I usually don't get too personal in my posts and just stick to the basics (good food, good photos, good recipe). For the most part, I don't think you are interested in what Hungry Bear and I do outside of our adventures in the kitchen. But, I'm making an exception with this post to fully explain why we made these decadent cocoa brownies.
I've mentioned our NYC friends, Jeff and Aimee, in the past. They organized our first cupcake tasting tour. I met Jeff in 1990 when I was a sophomore at Penn State. Despite getting off on the wrong foot (Jeff initially disliked me, imagine that?), we become very close and eventually lived together for a year and half.
I remember whipping up homemade hashbrowns with Jeff at 2:00 AM, when normal college kids would go get pizza. I was there when Jeff and Aimee started dating. They had to keep it a secret initially and it was funny how they snuck in kisses when no one else was looking. I was honored to be in their wedding party six years later. Now, they have a beautiful baby girl, Ava.
We only see each other once a year, twice if we're lucky. But, I have great memories of their visits to San Francisco and my visits to NYC, especially the meals. We've spent time on vacation together in France, Italy and Canada. Despite not living in the same city in over 15 years, we've remained extremely tight and they are still my closest friends.
Last week, Jeff and Aimee received a double dose of bad news. I was stunned and saddened. I've spent a lot of time talking on the phone with them trying to comfort them. I wish I lived in NYC because I feel so useless in San Francisco. Besides being there 24/7 whenever they needed to chat, the only other thing I could do was to make some comforting food for them.
Cookies and brownies are probably the easiest things to ship cross country. So, we planned on making cream cheese brownies. One of the first things I ever baked was cream cheese chocolate cupcakes that I made for Aimee. I actually had to make two batches of the cupcakes, because my dog, a little cock-a-poo named Champagne, ate the first batch. Never let cupcakes cool on top of a coffee table when a hungry dog is prowling!
We planned on using Alice Medrich's classic chocolate brownie recipe, modifying it slightly and adding a cream cheese filling. Then we realized that shipping cream cheese baked goods at room temperature was probably not a good idea. Instead, we settled on making Medrich's best cocoa brownies.
We used Valrhona cocoa powder and the brownies turned out great. They weren't too sweet and they had a deep, bittersweet chocolate flavor. Our only issue was the brownies were on the thin side. We would have doubled the recipe had we known. Are they the best cocoa brownies as the name suggests? Well, they're pretty damn close, but we prefer the taste and texture of the chocolate bouchons a little more.
Anyway... Jeff, Aimee and Ava, when you receive the package, besides the original item I was sending, you'll find a little tin of brownies. I hope they are still good and fresh. And I hope you can find a little comfort in them. I love you guys!
Best Cocoa Brownies Recipe
- 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cold large eggs
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
- Special equipment: An 8-inch square baking pan
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
- In a medium heatproof bowl, add the butter and set on top of a large sauce pan with barely simmering water. Melt the butter, then add sugar and salt, and stir until well combined. Next add the cocoa powder and stir until mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.
- Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
- Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.
- Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.
Chocolate note: Any unsweetened natural or Dutch-process cocoa powder works well here. Natural cocoa produces brownies with more flavor complexity and lots of tart, fruity notes, which maybe more exciting for you. Dutch-process cocoa results in a darker brownie with a mellower, old-fashioned chocolate pudding flavor, pleasantly reminiscent of childhood.
Makes 16 large or 25 smaller brownies
[Recipe via Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate by Alice Medrich]
[tags]cocoa, valrhona, brownies, chocolate, easy, bittersweet[/tags]