Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies
To be honest with you, up until yesterday I was sure that the best and perhaps only decent brownie in Paris could be found in the vending machines that line almost all metro stations. The rest of them, littered throughout Australian-owned hipster coffee shops or the random boulangerie, always seemed too cakey, crumbly—too much something! Not chewy or chocolatey enough!
And so instead of ever ordering a brownie from a pastry shop, I’ve been resigning myself to those delicious, individually-wrapped St. Michel brownies au chocolat that could bring me happiness during my metro ride home for the petty price of a euro. I had no qualms about this and how I preferred a mass-produced commercial food product over its homemade version (I also still have no shame with the fact that for about ten years of my life my favorite brownie that I indulged in on a near-daily basis was the one from the Little Debbie boxes that had multi-colored “cosmic” sprinkles scattered over the top). Finding the perfect homemade brownie is something I gave up on a long time ago, anyway; I’ve never had a go-to brownie recipe to rely on to produce what I consider is the “best” brownie—the sort that are fudgy and dense and chocolaty, but still very chewy.
But at the urging of my friends to “bake something” yesterday, I thought I’d give the classic American brownie a go again. The thought of them is kind of perfect in a lot of ways, after all: they’re near-universally loved and appreciated, they’re portable and easy to share and store, and they just fit so well in so many different scenarios (which also means it’s always easy to find an excuse for them—a birthday? trying to impress someone? having a bad day? going to the park to meet friends and just want to bring “something”?—brownies are your answer! Well, wine too, but that’s another sort of lesson I’ve learned from this year).
Over the past couple years I’d been meaning to try two classic, extremely popular recipes that had both previously been sold to me as the brownies that would end my search for “the one”—the Baked brownie, and Alice Medrich’s all-cocoa version. Obviously, this time I went for the latter. They’ve been written about all over the internet so much there is almost no point in me writing about them at all here, but nothing like jumping on the band wagon embarrassingly late, eh? So let me spell out their virtues:
1) They are dead easy to make. Throw things in a bowl, melt together, add a couple more things, bake in oven for 25 minutes. Done. In the time it takes for you to clean up and watch a Game of Thrones episode, they’ll have cooled, chilled in the fridge/freezer for a bit, and are ready to cut-up and be devoured.
2) They only require cocoa powder, which makes things convenient when you have no chocolate around.
3) Besides making you feel like you’ll be adding enough sugar to make 100 bars, the fact that the brownies are completely based on cocoa powder means that they end up with a very intense, true chocolate flavor, which is surprisingly often hard to find in most brownie recipes.
4) They’re dense and chewy and everything I’ve been looking for in a brownie. Basically.
So yeah, I think these are IT. I’ll probably still try the Baked brownie recipe sometime, just out of curiosity, but I can already tell my loyalties are forming tightly around this one here. And, dare I say it, I think I’ve finally found the bar that out-does my beloved St. Michel vending machine packets…
Music, lately: The soundtrack of the movie done by Alex Turner from the movie Submarine (super, really good movie, by the way), as well as the whole of the Is This It and Room On Fire albums by The Strokes
Best Cocoa Brownies
From Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet first seen via The Wednesday Chef
The pan I had around was larger than 8 by 8-inches, so ideally these brownies would be thicker. Also, I sprinkled raw walnuts over the top and I liked how they got toasted, but I think I would like trying these with the walnuts made in the batter, or maybe without any walnuts at all. Do what you’d like.
140 grams (10 tablespoons) butter
280 grams (1 1/4 cups) sugar
82 grams (3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or dutch-processed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
66 grams (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 160 degrees C/325 degrees F and position a rack in the bottom-third of the oven. Line an 8 by 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, letting the ends hang over the edges of the pan.
Place the butter, sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a medium, heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over a wide pan of simmering water, to create a bain-marie of sorts. Stir occasionally, allowing the butter to melt completely and mix with the other ingredients. The mixture should be hot and pretty gritty looking. Take off the heat and let cool for a minute or two.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in the vanilla. Then add in the eggs, one at a time, stirring virorously and fully after each one. The batter will become homogenous, thick and shiny. Like dark, pretty sludge! Add in the flour, stir until no streaks remain, and then continue to beat the mixture vigorously for 40 strokes. Spread evenly into the prepared pan, and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out slightly moist with bits of batter. (I tend to err on the side of under- versus over-baking when it comes to brownies. They always set up well when cooling, and over-baked brownies are like, the worst.) Let cool completely. They are easiest and cleanest to cut through after they’ve been sitting in the fridge or freezer for awhile, and I prefer to eat them cold and fudge-like.
I’m not going to withhold from bragging: in general, spring this year in Paris is killin’ it. It’s been beautiful and sunny, and I’ve already been laying in parks around the city more times than I can count. I’d forgotten that green is a color that exists in this city, but it seems to be coming from everywhere. I’m trying to be better about recording and capturing it.
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