Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Variations on a Theme: Brownie Bake-Off

Rachel here: There is a book in my kitchen that I turn to in times of need. It is the first cookbook I ever bought and, all of these years later (ok, I'll be honest, all of these five years later...yes, I'm a youngin') it remains my steadfast kitchen companion (besides my partner, but more on him another time). It is the cookbook whose recipes I will try for the first time and bring the end result to a party untasted (I live in the Bay Area or, the Land of Food, and so this is no small statement, particularly since my partner and a disproportionate number of our friends make their livings in kitchens); the cookbook that has literally never let me down (although it has not always blown my mind). Anyway, when we decided to do this great brownie bake-off of ours, I didn't hesitate before pulling this book from its trusty place near my stove. In fact, I didn't even look at another recipe. And now, a drumroll please, for The Best Recipe (compiled by the editors of Cook's Illustrated) and their basic brownie recipe. With a scrumptiously fudgy center and perfectly crisp top, I promise you won't be disappointed.

8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2/3 c. cake flour
1/2 tspn. baking powder
1/4 tspn. salt
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 tspn. vanilla extract
1/2 c. chopped nuts (the recipe says these are optional, but barring an allergy I wholeheartedly disagree and I usually use toasted walnuts)

Preheat over to 350 degrees. In a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter until smooth. Set aside to cool.
Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl. Set aside.
Whisk sugar into cooled chocolate mixture. Whisk in eggs and vanilla. Fold in flour mixture and nuts until just combined.
Pour batter into a greased 8-inch metal baking dish (or, in a pinch, you can use a 9-inch metal pie plate) and place in oven. After 20 minutes, insert a toothpick into the center. When it comes out with a few crumbs on it, the brownies are done. Place on wire rack to cool. To preserve moistness, only cut when ready to eat if possible.

Pour yourself a glass of milk and enjoy!

Janet here: So the brownie gauntlet was obviously thrown when Rachel decided — without telling me! — to use that damn Best Recipe cookbook that she knows I don't own. Seems a little devious don't you think? Well, I turned to a different kind of "best", the Beat This Cookbook by Ann Hodgman, a cookbook whose subhead proclaims it provides "the very best recipe" for everything from apple pie and brownies to crab cakes and guacamole. Pretty gutsy, don't you think? I have no idea if this is the "best" brownie recipe but I was intrigued so here it is. I will also say that I was dubious about actually following this recipe to a T; I mean is it really necessary to mix the sugar, eggs and pinch of salt for a full 15 minutes? I decided, though, for the sake of experimentation to do exactly what Ann said, and I am happy to report these are very very very creamy brownies. If you like cakier brownies, you won't like these, but if you like your brownies almost custardy inside, this recipe could be exactly what the doctor ordered.


1 cup sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature (I actually did this for the firs time; tip: soak them in lukewarm water for 1/2 hour to take the chill off if you don't plan ahead)
pinch of salt (I use kosher as much as possible)
5 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate
3 ounces best-quality unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch pan.

In a large bowl beat sugar, eggs and salt for 15 minutes. If you have to use a hand mixer (as I do since I don't own a stand-up mixer, she suggests having a book to pass the time). Meanwhile, melt the semisweet and unsweetened chocolates and butter in a double boiler over a very low flame. When the chocolate concoction is 3/4 melted, take it off the flame and stir until smooth. Cool to lukewarm (don't rush this!) and fold gently into the sugar-egg mixture. Fold in flour, vanilla and finally the chips.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes if you like your brownies custardy or 30 if you like them drier. I did 25 and got a nice mix between the two.

Let us know what you think? Which one did you prefer? Do you have a favorite brownie recipe?

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