Monday, 12 April 2010

an honest chocolate square

My track running phase in high school was short - a few months at best. But, it was one of the most satisfying consumption times of my life. The miles we would run, the sprints, the leaps, all made me feel like I had truly earned every bite of food that passed my lips afterwards. I would come home from school late afternoon, devour a breakfast burrito (2 scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and Pace Picante salsa wrapped in a giant tortilla), then set to work a creating dessert. This was of course, before dinner. I don't think it was until the following year (and that devastatingly delicious trip to Italy) that I broke 110 pounds.

The dessert would often be brownies from the box. Even better were brownies that came with a tube of white paste that was squeezed atop the final batter, scraped through with a fork, and called "cream cheese."

Though frightening in contents, this particular combination satisfied some deep craving that a rhubarb crisp or bowl of coffee ice cream simply couldn't match.

There was, of course, the factor of ease. Brownies from the box did not require fancy chocolate or excessive bowl use. Eggs and oil got the job done nicely. The aroma was always sickeningly haunting, as sweet and sticky as the brownies themselves, and would linger in the corners of the house long after the pan had been emptied. A lovely scent, but at the same time an inevitable reminder of the stomach ache that followed these boxed indulgences.

I've come across better representations of the brownie since these simple forays into the baking world. Most memorable were the brownies made with three types of chocolate, that, when baked, came out of the oven like a molten lava cake. I went through a faze of making these my senior year of college, and discovered quickly that they were best enjoyed sliced and frozen, then eaten straight from the freezer. The gooeyness translated into the perfect out-of-the-icebox texture, and the chocolate, well, three kinds - need I say more?

But to be honest, they were a pain to make. A trip to the store, several melting stages, the frozen situation. I soon allocated the recipe into my mental "complicated" folder.

Thankfully, the brownies cravings recently recently reared its chocolatey head, pointing me in the direction of a new recipe. And, like many things meant to be, it didn't require much searching.

The Wednesday Chef provided the direction, and the cupboard provided the goods.

The most complicated thing about this recipe is melting. But, luckily for me, this only requires cocoa powder (which I always try to keep on hand), and butter. Simple. Melted with sugar and salt, then stirred together with a bit of vanilla, a few eggs, and a handfull (actually a measure-full) of flour, it's ready. Into the oven, out of the oven, and snap, a perfect, honest, brownie has arrived at your doorstep.

These are not the fanciest of creatures. In fact, they are rather humble in their chew, perfect crumb, and deliciously solid chocolate character. But really, that's all that I wanted when I first baked them up. I didn't want a cream cheese or a peanut butter or a raspberry swirl. I wanted to sink my teeth into a delicious chocolate square, easy on the cupboard, time, and effort. Then, I wanted to eat the whole pan.

Cocoa Brownies
from Alice Medrich, via The Wednesday Chef

10 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, cold
1/2 cup flour

1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and line and 8 x 8 pan with tin foil, letting the foil hang over the sides.

2) Combine the first four ingredients in a medium heat-proof bowl, then set above a saucepan of simmering water (double boiler style). Stir every once in a while until the butter is melted, but the mixture is not yet hot to the touch. Set aside and let cool a few minutes till warm.

3) Splash in the vanilla and stir. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring till blended after each addition. Add the flour and beat vigourously for 40 strokes until smooth. Scrape into prepared pan.

4) Bake 20 to 25 minutes until center is barely moist when poked with a toothpick. Let cool, then lift out of the pan with the edges of the foil.


  1. Just when I was hoping to swear off chocolate for a while.
    These sound delicious! Maybe I'll take up running...

  2. all you need now is a brownie segmented pan (like the old ice trays). Perfectly shaped brownies every time.