Sunday, December 15, 2013

David's Robert's Absolute Best Brownies EVER

Brownies. The bane of my existence. I never met a brownie I didn’t like – well, that’s not really true as there are some pretty crappy brownies out there. And since I like to try most of the brownies I meet, I have tasted some duds in my day.

I’ve made:
Joy of Cooking brownies (cakey and classic), 
Jenifer Soper’s (my Uncle’s girlfriend) brownies (best icing ever on a good cakey brownie),
Better Homes and Gardens brownies (not bad),
Alice Medrich’s brownies (awesome, with a beautiful cracked top),
brownies with applesauce instead of butter (don’t bother), 
brownies with cream cheese (a mistake and confounding), 
Nigella Lawson brownies (of course they’re good because they have a pound of butter in them), 
Martha Stewart brownie cookies (pretty good)
and many, many more.

I’ve also tried many brownies made by other people. 
Starbucks’ brownies, 
crappy cafeteria brownies at work, 
Tim Horton’s brownies, 
fancy brownies from quaint little bakeries in small Ontario towns near the cottages we rent,
brownies from Rocket Bakery in St. John’s, 
brownies from Auntie Crae’s bakery in St John’s (back in the day), 
two-bite brownies from the supermarket (gross), 
Weight Watchers brownies (why not?), 
and Sara Lee brownies.

I remember a special time with one of my best friends, I think it was grade 7 or 8. We told my Dad we were going to the store. We headed to some nearby shop and bought a foil pan of Sara Lee brownies. We walked home and talked about the brownies pretty much the whole way. Once we arrived, we went into the family room (why were we eating in the family room?), lifted the cardboard top off the tin, then the wax paper. Then we did the only sensible thing to do in a situation like this – broke the entire slab of brownie in half and shared it. I don’t think we managed to eat the whole thing in that one sitting, but maybe we did. Susan? You’ll have to remind me.

Based on all of this information, I am sure you can tell that I am always interested in finding the ‘perfect’ brownie. Two years ago I put out the call on Facebook for my friends to send me their perfect brownie recipe. Several people responded – Marni’s brownies were indeed pretty unbelievable (I may blog those someday soon). One friend (Karen) wrote back to me and reminded me that my own recipe that I had recently shared with her was amazing (in this particular recipe, I used Lindt chocolate balls as a portion of the chocolate in the brownie). But my quest continued.

Until I found these. This is it. The ultimate brownie. You may never need to consult another recipe again once you have tried these. Off. The. Hook. For realz.

As you know if you read my blog, I am a huge fan of blogger David Lebovitz. David posted a recipe for the ultimate brownie and he gave credit to Robert Steinberg (co-founder of Scharffen Berger chocolate) who had adapted his recipe from cookbook author Maida Heatter. David referred to them as “Absolute Best Brownies”, and I have to agree.

There is a key step in this brownie process that you cannot skip, you cannot shorten, you cannot change. This step is what makes these brownies the “absolute best” brownies you will ever eat. The step is simple – beat the ingredients for one full minute. You won’t regret it. These brownies are sort of cakey on the outside, and if you follow these instructions, fudgey on the inside. There’s something for everyone here.

Here is the recipe (with my edits/notes in brackets).

6 tbsp butter, unsalted or salted, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan (I use salted)
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I have used chocolate chips when in a pinch, but for this recipe I used a combination of Ghirardhelli Intense Dark Twilight Delight 72% cacao (an entire bar of 100g), Lindt 70% chocolate (3/4 of a 100g bar), Lindt Fleur de Sel dark chocolate (1/4 of a 100g bar), and Schmerling’s of Switzerland Rosemarie bittersweet praline filled chocolate (4 squares).
¾ cup sugar (I use ½ cup)
1 tsp vanilla (always use real vanilla)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 cup walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (this time I didn’t use nuts, but my preference is pecans)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment. To do this, don’t try to jam one piece of parchment into the brownie pan because the corners of the paper will be crumpled and messy. Cut two strips of paper the width of the pan but longer. Place them perpendicular to each other then lightly butter the parchment. The original recipe calls for a 9 inch pan, but 8 inches is better. Yes, size does matter.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a pan on low heat. Start with the butter 

... and then add the chocolate once it starts to melt. 

Stir by hand until the chocolate has melted completely and the mixture is smooth and glossy.

Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and the vanilla until combined. 

Pour the mixture into an electric mixer. You can do the rest by hand but I have had better success with the one minute of mixing if it’s in my Kitchen Aid!

Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then add the flour and beat for 1 full minute. If you are beating by hand, this one minute of beating must be “energetic”!

You will know it’s right when the mix is glossy and smooth, with no more graininess, and pulls away slightly from the sides of the bowl you are using. If you don’t follow the directions for the one minute of energetic beating, your brownies will not be the absolute best and will be dry and crumbly. It has happened to me and I am telling the truth.

Pour into the pan 

... and bake until the centre feels almost set. The instructions say 30 minutes but I only bake for 25. Do not overbake.

Let the brownies cool in the pan completely, then use the parchment to lift the block of brownie out of the pan. Cut into squares (I do 4 x 4). 

The brownies will keep well for up to 4 days (haha! They won’t make it past 2!). You can also freeze them – it says for up to one month but I don’t know why you could not freeze them for longer.

They taste spectacular with vanilla ice cream. Below you see our poodle, Kugel, wishing I would share with her. Not a chance.

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