These might look like ordinary, run-of-the-mill brownies, but I have to tell you so many things about them. First, the recipe is from Alice Medrich’s latest book, Seriously Bitter Sweet, and I received a review copy. This book is an update to Bittersweet from 2003. It’s a new look at using chocolate in baking now that so many varieties are available and cacao percentages are clearly marked. What used to be called semisweet and bittersweet have lost meaning now that we can purchase 54%, 60%, 75%, 90%, and just about any other number of cacao percentage chocolate. This new book presents recipes tested and perfected for specific ranges of cacao percentages in chocolate, and there are options for changing the formulas to use different types of chocolates. With higher percentage chocolates, less is needed but you’ll need to add more sugar and possibly butter. It’s fascinating to see how adaptable the recipes are. Also, since vintage recipes were written for semisweet or bittersweet chocolate which tended to be in the range of 54% to 60% cacao, the formulas which are clearly explained in a separate chapter can be used to update any recipe with specific types of chocolate. There are also conversions for using cocoa powder rather than chocolate. So, the book offers endless possibilities with mousses, truffles, cakes, souffles, sauces, tarts, pies, and cookies that can easily be adapted to use whichever type of chocolate you prefer. I got distracted by a couple of the cacao nib recipes that I look forward to trying like the Nibby Espresso Cookies and the Cocoa Bean Cream Almond Roulade filled with a cacao nib-infused whipped cream. There’s even a section for savory dishes made with chocolate such as the Wild Mushroom Ragout with unsweetened chocolate in the sauce. But, before trying any of those, I baked some classic brownies.
The recipe for these brownies, as you see below, is written for a New Classic version. The New Classic involves baking for only 20 minutes and then immediately setting the brownie pan into an ice bath until cool. This is to produce the fudgiest, gooeyist brownies. I chose to go the slightly more cakey route by following the Classic variation included in the notes below, and I used 70% chocolate. There’s a slightly adjusted note for using 60% chocolate in the notes as well. See what I was saying about this book? It’s fascinating, and the possibilities are endless. So, with the Classic 70% variation, the oven was preheated to 350 degrees F, six and a half ounces of chocolate was used, one tablespoon less of butter was used, and one-quarter cup less sugar was used than for unsweetened chocolate. And, I opted to add toasted, chopped pecans. In the intro to the brownie section of the book, Medrich explains that through testing, it was discovered that a glossier top is produced when the chocolate and butter mixture is allowed to get hot, up to 150 degrees F, when melting. Then, when sugar and cold eggs are added, vigorous beating with a wooden spoon contributes to the final texture. One more trick is to chill the batter in the brownie pan for several hours before baking for the glossiest top and chewiest texture. Even though these brownies baked at a slightly lower temperature for slightly longer and didn’t get the ice bath cooling technique, they were still pretty fabulously fudgy with a nicely glossy top.
I do tend to appreciate, i.e. geek out about, cookbooks with lots of precision and detail, and this one fits that description. The how’s and why’s of ingredients and techniques are delightfully well-explained. And, they’re being explained by someone who has not only witnessed and worked through the changes in the world of chocolate but has influenced the arrival of better quality chocolates through her creations. If you like baking with chocolate, you’ll really like this book.
New Classic Chocolate Brownies
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Seriously Bitter Sweet by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013.
Makes 16 large or 25 smaller brownies
This recipe makes brownies that are crusty on top and wonderfully gooey within. They are baked at a high temperature for a short period of time, then cooled in an ice bath. Also known as the Steve Ritual (as in Steve Ritual Brownies), this crazy, wonderful method was discovered by Portland educational researcher Steve Klein during his college days; it now has a considerable Internet following.
4 ounces (115 grams) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons (115 grams/1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces/65 grams) walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line the bottom and all four sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil.
2. Place the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water.
3. Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test.
4. Remove the bowl from the skillet. Stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring until the first one is incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the flour and beat with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula until the batter forms a shiny, cohesive mass and comes away from the sides of the bowl. It is important that the batter pull together and away from the bowl, so don’t stop stirring until it does. Stir in the nuts, if using. Scrape the batter into the lined pan and spread it evenly.
5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the brownies just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. The surface of the brownies will look dry, but a toothpick inserted in the center will come out quite gooey.
6. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath by filling a roasting pan or large baking pan with ice cubes and about 3/4 inch of water.
7. When the brownies are ready, remove the pan from the oven and immediately set it in the ice bath. Take care not to splash water on the brownies. Let the brownies cool.
8. Remove the pan from the ice bath, lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares. (The brownies can be stored, airtight, for 2 to 3 days.)
Classic Chocolate Brownies: For cakier brownies, bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with some thick, gooey batter still clinging to it. Omit the ice bath; cool on a rack.
Classic 70% Brownies: Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F and prepare an ice bath for New Classic Brownies, or skip the ice bath and preheat the oven to 350°F as for Classic Brownies. Combine 6 1/2 ounces (185 grams) 66% to 72% chocolate, 7 tablespoons (100 grams) butter, and 1 cup (200 grams) sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Proceed as directed for either New Classic or Classic Chocolate Brownies.
Classic 60% Brownies: This recipe produces brownies with a beautifully glossy, crackled crust. The batter will be stiffer than you are used to and may require longer and more vigorous stirring to form a smooth, cohesive mass.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F and prepare an ice bath for New Classic Brownies, or skip the ice bath and preheat the oven to 350°F as for Classic Brownies. Combine 10 ounces (285 grams) 54% to 62% chocolate, 5 tablespoons (70 grams) butter, and 2/3 cup (135 grams) sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Proceed as directed for either New Classic or Classic Chocolate Brownies.