Brownies for Grown-Ups

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I had been meaning to try my hand at making brownies again for quite some time. I hesitated at first: I have not yet met anyone who does not like brownies, but I have also not yet met anyone who does not have strong views on what constitutes a good brownie.

Although most people agree a brownie should be ‘fudgey’ (although to different degrees for different people) and never ‘cakey’, brownies can be tricky to bake as you are meant to pull them out of the oven a little early – so the little trick involving a toothpick to check for doneness of a cake just does not work for brownies – right when you are supposed to take them out of the oven, any toothpick you have used to prod your brownies will be covered in gooey chocolatey brownie dough. However, this would also have been the case 5 minutes earlier and would still be the case had you waited another 5 minutes.

Besides, brownie recipes are as rich as they get – they typically involve little flour and instead tons of chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar. As I like to bake with organic ingredients and only the best quality chocolate I can afford and locate, I am loath to waste precious ingredients on recipes that might not deliver and this is where this recipe came in handy.

The Guardian has a useful little column (http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/felicity-cloake+lifeandstyle/series/how-to-cook-the-perfect) analysing recipes for crowdpleasers, going through pros and cons and key ingredients before picking a favourite. I have been following this column for years and have always had success when trying the recipes so when I saw the feature on brownies I knew it was time to put aside my hesitation and give brownies another try.

I ended up adapting the recipe slightly – I was keen to finally try baking with olive oil as a replacement for butter (hey it’s unsaturated fat, goes well with chocolate and after a colleague had given me 3 bottles of gorgeous olive oil straight from his parents’ olive groves I had ample amounts of olive oil to experiment with), I used brown sugar (for its toffee flavour), used a pretty large pinch of salt because that’s how I like it and after dividing the batter into two separate bowls, added grated orange zest to one bowl and fennel seeds to the other.

Ingredients, makes ca. 50 small brownies

275g 70% cocoa chocolate, chopped (don’t be tempted to use milkier chocolate or the end result will be sickly sweet)
207g olive oil
43g water (the proportions of water to olive oil mirror the proportion of fat to water in butter, if you would prefer to use butter, simply use 250g unsalted butter and combine with the chocolate once melted)
300g brown sugar
3 large eggs, separated
60g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
Large Pinch of salt
60g good quality cocoa powder
For the fennel brownies, 1 tsp roughly ground fennel seeds
For the orange brownies, zest from 1 orange

Directions

1. Start by melting the chocolate over a bain-marie.

2. While the chocolate is melting, whisk your egg yolks together with the water. Using an electronic whisk, start whisking your egg yolks, slowly drizzling in the olive oil while the whisk is running. This step effectively involves making mayonnaise as, just like with mayonnaise, the egg yolks here help to create an emulsion between the water and the olive oil.

3. Once all the olive oil has been incorporate and the mixture is thick and shiny beat in the brown sugar. Increase the speed of your mixer to the highest setting, beat the mixture until the brown sugar has dissolved and the mixture has increased in volume slightly.

4. Mix the egg yolk mixture with the lightly beaten egg whites.

5. Once the chocolate has melted, pour over the egg mixture and combine by hand.

6. Sift together the salt, flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Combine with the egg-chocolate mix.

7. Split the mixture in half, adding orange zest to one half and ground fennel to the other half.

8. Pour each mix into a small cake pan (12x12cm) that has been lined with greased baking paper.

9. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for ca. 28 minutes. Let brownies cool completely before cutting.

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And, the verdict? Truly amazing. Hands down, the best brownie recipe I have ever used. The brownies had that perfect thin shiny crust that almost appears to float on top of the gooey brownies underneath. The chocolate taste was intense thanks to using extra dark chocolate yet the bitterness of the chocolate was nicely mellowed thanks to the brown sugar and the salt. And while I could not detect the taste of the olive oil the brownies they somehow tasted less rich than recipes with butter (e.g. Jamie Oliver’s recipe).

As for the additions, the chocolate-orange brownies were a clear favourite at work, while Alessandro preferred the fennel brownies. I loved both versions equally and am already dreaming up further flavour combinations based on this recipe – e.g. I am thinking about making white chocolate raspberry brownies and I am tempted to use olive oil again – I am curious to see whether you can taste the olive oil a bit better and, if so, whether a fruity olive oil would complement the sweetness of the white chocolate and the slight acidity of the raspberries as well as it does in my mind…

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