Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Classic Brownies"

I got this recipe from a Cook's Illustrated magazine that came in the mail one day. Have you ever seen America's Test Kitchen on PBS? The magazine is by those people. Anyway, this recipe is supposedly the ideal brownie, a "brownie to please everyone" -- "neither cakey nor fudgey." There's a whole article that preceedes the recipe about how the author achieved brownie perfection, but I'll just give you the recipe. For quite a while we were working our way through a stash of Betty Crocker box brownies, but once we ran out I decided to see if this recipe was all it claimed to be. This was the first time I'd ever made brownies with real baking chocolate, and I liked how they turned out. Sometime I'll try the cocoa powder+shortening substitution and see if it makes a difference. Anyway, this recipe is definitely more work than brownies from a box, but not tons more, and I decided after making them twice that they really are quite good. Now I wonder what others think (since my husband likes most anything).

Be sure to test for doneness before removing the brownies form the oven. If underbaked (the toothpick has batter clinging to it), the texture of the brownies will be dense and gummy; if overbaked (the toothpick comes out completely clean), the brownies will be dry and cakey. (This is their disclaimer, by the way.)

1 cup (4 oz.) pecans or walnuts, chopped medium (optional)
1 1/4 cups (5 oz.) cake flour (but I did an all-purpose conversion: 1 c. + 1 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour. You're welcome.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine (next time I make these I'm going to try them with less chocolate, just to see)
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into six 1-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length of foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. (Okay, this didn't make any sense to me (I needed a picture to understand what they were talking about) so I just line the pan with foil. I think that's all they're going for.) Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.
4. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) When cocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.
5. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies tin 2-inch squares and serve. (Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.)

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