Monday, September 13, 2010

Perfect Brownie

Way back in December, I bought the Perfect Brownie pan. For the family's celebration of Festivus, I contributed seasonal beverages (mulled cider and brandy, egg nog and rum, and Bittersweet cocoa with handmade marshmallows) and a cookie platter full of a combination of old family recipes and the recipes I'd used to make gift jars for friends.

Left to right: Grandma Adams' Old Fashioned Molasses Chews,
Mocha Rum Balls from Gifts in a Jar,
Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies from Gifts in a Jar,
and Grandma Rose's Mamoul.

I'd planned on adding my mom's brownies from her high school home ec. class, but she couldn't find the recipe anywhere. But I still had the pan.

Fast forward a few months and multiple pans of experimental brownies using beans instead of flour (another time, friends). While visiting my Grandma in Kansas, my mom discovered a box filled with fundraiser cookbooks to which we had contributed over the years. I'd claimed all along that the High School Brownies recipe was in a cookbook created as a fundraiser, but predating the multiple such cookbooks used to raise money for our schools. Sure enough, in a cookbook my aunt compiled for a nursing home she worked for long before I started elementary school, my mom found it. A few weeks later, after some pestering phone calls on my part interrupting another of my parents' vacations, the recipe made its way through the Internets from their campsite in Eastern Washington to this very laptop on which I am typing at this instant.

And so I finally made the brownies to which I've always compared all other brownies in the pan that so easily divides a batch into such perfect pieces. My next cookie platter will be complete!

As you can see, the recipe calls for "chocolate," no qualifications. Back in the days of this recipe's origins, that meant you'd go to the grocery store for a bar of "baking chocolate." Ah, it was a simpler time. These days, the chocolate aisle - because there's a whole aisle, now - is far more complicated. So, it's best to buy chocolate by cacao percentages. For baking, America's Test Kitchen tells me 60% is the best. It was one of the first episodes I ever watched. I practically memorized it. For this recipe, I finally tried a large block of Callebaut 60% Intense Dark Chocolate, America's Test Kitchen's winner for best dark chocolate. They tested by eating it straight, making pot de creme, and baking brownies. Perfect! Well, to be fair, with each of their taste tests, who wins goes back and forth between Ghirardelli and Callebaut. I usually use Ghirardelli (and that's a hard "g" people. Trust me. I took Italian in college. Sound smart, pronounce it correctly), which my mom taught me to love as a little girl. And now that I live in SF, it just fits. But, loyalist though I am, who am I not to try every great chocolate I can get my hands on? So this time I tried Callebaut, which many would argue is better (sacrilege!). I eyeballed it off the block, so my amount could have been anywhere between three and four ounces. I don't have a scale and couldn't think of a quick way to measure without making my head hurt with crazy conversion calculations. Close enough. These brownies were certainly chocolatey, and that's good enough for me! Not sure Callebaut replaces Ghirardelli as a favorite, but it's certainly good stuff. 

Man, this recipe is easy. You don't even need the electric mixer, though I usually revel in turning on my KitchenAid. A wire whisk and a little wrist action is all it takes! Even easier, as this is 2010 and not the 1960s, I may have melted the chocolate and butter in the microwave instead of using the baine-marie, or double pan, technique. I'm not dissing a classic, but using a low setting and stirring often, microwaving the chocolate both removes any accidental contact with water through condensed steam and allows control of the temperature so it doesn't get too hot too quickly. I also left out the nuts, of course. I'm in the minority that thinks nuts ruin baked goods. Completely destroys the texture. There you are, biting into a chewy brownie or cookie, and crunch. Yuck. Keep the nuts in a bowl on the side or grind 'em up, like in baklava and mamoul. Anywho, off the soapbox. I have one more adjustment for next time that applies only to the Perfect Brownie pan. Next time I'll adjust the timing a little to compensate for the quicker heating caused by the divider piece, cut it down to maybe 20 minutes or so. I like 'em gooey! 

Despite my tiny adjustments, these were definitely the brownies I grew up with. It's nice to have them back.


  1. They were delicious brownies! I may have to steal the recipe. For the record, I am also anti-nut in baked goods. They ruin the texture and because people generally use walnuts I feel that it adds to much of a bitter twinge to the goodies. Keep 'em pure, says I! :-)

  2. Oh, and I need to get the butterscotch cookie recipe that you used in the cookie jars. They were fantastic!

  3. Mel, you're in luck! I already have pics of the pages from the book for the cookies because Amber had asked for them before. I'll send them on over! And feel free to steal any recipe from my blog. If I post 'em, they're for everyone to use and enjoy!

  4. They are so good!! I am feeling very honored that I get to help in testing the experiment all the way up here in Seattle. I'll be your taster for as many trail runs as you want to make. That's just how good a friend I am...