June 21, 2012

The "Baked" Brownie

I have made a lot of brownies in my life. Brownies from mix, from scratch, one-bowl brownies, stovetop brownies. Blondies with chocolate chips and coconut, boozy brownies, and sober brownies. Brownies are becoming so outrageous that some modern concoctions don't even fall in the category of "brownie." Orange brownies? Lemon? Come on now. It's as if baking cowboys/cowgirls are using the old adage "a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet"...or, a brownie by any other name apparently doesn't taste as good. To me, brownies are chocolate through and through. The rest are bar cookies. I'll give a pass to brownies with accompaniments like peanut butter and creme de menthe. But brownies should be made with good dark chocolate and really, they should be as simple as possible. Adding adjectives to brownies doesn't make them any more brownie.

So! Now that I've established a philosophy of brownies, I have a classic brownie to review. This hallowed recipe comes from a cookbook by baking entrepreneurs Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, who run Baked, a hip little bakery in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood. Matt and Renato (who themselves could be cover models for the vintage revival style) jazz up old recipes and accompany them with handy tips, easy-to-follow instructions, and mouthwatering glamor shots of baked goods. Their cookbook, called Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, contains luscious, scratch-made recipes from the savory to the sweet. From chipotle cheddar biscuits to vanilla marshmallows, the recipes in Baked are crafted with so much care and expertise that you can't help but dive in and bake cover to cover.
I think that if you bake a lot, you can relate to the desire to reinvent classic recipes. Our taste buds change, the tastes of other people change, and it's not always feasible to bring banana pudding to a picnic. In order for the richness of these brownies to stand out, make sure you bake with dark cocoa powder (the Baked boys recommend Varlhona but I used Ghiardelli) and not the light dusted stuff. If you add chocolate chips, as I did, use the same chocolate rule-of-thumb. High quality semisweet chocolate will complement your brownie and not usurp the brownie taste. Finally, make sure that your baking chocolate is at least 60% cacao. I noticed that some dark chocolate is marketed as semisweet with only 40% or so cacao. The Baked boys recommend a range of 60-72% and I trust them. There will be plenty of sweetness that go into these brownies anyway.

A final word on brownies: make sure you monitor them in their last few minutes of baking. While they definitely need to be baked all the way through, you do not want to overbake. Quoth the Baked boys, "an even slightly overbaked brownie is not a Baked Brownie." So there you have it.

The Baked Brownie
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (Varlhona or Ghiardelli)
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
5 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons Bourbon vanilla
1/2 - 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9x13 glass dish horizontally with a sheet of aluminum foil, then turn dish and line it the other way with another piece of foil. This aluminum "cross" will help transfer brownies out of their baking dish and make cleanup oh-so-easy. Spray foil with cooking spray.

Combine flour, salt, and cocoa powder and set aside.

In a double boiler or heat-proof bowl, combine chocolate, butter, and espresso and place over a saucepan of simmering (not boiling) water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate mixture is silky and very smooth. Do not let mixture bubble or overheat. When chocolate is completely melted, remove from heat and set aside to cool.
When chocolate is cool enough, add 3 eggs and whisk until combined. (If chocolate is still a little warm, you can place the eggs in a bowl and temper them with a spoonful of chocolate, bringing the temperature of the eggs closer to the liquid mixture. This prevents curdling.) When the first 3 eggs are combined, add the last to and mix until the yolks and whites just disappear. Do not overmix. Add vanilla.
Add flour mixture to chocolate and fold with a rubber spatula until just combined. It is very important not to whisk the brownies or stir in a vigorous motion, as this will toughen the batter and cause your brownies to be dense and cakey. Be patient and fold slowly, until flour is almost all combined. Do not worry about leftover bits of flour in your bowl. If using chocolate chips, add along with flour mixture.
Pour batter on top of your aluminum cross and smooth top. If bits of flour are left behind, simply smooth them into the top of the mixture. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate pan and bake for another 15 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes, test middle with a knife or toothpick. I found that I had to bake about 5 minutes longer, but make sure that you test the brownies closely so that they don't overbake.
Let brownies cool completely (this takes an inordinate amount of time), remove foil from pan, and cut into squares. If for some strange reason these brownies survive your next party or picnic, they may be wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature for about 3 days. I don't know what it's like to have brownies around for 3 days so I personally can't attest to this, but the Baked boys say it is true. 
Enjoy this one, friends. Make brownies, pour a glass of wine, and go to the pool. Summer is here!

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