Monday, September 12, 2011

Birthday brownies.

One of the grad students had a birthday last week. I try to make everyone something for their birthday and, although I want to please their tastes, I also like having the freedom to select something special that I think they'll really enjoy. When I think of this particular student, I think of chocolate, and when I asked if she had preferences beyond that she responded that she likes most everything.

Given the freedom to make anything chocolate I chose brownies because I hadn't made any in a while and I think they are a baked good that can really showcase a fine-quality chocolate. However, this also means that it really shows when you chocolate is iffy, so I really recommend buying the best quality chocolate you can afford.

I love brownies that a fudgy and have nuts but also chocolate chunks in them, but if you'd rather not you can certainly go without the chips or the walnuts. There's something about bitter walnuts, the snap of the chocolate chips, and the soft interior that are a great combination, however. And delicious with coffee, like most baked goods. Speaking of coffee, if you aren't a coffee lover (like my husband) I assure you that you really cannot taste the coffee in the finished product. It just serves to bring out the flavor of the chocolate, like salt does in most everything.

Chocolate brownies
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, May 1998

Note: The walnuts are completely optional, but in fudgy brownies like this I like a bit of texture. Further, if you make them the day before you'll get a nice contrast between the soft interior, walnuts, and solid chocolate chips. I'll understand if you cannot restrain yourself, however.

Yields 1 9 x 13-inch pan.

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), plus more for pan
8 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate
5 large eggs
3 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour (so, sift first, then measure the sifted flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and line with parchment, leaving an over hang (you'll use this later to extract the brownies) set aside.

2. In a small, heat-proof bowl, combine the chocolate and the butter. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water until the chocolate mixture has melted, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Beat the eggs, sugar, and espresso powder in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment at high speed for 10 minutes. It will look significantly lighter. Reduce the speed to low, and add the chocolate mixture as well as the vanilla. Beat until combined. Add the flour and salt slowly, beating just until incorporated then fold in chocolate chips and toasted walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

4. Bake until edges are dry but you still want the center to be a bit soft. It will look dry on top, but if you inserted a cake tester it would not come out clean. This takes about 35 minutes, but check often to be sure you end up with a fudgie brownie. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. After 30 minutes, lift the sheet of brownies out using the parchment overhang and cut into squares. The original recipe suggested 3-inch squares (12 brownies), which would be deliciously indulgent, but I was taking mine to a party so I cut significantly smaller squares yielding about 30 brownies.

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