heart of any recipe is the chocolate, and here, again, the baker has a wide array of choices, for brownies can be made with semisweet, unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate, as well as with good quality cocoa.

High quality chocolate bars, such as those made by Scharffen Berger, Lindt, La Maison du Chocolat and Ghirardelli, make wonderful raw material for sumptuous brownies. Droste makes a fine Dutch-style cocoa and it bakes well with recipes using acidic buttermilk.



Ghirardelli’s cocoa has a reddish-brown tint and a sharp edge, and is fine for brownies, too. Hershey’s cocoa is also a standby in my kitchen; since it is not Dutch style, a half-teaspoon or so of baking soda in the batter always seems to smooth its flavor.

Brownies benefit from being allowed to sit for a while. I try to let them rest in the pan for a couple hours or even overnight to let the flavor develop. This is a challenge, though, for once the aroma is in the air, it’s hard to protect the treats from waiting hands.

Coffee brownies

Makes 16 brownies.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans, or more if desired

1 or 2 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso powder, such as Medaglia D’Oro

4 tablespoons hot water, or more if needed

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch-style

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 large eggs

Chocolate glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-9-inch square baking or cake pan and dust lightly with flour, shaking out excess flour.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Coarsely chop the walnuts or pecans and toss with 1 or 2 tablespoons flour, dusting off excess. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the instant coffee or espresso powder and water and mix well. Add the butter. Place the pan over low heat and stir until the butter melts. Add the cocoa and beat the mixture briskly with a whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, and cool to lukewarm.

Combine the sugar and eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer at medium high or creaming speed, beat until light and lemony colored, for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula once or twice.

Add the chocolate-coffee mixture and vanilla extract and beat 30 seconds more.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture and beat the batter briskly for a few seconds. Stir in the nuts and mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with a spatula. Shake the pan gently to level the batter.

Set the pan on the middle oven shelf and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the brownies are puffy and crusty and a tester inserted in the center comes out moist but clean.

Place pan on a wire rack and let cool completely, at least three hours.

When brownies are cool, run a metal spatula around the edge of the pan and invert the brownie layer onto the wire rack, and then turn upright on the rack. Place a sheet of wax paper on a cutting board and set the brownie layer on the paper, top side up. Spread with chocolate glaze and let set until the glaze hardens. Or set in a cool place and allow to remain overnight. Cut into generous 2-by-2-inch squares.

CHOCOLATE GLAZE

Makes enough for 16 brownies.

3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons light or dark corn syrup

2 tablespoons coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua or Tia Maria, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a small saucepan or skillet and melt over low heat. Stir in the chocolate and corn syrup, and heat over low heat just until the chocolate melts, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the liqueur or vanilla extract. Beat briskly until smooth and well combined.

Cake brownies with fruit preserves

Makes 16 brownies.

If using raspberry preserves, press through a fine sieve to remove seeds before stirring into batter.

1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-style cocoa, such as Droste

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 cup water

8 tablespoons butter ( 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup raspberry, peach or plum preserves, or orange marmalade

2 large or extra large eggs

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, or to taste

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS:

Chocolate glaze (preceding recipe)

Powdered sugar

Fresh berries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-9-inch square baking or cake pan and dust lightly with flour, shaking out excess. Set aside.

In a medium-size same saucepan, combine the cocoa, cinnamon and water, and stir to combine well. Cut the butter into little pieces and add to the pan, mixing well. Place the pan on medium heat and heat until the butter is melted and mixture is well combined, stirring briskly. Stir in the preserves or marmalade, and immediately remove the pan remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.

Place the eggs and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Using a hand-held mixer on high speed, beat the eggs and sugar for 3 or 4 minutes or until pale yellow, smooth and glossy. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture, and mix well.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and then stir into the chocolate mixture, and beat the batter only until just blended.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Set the pan on the lower oven rack and bake the brownies for 30 to 35 minutes or until a tester comes out moist with crumbs adhering to it. Don’t overbake the layer.

Cool the layer in the pan. If desired, spread generously with chocolate glaze (recipe above). Cut into generous 2-by-2-inch squares. As an alternative to the glaze, sprinkle with powdered sugar and top each piece with a fresh berry.

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