You know what I’m talking about… as in, not from the box. I grew up on box brownies, so I’m not complaining. I know people make them from scratch, but I don’t know these people. Those people and I should to be friends. If you’re out there, you should say hi, or leave a comment. We’d get along well. That being said, I have a husband who’s practically a chocolate connoisseur. The man adores French silk pie, and he only eats Ben and Jerry flavors that consist of a chocolate core. The poor guy married one of the few women on earth who isn’t an American chocolate fan*. It’s a struggle in our marriage, but we make it work.
*I LOVE European chocolate. It’s bitter in a good way… and nothing like American dark chocolate. It’s hard to describe, but I know it’s not the same.
Once in a blue moon, I make a treat that includes chocolate, and when I do, my husband hovers in the wing, waiting to taste-test as I go. Today, I made the ultimate ‘chocolate effort’ knowing he’d be changing the oil in his car, keeping him out of my way, most of the time.
I’d had a surplus of cocoa powder leftover from a velvet cake I’d made a few weeks back. Each time my husband made dinner, he’d open the pantry and ask how long we’d had hot chocolate mix. I broke his heart, explaining that it was unsweetened cocoa powder that would result in terrible hot chocolate. I had to prevent him from making a mistake in the event I wasn’t home, so I killed two birds with one stone by getting it out of the cabinet and making something he’d love.
This recipe is not for those in search of a quick chocolate fix, unless you skip the baking part and go for gusto, eating straight from the bowl. It takes patience, delay, and suffering but makes for a heavy, fudgy brownie that is so rich and filling, you’ll only be able to eat one or two max.
Introducing… ‘Real’ Brownies.
Based off my exploration from reading my trusty On Food and Cooking book I created this recipe hoping to make something with ingredients to suit my favorite flavors while maintaining rich, chocolatey standards. If you’re a choco-holic, you’ll adore these. If you aren’t, you’ll STILL enjoy them. Trust me, I made an almond butter adjustment that makes a huge difference.
* I’m tempted to use brown sugar to monopolize the molasses content. If you try it, report back and let me know if it’s worth it.
Coat the bottom and sides of a baking pan or casserole dish with butter then line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite ends. I recommend leaving the overhang on the furthest ends. Trust me… you’ll see why later when pulling it out of the dish.
If you’re confident in the following steps, go ahead and preheat the oven to 325°F now, with the rack in the middle. If you’re slow like me, wait until the step before you add the vanilla, then turn the oven on. It’s not summer yet, but I took longer than expected to melt the first half, and my kitchen was a sauna when I finally put the dish in the oven.
Put a wide skillet or large saucepan filled with about 2″ of water on the stove and bring to a simmer. You want to fill it so that a medium glass bowl, that can withstand heat, sits atop so the water is touching the bottom or just a hair shy of touching the bottom. Put the butter, almond butter, cocoa, and salt in the bowl. Your bowl should have PLENTY of room to stir. Trust me. If you don’t have a big bowl, you’ll make a huge mess and spill over. Let it sit on the heat and stir occasionally until the butter is melted and you have a gorgeous smooth mixture. Slowly add in sugar, bit by bit, mixing each time so each addition is incorporated before adding the next. Once the sugar is in, you should be able to put a finger tip in quickly to test. Visually, it will look like really gritty, wet mud. If you’ve watched Drop Dead Fred, you’ll recognize the mud pie mixture. It’s not pretty… but worth it.
Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside on the counter until the mixture cools. It should be warm, not hot. Stir in vanilla with a wooden spoon. Then add eggs and stir to mix well. Add flour and stir until you can’t see any more white bits. This took me roughly 30-35 strokes with a large wooden spoon. If it becomes too hard to stir, you added the latter ingredients too early and pre-cooked the egg. Like I said, patience is key. It should be thick, not difficult.
Pour into the center of the baking dish and spread evenly with the spoon to make sure it’s distributed well, pushing it into the corners. The batter would take FOREVER to settle naturally; encourage evenness as much as possible with your spoon. Once satisfied with the spread, pop it into the oven and enjoy the smell that emits as it bakes.
You’ll want to bake it for 30-40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean with a few crumbs of batter or a really thin film coating it. This can vary by your oven’s efficiency so check every few minutes after the 20 minute mark. When ready, take out and promptly place onto a cooling rack. I am a fan of the sweet and salty flavor, so at this point, I ground fresh Himalayan pink salt on the top while still warm to help stick. You’ll want to let it cool to room temperature, and continue to wait a little longer. This can take an hour or more… you don’t want to rush it! Cutting into them too soon will result in a mess, and if you have an impatient person waiting, plan ahead. Once they’ve set enough to lift the parchment out of the dish without creasing, transfer to a cutting board or back onto the cooling rack to sit a little longer. If you really want them to firm up quickly, pop them into the freezer.
When you can cut into them without the majority of it sticking to the knife, they’re ready! Some crumbs will stick to the paper and knife, but these suckers are so rich, you won’t notice the leave behinds. It’s like cutting into fudge. The colder they are, the better they cut, so patience is key, and the fridge/freezer can be your friend. I planned poorly, so my husband constantly asked if they were ready yet, then proceeded to tell me I was cruel when I told him to wait just a little longer.
The things we do for love.
These also reheat well. Use a microwave or place on an oven safe dish at 200° for 7-10 minutes. Feel free to plop a scoop of French vanilla ice cream on top and ignore the fact that you may or may not be on a diet.
I’m not ashamed to admit, I never got the hype… Then again, I’d never really had a churro before. I knew what constituted a churro. Fried choux pastry, rolled in cinnamon sugar, dipped in chocolate… what’s not to love? I’d had similar fried pastries in the past, such as funnel cakes and doughnuts, after all, I grew up in central south Missouri. Sadly, I was never inspired to go out and find Kansas City’s best churro. Making them seemed doubly baffling. I live in a tiny apartment with a galley kitchenette, so the thought of partially deep-frying anything in oil had me terrified beyond submission. Until today…
Did you know that churros are deceptively easy to make? Seriously. I was perusing the inter-tubes looking for a weekend project, when I found multiple churro recipes. Curiosity got the best of me. After thirty minutes of being seduced by gorgeous photos and rave reviews, I made up my mind to tackle these mystical fried pastries myself. Who cares that I don’t have a churrera, or had never deep-fried anything in oil before. I’ve improvised in the past, and was confident I could do it again.
I found quite a few choux dough recipes online, and cobbled my favorite elements to make the perfect flavor of cake-like doughnut dough. My personal spin on the recipe below is adding a bit of lemon zest… I know, not that crazy. Try it with or without, but I guarantee you’ll really like the oomph it gives to anything you’re making. The zing of citrus mixed with the mellow sweetness of the dough is a pleasant and welcome surprise.
Set aside a large glass bowl with the flour in the bottom next to the stove. Put the water, butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt into a saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally so it all mixes together, and once the butter has completely melted, pour it right into your bowl of flour slowly until you have all the liquid in the bowl. I say slowly, because liquid and flour poured over each other too quickly result in a crazy mess. Stir vigorously with a spatula until all the clumpy bits of flour are gone and you have a smooth batter.
Set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes. If you add the eggs while it’s still too warm, the heat might pre-cook the egg a bit and the frying will not produce the results you need. You can take this time to grate your fresh lemon zest. After the mixture has cooled enough, add in your lemon zest, and each egg one at a time, while mixing with a hand mixer until smooth again. Once it’s all mixed, scoop into a pastry bag, fitted with a large closed star tip. I only had a small tip, so I settled on doing tiny bite-sized churros.
Add oil to Dutch oven or deep walled skillet until it measures about 1 1/2 inches deep and heat over medium/medium-high heat.* It will look like cold oil, really, so the best way to test the heat, was to drop in extra coin sized clumps of batter in and see what happens. Once it’s warmed enough to bubble around the entire surface of the batter you drop in, you’re ready to start. Holding the tip of the pastry bag about 5-7″ above the surface of the oil, begin piping out strips right into the oil at your desired length a few at a time. Take care not to pipe in too many… they will not fry up as quickly and you risk overcooking the centers. Using tongs, you can roll the around so they brown evenly along all sides, pulling them out and placing directly onto a plate covered with paper towels to help absorb the extra oil. When pulling them out, try to let as much of the excess oil drip back into the pot. If ANY drips onto the heating elements, you’re going to scare the bejeezus out of yourself with fire.
* There is a lot of information that calls for a specific temperature, mostly over 350°. I found as long as it began bubbling around the entire surface of the dough dropped in, I was able to achieve great results.
Once all are fried, combine cinnamon and sugar in a plate and mix to coat your churros in. I used my crème brûlée ramekin which is perfectly sized and has a lip to prevent spillage. Roll your churros, one by one, spooning more cinnamon-sugar on as you do for best coverage. I laid a set of paper towels under a cooling rack to catch-all the sugar and began moving them there once they were done.
So if you have a strong will-power and can stop yourself (or your spouse) from eating them before you make the dipping sauce, then I should hire you to monitor us in the kitchen. Ours didn’t make it nearly that long, and they were devoured before I could even consider getting to the sauce.
Feel free to place the remaining churros on a baking sheet in the oven on the lowest temperature to keep them warm while you make the chocolate sauce. A warm churro is ideal, but I find them cold to be equally as delicious. Heat cream, chocolate and salt in a bowl in a saucepan over low-medium/medium heat whisking slowly until chocolate has melted. Pour into a bowl and immediately begin dipping warm churros in warm chocolate sauce. Repeat. Enjoy.