Monday, March 1, 2010

Week Five: Black-and-White Brownies



I used to be in charge of the editing department at an advertising agency (which still seems to weird to me). My officemates, who were not early risers, found it amusing that I would get up and do things before work. You know, make lunch, watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, steam-clean my bedroom carpet, that sort of thing.

These days when I’m up early I’m usually either writing or cooking, and last week, I discovered that cooking before breakfast might not be the best idea.

Ordinarily, I make the sort of brownies that come in a box, but it occurred to me that I had all the ingredients I needed to make them from scratch, and probably wouldn’t be terribly difficult or time-consuming. In fact, I reasoned, it should be so easy that I could knock out a pan of brownies before work. And there were two brownie-worthy occasions on the roster: Book club (which we really should re-name “food-and-wine club”), and my boss’ birthday pig-out festival.

One of the reasons I chose the recipe I did, aside from the use of buter and the lack of fussy instructions, was the option for “black and white” brownies. The directions looked friendly and simple: Make the batter, pour half in the pan, add the melted butter and chocolate to the remaining half, pour it on top of the white batter and spread evenly.

The only ingredient I didn’t have was unsweetened baking chocolate, but Joy of Cooking’s “equivalents, weights and measures” chapter assured me that 3 T. of cocoa plus 1 T. of “fat” would stand in perfectly well for one of those waxy, bitter blocks.

On Monday night, indulging in visions of cleanly striated brownies, I pre-measured what I could (flour, sugar, cocoa, salt) and pre-cut the butter to speed Tuesday morning’s process. Around 6:15 Tuesday morning, I whisked the eggs with sugar, added flour, salt and vanilla, melted the butter, and combined it with the cocoa. I poured what I judged to be half the batter into the pan and added the chocobutter stuff to the remaining half.

I was pouring the chocolatized batter into the pan and watching it disappear under the delightfully light and fluffy vanilla batter when I realized I’d put all the butter into the chocolate mixture, and none into the vanilla part. After pausing to slap my forehead, I recommitted to black-and-white brownies, poured the rest of the chocolate stuff in, and hoped for the best as I closed the oven door.

35 minutes later, the chocolate part occupied the middle of the pan, ringed by a delicate, hollow vanilla crust that rose a good inch or so above the level of the chocolate. It was an arresting sight, but I decided I’d taste it before I declared it a failure.

Cutting the crust was the biggest issue; it tended to separate from the chocolate part and broke easily, This bummed me out, because it seemed like an interesting texture combination. Once I tasted the crust, I worked even harder to keep it attached to the outer pieces; it reminded me of the amaretti cookies you can do that cool paper-burning trick with.

The interior had a density on the order of a flourless chocolate torte, and tasted like the outside of an Oreo (I’d used dark chocolate cocoa). Both parts were delicious, so I carefully moved most of the pieces to a plate and wrapped it. On a smaller plate, I arranged a few pieces for the hubs, who ate a few and promptly demanded I leave him with more. The ladies were similarly enthusiastic, and I came home with very little in the way of leftovers.

On Wednesday morning, I took my second stab at the recipe, portioned the butter properly between the vanilla and chocolate batters, and got a much more brownie-like result. The chocolate part was still a little denser than I wanted it, probably because I left myself with less than half batter when I added the chocolate, but that didn’t prevent my co-workers from going apey over them.


The Four Ds:

Deliciousness: Oh heck yeah, especially if you use Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa. The texture is denser than box brownies, but the richness of the butter and chocolate are the big payoff. If you’re worried about fat and calories, you’ll be happy to know that according to Sparkpeople.com’s recipe calculator, one brownie has about 100 calories. (That’s assuming you cut your pan into 16 brownies. )

Difficulty: Easy-peasy. Despite the fact that I don’t own a stand mixer, I hereby pledge that I will make these instead of box brownies unless I’m in an absolute rush, or craving the plasticky goodness that can only be achieved via Duncan Hines.

Do-Over: Most definitely, though I’ll try an all-brown version, and maybe a vanilla version, and may play with a margarine/butter mix and noodle with the flour/egg ratio to lighten the texture a bit.

Details:

Black-and-White Brownies
Adapted from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook, revised edition, ©1990, page 715.

Preheat oven to 350 and melt 5 T. butter. Whisk or beat ¾ c. sugar and 2 eggs in a large bowl until foamy. Add 1 t. vanilla, ½ c. flour, a pinch of salt, the butter, and mix well. Melt 2 T. butter, add 6 T. cocoa, and stir until smooth (it will be thick). Pour half the batter into a greased 9” x 9” pan, add the chocolate to the remaining half, and pour in, swirling and spreading as desired. Bake 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out nearly clean.

For all-brown brownies: Increase butter to 9 T., use 12 T. of cocoa, and add to entire batch of batter.

To substitute unsweetened baking chocolate in the black-and-white recipe: Melt 2 squares; add 5 T. melted butter to batter before dividing, then add melted chocolate to remaining half.

To substitute unsweetened baking chocolate in the all-brown recipe: Melt 4 squares with 5 T. butter; add to batter just before pouring into pan.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like the sound of the first "mistake". Perhaps it is true that there are no mistakes, only new taste sensations--to paraphrase "someone". Please, please, please do not use margarine in any of your recipes. That would be an insult to your heritage and your maternal grandmother would quake in her grave, in spite of the fact that her bones were cremated. Mango Mama

Brandi said...

Agreed on the margarine point. Nasty stuff. Butter is where it's at, oh yeah. Do you think you could recreate the first batch? I'd like to try those. :)

HMDean said...

MM: I know, it would be an affront to all the Polish ancestors. Still, though, I'm curious -- I still don't understand how margarine changes a recipe.

B: That's easily done; maybe you could show me Kristin's bread recipe and I could whip up some of my special no-butter brownies while the dough rises.

paulette said...

So glad you tried again. Being a visual person, there is no way I would have eaten the first batch even though they had great taste. The second looks like they came from a professional cook book. Love the photography, writing and will try the recipe

HMDean said...

That's funny, Paulette, I didn't know your visual nature was that strong.

Let me know how yours turn out -- and thanks for reading and commenting!

paulette said...

Hi -
Very visual but also allergic to wheat so I found some wonderful gluten free "flour" and will be sub-ing that for real flour. Will let you know how that works out. Have to finish the daddy-daughter dresses for the girls first. The girls love picking out patterns and fabrics and I'm a sucker for anything they want --- well most anything. Love you.

HMDean said...

Ah, I forgot about your gluten-free needs; please let me know how they turn out with that "flour." We have at least one gluten-free bakery down here, and I've always wondered how they turn out cookies, pies and bread without flour.