I found myself craving brownies the other night, which rarely happens. I must confess that while I love baking chocolate desserts (they generally make everyone happy!), they are not my first choice for eating. I reached for my copy of Homemade with Love to make the walnut fudge brownies on page 185. Honestly, it still blows my mind, and humbles me, every time I pull my own cookbook off the shelf. A quick scan of the ingredients, and I realized I didn’t have any espresso granules in the house. I decided to brew up a small pot of very strong coffee in its place. While I was at it, I swapped in whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose, and used less, too. You can use regular all-purpose flour if that’s all you have on hand, and it’ll be fine. I just figured I’d fool myself into believing the whole wheat would make them healthier.
A smidge more sugar to balance out the dark chocolate, and away went the nuts completely. I seriously considered topping them with chopped pistachios because they were M’s favorite. It came down to the wire really, the very last minute, before the pan went into the oven, that I settled on no nuts at all.
The real game changer here is the kind of salt I used. On my last trip to Paris, I brought back two sacks of fleur de sel from Poilâne. If you ever go there, the salt is an incredible bargain at only 3,5€ for one kilo, and the flavor of the salt is exceptional. Well, that salt made all the difference, its taste very prominent in the brownies, but in a good way. The crunch of the flakes feel like savory pop rocks as they burst on your tongue.
One last bit of advice, if you can manage any type of self-control, let them sit out for a good half a day to cool completely. They become more compact, settling into a chewy, dense brownie. My suggestion is to make them at night, like I did, so you don’t have to torture yourself waiting for them to cool. And if you decide to eat one for breakfast, well, I applaud you for stopping at just one—I ate two. Okay, three.
Chewy Bittersweet Brownies
makes 16 – 2-inch pieces
Music Pairing: In a Sentimental Mood by Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
I know a lot of people are anti-microwave, but I find it super convenient for melting chocolate. You could do that step in a double boiler on the stovetop, if you prefer.
As for the sugar measurement, it’s a finicky one, I know, but really is the proper amount. Look at it as incentive to get a scale, and bake by weight—then you can just measure everything directly into the bowl!
Last, but most definitely not least, let’s talk about the chocolate. As with anything you set out to cook, the quality of the ingredients will affect the final flavor. The chocolate discs and cocoa powder should be of the best quality possible, and the cocoa should most definitely be dark. You can use regular cocoa, but the color will not be as dark, and the taste will not be as intense. I never like to be so rigid in the kitchen, but do want you to be aware that making substitutions will result in something different, so consider this my disclaimer. I use these Guittard bittersweet chocolate discs, but Valrhona or Callebaut would be good, too. The cocoa powder I use is from Guittard also, but I can’t seem to find it online; I get it at a store by my house. Valrhona makes one that is dark, too, which I think may be more readily available. I also see King Arthur has a black cocoa, which I’m sure will work, though I’ve not used it.
6 ounces (168 grams) bittersweet chocolate discs
1/3 cup (50 grams) whole wheat flour
1/4 cup (25 grams) good quality dark cocoa powder
1 tablespoon (15 ml) strongly brewed coffee
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) fleur de sel
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
2 large eggs (100 grams)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (175 grams) granulated natural cane sugar
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan. Grease one side of the parchment, and fit it (ungreased side down) into the pan.
Add the chocolate to a medium, microwave-safe bowl with the butter. Cook on high power in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between each cycle, until the chocolate and butter are melted. Be careful not to burn the chocolate. The timing depends on the wattage of your microwave. Add the vanilla extract and coffee to the bowl, and stir to combine; set aside to cool slightly.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and salt; set aside.
Add the eggs and sugar to a clean, large bowl. Whisk until they become thick and pale yellow, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly to the sides. You can give the pan a tap on the counter to help it settle, too. Bake for 30 minutes until the center is set and the edges gently pull slightly away from the sides of the pan. Let cool completely before cutting.