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a chocolate affair

There was a time in my life when food was something to be ignored, or rather restricted. A time when meals were regulated to a t, and finding pleasure in food was absurd. Coincidentally, this was probably the lowest time of life. I’d like to think that the minute I sank my teeth into a deep, dark and devasting piece of chocolate, my heart started beating again. All of a sudden, the skies opened up and sunlight flooded my mind. It wasn’t as simple as that, but I’d like to think that chocolate brought me back from the dead. In fact, it reminds me to keep on living, to find pleasure in the little things everyday. 

Thus began my love affair with chocolate. It’s something I look forward to, sometimes eating pieces sporadically and other days finding that even jsut the smell of chocolate is enough to wake me up. Anytime I feel the urge to hide or crawl back into my small hole, I think of a life without chocolate and I realize it’s one not worth living. This attachment to chocolate, or any kind of cuisine you choose, is universal. No matter your religion/race/education/socio-economic class, the need for food and the emotions tied to food unite us all. I’m pleasantly reminded of this every day, and it’s a thought that brings me happiness, especially during hard times when so much sadness fills the world. It’s all about the simple things, right?

This week’s Tuesday’s With Dorie pick came from Di of Di’s Kitchen Notebook and I welcomed the choice of French Chocolate Brownies. Valentine’s Day was the last time I made these brownies, drowning my lovesick/desperate heart in pools of dark chocolate and M&M’s. A sad cliche, I know but one that has been tested by the masses. The best way to soothe a sad heart? Chocolate, my friends.

Like many, I feel as if I am on a never ending quest to solve my must-have-perfect-brownie-dillemma. Sure, some are really good, but I have yet to find a brownie recipe that gets repeated over and over and over again in my kitchen. Since I am fickle about the texture and consistency of a brownie, I have almost lost hope in finding the perfect brownie. I tried Dorie’s classic brownie recipe before, but ultimately I felt that I could find better. Dorie has a good collection of brownie recipes to play around with in this book, so I guess I have some good resources to turn to.

As much as I want to say that I fell head over heels in love with this recipe, I just can’t. They are yummy and will be gone in a second, I’m sure, but they aren’t the one recipe I have been searching for. My mom thought I was nuts as she couldn’t stop gobbling them up, and I can guarentee that her co-workers will be left in a chocolate haze today, but I am not 100% satisfied. Although, let me be frank here: flavorwise, these brownies stole my heart. They are chocolatey and sweet, with just a slight aftertaste of the hazelnut liquor. I just wish the texture of of the brownies would’ve been more firm and not so sloppy.

You see, there are certain things that I require from a brownie. First, they must be strong in chocolate flavor. None of this only-cocoa-powder crap. Give me the real bittersweet chocolate, please. Secondly, I’d like them to be thick and dense, but not dry. Moisture is key in a brownie, but there is a thing as too much moisture. These brownies turned out a little to wet, which slightly bothered me. Third, I don’t like a cakey crust. When it flakes liks these ones, getting them out of the pan is ten times more difficult. Not to mention its irritating to eat that. Next, when it comes to edges, I want a nice firm but soft edge. Nothing that falls apart in the pan when you try to cut it out, like these ones did. Lastly, I like a specific type of crumb when it comes to a brownie. Light and fluffy but not loose. Nothing is worse than a brownie that has a loose crumb. I like my brownies’ crumb to be pack in but not heavy. 

Wow, I never knew I had so many expectations when it came to brownies. Talk about being a perfectionist in the kitchen. 

Despite my picky nature, these brownies hit the spot flavor-wise. Rich and intense, these babies aim to please. The 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate first sucked me in, and man did it pack a pretty punch. The original recipe called for raisins to be slightly flambéed in the rum, but I opted out of that step. As much as I love raisins, I don’t want them in my brownie. It’d be just a distraction to the main player, I feel. Instead, I added 1 cup of raw pecan piece as well as 2 tablespoons of Frangelico liquor at the very end. The Frangelico played well with the cinnamon, adding a hint of spice that kind of makes you go, “hhmm what is that?” Again, flavorwise, these brownies stole my heart. They are chocolatey and sweet, with just a slight aftertaste of the hazelnut liquor. I just wish the texture of of the brownies would’ve been more firm and not so sloppy.

I think that my search for the ultimate brownie will keep going. I may play around with this recipe again, so if you have any advice or tips for me regarding this recipe and the pursuit of the perfect brownie, let me know. I am eying a couple of recipes, this one from Bake or Break which seems out of this world, as well as this one from one of my favorite blogs, Sunday Nite Dinner. Have you got a brownie recipe that I should out? Let me know. I’m officially holding auditions!

French Chocolate Brownies
from Baking From My Home to Yours.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1/3 cup raisins, dark or golden ( I left out)

1 1/2 tablespoons water
(I left out)
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum (I used Frangelico liquor)

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 12 pieces

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup sugar
1 cup pecan pieces (optional)

Directions:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil, place the pan on a baking sheet, and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, salt and cinnamon, if you’re using it.

Put the raisins in a small saucepan with the water, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the water almost evaporates. Add the rum, let it warm for about 30 seconds, turn off the heat, stand back and ignite the rum. Allow the flames to die down, and set the raisins aside until needed.

Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Slowly and gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the butter, stirring so that it melts. It’s important that the chocolate and butter not get very hot. However, if the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl back over the still-hot water for a minute. If you’ve got a couple of little bits of unmelted butter, leave them—it’s better to have a few bits than to overheat the whole. Set the chocolate aside for the moment.

Working with a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they are thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Lower the mixer speed and pour in the chocolate-butter, mixing only until it is incorporated—you’ll have a thick, creamy batter. Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 30 seconds—the dry ingredients won’t be completely incorporated and that’s fine. Finish folding in the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula, then fold in the raisins along with any liquid remaining in the pan.

Scrape the batter into the pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is dry and crackled and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the brownies to cool to warm or room temperature.

Carefully lift the brownies out of the pan, using the foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. With a long-bladed knife, cut the brownies into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side, taking care not to cut through the foil.

Serving: The brownies are good just warm or at room temperature; they’re even fine cold. I like these with a little something on top or alongside—good go-alongs are whipped crème fraiche or whipped cream, ice cream or chocolate sauce or even all three!

Storing: Wrapped well, these can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

Yields 16 brownies.

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June 3, 2008 - 8:22 am

rainbowbrown - Beautiful write-up and beautiful photos. I wish you well in your on-going brownie search.

June 3, 2008 - 8:37 am

Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy - Your brownies look like the fudgiest I’ve seen yet. I’m drooling! This wasn’t my favorite brownie recipe either, but I really liked them a lot. Great job!

June 3, 2008 - 9:05 am

Caitlin - Wow, those look gooey. I agree with having high standards for brownies (and a lot of other baked goods). Love the story!

June 3, 2008 - 9:11 am

Holly - They weren’t my favorite either, but I think I need an oven thermometer!

June 3, 2008 - 9:39 am

kimberleyblue - Awesome photos – and awesome looking brownies! WOW!

What camera do you use for these photos? (I’m in the market for a new one!)

June 3, 2008 - 9:58 am

heather b - they look delicious! I’m on the lookout for the perfect brownie too. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

June 3, 2008 - 10:33 am

Rebecca - Wow, gorgeous pics!

June 3, 2008 - 10:36 am

Melissa - You make the crust look so pretty in your pics!

June 3, 2008 - 10:44 am

Jessica - Great story, great pictures, great brownies. Good luck on your brownie quest!

June 3, 2008 - 12:04 pm

Laura - Wonderful pictures and awesome write up. Great job!

June 3, 2008 - 5:48 pm

kdgreen - I have brightened many a sad day with chocolate. Yours look amazing!

June 3, 2008 - 5:50 pm

steph (whisk/spoon) - so many brownie recipes out there, and yet it’s so hard to find the one that’s just right. personally, i like my mum’s the best, but everyone has a different view!

looking over all these posts, there were big differences in the way these came out. some were firm, some weren’t; some had thick crusts, some didn’t. i’m not sure why this was, but i wondered if mine baked up the way they did (firm but with a relatively short cooking time) because i accidently baked them at a higher temperature.

June 3, 2008 - 7:19 pm

Amanda - Steph- next time I will kick up the temps then. Was your top really flaky? I didn’t like that part at all! I am trying to figure out how to get rid of that.

June 4, 2008 - 4:07 am

noskos - Job well done, they look great!

June 4, 2008 - 5:50 am

mari - My brownie was really cake-like and not at all wet, strange eh? I agree with Steph there has been a big disparity between the outcomes on this recipe. This time round, I didn’t check the P&Q section, I just baked them and it all went fine. I wonder if everyone approached it like baking brownies, where as I just treated it like a cake? I wonder if the whole crust thing might have been caused by under beating the egg and sugar emulsion?

June 4, 2008 - 6:01 am

CB - Agreed. Its about the simple things. Fabulous pictures and perspectives. Great job!
Clara @ I♥food4thought

June 4, 2008 - 11:04 am

Shari - Great pictures! Good luck in your quest for the perfect brownie. It’s such a personal thing.
Shari@Whisk: a food blog

June 4, 2008 - 2:09 pm

Rachelle - Mmm, another brownie! I just made some the other day. They come out rish, fudgy, moist and just yummy! Here ya go!
http://ldylvbgr.blogspot.com/2008/05/moms-fudge-brownies.html

June 5, 2008 - 9:21 am

Emily - Your website is great! And now I definitely need a brownie fix. Nigella Lawson has some tasty-sounding brownie recipes that I have admittedly not tried, but hope to soon.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_35828,00.html

June 5, 2008 - 1:45 pm

doughmesstic - What gorgeous pics…great job! Can’t wait to see how your tarts turn out next week!

June 5, 2008 - 6:16 pm

Jaime - do you mean to say that this is NOT the one recipe you are looking for? (small typo i think)

they look great, cracked crust and all. it’s nice to see that someone else got the thick crust like i did, which i now realize may have been from over beating the eggs until they were too pale.

but i agree; i enjoyed them but it’s not my favorite brownie recipe

June 6, 2008 - 5:33 am

Dana - I’m not a huge chocolate fan, but I can *totally* relate to your chocolate wake-up call. Mine came years back when I sunk my teeth in a lucious, thick brownie from a local bakery and realized what I had been missing!

June 6, 2008 - 7:50 am

Caroline - No joke… IMMEDIATE salivary reaction to that close up photo. I want chocolate.

June 11, 2008 - 4:55 am

Rosa - Gorgeous! That’s the way I love to eat my Brownies! Terribly scrumptious!

Cheers,

Rosa

June 11, 2008 - 4:55 am

Kate - I have to say, your go at Dorie’s recipe is the tastiest I’ve seen yet – maybe it’s because we share the same idea about raisins in brownies? In any case, delish.

Have you tried Ina’s Outrageous Brownies?
http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_32314,00.html

June 11, 2008 - 5:10 am

Zoe Francois - These look so good! I wish I had them right now for breakfast. Today is the last day of school for my kids and this is what they will come home to.

Thanks for the idea! Zoë

June 11, 2008 - 8:55 am

My Sweet & Saucy - Those photos almost sent me over…THEY LOOK SO DELICIOUS!

June 11, 2008 - 10:03 am

jocelyn - I made these same brownies last week and they looked completely different!

the top crust was thinner than paper and the inside was cake-like and held its shape perfectly. it wasn’t gooey at all.

i noticed that another blogger baked hers for only 50 minutes and they turned out more gooey inside. i baked mine for a full hour (but tested after 50 mins just to see how they were doing) and they were perfect. they weren’t crumbly but the crumb could’ve been a little more dense, and that would’ve been perfect. and perhaps your temperature was too high?

regardless, they were gobbled up completely before the night was over. :)

June 11, 2008 - 11:03 am

kirby! - oh ma gaaaaaaaaaaaah, these look crazy delicious! i am a big fan of the extra smooshy brownie. YUM.

June 11, 2008 - 12:30 pm

vanessa - gorgeous, especially that second picture.

June 11, 2008 - 12:34 pm

Chuck - Is there such thing as a bad brownie? I have never been able to say no to one. LOL. Our cocoa brownie that you linked to (thanks!) only has cocoa powder, but it has a nice, intense chocolate flavor.

Our favorite brownies are Thomas Keller’s bouchons. It has both chocolate chips and cocoa powder. IMHO it has the perfect combination of intense chocolate flavor and texture.

We had a bouchon battle with Valhrona vs. Scharffen Berger chocolate back in December. I love Scharffen Berger’s fruity chocolate, but Valhrona won because it had that intense chocolate goodness. I think you’ll really like that recipe!

June 11, 2008 - 3:26 pm

Joy the Baker - I’m absolutely starving right now. Why am I torturing myself with food blogs. And your brownies! Geez! First of all, the pictures are AMAZING! And I love how you talk about chocolate. I’m glad it reminds you that it’s good to be alive. Lovely post all around. I dig it!

June 11, 2008 - 6:29 pm

leslie - I am not one for the cakey crust either..but these photos make it look DELISH!!!

June 11, 2008 - 7:23 pm

Amanda - Kate- that Ina recipe is looking like a big contender! With a pound of butter and a pound of chocolate, how could it be a bad brownie?

Chuck- I went to Bouchon bakery in Napa and didn’t try the bouchons but I did have a TKO, which was ten times better than an Oreo. I’ll test out that Valhrona bouchon pretty soon!

June 14, 2008 - 5:14 am

A Chocolate Love Affair « Food Porn Daily - [...] More proof that chocolate makes life better from Amanda at Slow Like Honey. [...]

July 3, 2008 - 4:56 am

l. morini - try maida heatter’s palm beach brownies. they’ve been a favorite for years

August 3, 2008 - 9:23 am

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September 6, 2008 - 1:07 pm

wonderment » Blog Archive » In which I have way too many recipes for brownies - [...] Chocolate Brownies (I actually bookmarked two separate blog entries on this one, one at Slow Like Honey and another at Carrie’s Kitchen [...]

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