Is it Thursday already? Time flies when you’re decorating for Halloween, carving a pumpkin for a contest you have no business entering into because you don’t know how to carve a pumpkin, and making the Hardest Cake I Have Ever Made. More on that particular cake in an upcoming post, which will be rife with warnings on how to avoid making the same mistakes I did, unless you super enjoy throwing an entire cake in the trash two-thirds of the way through and starting all over again. Maybe that’s your thing. First, let’s talk holiday dessert standbys.
I had to make semi-last minute cookie trays for a gathering this past weekend. Whenever I have to do that, I remember how nice it is to have some solid, delicious, make-a-lot-with-little-effort recipes around to throw together. Let’s face it: as much as I love baking, when I’m faced with large quantities, the last thing I want to do fiddle around with persnickety recipes or desserts which are best served the same day they are made. You have to have things you can make a day or even a few days before that still taste fresh on the day you serve them.
I went with a few standbys you’ve seen already: the mini deep dish chocolate chip cookies, the lemon buttermilk cookies, and the chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies I made into ice cream sandwiches last year for Halloween. I love all of those for parties because you mix them together, throw them in the fridge, then roll out and bake them when you’re ready. Nothing to it. I also made a favorite brownie of mine which I’ve been making for holiday cookies mixes for years now, so I thought I’d snap a few pictures and share those with you while I’m thinking about it.
I’ve used a few different recipes for chocolate espresso brownies before, but this one – from America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated, the only people who can write a recipe longer than me – is my favorite. It’s reliable, easy to make, and doesn’t go to either extreme in terms of being too cakey and dry or too fudge-y to handle. It bakes evenly (no crispy weird edges like box brownies tend to have) and cuts beautifully, so you can maximize your servings. Anyone who says that you can get 64 servings from an 8×8 pan is dreaming, but you can easily get 36 neat little squares from this, and in my opinion, it’s the ideal size for something this intense and chocolatey.
I make these the day or so before cutting and serving them, which gives them a chance to deepen their flavor a bit and become the easiest brownies to cut, ever. I use a large chef’s knife and a damp towel to wipe the blade; trust me, it’s better than the alternative (ugly brownies).
Short post, I know, but I have pumpkin #3 to carve. Pumpkins #1 and #2 we can call “practice” or we can call “utter failure,” you decide, but I’m not one to give up. I will not be defeated by a gourd.
Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2010 by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated.
- 1 ounce 100% unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1 ounce 70% extra bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 5 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into quarters
- 3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 tablespoons espresso powder
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
*note: For recipes in which chocolate is the star, I typically use Ghirardelli. It’s relatively easy to find, much more affordable than super-fancy chocolate, and does solid work in terms of flavor and melting. I didn’t know this, but in reading another Cook’s Illustrated recipe, their test kitchen picked Ghirardelli as their favorite bittersweet chocolate. If you have a favorite chocolate, feel free to use it, but I suggest it be a good-quality one.
Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Line an 8×8 inch glass baking dish carefully with aluminum foil (it tears, thus defeating the purpose) and spray with cooking spray.
Melt the chocolates and the butter in a double boiler (or heatproof bowl, like a glass Pyrex) set over simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan of chocolate. Stir occasionally as the chocolate melts, until smooth. Whisk in cocoa powder and espresso powder and set aside to cool slightly.
Whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt together in a large bowl until incorporated, just a few seconds, nothing major. With your whisk going, pour in the melted chocolate slowly and continue whisking until everything is homogenous. Add the flour, using a rubber spatula to stir in (I like to use a folding motion, but there’s nothing delicate to this, so do it however you wish) until there are no lumps and the mixture is smooth with no floury patches.
Pour batter into prepared pan, using your spatula to spread the fairly thick mixture out towards the corners. Once even, smooth the top and place in the oven.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, checking at the 30-minute mark for doneness. Your cake tester/toothpick should come out with a few chocolaty crumbs on it, but not batter-like. “Just done” is what you’re looking for here. Place pan on wire rack and let cool completely. Once cool (at least two hours, people; I know it smells good), lift entire brownie out by its foil handles. Do not cut into squares until serving.
Brownies, cut or not yet cut, can be tightly wrapped or placed in an airtight container and stored for up to 5 days in the fridge. If you make these a day or so ahead of when you need them, leave in their whole, uncut form, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and leave them at room temperature or store in the fridge; your choice.