Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Life Itself is the Proper Binge

In Moi's Pantheon of Heroes from which I draw daily (if not hourly, depending on how the day is going) inspiration, Julia Child resides most certainly at the top tier of the dais. While it was my mother who taught me the basics of cooking and baking – and to not be ashamed of deriving joy from their practice and those of the other domestic arts – it was Julia who took that satisfaction and showed me its possibilities for the sublime.

Especially when it comes to baked goods. And when it comes to baked goods, you can't get any better in your instruction than Baking With Julia (the companion book to the television series). While I am as certain as death and taxes that I will never again make puff pastry or fig-filled X Cookies (at least not sober), when it comes to almost every other recipe, this is most definitely my go-to baking book.

It also contains what Julia herself declares with her usual inimitable assurance as the best brownie recipe ever.

Thus speaks Julia:

Those who are passionate about brownies argue in defense of their favorite type, cakey or fudgey. If you're a cakey fan, go on to another recipe. These are the epitome of soft, dark, baked-just-until-barely-set brownies. Their creamy texture makes them seem wildly luxurious and very much a treat to be meted out in small servings.

Except for the small serving part, I agree wholeheartedly. I've made these brownies a bazillion times, in summer and in the dead of winter, early in the morning and late at night, and they are perfection every time.

So in case you have not just run out and bought the book (what, what are you waiting for?), I present to you the recipe in its entirety, with a couple of small tweaks that you can adopt – or not – as you wish.

SERVES 18 (uh, well, maybe)

  • 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons New Mexico red chile powder – optional
  • 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon – optional
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350° (To me, 350 is never hot enough for baking, AND I live at 7,000 feet – so I bake these at 365. You should be fine doing so as well, but check on the texture after 25 minutes to be sure.)
  2. Sift the flour and salt together and set aside (if using chile and cinnamon, sift in as well).
  3. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently and keeping a watchful eye on the pot to make certain the chocolate doesn’t scorch (Alternatively, you can melt the ingredients in the top of a double boiler over, not touching, simmering water. Or, if you're an experienced microwave chocolate melter, go for it.) Add 1 cup of the sugar to the mixture and stir for half a minute, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  4. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.
  5. Put the remaining 1 cup sugar and the eggs into a bowl and mix or whisk by hand just to combine.
  6. Little by little, pour half of the sugar and eggs into the chocolate mixture, stirring gently but constantly with a rubber spatula so that the eggs don’t set from the heat.
  7. Fit the whisk attachment to the mixer and whip the remaining sugar and eggs until they are thick, pale, and doubled in volume, about 3 minutes.
  8. Using the rubber spatula, delicately fold the whipped eggs into the chocolate mixture.
  9. When the eggs are almost completely incorporated, gently fold in the dry ingredients.
  10. Pour and scrape the batter in to an unbuttered 9-inch square pan.
  11. Bake the brownies for 25-28 minutes, during which time they will rise a little and the top will turn dark and dry. (I'm not sure if it's a high altitude thing or not, but at 28 minutes, the batter is still liquidy – I bake 35-40 minutes. Follow Julia's instructions and then up the amount of baking time if necessary).
  12. Cut into the center at about the 23-minute mark to see how the brownies are progressing: they’ll be perfect if they’re just barely set and still pretty gooey. (This is true, but again, see above.)
  13. They’re still awfully good on the other side of set, so don’t worry if you miss the moment on your first try.
  14. Cool the brownies in the pan on a rack.
A word about nuts: Never in a brownie, as far as I'm concerned, but if you insist, a cup of your favorite chopped and folded in gently after the dry ingredients will do ya.

And lookie, the texture is to die for. (Clicky photo for much larger, more mouthwatering, view.)

What I like best is the little crust that forms on the top – lovely texture contrast.