By: Lynn Ogryzlo
It’s one of the top ten sexiest foods in the world. Thick, fudgy brownies, the kind that wrap themselves around your teeth and cream across your tongue, release billows of velvety, thick chocolate stickiness throughout your olfactory senses that have the ability to block out the entire world. The right kind of brownie grabs your full attention just like that, and then proceeds to slowly caress your psyche into full seduction. Who doesn’t love a good brownie?
Ah yes, good is the qualifying word. What makes a good brownie different from an ordinary brownie and even a bad one? For the sake of this story, let’s eliminate the bad brownies. I think we already avoid those pre-packaged squares of dry, pale, brownness.
The ordinary or mediocre brownie either has a slight crystalized sugary crunch, a chalky cocoa texture or a weak chocolate impact. Heaven forbid they’d have all three tell tale signs of lacklusterness. Like all sweets, some will settle for this kind of non-decadence, but I for one am an awful lot more discerning when it comes to brownies.
To qualify as one of the best brownies, it must have the right ratio of fudgy-ness to cakey-ness, it should have a glossy, crackly top, be moist throughout with a weightiness and have the right balance of sweetness to blockbuster chocolate. One bite of a brownie with the right combination of these attributes will throw your eyes back into your head. Lucky for you, I’ve obsessively tried many different brownie recipes and have found a few that stand out from the world of brownie promises.
While I can be incredibly picky when it comes to brownies, I have to admit I have no brownie loyalty. How could I? I’ve been known to push my way to the front of a queue to be first to sink my teeth into the perfect salted caramel chunk brownie and I may have lied to get a bag of outrageous, limited edition stout black cherry chocolate brownies. I’ve been known to offend some by creaming the decadence of burrata cheese into my own brownies (they were burrata lovers, not brownie lovers) and delight others with a message stenciled in icing sugar over a platter of yummy brownies. When you’re a brownie lover, there’s not much you can’t do.
In fact, it’s too bad its post Halloween season because you could have made it a scary brownie Halloween. Here’s how delicious brownies become scary. A few years ago I made real fudgy brownies into the shape of dog poo (ok, stay with me here). I went to the dollar store and bought a kitty litter pan and pooper-scooper. I filled the pan with Rice Krispies cereal and scooped my brownies to trick-or treaters with the (never used) scooper. The reactions of the children were like being on an episode of Candid Camera; fear at first that quickly turned into rolling, tear dropping, belly laughs – yet when the truth was revealed, only half the trick-or-treaters would actually eat them. They just weren’t sure.
With everything great, there is always controversy. In the brownie world there are two camps and never do the two meet. There are those who believe that the best in chocolate brownies are not made with a base of melted chocolate, but only with Dutch processed cocoa powder.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that all roads to fudgy, dark and rich brownies can only be paved with bricks of melted glossy chocolate; that cocoa powder couldn’t possibly make a better brownie. That’s what I thought too. But then I was tricked into sinking my teeth into a cocoa brownie one day and have to admit, there is something to this.
I think it has something to do with the amount of fat in a brownie recipe. Brownies are made with lots of butter (always a good thing) and if you add cocoa butter on top of that, it almost dilutes the chocolate flavour. But when Dutch-processed cocoa is used, the fat ratio to chocolate flavour is more balanced and the result is a blockbuster chocolaty brownie.
Beyond the noticeable flavour difference, brownies made with bars of tempered chocolate are fudgier and brownies made with cocoa powder are chewier. Most people are quite committed to one style or another but like I said, I have no brownie loyalty.
The other ingredient that requires balancing is sugar. Brownies aren’t supposed to taste like Tootsie Rolls so keep the sugar to a minimum. Sugar is a powerful ingredient; less of it promotes an upsurge of chocolate flavour. To get a good sugar ratio in your brownie, cocoa powder is better because bars of baking chocolate are processed with sugar. Sugar can also help to create a glossy topped brownie. Whether you’re making your brownies with melted chocolate or cocoa, whisk some of the sugar into the eggs until the sugar dissolves and you’ll get a real glossy crackle topped brownie.
When it comes to my giant squares of black seduction, I’m also not a purist. I could go for almond macaroon brownies one day and completely switch over to salted caramel, pecan brownies the next. My palate conforms from an elegant ganache topped, minted brownie to a hearty whisky, dulce de leche, double chocolate brownie with ease. When I’m craving a comfort-food brownie, it’s usually a dark, fudgy, walnut brownie with a sufficiently cracked top and when I have guests on a blistery winters day I often treat them to a decadent hot chocolate and a square of peanut butter, Bailey brownies. Oh yea, and it’s ok to spill a little Bailey’s into the hot chocolate too.
Whatever you do, never, I mean never make a brownie from a cake mix. It’s too sugary and dense without any soul. Yes, brownies have soul. The soul of a brownie is the magical element that makes you swoon, it elevates your palate from ordinary expectations to wow, powerhouse, eye-popping surprise. Never underestimate the soul of a good home-made brownie.
There are people who like brownies and then there are people who LOVE brownies. Those of us who love brownies have no particular loyalty to any one brownies and are not usually the sharing type. But hey, here I am sharing my favourite brownie recipes, well, at least, it’s my favourite today.
Lynn’s Favourite Cocoa Brownies
10 tablespoons (150 mL) butter
1 ¼ cups (310 mL) sugar
¾ cup (180 mL) unsweetened, Dutch-processed cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon (1 mL) salt (or a heaping ¼ teaspoon of salt flakes as I used)
½ teaspoon (2.5 mL) pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
½ cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) walnut pieces
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325°F (160C). Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or waxed paper.
Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set over a pot of simmering water. Cook until the mixture is fairy hot, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for a minute. Stir in the nuts and spread evenly in the baking pan.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. Transfer the brownies to a cutting board and cut into 16 squares.