Browsing articles in "Chocolate"
Aug 31, 2007

Chewy, Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

This post is a tough one to write. I must have begun typing it at least a dozen times. I’m used to feeling a surge of energy when I start a post, thrilled and wholly alive to be indulging my passions and recording them for all the world to see. Lately, life has taken quite a turn for my family and me, making those kinds of feelings seem a world away. As I try to shake the muffled sensation of just wading through the days, I am beginning to understand that it is a great personal triumph in hard times to do the small things that bring us joy in our everyday lives. These are gentle reminders of who we are, especially when it feels like we just aren’t sure anymore. It is tempting to dismiss things like keeping this blog and buzzing busily in the kitchen as being too small to count for anything, but I am trying to remember that keeping on with these simple activities is a celebration of the time I’ve been given. Tiny delights like these are crucial in a complex life.

Most of my cooking and baking is quite inspired–by articles, photos, after-dinner cravings–but this time the goal was to just do something that felt, well, normal. Without much of an appetite and very few items on hand, this attempt was about creating something simple, familiar and soothing. Something that could be done by hand, with minimal equipment and few dirty dishes. Brownies sounded like just the thing.

Most would agree that the best brownie is thick and chewy, big on chocolate flavor without being cloyingly sweet (salt is a brownie’s best friend). A thin, crackled, papery crust covering about an inch and a half of dense, rich fudginess. Corner pieces edged with crispy integrity and mellow, luscious squares in the center of the pan. Nothing cakey, please. And I’m a purist, so that means no nuts, flavored chips, marshmallows or other nonsense. A cold glass of milk is the only company a serious brownie will ever need.

I used a recipe from one of my favorite books, and got to work. My advice? Take the thousands you might spend on therapy, buy eggs, butter, sugar and flour in bulk, and get into the kitchen. It does small wonders for the soul.

Chewy, Fudgy Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1. 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.

2. In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring ocassionally until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder and set aside to cool.

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

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a rubber spatula to push the batter into the corners evenly (the batter will be rather thick, yum). Bake until slightly puffed and a toothpick comes out with clingy, fudgy crumbs, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours. If you can wait overnight (yeah, right), they will taste even better the next day.

Aug 7, 2007

Molly Wizenberg’s Chocolate Fondant Cake

Sometimes it’s hard to be away from my mom. I’ve gotten used to the distance over the past four-plus years I’ve been in LA and she’s been back home in Chicagoland, and we talk on the phone all the time, but every once in a while I will experience something so great that I know she would love, but there’s no way I can possibly communicate such splendor over the phone. The following cake is one of those things. My mom is known for the dramatic quote, “If it’s not chocolate, it’s just not worth it!”. And I just know she would deem this dessert So Worth It.

Adapted from a recipe from the ever-inspiring Molly Wizenberg from Orangette, this cake really isn’t like a cake at all, it’s some kind of glorious, otherworldy thing teetering on the edge of awesomely underdone brownie and baked pudding. I opted to add half a teaspoon of fleur de sel to the batter for a few reasons: first, I just got a new canister of it and am looking for excuses to scatter it into/onto anything in my path; second, I am really on a “sweet and salty” kick lately; and third, there is nothing like a good salt to take a good chocolate to the next level.

When you’re dealing with a recipe that has so few ingredients like this one, really go for it. Buy a complex dark or bittersweet chocolate you’re really passionate about. If you don’t know what kind of chocolate you’re passionate about, buy a dozen different bars, have a few friends over and take notes. And invite me and we’ll all learn together, an open exchange over chocolate. Life is too short to not know such things about oneself.

Great butter is also key in this recipe. Go for the European-style butter, which is higher in butterfat than our chintzy American butter. And it’s not really more expensive than the brand you usually buy, I promise. This was my first experience with Plugra and honestly, people, I don’t think I can spend my pennies on Land O’ Lakes again. Round out the whole thing with some granulated sugar, five fresh eggs and a nearly-forgettable-but-crucial tablespoon of flour and you’ve got yourself something that only be described as So Worth It.

Chocolate Fondant Cake
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg

7 ounces of your favorite dark or bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
7 ounces unsalted European-style butter (such as Plugra), melted and cooled
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or other salt
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a springform pan for easier releasing and serving, or use an 8-inch cake pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment.

Whisk together the melted chocolate and butter in a medium bowl. Add the sugar and fleur de sel to the chocolate mixture, stirring well to combine. Add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition, and then add the flour. Mix until perfectly smooth.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until the edges just begin to pull away from the pan and the center of the cake looks only slightly jiggly, if at all. Start checking the cake for doneness after about 22 minutes. Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then carefully remove the springform ring or turn the cake out of the pan and turn it right side up to cool the rest of the way. The cake will deflate slightly as it cools, it is very unassuming that way.

Serve this room temperature with whipped cream and it will be the absolute living end. It actually tastes even better as it sits–I added some fresh raspberries the second day and, oh, well, you can just imagine.

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