Friday, September 11, 2015

Classic American Brownies

Every American kid grows up eating brownies.  Lately, however, they have morphed from chewy chocolaty yumminess with a glass of milk to an adults-only super rich chocolate fudge of which you can only eat a tiny piece.  Now, I have nothing against these new-fangled brownies.  I will pretty much eat and enjoy brownies in any form, cakey, fudgey, with nuts or without.  However, in my humble opinion, a brownie should be chewy, but not fudgy; chocolatey but not overly so.  You should be able to eat a large square or two or three, happily. Moreover, it should be thin and have a crunch on the edge (my favorite part!).  It is the moist chewiness of the brownie that is the distinctive brownie quality.  If it is too cakey or fudgey, then it may be delicious, but it is not really a brownie.
These are so cute, it makes me want to scream.  Fortunately I can overcome that urge by shoving one of these into my mouth

In my quest to get back to the brownie of my childhood, I have tried many many many brownie recipes. Yes, it was hard work but I was happy to make the sacrifice. Most fall on the fudgey rich side.  Finally, I really went back to the brownie of my childhood (and probably yours, too if you are of my generation) and I used the Baker’s brownie recipe.  When I was growing up, Baker’s chocolate was the cooking chocolate of choice.  Indeed it was the only one available.  There was no Vahlrona, Giradelli’s or Scharfenberger chocolate to be had.  And voila!  There it was --the chewy, crispy brownie of remembrance past.  Below is my take on this classic.

You know you want this right now.
Now, the chocolate you use will make a huge difference in the flavor of your brownie.  If you use a very high cocoa content chocolate, then your brownie will have a richer chocolate flavor.  I was partial to Scharfenberger when I lived in Berkeley.  Here in Sweden, there is a limited selection in the normal supermarket so I just get whatever they have. Sometimes, I throw in some semi-sweet chunks of chocolate (the same chocolate I use for the brownies, but chopped into chunks with a knife), just to get in a bit more gooiness, and I also love nuts in mine.  But both are optional.

Finally, brownies go from moist and chewy to dry and overdone in a minute.   Keep on eye on your brownies and start checking about half-way through the time.  If you are using a convection oven, you definitely want to check at least half-way, if not before.  When you insert your toothpick it should come out with moist crumbs sticking to it, but not liquidy.  Much better to err on the underdone side, then overdone.

A nice shiny crust.
I have used a Nordicware pan in the above pictures that molds the brownies into little chocolate bars.  So, you are actually seeing the underside of the brownie.  If you were baking in a normal pan, then you would see the nice shiny crust.

If you have never made brownies before, then know that it is easy. Very easy.  It is so easy, that in fact, I have relinquished my brownie making duties to my 11 year old son.  Which is why I have no pictures of the actual process.

4 ounces (115 grams) semi-sweet chocolate
1 and 1/2 cups (3.5 deciliters) sugar
¾ cup (170 grams) butter
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (2.5 deciliters) flour
1 cup chopped nuts, either pecans or walnuts, optional
3 to 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chunks, optional

Line a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with foil, so that the ends of the foil extend of the sides of the pan, and generously grease.  If you have a non-stick pan which you feel confident about, then you can skip the foil part.  Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, microwave 4 ounces of chocolate with the butter for approximately 2 minutes, until the butter is melted.  The heat of the butter will melt the chocolate. Gently stir the chocolate and butter mixture until the chocolate is completely melted.

Stir the sugar into the chocolate/butter mixture.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Add flour and mix well.  Fold in nuts and chocolate chunks, if desired.

Pour batter into prepared pan and spread batter into the corners.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it.  Start checking the batter at about 20 minutes to make sure that you don't over cook them.  Cool the brownies in the pan.  Remove the brownies from the pan using the foil on the sides as handles.  Peel off the foil and cut into squares.
Let them cool a bit so you don't burn your mouth.  And do share them with your children.  They appreciate that sort of thing. It is generally considered rude to eat the whole pan by yourself.  Especially if your kids made them.

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