Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Year of Brownies - April

Unsweetened chocolate. Oh, the woe is me. Unsweetened chocolate was the key ingredient in this months brownie, coming to you from Deb, over at Smitten Kitchen. Not easy to come by around these parts, let me tell you. Back when I started this project, I asked one of my friends going to New York if he would get me some, but even in the City of Dreams, he didn't find it. Well, he didn't find the Sharffen-Berger kind I wanted. Luckily, I had some at home, from a trip I did many, many moons ago - but it was long-past-it's-best-before-date. Not one to be deterred, I used it anyways - which may be an explanation for my less than impressive results. (yes, that was a spoiler right there...)

You melt chocolate and butter, then whisk in sugar, then eggs. Similar to my standard recipe, but the batter became almost fudge-caramel like - long and dense, somehow. And you could tell there was a LOT of sugar in there, with it almost crystallizing.

chocolate:egg:sugar ratios:
Standard (January): 110:2:300
Meyer (February): 100:2:125
Nigella (March): 125:2:170
Smitten Kitchen (April): 85:2:265

Considerably less chocolate, much more sugar! Which makes sense, considering the quality of the chocolate - there's just les sweetness to it, naturally. (I tasted the melted chocolate - honestly not a pleasure!) This recipe also uses only caster sugar, no soft brown sugar.

Tastewise, definitely okay, but sugary sweet. Texturewise, fudge-like - not chewy, not cakey, they felt more like a candy, with the sugar very noticable. This may have been caused by my out-of-date chocolate, but as they were, tasty enough, just not... a brownie, in my book. Deb suggest these are best cold, maybe even frozen - I never managed to try them frozen, but the suggestion has me wondering whether the fudge-like quality is enhanced by this, or would make them more brownie-like? I will try them again, should I get so lucky as to come by some unsweetened chocolate, just to make sure. Deb's recipes very seldom disappoint, so I am stumped as to why this one did... Perhaps my 13th. brownie should be one of her other brownie recipes, just to make amends?

1. Nigellas Brownies
2. The Little Red Barn Baking Book's Brownies
3. Meyer's Brownies
4. Smitten Kitchen Brownies

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Year of Brownies - March

The first month of spring, and time for something new. For me, and The Year of Brownies, that meant really getting out of the comfort zone, in the form of adding something not chocolate to my brownies. Enter the walnut.

I've had bad experiences with nuts. There's nothing that can ruin a cake, bread or salad like a stale nut, and for a long time, I was the type of person that bought stockpiles of nuts, only to have them go rancid at the back of the drawer. And a bad nut will most certainly mess up the taste experience, so perhaps what I've not liked about nuts in my brownies was not so much the texture, but the (off) taste. Given time, I've learned to keep my nuts in rotation, and now buy them when I need them, so they're fresh and sweet.

There seems to be a trend towards me posting at the very end of the month, but I promise, these were baked on March 31st (hence the back-dating of the post). Nothing like a deadline, eh?

Slightly different from my standard, but similar to February's version - you beat egg and sugar together, then add that to melted butter+chocolate, and finally add flour and nuts.

chocolate:egg:sugar ratios
Standard (January): 110:2:300
Meyer (February): 100:2:125
Nigella (March): 125:2:170
More chocolate and less sugar than the standard; more flour than Meyer. Also, walnuts.

I was very pleasently surprised by this brownie? These brownies? Terminology, people? Either way, pleasently surprised indeed. I'd read reviews around that they were dry and dull, but that was not the case in my version at all. Squidgy and yet cakey at the same time, the texture was just about perfect; ever so slightly crumbly, yet moist. Not to sweet, the chocolate and sugar very well balanced, whereas Meyer's recipe was just a bit too dark in taste for me to really love them. Texture wise, these may benefit from a couple of hours in the fridge? I have a small piece left that I'll try and put in there to see...

And you know, I liked the walnuts! For both texture AND taste. I'm looking forward to trying the recipe without the walnuts, I think I have to, to compare properly with The Standard, but I do think I have a new favorite.

1. Nigella's Brownies
2. Little Red Barn's Brownies
3. Meyer's Brownies.

- from How to Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson, scaled down to ½ portion.
185 grams butter (she calls for soft, but you're going to melt it anyways, so...)
185 best-quality dark chocolate (I used Guanaja 70% from Valrhona)
3 large eggs
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
250 grams caster sugar
112 grams flour (plain)
½ teaspoon salt
150 grams chopped walnuts

Brownie pan measuring 22x22 cm.

Preheat the oven to 180 degress Celcius. Line your brownie pan - I use baking parchment.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large heavy-based pan. (Use a large one, because then you can use it for mixing the batter in - you know, less dishes to do afterwards.)
I a bowl or large wide-mouthed measuring jug, beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla extract. Measure the flour into another bowl and add the salt.
When the chocolate mixture has melted, let it cool a bit before beating in the eggs and sugar, then the nuts and flour. Beat to combine smoothly and then scrape out of the saucepan into the lined pan.
Bake for 25 minutes. When it's ready, the top should be adried to a plaer brown speckle, but the middle still dark and dense and gooey. Keep checking on them, while they bake - the difference between gungy brownies and dry brownies is only a few minutes; remeber that they will continue to cook as they cool.

Makes a maximum of 24 brownies.

I'd like to call this: Reflections in butter and chocolate ;P

Monday, February 29, 2016

A Year of Brownies - February

February is my birthday month, so of course, we had to have brownies for my birthday. Choosing this particular recipe for this month made a lot of sense - in it's original listing, it makes 40 brownies and uses 750 grams of chocolate! No way was I going to find myself with that much cake around ALONE. I scaled the numbers back to 8/15 (original recipe calls for 15 eggs, hence the weird conversion), and even so, we had PLENTY of cake - even some for the fridge for a couple of days later. For some reason, they state in the recipe that the cake will keep for 2-3 weeks in the fridge. Yeah, not around here.

Procedure-wise, this recipe has you melt chocolate and butter and add that to whisked together eggs and sugar. This is slightly different from my standard method, were the sugar is dissolved with chocolate/butter, and the eggs then added afterwards.

The chocolate:egg;sugar ratio in my standard recipe is 110:2:300. The Meyer recipe has a lot less sugar, weighing in at 100:2:125. It also uses only caster sugar, whereas the standard uses a mix of brown and caster. (I use cane sugar, as that is my standby, not regular white caster sugar) Also, a lot less flour in this recipe. I should have put in chopped walnuts, but I just couldn't do it. I told you, not a big fan of bits and bobs in my brownie.

At first mouthful, this brownie was more airy than expected, the chocolate/flour ratio in mind. I'd expected dense. Not at all. In fact, Martin deemed it a 'chocolate cake'. A good one, yes, but a chocolate cake. Not a brownie. We then proceeded to put a single piece in the fridge, and after a couple of hours had a taste. Crazy difference! Way more fudgy and dense, not nearly as fluffy or cakey. Definitely improved the overall mouthfeel to us. This brownie has a more full taste, it's very chocolate-y and dark, compared to what we're used to. Bearing in mind the lesser amount of sugar, it makes sense that we got a more full-on chocolate taste. It's not my preference, but it was a very nice brownie, that texture wise improved immensely from a rest in the fridge.

Meyer's Brownie
(measurements scaled down, hence the weird numbers)

400 g. chocolate (I used Valrhona Guanaja 70%, as suggested in the recipe)
213 g. butter (I used salted, as always)
8 eggs
608 g. sugar
104 g. flour
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
3 T. + 2 t. cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
(160 g. walnuts, coarsely chopped)

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Line a baking pan measuring roughly 40 x 20 cm with parchment paper.

Coarsely chop the chocolate and melt it together with the butter in a bain marie.
Gently whisk together sugar and eggs - you merely want it to blend, not go airy or light. Stir the chocolate/butter mixture into the egg/sugar mixture.
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder into the batter, gently mixing. If using, stir in the walnuts.

Pour into the prepared baking pan and bake for about 40 minutes. Leave to cool completely in the pan, before unmoulding. Cut into 20 squares.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A Year of Brownies - January

Like I said, I already have a brownie recipe I find pretty perfect. It has no add-ons, save for extra chocolate, when I feel like it, it comes together in no time, and I almost always have all the ingredients at the ready. Come to think of it, this recipe may have been one of the first brownies I ever made. The book that it comes from is one that I bought back when I lived with my still-boyfriend in London, back in 2000. It's called The Little Red Barn Baking Book and is written by Adriana Rabinovich, who - I just found out - has a gluten-free-centered blog called Gluten-free Cooking for Kids. Back in the days, her company (also named The Little Red Barn) sold brownies, cookies etc. to Starbucks, Fortnum & Mason's and Selfridges to name a few, and she decided to share her recipes in this here book. aIt was a little unassuming number, but the amount of recipes I wanted to make - banana bread! cinnamon buns! Devil's food cake! Snickerdoodles! -  as I paged through it was numerous. It was one of the only baking books I had for the six months we lived in London, and as is apparent from all of the scribbles and splatters in it, it was much used and loved. Still is, in fact. Not only the brownies, but also her banana bread and carrot cake are keepers.

Onto the brownies! In the book, it's the recipe called Rum and raisin brownies, but if you leave out the raisins, it's a classic one. This is definitely one of the fudgier versions, dense and not cakey. I've had some people finding it a tad on the sugary-sweet side, but I just really like it like this and wouldn't change a thing.

155 g. plain flour
1/4 tsp. salt
110 g. good-quality plain chocolate (70%)
110 g. unsalted butter (I use salted with no problems)
150 g. dark soft brown sugar
150 g. caster sugar
2 eggs
optional: 110 grams of Marabou milk chocolate, cut into 5mm chunks

23 cm. square cake pan

Preheat the oven to 170 degres Celsius. Butter and flour the cake pan. (I usually put in a sheet of baking paper, fitting it to the pan - it's much easier to get it out this way)

Sift flour and salt into a large bowl; melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave or in a double boiler. Add the sugars to the melted chocolate/butter mixture and leave to dissolve slightly. Stir to combine. Add the eggs, one by one, beating after each one. This will produce a very glossy mixture. Gently fold in the flour, taking care not to overmix. Fold in chocolate chunks if using.

Spread in the cake pan and bake for 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven. Leave to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Makes 16-20.