Browsing articles in "Bars & Brownies"
Jan 20, 2011

Chubby Hubby Brownies

A few days after Christmas, I was hurriedly rolling through Target with Little C, enduring her kicks to my femurs from that kid seat thing they put in shopping carts. I rounded a corner and saw an explosion of pink and red and hearts and glitter. They were putting up Valentine’s Day stuff before New Year’s, people! I was still bloated from Christmas dinner! This all felt so wrong. Like one of Those People, I confronted the staff member assembling the display and was all, “Hey, let me have my holiday hangover one holiday at a time, Target!”, and she was all, “Hey, Andy Rooney, why don’t you just chill out and feel the love?!”

(Actually, the Target staffer didn’t really say that, I think she was mostly just startled by my crazy ponytail and dowdy post-Christmas binge ensemble of Fat Pants and an unreasonably large tunic. But I felt the vibe of what she was thinking.)

A few days later, however, I did indeed get to thinking about Valentine’s Day treats because apparently I am very influenced by marketing and mortifying experiences at Target. Ergo, Chubby Hubby Brownies were born.

I’ve decided I needed to tell you about these brownies now, weeks before Valentine’s Day, just in case you’re like me and find that baked goods are a key part of any perfect gift for cheesy holidays. Chubby Hubby Brownies, in fact, are the ultimate brownies for dudes. And even if you’re not struggling to think of a gift for a dude this Valentine’s Day, you need these brownies in your life.

It all started with my very favorite brownie recipe. Then I got to thinking about the glory that is Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream. And then things got a little crazy. Like malted-cheesecake-swirl-caramel-bits-and-peanut-butter-filled-pretzels-crazy. Hoooo, boy.

But like that staffer at Target–innocently doing her job, who I questioned so fervently–ignore my craziness. Just enjoy the results. Because these are really something. And you won’t see any references to a Chubby Hubby of my own in this post, because my husband is one of those irritating high-metabolism people who can eat a whole pan of these brownies and never gain an ounce–he just stores them in his hollow leg. But he is my permanent Valentine anyway.

Chubby Hubby Brownies

I used those little cubes of caramel that come wrapped in clear cellophane, because they hold their shape well during baking. You can find several brands of peanut butter-filled pretzels out there–the ones at Trader Joe’s are great.

These brownies are especially fabulous chilled. But you didn’t hear it from me.
Makes 16
For the swirl:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup malted milk powder
For the brownies:
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons oure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour


4 ounces store-bought caramels, unwrapped and quartered
3 ounces peanut butter-filled pretzel nuggets, lightly crushed

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8- inch baking pan with foil or parchment and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, 1 egg, sugar, vanilla and malt powder until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring occasionally until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder and set aside to cool.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the 3 eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until just combined.

Spread half the brownie batter evenly in the prepared pan. Sprinkle half the caramel bits and half the crushed pretzels evenly over the top. Pour in the cream cheese mixture and smooth the surface with a spatula. Dollop the remaining half of the brownie batter over the cream cheese mixture in 5-6 generous blobs. Using a butter knife, lightly swirl the brownie batter and cream cheese mixture together. Sprinkle the remaining caramel bits and pretzels over the top.

Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick comes out clean when tested 1 inch from the edges (it will look a bit underdone in the middle), about 40-45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, before cutting and serving. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
Jan 6, 2011

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars

Okay, so I know a whole bunch of us are probably just starting out on some crazy New Year’s diets or are giving up sugar or just generally trying to be “good” lately (what does that even mean, anyway?). Perhaps you even found one of my more virtuous recipes speaking to you earlier this week. But like a smoking hot Ryan Gosling sidling up to a nun at a lonely, desolate airport bar, it’s just so FUN to walk on the edge sometimes, isn’t it?

So I don’t want to hear about what you’re trying to avoid these days, my darlings. Don’t think about what you shouldn’t be eating. Think about the snap of a buttery shortbread crust and a creamy cheesecake layer swirled with milky caramel. Just–shh-shhhh, my love. Don’t speak. Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars. Just let it happen.

This recipe is from the ever-seductive Alice Medrich. Her recipe calls for store-bought or homemade caramel sauce, either of which sounds a-ok to me, particularly when coupled with cheesecake. But I happened to get my hot little hands on a big ol’ jar of artisan dulce de leche, and the whole thing felt so right I just couldn’t say no.

It all started with the world’s simplest shortbread crust, which was an absolutely joy to throw together. Even though the whole thing came together so quickly, I still can’t stop flipping out at the incredible snap this crust had, days after the bars had been baked.

And yes, that’s right, I said days. This is one of those amazing recipes that only get better in the days after you bake it–the cheesecake texture improves, the caramel flavors meld into the creamy layer, the crust becomes even more divine beneath it all. They go down waaaay too easy. Especially considering that this recipe yields enough cheesecake bars to feed an army and one is expected to revamp one’s diet on January 1st. Aw, well. There’s always next year.

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies

For the cheesecake layer, I found it needed more sugar to suit my taste than the original recipe called for, so I added another 2 tablespoons and have made the change in this adapted recipe.

I used dulce le leche here, but any good store-bought caramel sauce (or homemade, for that matter) will work just fine.
If at all possible, make these the day before you’re going to serve them–the texture of the cheesecake just keeps getting better and better as it sits in the fridge.

Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on size

For the crust:

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

For the dulce de leche swirl:

1/2 cup dulce de leche (see note)
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the cheesecake layer:

1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1 /2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Being by making the crust: Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan completely with foil, folding the excess over the sides.

In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and mix just to combine–the dough will be soft, and might be somewhat oily, that’s okay. Press the dough evenly across the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown, with the edges being slightly darker than the center. Let cool on a wire rack.

While the crust is cooling, prepare the rest of the recipe. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir together the dulce de leche with the salt and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy on medium speed. Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the bowl well and give it a final beating until the batter is completely smooth and well-blended. Stir 2 tablespoons of the cheesecake batter into the salted dulce de leche.

Pour the remaining cheesecake batter over the cooled crust. Dollop the dulce de leche mixture over the cheesecake batter, leaving plenty of cheesecake batter in between. Using a butter knife, and being careful not to scrape the crust, swirl the dulce de leche into the cheesecake batter in small loopy circles until the surface is nicely marbled. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the filling is puffed but still jiggles like Jell-O when the pan is nudged.

Set the pan on a cooling rack and let cool completely. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours but preferably 24 hours before cutting into squares and serving. Keep any leftovers refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Oct 1, 2010

(Gluten-Free!) Rocky Road Rice Crispy Treats

As anyone who has ever been charged with feeding a small child can attest, some days it can feel a whole lot like you’re a spinning top with 20 hands, each one offering a different food, chirpily introducing each one in the hopes that you can get anything, anything at all into the body of said child. “Pasta? Tomatoes? Toast? String cheese? Chicken? Peanut Butter? Mac and Cheese? I don’t care if it’s partially hydrogenated, crumb-coated “chik’n”, for the love of God, child, eat something!”–sometimes up to three very trying times per day. I think even those blessed with the most adventurous of eaters can feel me here.

And yet, so often, even in the heat of my crazed-waitress moments, I can take a deep breath and remind myself that at least I have endless options to offer Little C. If I was one of those moms with a kid who has a serious food allergy, particularly something as ubiquitous as gluten or dairy, I don’t know how I’d deal–something like 90% of the very short list of foods that Little C will willingly eat as a last resort just wouldn’t be safe to feed her. I salute the Supermoms who rework their lives, grocery shopping and cooking everyday to make sure that the foods that are going into the little bodies of their allergic and/or ingredient-sensitive kids are safe. I’m not sure I could hack it. Especially in the baking and sweets department.

But recently I was sent a book that really opened my eyes to foods and recipes that are not only safe for gluten and dairy-sensitive people, but totally kid-friendly, even for the pickiest of little eaters. Every single recipe is one that I would gladly enter into my short-order cook rotation.

Cooking for Isaiah is written by magazine editor Silvana Nardone, inspired by her gluten and dairy-intolerant (and completely gorgeous!) son. Most interestingly for a baking fiend like me, she is an accomplished baker who worked for years with the pastry standards (and my personal cornerstones) of gluten-packed flours and the dairy bomb of butter. And even though it’s a gluten-free book, I love that it acknowledges the importance of an all-purpose flour in the kitchen by offering a brilliant gluten-free all-purpose flour blend within the first few pages. Knowing that the recipes in the book pass muster of a woman who would never have had to create them had her son not needed them is a sign that, regardless of your dietary needs, you’re in for some serious yum with this book.

Besides being packed with insanely delicious recipes, every page positively sings with love. This is a book with true purpose. I instantly fell in love with its story and creative, crave-worthy recipes, any of which I would happily cook and gobble down without feeling like a dish was lacking in flavor or integrity because of its gluten and dairy-free design. Take, for example, these come-hither Rocky Road Rice Crispy Treats. With a mouthful of chocolate and marshmallow, would you be thinking about flippin’ gluten? Yeah, me neither.

Rocky Road Rice Crispy Treats
Adapted from Silvana Nardone’s Cooking for Isaiah

The drizzles of semi-sweet chocolate and marshmallow sauce are absolutely a gilding of the lily here, but I thought the addition of them was decadent and sensational. If you don’t want to buy a jar of marshmallow fluff for only 1/4 cup of it, which I didn’t, then you can make your own marshmallow: melt 1 cup of mini marshmallows in a double boiler with 2 teaspoons of heavy cream (my choice), milk or water (if you’re keeping these dairy-free). If you start with a full 10.5 ounce bag of mini marshmallows, then you should have just enough left over after mixing the bars together to make the marshmallow drizzle.

Also, read the labels of crisp rice cereal carefully–not all of them are actually gluten-free.

Makes 16

4 cups mini marshmallows
1/2 cup well-stirred almond butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 cups crispy rice cereal
1/4 cup marshmallow creme, such as Fluff (or not–see note)
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted, for drizzling

Grease an 8×8-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with a 14-inch long strip of parchment paper for easy removal of the bars.

In a large saucepan, combine 2 cups marshmallows, the almond butter, cocoa powder, corn syrup and salt. Melt together over low heat, stirring often.

Place the cereal in a large bowl. Pour the warm chocolate mixture over the cereal and stir to coat. When the cereal is nearly coated, stir in the remaining 2 cups of marshmallows. Press into the prepared pan in an even layer and set aside.

For the marshmallow sauce, either stir together the 1/4 cup marshmallow fluff with 2 teaspoons of boiling water, or melt 1 cup of mini-marshmallows with 2 teaspoons heavy cream, milk or water in a double boiler and stir until smooth. Let cool slightly before drizzling over the bars, along with the melted semi-sweet chocolate.

Chill the bars for 10 minutes in the refrigerator before cutting into 16 bars.

Aug 10, 2010

Praline-Swirled Brownies

Whether or not this is actually true, I tend to fancy myself a Kitchen MacGyver. (All the television executives reading this blog, you can have that title for free. You’re welcome.) As much as I like to follow recipes to the letter, sometimes I get all Wild! And! Crazy! and just fling open the cupboards, with nary a clue of what I want to put together, and wait for inspiration to smack me in the face. Do I know how to live on the edge or WHAT.

Anyway, on this particular day, the item that called to me from the depths of my pantry was a never-opened jar of Le Pain Quotidien‘s glorious Brunette praline spread–sweet, nutty and caramelly, almost like Nutella without the chocolate, if you can imagine such a thing. Have you ever been to a LPQ? If not, think Euro Lady Lunch perfection–moderate portions of open faced-sandwiches on country bread, fresh cheeses, wee lettuces, paper-thin radishes on everything. Lovely bakery items. It is a delight. On every table there is a selection of amazing jams and spreads, including the sinful Brunette. LPQ is the sort of lady-lunching place that makes you feign restraint when all you really want to do is buy a loaf of their chewy, crusty bread and a jar of their praline spread, and then proceed to rip off sizeable chunks, drag them through the jar and put it all in your face, every last bit.

Well, on my last trip to LPQ, I did indeed feign restraint while dining, but bought a jar of Brunette on my way out of the restaurant, fully intending to binge on it in the privacy of my own home. I don’t know how I forgot about such grand plans, but I did, and that little jar of heaven got pushed back on the shelves, behind the noodles and canned tomatoes and sacks of Goldfish crackers. How could I let this happen? The only thing to do that could right such a wrong was to swirl it into a brownie batter. Naturally.

Like sunset and cocktails, coffee and cookies, Sunday afternoons and Food Network marathons, this would be a case of the awesome getting awesomer, guys. The brownie recipe here is the famed formula from Baked bakery, so there’s that. And then it’s cut through with swirls of sweet praline spread, which I salted just a touch for balance. This is a match that’s so meant to be, I barely had to tap into my mad Kitchen Macgyver skills to make the magic happen.

Praline-Swirled Brownies
Brownie recipe adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

If you don’t have access to Le Pain Quotidien’s amazing products (though I highly recommend looking up their locations and getting a friend nearby one of them to send you some, as they don’t have an online store), you can try a similar praline spread like this one. Peanut butter will work just fine here, too, and though I prefer the commercial kind of peanut butter in baking, I bet the creamy natural variety would work as well. These brownies get even better the second or third day after baking.

Makes 16

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Valrhona)
5 1/2 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup praline spread (like Le Pain Quotidien’s Brunette) or peanut butter (see note)

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of an 8×8 inch baking pan (glass or light-colored metal).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.

In a heatproof medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, melt together the chocolate, butter and espresso powder, stirring until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the sugars. Let cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs into the chocolate and butter mixture until smooth, then whisk in the vanilla. Switch to a spatula and gently fold in the dry ingredients until just a few streaks of flour remain–do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top evenly.

Place the praline spread or peanut butter in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high just to soften it a bit, about 15 seconds. If using praline spread, add a pinch of salt to taste and stir well. Dollop the praline spread or peanut butter in five equal blobs over the batter and swirl it into the brownie batter with a knife.

Bake until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs, about 35 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting and serving.

May 10, 2010

Chocolate Mint Squares

I really hope all y’all had a fabulous Mother’s Day. For me, it began with sleeping in until the heavenly hour of 8:30 a.m. and then waking up to a lovely gift of a seriously great cookbook and a pop-up card from Little C that was scrawled about with crayon and played a weepy version of “You Are My Sunshine” when opened. And because girlfriend can’t even let a commercial jingle pass without shaking a tail feather, I was also gifted an impromptu, twirling, giggly interpretive dance to the musical card and in no time was all what–there’s something in my eye, OKAY? Too much.

Since I was in a teary, slobbering pile before I’d even gotten half my coffee down, the husband (who deems a gift a true success when it makes the recipient tear up with sentimentality) obviously did an awesome job with the Mothers’ Day planning this year. Well played, indeed. Good thing I’d already made a pan of Chocolate Mint Squares that I was pretty sure he would inhale and declare awesome (I was correct).

You may remember me saying something recently about being in my Maida period. And if you try this recipe, I am sure I won’t be alone in this obsession. The base for these fudgy, minty, all around heavenly bars is similar to Maida’s legendary brownie recipe, the cellophane-wrapped ones she is known for toting around in her purse at all times and giving to whomever she happens to see. If that doesn’t make you fall in love with this woman, then you are an iceberg. The end.

But then you take her amazing brownies, spread them with a thin, but powerful, intensely minty buttercream frosting and a slick of bitter chocolate and the whole thing will blow you away. It’s like a brownie meeting a York Peppermint Pattie. Bliss, I tell you. The balance here is so strikingly delicious. At first, I thought it might all be too much–and make no mistake, these are indeed rich–but the ratio of fudgy brownie to creamy mint layer is so spot on, and with a shiny capping of crackly bitter chocolate (totally unsweetened, mind you, not bittersweet), they’re a taste and textural dream.

And even better, since the husband basically lost his ever-loving mind over these things, I’m feeling pretty confident that I now have a golden ticket the next time I lose my scruples or somesuch. Actually, with this recipe in my repertoire, I may have insured really excellent Mother’s Day gifts for my entire future. Boo-ya!

Chocolate Mint Squares
Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Great Book of Cookies

Don’t chill the brownies for too long after the mint layer is added–five minutes is all you need, just so the frosting isn’t totally soft. If it’s too cold, the bitter chocolate glaze will set before you can get it all spread evenly. These brownies are at their most awesome served chilled, or even frozen.

Makes 20

For the brownie layer:

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
2 eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour (I stirred the flour well, then spooned into the cup and leveled)

For the mint layer:

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the bitter chocolate glaze:

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon butter

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Lightly spray an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with nonstick spray, and line it with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper (leave a bit of overhang on all sides), then lightly spray the parchment, too.

Being by making the brownie layer. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave, about 45 seconds on high. Stir until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until light and foamy. Beat in the sugar, salt and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture and beat on low just to combine. Stir in the flour by hand just until smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before icing with the mint frosting.

To make the mint frosting, beat together the butter, confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon of heavy cream and the peppermint extract. Add more cream, a few drops at a time, until the frosting is thick but easily spreadable. Spread the icing evenly in a thin layer over the brownies. Chill in the refrigerator for just five minutes, until the very surface is set.

Prepare the glaze by melting together the unsweetened chocolate and butter in a small bowl in the microwave, just about 30 seconds on high. Stir until smooth and pour the hot glaze over the mint layer, tilting the pan to coax it into place, and using an offset spatula if necessary. It will be a very, very thin layer.

Refrigerate until the glaze is set, at least 30 minutes. Use the parchment handles to lift the brownie slab from the pan to a cutting board, and cut into squares. Chill the cut squares for a few hours until the glaze sets completely. Keep any leftovers in the fridge, tightly covered.

Mar 16, 2010

Millionaire’s Shortbread

On the same day that I finally took a long overdue trip to the dentist and thought that it might be a nice idea to go on a little diet for a few days, I put together a totally addictive batch of Millionaire’s Shortbread. Is this what psychologists mean by “self-sabotage”? Please advise.

I suppose I could also be getting myself into a bit of hot water by posting about a traditional Scottish recipe in time for St. Patrick’s Day. But since a little Googling shows that one can find a version of Millionaire’s Shortbread in Ireland, too, and because I am now so out of touch with the world that I tend to think of everything “over there” as one big country, let’s just go with it, okay? Annnddd….there goes half my readership. Excellent.

Speaking of national holidays like St. Patrick’s Day that are so awesome that other countries get in on the action, why don’t we all celebrate one for Scotland, too? Because I think we should, based solely on Millionaire’s Shortbread. I mean, c’mon, people. Buttery, crumbly shortbread. Thick, chewy caramel. A slick of chocolate capping the whole thing off. Shouldn’t this dessert have its own FLAG?

Now, I’ve never been to Scotland. I hear it’s a beautiful place. I came very close to going to Scotland once for my sister-in-law’s wedding, but ended up birthing a baby six weeks before and was way too consumed with lactating and keeping my fragile newborn in a bubble to make the trip. My husband, however, bravely left his kin to attend the wedding. And he acted all sad about having to leave us, and at the time I think I believed him. But looking back now, I’m not so sure.

Because boyfriend got to get the heck outta Dodge, and in this case, the Mayor of Dodge was a hormonal, post-partum train wreck with a colicky, sleep-fighting infant. He left Dodge for a lush, green countryside full of golf, beer, the green light to wear a man skirt with no underpants, and incredible access to Millionaire’s Shortbread. Is 18 months after the fact too late to nag your husband about something?

Millionaire’s Shortbread

You can speed up the cooling process of the layers by popping the pan into the freezer for about five minutes or so between steps. For the chocolate layer, I like to use a half-and-half mix of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate chips because I think the balance is so right on, but all semi-sweet works too. I made my caramel in the microwave, but if you prefer, you can cook the condensed milk on the stovetop, in a double boiler over low heat, for 1 1/2 hours.

Makes about 20 pieces

For the crust:

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

For the caramel layer:

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or a generous 1/8 teaspoon of regular salt)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the chocolate layer:

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (see note)
3/4 teaspoon vegetable oil

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with an 8-inch wide “sleeve” of aluminum foil, long enough to create a couple inches of overhang on two sides. Butter or lightly spray the entire pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed just until creamy and blended, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, and stir in 1 cup of the flour until well-blended, then stir in the egg yolk until the dough is smooth, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary to make sure everything is well-incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dust your hands with flour and pat the dough into a disc. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup flour over the dough and knead it gently just until the flour is worked in–the dough should be soft and smooth and not too sticky. Pat the dough into a square almost as big as the pan, then transfer the dough to the pan and pat it neatly and evenly across the bottom of the pan. Prick the crust all over with a fork. Bake it for about 22-25 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Let it cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the caramel: Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a medium microwave-safe bowl. Cook on medium power (about 50%) for 4 minutes, stirring well halfway through. Continue to cook on medium-low power (about 30-40%) for another 12-20 minutes, until the milk has turned into a thick, smooth, golden caramel, stopping to stir about every 2-3 minutes. There won’t be a lot of change in the caramel until the last few minutes, and the total time will depend on your microwave–keep on stirring and adding time until you’ve clearly cooked the milk to a irresistibly golden caramel. Stir in the salt and vanilla.

When the shortbread has cooled, pour the caramel over it and nudge it into an even layer with a small spatula. Let it the caramel firm up for about an hour in the refrigerator, or less than 10 minutes in the freezer.

Melt the chocolate chips and vegetable oil together in a small microwave-safe bowl on 50% power, stopping to stir every 40 seconds or so, until the chocolate is melted, glossy and perfectly smooth. Drizzle the chocolate in an even layer over the caramel, and use a spatula to smooth it. Chill until the chocolate is set, refrigerated for about 30 minutes or about five minutes in the freezer. Remove the bars from the pan using the handles of the foil sleeve to lift the slab, and then transfer it to a cutting board. Cut into aout 20 bars, using a large chef’s knife and wiping the blade clean after each cut. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Mar 8, 2010

Best Cocoa Brownies

Remember in back in, say, early grade school when you first learned about the elusive concept of “Opposite Day”? Like yes meant no and stop meant go and basically it was just a ripe opportunity for little kids to act like they were way smarter than their parents because no matter what kind of discipline parents tried to instill on their children, the child could deflect the power by simply proclaiming it Opposite Day? Yeah. I was really into the concept of Opposite Day. How did my mother not lock me up for life by defying her with nonsense?

Anyway, I’ve since gotten over the idea of Opposite Day in a big way. I like order. Predictability. I like to know that when a brownie recipe contains only cocoa and no solid chocolate that it will probably turn out dull, dry and lifeless and be a complete waste of calories. Well. Let it be known that the ever-inspiring pastry phenom Alice Medrich is a saucy minx who is apparently a huge advocate of Opposite Day.

A few weeks back, I exposed myself as a Team Fudgy brownie lover and shared a recipe that I’d had high hopes for, but had turned out too much on the cakey side to be something I’d call a real brownie. And oh, the irony! It had all sorts of melted chocolate in the batter, an element that nearly every legendary brownie recipe incorporates. This latest brownie recipe I’m bringing to you has 100% cocoa as its backbone, not a speck of bar chocolate to speak of and get this–it’s as moist and fudgy and amazing as all get out.

It’s almost a little like the box mix brownies that even this scratch baking enthusiast can’t resist, and to me, that’s high praise. What? I don’t care if it makes you think I have a dirty, secret Sandra Lee underbelly, I plowed my way through three boxes of brownie mix in as many weeks during the last trimester of my pregnancy, and if you’d scoffed at me then, I would’ve cut you. I love me a box mix brownie. Fact.

But truthfully, after making a batch of Alice Medrich’s Cocoa Brownies, I really don’t see a reason to go down that box mix route again. Well, except for a 10-for-10-bucks sale at Safeway, but c’mon, who can resist THAT? Communists, that’s who. Anyway, this recipe involves barely more steps or dirty dishes than making box mix brownies, and there’s no way my sister Betty Crocker could turn out a batter so midnight dark and deeply chocolaty, courtesy of copious amounts of Valrhona cocoa, because when I go all out, I go big.

And really, if you’re going to make a recipe with an ingredient in the title, I think it’s a good indication that you should pull out the big guns, in this case a rich premium cocoa powder such as Valrhona, Scharffen Berger or the like. It’s so worth it, if for no other reason than to have your mind blown by the idea that something can taste more like chocolate than chocolate itself but with no solid chocolate actually in it. No, I meant that. I know I may look crazy with these fudgy brownie crumbs in my teeth, but I know what I’m talking about.

Best Cocoa Brownies

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet

I am typically a brownie purist and like them plain, but if you’re a nutty brownie person, Medrich recommends pecans or walnuts. Note that the eggs need to be cold in this recipe, as opposed to the room temperature eggs that are called for in so many other baking recipes.

Makes 16 brownies

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. Spray the pan and lining with cooking spray.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth, though it will appear somewhat gritty. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not at all hot.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well-blended, add the flour and stir until all the streaks of flour disappear, then beat vigorously for 40 more strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Set the pan in the freezer for 10 minutes (it will make for clean cutting of the brownies).

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.


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