Brownies are very controversial by nature. The nut-versus-nut-free debate is remarkable in its outrageousness. I do not get caught up in these arguments. Personally, I appreciate good quality pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts in most recipes. However, I do understand how important it is to respect people who have allergies or aversions to nuts. So I often oblige such nuttiness (or lack thereof).
My opinions are stricter on the textural matters of cakey v. fudgy v. chewy. Cakey-ness should be reserved for cakes. This is not so outrageous as a judgment. Case closed. Fudginess can be desirable, given the right recipe and baked to the right consistency. A truly chewy brownie is a rarity. I have tried many recipes for this elusive brownie texture with limited success.
As a low-brown counterpart to Proust’s madeleines, I fondly remember chewy brownies from my childhood. I must admit that my brownie palate was greatly influenced by the store-bought, refrigerated, ready-mixed brownie batter. The plastic-sheathed tube of batter was probably better eaten raw than baked. This product did result in a supremely chewy, though bland, brownie. Blandness, of course, is a matter of justifiable outrage in the brownie world.
For special occasions, I have one great, singular, show-stopper of a brownie recipe. It is undeniably fudgy. I have adapted it from The Barefoot Contessa cookbook. Ina Garten called them appropriately, “Outrageous Brownies”. The espresso powder is key to creating a dark, rich depth. Although one could use more prosaic instant coffee (as Ms. Garten indicates), I do not; espresso imparts a decidedly better flavour. Chocolate chips and nuts provide a chunky counterpoint to the intense fudginess of the brownie, topped off by the classic flaky, paper-thin pale-cocoa-coloured layer (the brownie epidermis?).
More on Ina Garten and the recipe for Outrageous Brownies
I had discovered Ms. Garten’s shop in East Hampton, when visiting my aunt and late uncle’s place in nearby Amagansett in the mid-1980s. This was before her Food Network television fame, but I do remember the prices for her wonderful goods as being rather outrageous (it was the Hamptons, after all). I tried many of the Barefoot Contessa’s products from her shop, yet I do not recall having tried the brownie before I purchased her cookbook in the 1990s. Perhaps it was sold out at the shop. Who could not be tempted by such a name for a brownie? Outrageous!
Whenever I make these brownies, people often start to moan when they try them for the first time. What more could you want as a reaction to something you have created? These are moans of delight, even if such guttural reactions can follow the disclosure of the amount of chocolate (more than two pounds) and butter (one pound) the recipe requires. This is a very high-yielding recipe, I always like to point out, though my retort is usually ignored as the brownie-eaters focus on their second and third bites, which overwhelm their senses.
Recently, I made these for an island potluck. One of the guests I met at this potluck wanted the “The Only Brownie Recipe You’ll Ever Need”, as she described it. So when you have the pot-luckin’ quandary of what to make, try this recipe for its outrageous fudgy-mocha profundity.
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa by Ina Garten,
20 very large brownies (or 54 smaller, more reasonable squares, depending on your whim)
55 min – 20 min prep
1 lb. unsalted butter
28 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder (much better than instant coffee, which will do, in a crisis)
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups sugar, scant
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
Preheat oven to 350*.
Butter and flour a 12x18x1 inch baking sheet.
Melt together the butter, 1 lb. of the chips, and the semi-sweet
chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water (or use the microwave method, one minute, at a power level of about 40%, watching carefully,.stirring with a good silicone spatula, in between jolts, until just melted).
Allow to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, stir thoroughly (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee
granules, vanilla, and sugar.
Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool
to room temperature.
In a medium bowl, sift together 1 c of flour, the baking powder, and salt.
Add to the cooled chocolate mixture.
Toss the walnuts and 12 oz of chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 c flour,
then add them to the chocolate batter.
Pour into the baking sheet.
Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf
to force the air to escape from between the pan and dough.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Do not overbake, as with any good brownie.
Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into squares.
Ina’s notes: Flouring the chips and walnuts keeps them from sinking to
It is very important to allow the batter to cool well before adding
the chips, or the chips will melt and ruin the brownies.
This recipe can be baked up to a week in advance, wrapped in plastic,
and refrigerated. The brownies freeze well (for several months, as if they would last that long…).