Monday, February 13, 2012

Brownie love

I didn't know what a brownie was until about four years ago. In Greece, they had just become popular, along with cupcakes, but it wasn't until I moved to Holland that I experienced the real brownie, when one of my neighbors who is American, offered me a freshly baked one.

I became aware of their importance in the American food culture when I started this blog and discovered fellow bloggers from the United States who posted brownie recipes one after the other, raving about their fudginess. chewiness. awesomeness. I had to find out more; plus, chocolate was involved, so how could I not?

For any of you who don't know exactly what a brownie is, like I didn't some years ago, allow me to explain. Brownies are like cake but denser and heavier, and are usually made without a leavening agent. They consist of only a few basic ingredients and are generally made in one bowl. They're served in cut squares or bars and are often accompanied by milk (my favorite combination) or coffee.

There are three basic types of brownies, depending on their texture: a) fudgy brownies, that are dense, b) cake-like brownies, that resemble the texture of cake, and c) chewy brownies, a cross between fudgy and cakey. The ones I'm sharing with you, fall into the third category. There is also a fourth type of brownie, called a blondie, made without chocolate but with the addition of brown sugar.
The texture of brownies largely depends on the ratio of flour, butter, sugar, eggs and chocolate in the batter, as well as the method of mixing those ingredients together.
Brownies can also be made with a variety of nuts, chocolate chips, fruits and other ingredients.

The first time I made brownies myself, was a couple of years ago, when Deb of smitten kitchen—a fantastic cook, baker and food blogger—posted her cocoa brownies, that she had adapted from a recipe by Alice Medrich. It was lust at first bite, and that brownie promptly became my favorite kind of cocoa treat. But after a while, I became antsy, as it oftentimes happens with me, and I wanted to find something else. There were a lot of promising recipes which I did follow; recipes for fudgy brownies, recipes for cakey brownies, for chewy brownies. Some of them were flops, some of them were "blah", others delightful. Most of them contained too much sugar or too little chocolate, while others were too cake-like, too sticky, too chewy.

Last summer, I thought I've found the one; the best chocolate brownie ever. I had been meaning to share it with you ever since, but a few days ago, everything changed, as I ran into this recipe by Ruth Reichl in Gilt Taste. Ms. Reichl's chocolate brownie recipe is a vamped up one, as her goal is to make a better brownie, one that uses quality ingredients to boost up its flavor and texture and essentially, make the regular brownie extraordinary.

I was hooked and luckily, as I read through the recipe, I realized I had everything at hand to make the brownies. The verdict? They were the best brownies I have ever made, or better yet, sampled. They were chewy and fudgy, but not too fudgy that they stick to your teeth, the chocolate flavor was present but not overpowering, they were dense yet they retained that elusive lightness, they were soft and moist in the middle and crackly and crispy on top, they were, in a nutshell, the perfect brownie. S, who is famously anti-brownie, said to me, and I quote, "These are the best brownies I have ever tasted".

However, I have to mention the fact that they were slightly too sweet for my liking, that is why I used less sugar the second time I made them. Furthermore, Ruth Reichl suggests that you beat the eggs and sugar very well in a stand mixer, having as a result a taller brownie but instead, I opted for a wire whisk. I wanted my brownies to not be quite that tall and to be a little more chewy and dense.

If you are like S and me, and chocolate is your thing, but you don't want to make a huge fuss over Valentine's (for us especially this year, with all that's been happening back home in Greece these past few days), then make some brownies. Cut out some fondant little hearts to decorate the squares, and give them to your loved one.
They will love you forever. Or, at least, until they have the last bite of this brownie.

Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Ruth Reichl

As I mentioned above, I used a wire whisk to beat the batter. You need some muscle to do this so if you are finding it difficult to beat by hand, switch to using a hand-held mixer. Make sure though to not overbeat the ingredients, in order to achieve a chewy and moist texture.

The important thing with these brownies is baking time. You want them to be cooked but not all the way through, as to retain some moisture and fudginess. You definitely don't want them to be dried out and cakey.

Please don't skip on dusting the Dutch-processed cocoa powder on the bottom of the pan. It adds some welcomed bitterness to the sweet brownies and a nice cocoa flavor. I also love the dark color it imparts. Notice in the photographs how different the bottom and top of the brownies look.

Yield: 16 large brownie squares

150 g good quality dark 55% chocolate, chopped
140 g unsalted butter, cut into cubes plus extra for buttering the pan
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
350 g caster sugar
4 large eggs
½ tsp sea salt
140 g all-purpose flour
Dutch-processed cocoa powder, for dusting the pan

White rolled fondant, for decorating the brownies (optional)

Special equipment: large wire whisk, fine sieve, 20x20 cm square baking pan, baking paper, little heart cookie cutter (optional)

Butter the bottom and sides of the square pan. Line the bottom with a piece of baking paper and butter it. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with some cocoa powder and tap the excess out.

Place the chocolate and the butter in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water and melt, stirring often. The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water. Once the mixture is smooth and melted, remove bowl from the top of the pan and stir in the vanilla extract. Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

In a large bowl, add the eggs and the salt and beat well with a whisk for 1 minute, until they foam up. Add the sugar and beat with more vigor for about 3 minutes, until the mixture becomes a little fluffy.
Add the melted chocolate and butter mixture to the bowl and beat for ½ minute, until the ingredients have just combined.
Finally, sieve the flour over the bowl and mix it in using the whisk, folding the flour in the batter instead of beating it in, until just combined and there are no visible patches of flour.

Empty the batter in the prepared pan, place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and immediately turn the temperature of the oven down to 175 degrees Celsius. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle, comes out with some moist crumbs attached.

Take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool slightly. Remove the brownies from the pan by inverting it onto the wire rack. Remove and discard the baking paper and allow the brownies to cool completely. Invert the brownies onto a cutting board and cut them into 16 large squares, or if you wish, 32 smaller ones.

If you want to make these for Valentine's Day, you can cut out little fondant hearts and press them on top of each brownie.

Keep the brownies covered, at room temperature, for 3-4 days.


  1. Happy Valentine's Day! What a great way to start the day! ~David

  2. My favorite brownie recipe comes from a backpacking cookbook and the recipe is similar to yours. If you like brownies you should try brownie pudding. It is a brownie like batter that has a mixture of water, cocoa and brown sugar poured over it before baking. It results in a saucy, cakey, chocolate dessert. It is great when you want a quick and simple dessert to put together.

  3. Anna — thank you!

    David — Happy Valentine's Day to you too. :)

    Yvonne — I'll look it up. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Beautiful! with the hearts they're perfect for Valentine!

  5. I am going to try this brownie recipe; I have tried many and there is always the yearn for yet, the best one! and this might be it in my book too!

  6. What a beautiful post! I love the hearts! I'm so glad you've done all the research (because that's an awful lot of chocolate to have to go through!) and I will happily try your recipe, which sounds just perfect.

  7. I am a third category gal as well. It is funny, I've known of brownies most of my life, yet you know much more about them than I do. I'll have to try these. They look nicely balanced and I like your changes, less sweet, less tall. I like the dusting of cocoa powder on the bottom of the pan too. Thanks.

  8. I hope you had a lovely Valentine's day. I only realised this morning that I didn't eat any chocolate at all yesterday - what a mistake!

    My favourite brownie recipe is Nigel Slater's 'Very good chocolate brownie recipe'. They're not too sweet and very chocolatey.

  9. I love the addition of the fondant hearts - they're just too cute! ^^ And just about anything with chocolate is good in my book.

  10. What a cute idea to put the little fondant hearts on top. That makes them look really special.

  11. so cute with the little hearts... i love brownies and so far my fav are flavored with lavender..

  12. Hey Magda, my first comment here, but been visiting your blog for a while now. Your brownies look super-delicious. I am not a big fan of them but yours made me fall in love with them. I will soon try them and let you know how they turned out.

  13. The hearts are sweet and subtle-not too overblown for folk that aren't into Valentines Day! :D

  14. Glorious. Perfect brownie recipe; found. Thank you!

  15. They look delish and I love the romantic theme! Decorative goodies are always so much more appealing and have that extra hit of love xxoxoo

  16. for as many years as I have been making great brownies, I love that there's something new to learn---dusting the pan with cocoa---that is genius. Thanks, Magda.

  17. There's nothing like brownies, is there? I've found many great recipes on Deb's blog, and that Alice Medrich recipe is my favorite!

  18. These look wonderful and delicious. I've tried brownies in the past but have bookmarked some "blondies" ages ago, which however I want to make as I have a few ideas of my own to make them.

  19. We all have our brownie favorite, at least us Americans. Mine have to be dark, chewy bordering on fudgy and have to be studded with pecans or walnuts. Glad you found your favorite. The hearts are adorable.

  20. I don't think I've ever seen such a pretty brownie. Beautiful presentation.

  21. it's interesting you mention not knowing about brownies until only recently - i felt the same way about many items my kiwi friends mentioned eating at home, which my parents never introduced us too - i often felt like i was living in a different world to the one my classmates were living in

    the greek kitchen can also often feel quite restrictive, altho almost anything is now being made available to us, even in crete!

  22. Thank you for sharing. Can't wait to try this!