Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Brownies with Toasted Macadamia Nuts

Last Sunday I made brownies. From scratch. Really. They were very, very good. Monday, when I came home from work, they were all gone. Well, all but one. My wife made the kids (and herself) save at least one for me. When I told my wife I had decided to blog about them, she commented, “I liked those brownies. They were really good.” I guess that's why I don't have any pictures of them.

Confession time (again), I am not a brownie fan. At least I wasn't until Sunday. When I was a kid, my mom made brownies. They were hard blocks of stale, brownish, gritty cake like stuff that had more in common with hardened drywall paste than food. They were topped by a layer mini-marshmallows (which I hate) and a thick layer of solidified, too sweet, icing. I suppose they tasted a little like chocolate. It was all I could to gag them down and drown the flavor with a glass of milk.

Unfortunately, eating them this way would only cause Mom to think, “Oh, he must like them,” and then guilt me into having another. It's the only time in my life I can think of where I didn't want to eat something my mom had baked. “Uh ... no thanks, Mom. Can I just have a peanut butter sandwich?”

After I got married, my wife introduced me to brownies in a box. Store bought brownie mixes were actually a bit better than my mom's nearly inedible ones. At least they were softer. Still, for the life of me I didn't know why anyone would want to eat a brownie instead of, well, a peanut butter sandwich.

Until last Sunday.

These brownies were good. Very good. Good enough that, even though they require a bit more work than I normally like, I just might make them again. They were soft, chewy, sweet, rich, and chocolaty.Not too fudgey, not too cakey. The toasted macadamia nuts added a mild nuttiness, offsetting the sweetness, and a nice crunch.

In the words of Baby Bear, “They were just right.” Now I like brownies. These brownies, anyway.

The original recipe came from Cook's Illustrated. It looked interesting and I wanted to try it. When it came to actually making it, though, I realized that I didn't have the exact ingredients in my pantry. I'd have to improvise a little. For example, I didn't have any walnuts or pecans, traditional fair for brownies, so I toasted some macadamia nuts, instead. I also didn't have unsweetened baking chocolate. I had the semi-sweet kind so, I'd have to reduce the sugar.

Take note that this recipe calls for cake flour, not all-purpose flour. You can use all-purpose flour if you want to, but Erika Bruce of Cooks Illustrated says it will turn out gritty because of the extra gluten. Remembering the horrible texture of my mom's brownies, I'm inclined to believe her.

Ingredients

1 cup macadamia nuts
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 tablespoons)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
non-stick cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. It takes my oven about ten minutes, even though it thinks its ready in five. Just like me, I think its getting older.

While you're waiting for the oven to heat up, cut a piece of aluminum foil about 18 inches long and fit lengthwise into a 9” x 13” baking pan. (I use a Pyrex one.) Press the foil into the corners of the pan to make it as flat against the pan as you can. Let the foil stick out over the edges so they can act like handles, later. Cut another piece of foil about 14 inch long and place it in the pan, perpendicular to the first piece. Again, let the excess foil hang over the edge. If using very wide foil, you may want to fold it over a bit, first, to give a more even fit. Spray the inside of the foil covered pan with non-stick cooking spray, and set aside.

Once the oven comes up to temperature, spread the macadamia nuts out in a single layer on a large cookie sheet and bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until toasty brown. Set aside to cool, but leave the oven turned on.

Using a whisk and a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder and set aside.

Fill a medium saucepan nearly halfway with water. Put it on the stove and heat on high until it just begins to simmer, and then reduce to medium-low to keep it going. Place a large heatproof bowl over the pan to create a makeshift double boiler. You're going to use this bowl to mix up all of the batter, eventually, so make sure it's big enough. I used a medium sized wok I have, and it was barely big enough.

Cut the butter into smaller pieces and add it to the bowl. Once they're about half-way melted add the chocolate pieces. Stir gently, but constantly, to melt the chocolate. Don't let it burn. When it's completely smooth, remove the bowl from the heat and gradually whisk in the sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time. Whisk each one into the chocolate mixture completely before adding the next one.

Whisk in the vanilla. Yes, one tablespoon is a lot, but it's not a typo. This recipe is chocolaty tough. It can take it.

Add the flour mixture in two or three batches, folding it gently into the chocolate until you get a completely incorporated and smooth batter.

As an added bonus, with all this whisking and folding, your hands and arms will get a good work out. Maybe you should use a different arm for each step, just for balance.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Use the spatula to make sure it gets into the corners and smooth the surface a bit.

Chop the toasted nuts and sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter. Place the pan on the center rack of the oven and bake until a toothpick can be inserted into the center and come back with just a few crumbs attached, about 35 minutes. If you wait until it's it comes out clean, you'll overcook the batter and the brownies will be dry.

Remove the pan and place it on a wire rack (pan and all) to cool to about room temperature, about an hour or so. You can turn the oven off now, by the way.

Life the brownies out of the pan using the overhanging foil. Cut them into 2 inch squares and serve with a cold glass of milk.

1 comment:

Kristi @ kikolani.com said...

That sounds delicious. I've been looking for new things to try... and this is going in my list.