Thursday, 30 May 2013

Classic Boston Brownies (and a simple formula for great chocolate glaze)

Boston Brownies, or simply brownies to those who live in the States, are just pure, chocolate indulgence: buttery, dense, squidgy slabs of chocolate cake with a paper thin crust, usually dotted with nuts or dried fruit to make the baker feel a little less guilty by including something ‘healthy’. These rich cakes are best enjoyed with some kind of warm beverage (coffee, for that truly Stateside feel) to wash down all the morsels that have attached themselves to your teeth.

Brownies were never really something I made over all my years of baking. The fifteen years that I’ve been baking overlapped a little with the fifteen years that I was allergic to chocolate; in fact, I never really developed my skills as a chocolatière because of said allergy. But around this time last year, I began experimenting with wheat-free brownies.

A few factors make a classic brownie: degree of squidginess, filling-to-cake ratio and richness of chocolate. If a brownie is too cakey, it’s just chocolate cake, if there’s too much filling there’s not enough squidge (all technical terms, of course) and the chocolate can’t be too dark. I know, I know people usually recommend dark chocolate for brownies, but in my experience using dark chocolate makes them too rich and intense, and in my mind a brownie is supposed to be sticky sweet. I recommend using half dark (60 – 70%) and half milk (25 – 40%), or if you can find semi-dark chocolate (45 – 55% cocoa), use that.

Obviously, you need to know a little bit about the filling. Here are a few tips on how to fill your brownies. You could leave them plain, though, if you want.
  • Nuts: traditionally, brownies include walnuts or pecan nuts (being American) but almonds and hazelnuts work very well, too.
  • Dried fruits: any fruit that would traditionally pair with chocolate in dried (or fresh if you don’t intend for your brownies to last long) form, like cherries, strawberry, or pear, oddly enough.
  • Crystallised fruits: my favourite brownies in the whole world have crystallised ginger in, but you could also add crystallised citrus peel. Mango works well, too.
  • If you want a complete sugar fest, you could include some chopped up bars: I made these once with chopped up Mars and Milky Way bars, and the way that they melt in the middle is absolutely magical.
Now, to business.

For 36 brownies
  • 5 ounces (140 grammes) white spelt flour
  • 2 ounces (55 grammes) cornflour
  • 2 medium eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces (115 grammes) butter, melted
  • 2 ounces (55 grammes) sunflower oil
  • 3½ ounces (100 grammes) chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) vanilla essence
  • 4 ounces (115 grammes) brown sugar
  • 2 ounces (55 grammes) caster sugar
  • 4 ounces (115 grammes) filling of your choice: chopped nuts, dried fruits, chocolate chips, sweets, etc.
  • Pinch of salt

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F, Gas Mark 4). Grease and thoroughly flour a 10 inch (20 centimetre) tin, or line with non-stick baking paper.
  • Melt the chocolate, butter, and oil together either in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave on the 'Defrost' setting in one minute bursts. Set aside.
  • Put the eggs and sugar in a heatproof mixing bowl (preferably glass) and set over a pan of simmering water. Beat the mixture with an electric hand mixer or balloon whisk until pale, thick and doubled in size. You could do with without the water bath, but it’s take too long to beat out the lumps in the brown sugar; the heat speeds this process up a little.
  • Beat in the melted chocolate and butter, a little at a time, until you have a nice moussey mixture.
  • Using a rubber spatula or metal spoon, fold in the filling and then sieve in the flour and salt; fold through completely. Folding the filling in first ensures that a) the filling is evenly distributed throughout the mixture, and that b) the flour doesn’t get overworked.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, and firmly tap it a few times off the kitchen top to release any trapped bubbles.
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until spongy to touch and a cocktail stick stuck in the middle comes out with two or three sticky crumbs are clinging to it.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin. This is why making sure the tin is well floured, or lined with non-stick paper, is very important. Turn out and cut into squares.

If you want, you could ice them with some chocolate glaze. Chocolate glaze is really easy to make, really easy: just melt 4 parts chocolate and 1 part butter together in a bowl over simmering water, or in the microwave in 30 second blasts. For this quantity of brownies, I’d say use 4 ounces (115 grammes) milk chocolate and 1 ounce (30 grammes) of butter. If you can’t eat butter, don’t use margarine: its water content is too high, and it seizes the chocolate. Use block vegetable fat like Cookeen, or Crisco if you live in the States. Sprinkle liberally with chopped nuts, or hundreds and thousands.

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