I first tasted a brownie when I was in the 6th grade. An aunt’s friend who was visiting had baked a batch and brought it along with her. As she opened the box, I saw little squares of chocolate-brown speckled with some nuts. When she offered me some, my grubby hands got hold of one of those yummies which hurriedly found its way into my mouth. This was lest my mom stopped me from eating these since it was close to dinner time. I followed my aunt’s friend for the rest of her stay, hoping that proximity to her would somehow mean that I could imbibe the recipe just by staring adoringly at her. The chocolately, fudgy, chewy squares with that shiny crust had me totally under its magic spell.
I had never tasted anything like it before. Was it a cake? a cookie bar? or was it just fudge? I was not too sure. But I knew that somehow I needed to taste these again. But how could I, unless, my aunt’s friend decided to make those for me again. And she did! A couple of times more and even took the trouble to send me some through another friend who was travelling to Chennai. Then one day, a small little brown paper package appeared. Inside was an old recipe book, bound to hold the pages together and some of the pages taped to stop the book from falling apart. Inside was the recipe of the coveted brownie (apart from a lot of other interesting ones). Obviously, my aunt’s friend had decided to give me her book rather than keep baking brownies for me.
I was to understand later, the recipe was a standard brownie recipe and for the longest time, I could not find a better recipe. There was an immediate problem though. The recipe called for 2 oz of unsweetened chocolate. Now where on earth could I find that in Chennai in the 70s. So anyone travelling abroad had to get me bars of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate to satiate my brownie cravings. Then I read somewhere that I could use cocoa and some fat to mimic the effect of chocolate. So the experiments began. Soon I was baking lovely shiny brownies with a fudgy, chewy crumb. Still, it was a compromise in my opinion.
Years passed, chocolate soon become my obsession, , internet brought information to my finger tips. Then I discovered Alice Medrich. I was checking her blog more to get more information on tempering, but chanced upon a gem. A brownie created with cocoa powder. I also discovered that it was creating waves all over the blogosphere. There was so much of back and forth. Can you make brownies without chocolate? (I knew you could) Would it be just as good? (I am not too sure) Can it be called a brownie? (hummmm). I had by then had my share of terrible brownies. The cakey ones (now why would you want a cakey brownie? you could just have cake!) dry ones, crumbly ones and hard ones. It was natural I was skeptical. I almost always went back to my regular old recipe. But there was something about this recipe and the calculated explanation that told me, this was it.
So I gathered my ingredients; some good old Cadbury’s cocoa, some cashew ( I did not have walnuts), butter, sugar and eggs and got to work. I had no parchment paper to line the tin. So I just used foil saved from somewhere. When I pull my brownies out of the oven, I was not quite sure that it was done. I broke a piece of the of the end to pop into my mouth, and I could not speak for the next five minutes. Yes, the brownie was super hot, but also a taste of the half molten buttery brownie left me speechless! “This was it” I told myself Alice Medrich knew what she was talking about.
Years later, I still bake Alice’s recipe. Only now, I sometimes use Valhrona cocoa (still have some leftover from my stash) and good cocoa calls for real vanilla bean and crunchy pecans. I sometimes add an extra dash of sea salt because I feel it really brings out the depth of the cocoa flavours and cuts down on the sweetness. The ingredients for this brownie are almost always available in any baker’s kitchen. However, what really draws me back every time is the wonderful fudgy texture and the right kind of chewiness. It is moist and satisfying that even a small square hits all the right buttons ( I sometimes sneak in two). Whoever said that a real brownie needs real chocolate has to try this at least once before they commit to that statement.
Never try to bake these without lining your pan (I did this once and spent the rest of the blissful day scraping the pan) And please allow the brownies to cool completely and then cool them a little more in the fridge before attempting to cut them into slices. I still break off the corner to sneak into my mouth simply to experience the wonder of that half-set brownie which first made me fall in love with this recipe. And I am allowed to do that. I call it the chef’s prerogative. Slice them into small squares. For one, that is enough and two, you will have more pieces of brownies to enjoy. Make sure you use the best available cocoa, it does make a difference and the nuts add some relief from the dense texture. Every self-respecting baking blog needs a brownie recipe, and here is what I believe to be one of the best. God bless you Alice Medrich from the bottom of my brownie filled heart.
140 grams unsalted butter
250 grams sugar
65 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I used a vanilla bean which I rubbed into the sugar)
2 large eggs, cold
65 grams all-purpose flour
75 grams walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
- Take a skillet with water and heat over the fire till it is barely simmering.
- Place the butter, cocoa and sugar and salt in a heat proof bowl and place in the skillet and stir until the butter has melted and the mixture looks like cement sludge. It will be a little grainy. That’s alright. Continue to heat it till it is quite warm (the instruction says you should not be able to keep your finger in there for more than few seconds. Do use this time to lick your fingers off the chocolate) and then take it of the fire and cool the mixture till it is barely warm. You could avoid all this double boiling and just bung it all in the microwave for a minute but I am giving you Alice’s instructions.
- Now beat in the eggs one at a time. Add your vanilla. The mixture should smoothen out quite a bit now.
- Add the flour and stir till it all disappears.
- Now pick up your wooden ladle and start giving the mixture a good beating. It will be hard going for the mixture will be thick. Persist. You are working off calories that you will be consuming later. 40 strokes is what Alice recommends. So go for it.
- Add your chopped nuts and mix through
- Line a 8X8 pan with parchment paper and pre heat your oven to 160 C
- Scoop the batter out into the pan and smoothen the surface.
- Bake for about 25 minutes until a skewer inserted come out with a few moist crumbs. Mine took about 35 minutes.
- Cool completely (and then in the fridge some more) before slicing and devouring.
Sometimes the mixture does not quite smoothen out till the end. Again, that alright, it still bakes into awesomeness. Use the best cocoa that you can get hold of. It does make a big difference. After all, it is this cocoa that you are going to taste in the end product. I like to eat these straight from the refrigerator but you can eat it any which way you please. Any how, I bet you will not stop eating them.