Friday, April 23, 2010

An Excellent Brownie Recipe

Tonight turned out to be a brownie kind of night. I had intended to write about what I made for dinner, but I wasn't very happy with how it turned out. It was entirely edible—good, in fact—just not what I had in mind. And not up to the standards of the kinds of things that I want to post on my blog. The subtitle of my blog is "in pursuit of everyday excellence." It is not subtitled "everyday excellence".  From my perspective, it's about the pursuit, every day.  But I want people who try the recipes that I post to know that they are going to get something that meets a high standard. Someday I'll make a better version of tonight's dinner and post that one. But, for now, I'm making—and writing about—brownies. These brownies hit the mark.

When I was growing up my Mom had two brownie recipes. The first one was out of a Betty Crocker cookbook. It was a good brownie. The kind that everyone thought of when they thought of a brownie. This was before the advent of mixes.  It is so unfortunate that the ease of use of a mix has made it so that there are actually people out there who have no idea what a real scratch brownie tastes like.

At some point during my childhood my Mom acquired a cookbook called Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah written by Dinah Shore. You have to be of a certain age to remember that Dinah Shore, in addition to having a singing career, had a talk show. She would occasionally cook with her guests. The next step must have been to write a cookbook. There was a recipe in her book called "Bea's Brownies". But we never called them that. They were always "Dinah Shore Brownies" to us. They had a rich, deep chocolate flavor unlike anything we had ever experienced. My mom didn't make them very often. I think the main reason for this was that they were more expensive to make because they had more chocolate and butter in them. But there was also an issue with the way they baked. My mom found them to bake unreliably with a strange hump or bubble that would rise up in the center of the pan as they baked (this didn't affect the taste).

My mom eventually amended the Betty Crocker recipe to include the things we loved about the "Dinah Shore Brownies". These of course became "Mom's Brownies" and when my brothers married and their new wives were given handwritten recipe books of my brothers' favorite foods, "Mom's Brownies" made the cut.

In recent years, I wanted to revisit Dinah Shore's original recipe. I discovered something interesting in the very simple mixing instructions: "Beat eggs, adding sugar slowly..." This to me is a good example of how a basic technique can be hidden in a recipe and an experienced cook will see it and one who is not so experienced won't. After all, what does "adding sugar slowly" mean? Well, I read it as "beat the eggs, adding the sugar slowly, until they are thick and pale—not quite to the ribbon stage".

(I don't think my Mom was beating the eggs and sugar long enough.)  When the eggs and sugar are whipped almost to a ribbon, the resulting brownies are "light, yet dense" (a quote from one of my brothers) with a nice level surface (slightly rounded at the edges).

This then became one of my regular brownie recipes--it is very good. Then about a year ago I acquired an unusually small square casserole—perfect for fruit crisp for two and other items made on a small scale. I figured out that it was also perfect for a 1 egg batch of brownies.  I calculated that if I amended the original recipe (which called for 4 oz. of unsweetened chocolate and 1 1/2 cups of sugar) to include 6 oz. of 70% bittersweet chocolate and 1 cup of sugar, that the recipe divided evenly into a 1 egg batch with no odd amounts of leftover ingredients (like 2/3 of a square of unsweetened chocolate). This size batch is a much better amount for me to make since there are only two in my household. As it turns out, I like this version even better.

If you are looking for a traditional chewy or cakey brownie, this one isn't it. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a brownie that is "light, yet dense" and deeply chocolaty, you have found it.


6 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate (70% cocoa solids--preferably Lindt Excellence--see note)
12 T. unsalted butter
3 eggs
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. sifted all-purpose flour (3 oz.)
pinch of salt
1 1/2 t. vanilla

Melt the butter and chocolate over low heat; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Gradually whisk in the sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy. (If whisking by hand, this will take 2 to 3 minutes). Add the melted chocolate mixture to the eggs and sugar. Fold in the flour & salt, followed by the vanilla.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch-square baking pan. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes. The brownies are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Do not over bake—the brownies should still be very moist in the center.  Makes 24 small brownies (they are very rich).

Note (added 6/21/10):  I recently made a small batch of these and couldn't get Lindt Excellence 70%, which is the chocolate I have always used.  I purchased Scharffenberger Bittersweet 70%.  The brownies were not very chocolate-y and disappointingly average overall.  I was surprised since both Lindt and Scharffenberger are considered to be quality chocolates and both are labeled 70%.  After I made the brownies (which even looked a bit pale as I was mixing them up using the Scharffenberger) I tasted the two chocolates side by side.  The Lindt was discernibly more intense in chocolate flavor.  Such is the mystery of chocolate.... The moral here is that if you cannot get Lindt Excellence 70%, then I can't vouch for your results.  To get the desired result, I would make the brownies using the original recipe, which called for 4 oz. of unsweetened chocolate and 1 1/2 cups of sugar, instead.


Katrina said...

Yayyyy for brownies! I have the Dinah Shore Brownies recipe from a class you gave. And I've yet to try them, even though I love brownies and bake them (from scratch!!!) a lot. So is this recipe you're posting different from the ones you gave out in class? I'm not sure I can find the recipe to check amongst all the packed boxes.

Paige said...

Hi Katrina! I'm not sure whether I gave out the recipe that uses bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate in class. But if you prefer to use unsweetened chocolate, use 4 oz. and increase the sugar to 1 1/2 cups. Otherwise the recipes are identical.

Unknown said...

This looks delicious!!

Cookie Madness said...

Hi Paige,

Katrina sent me over here and I've become a fan. Thanks for providing history as well as technique on your blog.

I'm going to try these brownies today, but I'm still intrigued by your tiny little casserole. Do you happen to know the dimensions? I'd like to try making your brownies as a "For Two" recipe. I have a mini loaf pan and could try that, but I thought it might be fun to try to mold foil into the shape of your little casserole and get just the right size. I wish stores would sell more small size pans. For instance, I would love a pie dish that makes half a pie or a set of round cake pans that makes two 5 or 6 inch layers.

Paige said...

Hi Anna,

I hope you enjoy the brownie recipe!

As far as the pans go, I guess I collect small pans because I seem to have quite a few... I have a 6-inch round cake pan that I'm certain came from a Michael's craft store. It's a Wilton. The little casserole that I refer to in the blog was part of a Le Creuset set that I purchase from Amazon. I don't see it on Amazon anymore, but I found it on ebay. Here is the link:

I hope this helps. Thanks for visiting my blog!


Kim K. said...

My 10 year old daughter recently discovered her love of baking! This is right up her alley, now if only I could get her to tidy up the dishes... thanks for the post!

lafede said...

Oh! I tasted brownies this summer in London and I fell in love with them! Here in Italy is impossible to find brownies, so I need to make them on my own! I'll follow your recipe!!
Byeee!!!! ^^

Michele said...

Hi. I'm looking for the BEST brownie recipe to make for a birthday treat for a friend. Looks like this might be it! He would like cashews in the brownies. I've never had cashews in brownies. Has anyone tried them before? Should they be toasted slightly, or is the cashew too oily for baking?

Paige said...

Hi Michele, I have never put nuts in this particular brownie recipe, so I don't know how it will work. But in general, nuts are very good in brownies. Cashews should work as well as any other nut. If you purchase raw cashews (which is what I would do for using in baked goods), then they should be toasted (and cooled) first in a 350-degree oven until golden and fragrant. (Raw cashews can be purchased in the bulk section of many grocery stores.) You could of course use roasted and salted which case you would not need to toast them. I don't know what kind of cashews you are thinking about, but if you have some that seem particularly oily, I would probably find another brand or purchase raw. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have good success with your Cashew Brownies!

Unknown said...

I have made Dinah Shore Brownies for 25 years from a recipe in The Culinary Institute of America's "American Family Cookbook". We are currently on vacation and my husband wished he had DS brownies, so I was thrilled to find your site online. I have used the original recepie you cite, with bittersweet chocolate, and have also used a substitution of cocoa plus butter. (Standard substitution is on cocoa box, I think it is 3T cocoa plus 1T butter for each ounce of chocolate the recepie calls for). I actually really like the cocoa, although that means 12T in a recipe making an 8x8 pan. Very intense and very excellent. I also use pecans sometimes and they are very tasty.
Thanks again!

Paige said...

Therese, Thanks for commenting. I have never made these with cocoa...but it's a great idea. I'll have to try it....thanks for sharing that and also for sharing about your history with "Dinah Shore Brownies" (I had no idea they had ever appeared in another cookbook!).

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