Real Simple is one of my very favorite magazines. While thumbing through this month’s issue, I was delighted to see a recipe for brownies. The picture looked delicious (what picture of brownies doesn’t?), and I have made recipes from Real Simple before, so I was pretty excited to give it a go.
The recipe is called “Espresso Brownies” simply because it calls for 2 tablespoons brewed espresso (you can substitute 1 rounded teaspoon espresso powder and 2 tablespoons water like I did, though), but as we all know, espresso is a key ingredient in many great brownie recipes. Espresso doesn’t necessarily make baked goods taste like coffee, it just brings out and intensifies the chocolatey flavor. So I sort of think the name of the recipe is misleading, but whatever.
Real Simple’s Espresso Brownies adapted from Lindsay Hunt’s recipe
Makes 16 brownies
3/4 cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons brewed espresso, at room temperature (or use the mix I mentioned above)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used semisweet because that’s what I had on hand)
Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line with 2 criss-crossed pieces of parchment, buttering in between the pieces to help them stick and leaving an overhand on all sides. Butter the top of the parchment.
Whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside.
Combine the butter and unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler until melted. Let cool slightly. Whisk in the sugars, eggs, espresso, and vanilla until smooth. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the bittersweet chocolate.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 35 – 40 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan.
Holding the paper overhand, lift the brownies out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.
These brownies were really good. Before I had a chance to say anything to him, M announced how delicious they were and said they might be as good as the Baked brownies. That’s pretty impressive! I liked them quite a bit, too, but they didn’t melt in your mouth quite the way the Baked ones did. They were pretty moist (6/7), definitely chocolatey (10/10), and didn’t require much in terms of messiness preparing (3/3). This leaves a total score of 19/20, tying with the Supernatural Brownies. Nicely done, Real Simple!
I haven’t been making brownies much lately – I’ve been spending more time honing my chocolate chip cookie recipe and M has been a-okay with that. He isn’t a big fan of me trying new recipes for brownies because he already likes the Baked Brownie so much. M feels all other brownies pale in comparison and doesn’t like having lesser brownies around the house. I understand his plight, but I’m doing this for brownie science. He just doesn’t understand.
Anyway, last month I made Cook’s Illustrated’s Chewy Brownies with a few tweaks: less oil – I didn’t want the brownies slipping out of my hands, and I used Earth Balance instead of butter, though that’s never been an issue for me taste- or texture-wise. The amount and type of chocolate (the most important part!) remained the same, though.
Chewy Brownies adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Makes about 12 – 16 brownies
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance), melted
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Adjust your oven rack to the lowest positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9×13-inch pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.
Whisk cocoa, espresso powder, and boiling water together in a large bowl until smooth. Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted. Whisk in melted butter and oil. The mixture might look clumpy, that’s okay. Add eggs, yolks, and vanilla and continue whisking until smooth.
Whisk in sugar until fully mixed. Add flour and salt and mix with a rubber spatula until combined. Fold in bittersweet chocolate pieces.
Scrape batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted halfway between the edge and the center comes out clean with a few moist crumbs – about 30 – 35 minutes. Let cool completely.
When cooled, lift the brownies from the pan and cut into 2-inch squares.
Well, these brownies certainly lived up to their name – they were delightfully chewy. But that’s about it. They weren’t all that chocolatey and just didn’t do it for me. They were sort of moist (5/7), but not at all chocolatey enough (4/10). They also were easy enough to make, but required lots of different bowls (2/3). This leaves a total score of 11 out of 20 – not excellent. I expect more from you, Cook’s Illustrated!
I have been an admirer of Mark Bittman for awhile now. I love this How To Cook Everything series and his latest book, VB6 is intriguing to me. I’d totally be on board if it weren’t for my love of cheese and yogurt. I trust his opinion and advice of food-related matters and as such, was delighted when I found his recipe for brownies!
This recipe comes from Mark’s book How To Cook Everything: The Basics. If Mark Bittman created the recipe and attaches him name to the finished product they have to be good, right? Plus the recipe is so simple and easy – I whipped these bad boys up in under 10 minutes.
Mark Bittman’s Brownies via SeriousEats.com
makes about 9 – 12 brownies
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a square baking pan (I was used a 9″x9″ one) with butter or line with parchment.
Combine the butter and the chocolate in a double boiler over very low heat, stirring occasionally. When the chocolate is just melted, remove from heat and continue stirring until the mixture is smooth.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the sugar. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gently stir in the flour, salt, and vanilla.
Pour and scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until just barely set in the middle. Cool on a rack until set. If you used parchment, lift it out to remove the brownies. If not, cut them in squares right in the pan. Store, covered, at room temperature, for no more than a day.
So, how were they, you ask? I gotta say, Mark Bittman, I’m pretty disappointed.
They weren’t bad, but they certainly weren’t the best. They weren’t very chocolatey, and the chocolate flavor that the brownies did have were pretty one-dimensional – generically mildly sweet and like they were bought from a grocery store. They didn’t have any of the slight deepness of chocolate flavor that I’ve come to expect from a wonderfully delicious brownie.
They were pretty moist (6/7), not chocolatey enough (4/10), but they were easy to make (3/3), giving them a total score of 13/20*. Not great, Bittman!
* If you were refer to my original Brownie Face-Off post, I stated that one of my requirements was a lack of espresso powder. After seeing the light, I have revised my requirements to:
- Moistness – I don’t like cakey brownies. The denser, the better! – 7 points
- Chocolatiness – Must be ultra chocolatey to win my seal of approval. – 10 points
- Ease – I’d prefer something that’s not ridiculously hard to prepare. – 3 points
Chocolatiness has the most weight, followed closely by moistness because, in my opinion, these are the most important factors in a brownie. I’d prefer brownies not be super difficult to make, but if they are delicious enough, then I say they’re worth a little extra hassle.
February has been a very busy month for yours truly. I’ve had lots of job interviews, birthdays (mine is in three days – yay!), family gatherings, social calls, etc. I’ve also written a few papers for school and done my regular classwork on top of that. Then there was Valentine’s Day, in which I made M a big pile of delicious heart-shaped cinnamon chips cookies. He loved them, but has put me on a cookie-baking hiatus for the time being, as he doesn’t want to explode. I agreed.
Brownies, however, are not cookies. Therefore, they’re fair game!
In this installment of The Brownie Face-Off, I baked some classic chocolate brownies from the Mast Brother’s cookbook. I received it as a gift this past Christmas and have been enjoying it quite a bit. It’s filled with some amazing recipes and beautiful photography.
Classic Chocolate Brownies adapted from Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook
12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.
Melt chocolate, buter, and brown sugar in a saucepan over low heat.
Add vanilla to mixture.
Add eggs and combine until smooth.
Add flour, baking powder, and salt.
Mix until batter is well blended.
Pour into baking pan.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Let cool, and cut into square.
These brownies were delicious – extremely moist and very chocolatey. The recipe is extremely simple to make, too. But, they are not quite as delicious as The Baked.
I’m beginning to wonder if there even is a brownie better than The Baked. It seems almost impossible for a brownie to be more chocolatey, more moist, and more amazing… But I will continue in my endeavor. For scientific reasons, not chocolate ones.
Since before I was born my parents did the same thing on New Year’s Eve: drive to my aunt and uncle’s house where a few families gathered to celebrate the last day of the year. These families were all great friends from way, way back. My uncle met four guys when he was in college getting his degree in psychology and they have stayed great friends – all of their wives are friends, too. And my aunt and mother grew up together – their mothers roomed together during WWII. Subsequently, my aunt’s daughter and I are very close now. Like I said, way, way back. When I was born, I was included in the fold and have spent almost every single New Year’s Eve at my aunt and uncle’s. My extended family gets together, celebrate, share delicious food, and count down until midnight.
My aunt and uncle always put out all the stops when it comes to feeding us. Weeks of planning and preparation are involved and the results are always amazing. They know how much I enjoy baking, so my contribution to the party is dessert! My aunt reads the blog (Hi, Aunt Jill!), and suggested I make my favorite brownies. I was happy to do it (I also made a French Apple Cake that was to die for), but I had to decide which was my favorite: The Supernatural or The Baked? In order to make my decision, I made both. And the best one was, drum roll please….
THE BAKED BROWNIE!
The Baked brownie knocked it out of the park, to be honest. I actually think it is the espresso powder, and I didn’t originally want to include recipes that called for espresso powder. I was wrong. Dead wrong. While The Supernatural is a delicious brownie, The Baked has a deeper, richer chocolate flavor and is a bit denser, which I appreciate. In my original post on The Baked, I mentioned it only for 18/20 because it fell apart a bit too easily – this was remedied by cooking it a bit less. I was also incorrect in stating that The Baked were missing something that The Supernatural possessed – it is most definitely the other way around. Basically, I needed to do a side-by-side taste test to really know which was better. M, who pretty much likes anything that tastes good, even said The Baked was better. So there you have it, folks.
So, as an update to my Brownie Face-Off, here are my rankings as follows:
- The Baked Brownie (Rated 20/20, revised from 18/20)
- The Supernatural Brownie (19/20, revised from 20/20)
- Deep Dish Brownies (I didn’t give this one a number rating, just said it was 3rd after The Supernatural and The Baked)
- Fudge Brownies (19/20)
- Chocolate Chunk Brownies (15/20)
- Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies (10/20)
- Black Bean Brownies (10/20)
So, what does all this super-serious, deep-divining brownie investigation mean? That The Baked Brownie is the best so far. I still have a lot of brownies to test before my quest is finished – my aunt even gave me a chocolate cook book with a pretty tempting brownie recipe in it. But The Baked is the one to beat!
In another installment of The Brownie Face-Off, I will be testing out the Deep-Dish Brownie recipe from Food Network Kitchen’s How To Boil Water. The book was gifted to M and me by M’s mom when we moved into our current house. It has lots of good, basic information, as well as a bunch of easy recipes. I haven’t tried any of them yet, except for this brownie recipe. Because obviously.
Anyway, this brownie recipe, while fairly basic (and, as it turns out, almost the exact same as The Joy of Cooking‘s, so I won’t be making those), is pretty tasty. I’d score it 3rd after The Supernatural and The Baked (which are tied at this point and continue to vex me – which one is best? WHICH?). It is moist, pretty chocolatey, and easy to make. They’d be great for kids’ bake sales and parties, as this recipe has no fancy/weird/hard-to-find ingredients that one might find offensive.
Deep-Dish Brownies adapted from How To Boil Water
1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
Position rack in the lower third of the oven and heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with foil or spray with Pam.
In a double-boiler, melt the chocolate and butter.
Stir in the sugars, salt, and vanilla into the chocolate mixture with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs and beat vigorously until fully incorporated. The batter should be thick and glossy. Add the flour and stir gently just until it disappears into the chocolate.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top is crispy and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out mostly clean, 40 – 50 minutes (I found 40 minutes to be perfect for a bit gooier brownies).
Cool the brownies in the pan on the counter or on a rack if you have one.