Brownies: a Recipe and an Opinion

Chilled brownies carved into tiny unctuous squares and served on a cold slab of granite. Photo taken in daylight with the Leica X1.

Chilled brownies carved into tiny unctuous squares and served on a cold slab of granite. Photo taken in daylight with the Leica X1.

Brownies, it is taught, are not small flat squares of chocolate cake. With no chemical leaveners and little or no aeration, they are (or should be) more of a cross between cookies and fudge, dense and solid and just gooey enough. What’s more, with simple ingredients, a one-bowl mixing method, no beating until fluffy and a high tolerance for inexactness, they are one American classic that defies the usual laws of baking, shockingly easy to make even for the novice baker. Brownies are also wonderfully adaptable to additions of flavor extracts, spices, toasted nuts, candy bits, dried fruit or candied citrus peel (orange in particular, if you ask me).

For years the brownies I made at home fell short of the ideal sold at upscale coffee shops, though invariably all my attempts constituted a delicious chocolate delivery system of one kind or another. There were cocoa powder brownies, olive oil brownies and (most often) Mark Bittman’s classic brownies from How to Cook Everything, but none produced that rich density I was after (though all came closest when served cold). And then one day I tried the last recipe I ever tried, from the Baked bakery’s debut cookbook. Lush, easy—perfect. In time, I went on to streamline their formula and adapt it to both my palate and the standard size of a package of butter in Poland. Here it is, with a three-way ingredient list featuring quantities calculated for different pan sizes (and appetites).

I should note that a friend of mine claims that my brownies are too moist and chewy. Not crumbly or light enough, she says (sometimes even as she’s reaching for the next piece). So if you want delicate, you might prefer to get yourself a slice of chocolate cake or a muffin or something. This heavy solidity here? If you ask me—it’s what makes a brownie a brownie.

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Preheat the oven to 175°C. Line your baking pan with a layer of baking paper or aluminum foil. Place the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat and add the salt. When the butter has melted, turn off the heat and add the chocolate, allowing it to melt gently. Stir to combine and add the sugar without beating in any air. Next make sure that both the mixture and pan have cooled a bit and add the eggs and vanilla. Mix very well, but do not beat or whisk. Add the flour (unsifted) and the cocoa (sifted to break up any lumps) and mix thoroughly without overmixing.

Bonus: no-mess prep in a single saucepan.

If you want to add fruit or nuts, now is the time. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in a preheated oven for 25-35 minutes or until done. A toothpick inserted near the edges should come out nearly clean. The center needs to be set but still moist enough to make you wonder if it’s a little but underdone.

You can dig in right away. A fresh-from-the-oven warm brownie is a decadent treat, especially in a dessert bowl with glugs of fudge sauce and mounds of vanilla ice cream. But for me the real magic happens when you chill your brownie overnight and serve it straight from the fridge, carved into bite-sized cubes truffle-style. That to me is the ultimate textural chocolate experience.
 

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