My mom likes to say, ‘You’re entitled to your own opinion, even if it’s wrong.’ As a psychologist specializing in subjectivity, she should know.
But it seems there is an area in which only one opinion counts, and that is the hotly debated issue of cakey vs. fudgy brownies.
Or is it REALLY hotly debated???
Nearly every brownie recipe header I’ve read begins with something akin to, ‘Some people like their brownies cakey, but we prefer them rich and fudgy, so here’s a recipe for you superior bakers who are smart enough to know better.’
Are there really people out there who like cakey brownies, or is this just an ego-stroking myth perpetuated by the fudgy brownie lobby to make us feel banded together against some common, imaginary foe? Isn’t the whole point of brownies that they are rich, dense, chocolaty and gooey? Wouldn’t you just make a chocolate cake if you wanted something ‘cakey?’
When I was a kid and would make brownies from the box, I would always choose the ‘fudgy’ option over ‘cakey,’ which entailed adding an extra egg, and I remain true to my fudgy preference today. (Though of course I wouldn’t admit otherwise lest you think me hopelessly uncool.)
But along comes Alice Medrich with this ‘New Bittersweet Brownie’ recipe to shake everything up. These brownies aren’t exactly fudgy, though they do satisfy the über-chocolate craving that often plagues fudgy brownie-lovers. But they aren’t cakey, either. Nor are they ‘chewy,’ the newest category of brownie to emerge on the scene. Their texture most closely resembles a fluffy-dense flourless chocolate cake, but not the gag-me-rich, truffle-ganache sort; the type that has some air whipped into it so that it comes out delicate and manageable. Alice Medrich describes them as being ‘mousse-like’, and they do have a delicate, airy-ness to them, but ‘moussey brownies’ don’t sound particularly appealing. ‘Whipped brownies?’ ‘Really friggin’ awesomely delicious brownies?’ I’m at a loss.
Perhaps they just need to be in a class by themselves.
Categories and pigeon-holing aside, let’s talk about why these brownies are so awesome:
- They are packed with a full 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. I used the 70% cacao mass stuff I get in bulk at Rainbow, and I can say that it is some of the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted: fruity, mild, complex, deep and dark but never bitter.
- Whole eggs are whipped with salt and a demure amount of sugar (1 cup, whereas some fudgy brownie recipes call for double that amount) until light and fluffy, creating the superbly uncategorizeable, light-yet-dense texture I keep going on about.
- A scant amount of flour, no leavening, and just the right amount of butter (3 ounces) contribute to this gorgeousness.
- I add in a hearty slug of whiskey to give them a little je ne sais quoi. Well, actually, I do know what: to add a complex tang which complements the chocolate flavor without taking over.
- If you thought it couldn’t get any better, I made these gluten-free, although you would never know it if you tasted them and I didn’t tell you.
I think Ms. Medrich says it best: ‘On a plate, with a fork and a dollop of cream, these are definitely dessert.’
So, if you give these brownies a go, and have an idea of what to call them, please let me know. Just be sure not to over-bake them, as this can lead to ‘accidentally cakey brownies.’
And nobody likes those.
One year ago:
Vanilla-Brown Butter Financiers
(Gluten-Free!) Bittersweet Whiskey Brownies
Adapted from Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Cookies, by Alice Medrich
If you are extremely sensitive to gluten, you may want to substitute a liquor that you know for a fact to be gluten-free for the whiskey, as whiskey is distilled from grains, or leave it out altogether. If gluten is a non-issue for you, feel free to substitute 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour for the rice flour. Sticky rice flour is the key ingredient here; regular rice flour will make crumbly brownies that refuse to hold together. Sometimes called “sweet” or “glutinous,” sticky rice flour is available at most well-stocked grocers. I usually use Mochiko brand, available here. It is magic.
The trick to getting the crusty top on the brownies is having the melted butter and chocolate quite warm when you add it to the egg mixture (but not scorching hot). As these brownies are mainly chocolate, use a high quality baking chocolate that you like the taste of. Scharffenberger, Guittard and Valrhona are all excellent brands.
3 ounces (6 tablespoons, 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, sliced
8 ounces bittersweet (I use 70% cacao mass) chocolate, chopped (a scant 2 cups)
3 large eggs
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons whiskey (such as Jack Daniel’s)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sweet white rice flour (sometimes called ‘sticky’ or ‘glutinous’)
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350º. Line an 8×8″ square pan with 2 criss-crossed parchment slings so that the bottom and all of the sides are covered, with an inch or so of parchment hanging over the sides (see photos above). (Lacking parchment, you can use heavy-duty aluminum foil instead, or simply grease the pan.)
In a small saucepan, place first the butter and then the chocolate; melt together over very low heat, watching the pot like a hawk and stirring frequently so as not to scorch the chocolate (alternately, you can do this in a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of barely simmering water). When the mixture is completely melted and very warm, remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together the eggs, sugar and salt on medium-high speed until the mixture is very thick, pale and fluffy, 3 – 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the whiskey and vanilla, then the chocolate mixture. Sift the flour if lumpy, sprinkle it over the batter, and mix on low until combined. Remove the bowl from the stand and give it a few stirs by hand, scraping the sides and bottom, to make sure it is thoroughly combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and stick it in the oven. Bake until the brownie is pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few wet crumbs but no gooey batter, 25-30 minutes. (These brownies are best baked a little further than most; underbaked, the texture is overly dense.)
Cool the brownies completely in the pan. (For the cleanest cuts, you can chill the brownies in the fridge for an hour or two, or up to several days.)
Use the parchment as handles to lift the brownie out of the pan, and cut into sixteen 2″ squares using a chef’s knife dipped in hot water and wiped clean and dry after every cut.
The brownies keep well for up to 5 days, stored at room temp in an airtight container.