Brownies: Trick and Treat

I think the great brownie debate oft-mentioned by food writers is utter nonsense: soft vs. chewy, cakey vs. fudgy, decadently chocolate vs. light notes of cocoa. Please. Brownies, real brownies, the kind that make you resentfully envy the person in front of you at the coffee shop who caved in and ordered one, are supposed to be sodden fudge-like confections masquerading under the title of a baked good. I say, if you want cake, make cake. End of argument.

The only problem with this attitude is that if you seek out a satisfyingly excessive brownie recipe, the list of ingredients usually reads something like this: one pound of butter, six eggs, 2 melted Valrhona chocolate bars - oy! I just can't bear to do it. That sort of concoction not only clogs heart valves and welcomes the expansion of your girth, it will also cost you the equivalent of a gourmet meal (although, considering the first two, perhaps if the monetary outlay forces you to forgo the gourmet meal, maybe that's a good thing).

Yet, since I'm an uncompromising sort of person who still wants to make brownies worth calling brownies, but would rather not use 4 + eggs and a month's worth of butter to do it, I am indebted to chocolate dessert expert Alice Medrich. Medrich's "New Classic Brownie" recipe is a godsend that involves an incredible freezer trick: the batter is cooked at a high temperature for a short while before the pan is immediately transferred into your freezer, or, if you'd rather, an ice water bath. This technique produces a pleasingly flaky top-crust that readily gives way to a texture of illustrious chocolate.

Like most magic tricks, I have to warn you, the recipe can be a little finicky - you must make it exactly as written (this took extreme self-discipline - but after messing it up once, I learned my lesson), pour it into the right sized pan (an impossibility this go-round - and I noticed the difference), and have your water bath prepared or your freezer cleared; there is no negotiation on this, or you risk ruin of the "prestige." But, follow the recipe to the letter, whisk it into a deep freezer as soon as you take it out of the oven, and voila... appropriately fudgy, uncompromisingly rich brownies. The result may even please those strange people out there who like to eat brownies that taste like cake.


Alice Medrich’s New Classic Brownies

8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts or pecans (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line an 8-inch-square metal (NOT glass) baking pan with foil. In top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, or on low power in a microwave, melt butter and chocolate together. Stir often, and remove from heat when a few lumps remain. Stir until smooth.

2. Stir in sugar, vanilla and salt. Stir in eggs one at a time, followed by flour. Stir until very smooth, about 1 minute, until mixture pulls away from sides of bowl. Add nuts, if using. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare a water bath (or make room in your freezer): Pour ice water into a large roasting pan or kitchen sink to a depth of about 1 inch. Remove pan from oven and place in freezer or in water bath, being careful not to splash water on brownies. Let cool completely, then lift out and cut into 1-inch squares or wrap in foil.

P.S. It probably goes without saying, but again, definitely do NOT use a glass pan! I used the silicone one you see above - I'm generally cynical when it comes to these state-of-the-art floppy forms, but their indestructible nature was born for recipes like this.

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