Are you looking for yet another brownie recipe? I was not, until I had come across one with a very unusual technique from the great Alice Medrich.
I though my brownie recipe collection to be complete, what with the extravaganza that is Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies, my grandmother Jessie’s very gooey double-chocolate brownie, the original 1897 brownie recipe, or the spectacular iced double-chocolate, double-malt brownies. Really, I was not seeking another one for my arsenal. After all, I have an entire cookbook dedicated to brownie recipes and a number of tried-and-true versions, with which I am completely satisfied.
However, I had borrowed Ms. Medrich’s book from the library, in an attempt to read more library cookbooks, rather than my habit of buying more and more. This particular recipe jumped out at me. Apparently, an acquaintance of hers named “Steve” rescued a batch of brownies from an oven which was much too high (or on fire – the author was not sure which) and immediately plunged the pan into an ice-water bath. Ms. Medrich relates that the brownies turned out to be very creamy, far from dry, with a chewy crust. Thus, the “Steve ritual” intrigued me enough to try yet another recipe.
I had returned last week from a trip to Connecticut to visit my family, with a bit of time in New York; the latter destination was a day on my own for, in pursuit of evaluating the top cookies in the city at Levain Bakery and Momofuku’s Milk Bar. I enjoyed my comparative taste-testing of Levain’s famed dark-chocolate-chocolate chip cookie and David Chang’s even better-known “compost cookies”. This was most fun – actually it was a highlight of my trip – not to imply that seeing my family is not fun…
When I needed to make brownies for a potluck baby shower in Vancouver, I decided to try out this mysterious technique.
Gratuitous Floral Interlude
With the first day of spring – a Very Important Day of the Year – fast approaching, I noticed that the camellia outside our kitchen door finally started to bloom. It is very late in blooming this year, what with the La Nina and her cold-wet winter, here in Canada’s so-called moderate Mediterranean climate (NB: notice the teeth marks on the leaf below the flower – the local deer keep chewing the camellia’s leaves, although they are not supposed to like such leaves. Please get the word out to any deer you know…).
For the brownie review – and the recipe
This recipe is different from every other brownie technique I have ever encountered. It is reminiscent of roasting chicken or turkey, first, at a high temperature, then at a lower one to ensure a crisp skin. Similarly, Ms. Medrich’s technique produces a an outer layer, namely the top crust, which has a satisfying chewiness, with a moist interior, much like the poultry technique, which yields white meat which is not dry yet golden and crisp skin. Who knew brownies could benefit equally?
The brownie recipe itself is one which Ms. Medrich adapted from the Fannie Farmer classic. The author says that this technique works well for lower fat brownies, especially, as they can risk being too dry, particularly after a day or so. While the nuts are optional, I urge you to include them, as they provide a nutty-chewy counterpoint to the very creamy chocolate centre. With a rich crumb – not a hint of dryness – and the most creamy interior imaginable underneath a shiny chewy top-crust, the Steve ritual is worth trying, even if you are completely satisfied with your own arsenal of brownie recipes.
Chill-Out Brownies, adapted minimally from the “New Classic Brownies”, in Alice Medrich’s Cookie and Brownies
- 8 tablespoons (4 ounces, one stick, or 110 grams) butter, salted or unsalted
- 4 ounces (110 grams) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
- 1 ¼ cup (10 ounces or 280 grams) sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5 ML) vanilla extract
- ¼ (1.25 ML) teaspoon salt (can be omitted if using salted butter)
- 2 eggs, at room temperature (preferably free-range organic, from happy chickens)
- ½ cup (2 ounces or 100 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup (70 grams) pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts, chopped – optional but the counterpoint is wonderful if you are a nutty-brownie type
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F (200 C or Gas Mark 6), with the oven rack at bottom-third position.
- Line 8” x 8” (15 cm) square metal pan with parchment paper or reuseable non-stick 8” square sheet.
- Melt butter and chocolate in microwave at 50% strength, at 30 second instalments, or until chocolate is almost melted; or melt the two in the top of a double boiler over simmering water, remove from stove top when just melted.
- Add sugar, salt, and vanilla to chocolate-butter, mixing thoroughly.
- Add eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated, into the chocolate-butter-sugar
- Blend flour into wet ingredients, until just combined – do not over-mix.
- Fold in nuts gently, if using.
- Spread batter into prepared pan and place in oven.
- Bake for 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, add ice cubes to the bottom of a 9” square pan (23 cm) or larger pan and fill half-way up with cold water.
- Remove pan from oven and place into ice-water bath immediately, ensuring that no water splashes over the pan onto the brownies.
- When fully cooled, take knife (or non-metallic spatula or knife, if using a non-stick pan) and insert around the four inner vertical edges carefully, just to loosen brownies.
- Remove the brownie slab from the pan, peel off parchment paper, and place on board to cut into 16 squares (2” x 2” or 5 cm x 5 cm).
- Eat and chill-out.