Last night at about 8pm I was sitting thinking "something sweet would be really nice right about now" and leafing through recipe books, when I spotted this recipe in David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert. I've been on the lookout for a good (and I mean goooood) brownie recipe for a while, and I can be pretty picky (I think I've had too many bad brownies and just don't trust them). This looked pretty tasty, plus I know David Lebovitz is pretty quality oriented so that gave them extra credibility.
Also appealing was that the entire mixture is assembled in one saucepan - about 10 minutes prep and into the oven it goes. That definitely fits the bill for the I've-got-a-sugar-craving moments in your life - surely you can wait 40 minutes for awesome brownie (hey, if I can, anyone can! Ask Mr Cake if you think you can possibly have stronger sugar cravings than I - he who has made many late-night supermarket trips to satisfy my whims).
Brownie is definitely a dish where the chocolate shines through, so use something you like eating. I used a mixture of Valrhona dark (because it's amazing) and Callebaut milk chocolate (because it's really nice but not dark enough on its own, but cheaper than Valrhona!). Cadbury or Whittakers or Lindt are all great (so long as you like them!), just try to steer clear of cooking chocolate, which just doesn't taste very good (no cocoa butter - and I guess taste is opinion so if you do like cooking chocolate go ahead and use it ;-) ).
The process is very simple, with some butter/chocolate melting, then adding sugar and vanilla, then eggs, then flour. The only part you need to pay special attention to is the stirring once you've added the flour; you need to ensure it gets a good minute of vigorous beating (go over if you're not sure - the arm workout will get you calorie credits for the brownie you're about to eat, too, win!). David explains in the book that the first time he made the recipe (which came from Robert Steinberg, co-founder of the US chocolate company Scharffen Berger) he thought it was a pretty average recipe. His problem; skipping the extended flour beating portion of the process.
As with many brownies you can add nuts, or more chocolate, or leave them out altogether. I added almonds and white chocolate chips. I ignored the recipe's instruction to chop the nuts, because I thought having whole nuts would make it seem extra decadent. Actually, they just made it a pain to cut pieces, and were slightly too big to eat (when coated with brownie). Moral of the story: chop your nuts up.
The trick to a good brownie is always taking it out of the oven before it's too dry - that means you need to throw normal cake-cooking criteria out the window. A knife stuck into a fully cooked brownie would come out covered in goo - delicious, wonderful goo - that doesn't mean it needs more cooking.
I cooked mine for 25 minutes, and it would have been okay for a couple more but it was good and gooey (which suited me since I was going for the dessert brownie thing). If you're unsure when it seems set enough, take it out after 25-30 minutes and hopefully it will be good. Ovens vary so you might need to adjust the cooking time a little next time round, but if it's a teeny bit gooey it's just extra desserty, and a teeny bit dry just means it's asking for a scoop of vanilla ice-cream to adorn it. ;-)
The original recipe says not to remove it from the pan until it's fully cooled, but I loooove hot brownie, so there was no way I was listening to that advice! It will be a little fragile when hot, though, so the top might crack and it'll be harder to get straight edges to your slices.
Do you prefer your brownie hot and fresh, or cold and chewy?
Robert's Absolute Best Brownies (from David Lebovitz'z Ready for Dessert)
225g semisweet or dark chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup/150g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup/35g flour
1 cup of chopped walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or pecans, or chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 175 C. Line a 23cm square cake tin or a brownie pan with tin foil, then lightly grease the foil.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, then add the chocolate and stir over low heat until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and stir energetically for 1 full minute, until the batter loses its graininess, becomes smooth and glossy, and pulls away a bit from the edge of the pan. Stir in the nuts/chocolate chips.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the centre feels almost set, 25-30 minutes. Don't overbake.
It's easier to cut when cool so if you want nice neat pieces wait until cool before lifting out of the pan - or enjoy warm. ;-)