16 April 2007
Brownies: Simple, Sublime
Brownies have to be one of the quintessential American recipes. Right up there with apple pie and chocolate chip cookies, they are an internationally recognized contribution to the culinary landscape, and one of the easiest and tastiest things you can make. Yet, unfortunately, there are a lot of bad brownies out there, especially outside the U.S. borders. I have been in French patisseries with the most beautiful napoleons and perfect tartlets, yet “le brownie” is crumbly, dry and oversalted. In Argentina, a brownie becomes a chocolate-coated cookie, and all too often it takes the form of chocolate cake cut into squares. In Damascus, my colleagues turn out beautifully arranged platters of sweets, artfully decorated with green crushed pistachios and rose petals, but when I show up with a plate of brownies, they are shocked I made them in my own kitchen. They go crazy over them, which isn’t surprising since they are very good, but what is surprising is that they act as if it is the most difficult and exotic thing, these brownies. Dare I tell them I stirred them up in one bowl in a matter of minutes?
In a recent article in the New York Times, Julia Moskin also expounded the simple delight of brownies, and provided two great recipes (there’s a third which looks good too, but I haven’t tried it yet). I know, since I’ve made both recipes numerous times- back in college I went on a quest to find the best brownie recipe. It was a quest I later came to regret, as my friends would always request I bring my brownies to any sort of gathering. What Moskin doesn’t mention is that these two recipes are extremely similar, one is just double the other, with a tiny variation in the sugars and temperature. Since brownies are so forgiving, both versions turn out excellent specimens. Like Moskin, I adore Nick Malgieri’s Supernatural Brownies, which is the one I reach for most often when brownies are called for. Over the years, I’ve tinkered with the recipe ever so slightly, mainly because I prefer a smaller pan. I’ve also added a little bit of cocoa, which I think enhances the chocolate flavor. I hope you’ll believe me when I say these are the best brownies I can think of, and if not, know that several years later, my college friends still request them at parties.
Moist, rich, and supremely chocolate-y, these treats are also a cinch to make. They’ll be just as welcome at a fancy dinner party as at a bake sale.
1 stick (8 tbl, 4 oz) butter
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 cup sugar (all white sugar, or half white/half brown sugar)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
- Preheat the oven to 350, grease an 8” square baking pan. In the top of a double boiler, or in the microwave, melt together the butter and the chocolate. Let the mixture cool slightly, stir in the sugar, vanilla and salt. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then fold in the flour and cocoa powder. Scrape into prepared pan and bake in the oven 18-20 minutes. The top should be dry and shiny, but the interior should remain very moist. Immediately move the pan to the freezer or to an ice bath for about five minutes to stop the cooking, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
For a crowd: double the recipe and bake in a 9x13" pan for 35-40 minutes.
Ideas for variations: stir in 1/2 cup walnuts, add some heat with a bit of red pepper, or make a mocha with 2 tbl of espresso powder.