To say that I’m well-fed is a nice way of putting things and is somewhat of an embarrassment. Dave insists I’m simply…well…maybe we needn’t go into it. Suffice it to say he doesn’t complain. (I love that man.)
I am, however, not well-fed because I stuff my face with a plethora of sweets. At one time in my life, I ate way more sugar than now and was much thinner. What’s that noise? I can pass by cookies, pie, cake, most candy (not Hershey’s kisses), and even lots of ice creams. I cannot, however, pass by truly decadent frosted scratch brownies. If you have made brownies out of a box — and many people know no other brownies than these — you need have no fear; I won’t even glance up. No matter how you doctored them. Whatever fat and dried-up chocolate they’re using in those boxed mixes is not anything I’m lusting after.
My own brownies (an old Betty Crocker recipe from the early ’70s) are made when I’m going to someone’s house for dinner. I then have one or two and leave the rest there for those people to fatten up on because if you don’t know it, brownies are just fudge with flour. And we know about fudge, right? Once in a blue moon, I’ll make my brownies–accent on the proprietary sense here– in a pizza pan for a birthday. (Bad pics–glad I’ve improved.) I’ll even put a few candles on top. Occasionally I make them when folks are coming to dinner and then, if they’ll take them, I shove their treacly little chocolatey butts right out the door with my skinny friends.
So when I was thinking about Ina Friday and desserts and looking through Ina’s long list of treats, I came upon her Outrageous Brownies and had to put them up against mine. Ina, if memory serves, is not the chocoholic I am. If you looked at a list of her desserts, chocolate recipes wouldn’t dominate; fruit desserts are paramount. My thought process was that if someone who wasn’t a chocolate fiend loved these bar cookies — and that’s what brownies are — they must be good, maybe absolutely stellar. Outrageous with a capital “O.” But were they better than mine? Mine are replete with memories and sentimental slobberings. I can hear one of my children’s tiny voices requesting them for a birthday party. I remember a fine, well-traveled friend, who was a seasoned good cook himself, saying, “Those are the best brownies I’ve ever had in my life.” I made them years ago for Europeans who said, “WHAT ARE THESE THINGS???!!!” We would see what we would see.
I’ll admit I dickered a bit with these tender morsels of Ina’s. I gave them the edge I thought they might need: frosting. I mean, why make brownies and then not frost them?
What else: I added just the teensiest bit of spice I’m sure Ina didn’t think of, but would have if she’d thought of it:
1/2 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon and a healthy pinch of ground cayenne.
I also didn’t overbake them–a huge no-no with brownies. There’s no way to be sure brownies are done except by having baked them a hundred or so times and knowing what wet and what done brownies look like. No number of toothpicks stuck in will give you the right answer. What will give you a better sense of done are these two things:
a. The brownies are pulling away from the sides of the pan.
b. The edges of the brownies feel firm and maybe a bit beyond that if you like the crispy edges dunked in milk as do so many people.
No need to ever despair about brownies done or not done, though; if they’re underdone, you can stick them back in the oven for a very few more minutes or eat them gooey. Remember, they’re just fudge with flour (and eggs.) If they’re overdone, you dunk them in coffee or port. Not a dunker? Make a parfait of the cut or torn up brownies layered with ice cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce (or fresh strawberries) and whipped cream. What better?
One special note about any brownies: make and eat them that day. Just because they’re so much better. Chocolate is terribly drying–especially at altitude where we eat all cookies within ten minutes of baking or freeze them.
Baking Note: Cookies without eggs stay fresh longer. Witness the extended, almost indefinite, life of shortbread. Brownies, my friends, are not cookies without eggs.
(I also got carried away with the photographs. I do love brownies.)
Two things about Ina’s brownies: a. they make a whopping big pan full–you’ll need a 12x18x1 pan– and b. the ingredient list is correspondingly large (1 pound plus 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, for instance.)
WATCH RECIPE WARS–INA’S BROWNIES v MATT LEWIS& MARTHA STEWART’S BROWNIES ( Spoiler: Ina–whose name the hosts couldn’t pronounce–didn’t win this round. Also: If I spent as much time as these folks do baking anything at all, we’d never get around to eating it. Wow. Brownies are pretty much a one bowl recipe if you’re on your toes.)
So what did I think? Overall, the texture and flavor were awesome; the chew was tremendous and the nuts –lots of them– did the trick for added crunch. I adore nuts and chocolate together. In other words, I didn’t agree with Recipe Wars. (Maybe I need to try the other recipe now!) For a big party, this is a perfect recipe. (In the Recipe Wars video, I did hear Ina say that she made many, many of these for the Barefoot Contessa when she owned it.) While the yield is 20 large brownies, I think 40, for a big group or a buffet is more realistic. I did decide my “own” recipe, which uses melted unsweetened chocolate, provided a richer, deeper chocolate flavor and a stronger-tasting, but moister cookie. On the other hand, Ina’s recipe uses chocolate chips, which is easier and takes less time than chopping my unsweetened chocolate. Mostly, though, I truly wanted the frosting, so I added it. Here’s the old 1973 Betty Crocker frosting recipe I use for most any chocolate product. It’s a bit fussy to make, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.
If you decide to do a taste test, I’d like to know what you think!
You’ll need a double batch of icing for Ina’s big pan of brownies.
Glossy Chocolate Frosting from B. C. with my Directions and Changes
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 c powdered sugar
¼ t salt
1/3 c milk
1 t vanilla
In large glass measuring cup or bowl, melt chocolate with butter, covered, in microwave at full power for a minute or so. Remove, uncover, stir, and place back in microwave for 10-15 seconds at a time until chocolate is nearly melted. Stir well. (You do not need a double boiler. God has been very good here.) Stir in the remaining ingredients. Ok, taste it. Place this bowl over a larger pan 1/3 full of water with lots of ice. Beat the frosting with a whisk until it’s thickened, being careful not to splash the water into the chocolate.
BAREFOOT CONTESSA ON TOUR in PENNSYLVANIA
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Sing a new song; bake a new brownie,