Mint Julep Brownies

October 21, 2011

I want you to close your eyes and imagine the following scene. There’s an open bottle of whiskey on the counter and brownie crumbs, not to mention smears of melted chocolate decorating the countertops, sink, and all unfortunate kitchen appliances within reach. If you watch Arrested Development, think Tobias and blue paint. (If you don’t, watch it. Now.) I’m standing at the counter, in my disgusting pink apron, with a bowl of melted chocolate, holding a spoon en route to my mouth. The chocolate from the spoon is dripping all over the floor. My roommate, K, walks into the kitchen and that’s the first time she sees me today. I’m heartily ashamed, but she takes one look at the whiskey bottle, one look at the floor, and then one last look at me, and then gets really excited and happy that there are good things going on in her kitchen.

These mornings serve to remind me not of my embarrassingly hedonistic tendencies but of how awesome my friends are. She not only continues to take me seriously EVEN after she finds me standing in a pool of dripped melted chocolate and whiskey and eating it out of the bowl before 11 am, but also joins in by taking her finger, running it alongside of the bowl, and picking up rogue brownie crumbs to pop in her mouth. I love these moments so much, when a wonderful relationship, or thing, becomes almost brutally clear. Brutal in the sense that the amazingness and all its parts and manifestations seem simply to be laid out before you and, for a brief second, you can see  how perfectly everything fits together.

Like these brownies, too, all the flavors work so well together that you’ll consider not eating anything else for the rest of day because, psh, how do you top the mint-chocolate-whiskey combination?!

Mint Julep Brownies

(Recipe adapted from Fragrant Vanilla Cake)

Yields an 8 by 8 inch square pan, serving anywhere from 6 to 9, depending on how you slice

 

Notes: I halved the original recipe, which made a 9 by 13 inch pan of brownies, and it worked beautifully, so I’m copying down the recipe using half portions. I baked my brownies in four 4 ½ inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms, but in my experience the baking times don’t differ much between the tartlet pans and an 8 by 8 inch square pan. I also omitted the vanilla extract called for originally and used an extra tablespoon alcohol instead. The last note is my use of whiskey instead of bourbon. From what I understand (which is not a whole lot, as you’ll see), some whiskeys are bourbons and all bourbons are whiskey. It’s also what I had on hand, so there’s them apples. My last note concerns the amount of mint; I eyeballed it and may or may not have added more than necessary. I’ve found that mint is easily overwhelmed by chocolate when you bake with it, so I erred on the side of caution, used almost a ¼ cup mint leaves, and was rewarded.

 

Ingredients:

1/4 fresh mint leaves

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ cup, or 1 stick, unsalted butter

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

3 eggs

3 tablespoons bourbon/whiskey

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup all-purpose flour

 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. If using an 8 by 8 inch square pan, line with foil, leaving an inch and a half overhang on at least two sides, and spray with non-stick cooking spray (a spray especially for baking or a non-flavored oil spray, such as canola). If using removable bottom pans, just coat pans with non-stick cooking spray.

2. If you have access to a food processor, or similar kitchen contraption, combine mint and sugar and process in food processor until mint is very finely chopped. If can’t use a food processor for this step, chop the mint as finely as you can and rub into sugar using your fingertips, until mint is evenly distributed.

3. Melt together butter and chocolate, either in a microwave, mixing every 30 second interval until melted, or in the top of a double boiler.

4. In a medium mixing bowl, combine melted chocolate mixture and mint sugar. Whisk until smooth.

5. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, followed by the bourbon. Whisk until mixture is uniform and smooth.

6. Whisk flour into batter. When batter is smooth, pour evenly into pan(s). Smooth top, making sure batter is distributed evenly.

7. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Be careful not to overbake!

8. Cool brownies in pan until pan is cool enough to handle. Remove brownies from pan and let brownies cool completely (room temperature). Once cooled, top with chocolate ganache (recipe follows). Let ganache set for a few hours before slicing.

Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients:

6 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped

¼ cup milk or cream

Optional: 1 teaspoon whiskey

Method:

1. Using a double boiler or microwave, melt chocolate and milk.

2. Stir until smooth, then let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before using.

Store left-over ganache refrigerated and in an airtight container for up to a week.

 

My relationship with oat bran started a little something like this, “Hi. I know we just met but I love you will you marry me?!” Oat bran responded with a resounding “yes!” and we rode off into the sunset, just like that. Happily ever after. Me ‘n my bag of oat bran.

I still love oat bran but we’re experiencing a little interpersonal cabin fever – I’m using oat bran for the same kinds of almost healthy breakfasty baked something-or-others, and oat bran is getting a little sick of my looking at it the same way, all day, every day. I’ll never get tired of oat bran on waffles or with yogurt, but it’s time to be a little creative. And add a little sugar. Whenever I run into any sort of problem, food-related or otherwise, my first attempt at resolving it involves copious amounts of sugar. If that doesn’t cut it, I resort to other methods, like actual problem solving and maturity.

In this case, sugar was just the cure. Brown sugar, to be exact, and lots of it. Not to mention butter. And chocolate. And almonds. I was thrilled to find a brownie recipe using oat bran and ending up enjoying the finished product a mite too much. The brownies themselves aren’t very sweet (somehow, even with all the sugar) but are intensely chocolate-y with an interesting texture from the oat bran and almonds. I ended up eating way too many of them in one sitting, enthralled by the bits of oat bran in a brownie setting. I’m not sure the people with whom I shared these brownies enjoyed them as much as I did, so you might want to evaluate your relationship with oat bran before trying this recipe.

 

Oat Bran Almond Brownies

(Recipe adapted from Freelance Muses)

Yields one 13 by 9 inch pan of brownie, but halves nicely in an 8-inch square pan

Ingredients:

1 cup, or 2 sticks, unsalted butter plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and put aside

2 cups light brown sugar, packed

¾ cup unsweetened baking cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

4 eggs

½ cup whole wheat flour

1 cup oat bran

1 ¾ cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

1/3 to ½ cup slivered almonds

Optional: 2 to 3 teaspoons sea salt

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a baking pan by lining it with parchment, with an overhand on at least one side with which to lift out brownies once baked and cooled.

2. Melt together 1 cup butter and brown sugar, either in the microwave or over the stove on very low heat, being careful not to burn the butter. Mix until combined and smooth, then take off heat.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine melted butter/sugar mixture with baking cocoa, salt, baking powder, and both extracts. Mix until well combined.

4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition.

5. Add both flour and oat bran, stirring just until combined.

6. Fold in chocolate chips or chopped chocolate.

7. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Sprinkle slivered almonds over surface, then brush with 2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt, if using.

8. Bake brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, until top of brownies are dry and a cake tester comes out with moist crumbs attached.

9. Let brownies cool completely in pan, set over a wire rack, before slicing and serving.

Storage: Once brownies are cooled and sliced, keep covered at room temperature up to 3 days, or freeze for up to a month.

The truth is I never understood how people could eat cakey brownies. I never saw the appeal; why wouldn’t you just eat chocolate cake? Brownies should be gooey, fudgy, and rich to the core by definition. Because of my strong belief in the fudgy brownie, my brownies all turn out relatively the same regardless of recipe. This was fine for me until I had one of those moments when I remembered I’m not only person in the world (I know, crazy) and maybe, just maybe, my strong opinions are only strong because I don’t venture outside of them often enough. My little epiphany led to my choosing a brownie recipe representing a balance of cakey and fudgy goodness instead of a recipe that is, well, just like every one I’ve used.

At first I was intimidated by this recipe for classic brownies because the good people at America’s Test Kitchen warn you to carefully test for doneness otherwise it would completely compromise your batch of brownies. If you over bake them, they will be dry. If you under bake them, they will be gummy. Ah! The paranoia! Totally unnecessary, though! Surprisingly, or not, the brownies turned out just fine after one test after minimum baking time and a two or three minutes after. And surprisingly or not at all, I loved them! The fact that they weren’t super rich made them easy to eat and enjoy without feeling overwhelmed. It’s really important, like with most brownies, that you let them sit for the entire two hours after baking before you cut them, and the brownies are awesome the next day.

Why this recipe on Variety Flour Thursday? The secret ingredient is cake flour, which lends a fine crumb and light crust to the finished brownies.

Why yes, the upper right corner is missing. Who ate that?!

Classic Brownies

(Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2000-2010)

Yields one 13 by 9 inch pan of brownies, about 24 squares

 

Ingredients:

1 ¼ cup cake flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

6 oz, or 1 cup, unsweetened chocolate, chopped

12 tablespoons, or 1 ½ cups, unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pats

2 ¼ cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Optional: 1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

 

Method:

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 13 by 9 inch pan with two pieces of foil and spray with vegetable oil, or coat generously with butter.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

3. In a double boiler (or makeshift double boiler, a heatproof bowl over simmering water), melt chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat. If heatproof bowl or top of double boiler isn’t big enough to contain all ingredients for batter, pour melted chocolate-butter mixture in a bowl large enough to fit everything.

4. Gradually whisk in sugar until thoroughly combined.

5. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in vanilla.

6. In three parts, add flour mixture, folding gently with a rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth.

7. Transfer batter evenly to prepared pan and smooth top with rubber spatula. If using, sprinkle chopped nuts over batter.

8. Bake in preheated oven 30 to 35 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. America’s Test Kitchen warns you to take testing seriously with these brownies; under baked and the brownies are gummy, over baked and the brownies are entirely too dry.

9. Cool brownies in pan, on a wire rack, for at least 2 hours at room temperature. Loosen edges with a paring knife before attempting to remove brownies from pan. If using foil, lift brownies out by foil overhang. If you forgo the foil, cut brownies in pan and remove them one by one.

Store brownies in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days, or freeze up to a month.

The peanut butter and chocolate adventures continue…

“ditto [previous comment about the magical combination of peanut butter and chocolate]. I love brownies, fudge, etc.”

Last year, to keep all my researched recipes together, I started writing them down in a notebook, and the following recipe for peanut butter swirl brownies was one of the first ones copied down. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to write down my source, so I have to apologize again if I blatantly plagiarize anyone.

I was excited to try a new brownie base recipe (consider this “Brownies: take two”, perhaps?), and was excited to practice marbling again. Maybe it was because I was super excited to make these brownies that I ended up a little disappointed in the end. Out of the oven and cooled, the brownies crumbled in my hands. They tasted cakey and dry and WAY too rich. I never use chocolate that I wouldn’t eat by itself in my baked goods, which is irrational because I suppose some recipes need unsweetened chocolate, so I took the foolish liberty of substituting super dark chocolate for unsweetened and semi-sweet chocolate and contributed to the brownies being too rich, but crumbly? This has never happened to me before.

Brooding over it made me realize that I kept the brownies in for the time suggested by the recipe, 40 minutes, instead of testing it five minutes beforehand. In my kitchen, with my super zealous oven, it’s brownie and cookie protocol to leave them under-baked when removed from the oven. Maybe that’s why they were dry and crumbly.

This mess upset me, and I didn’t share them with my co-workers, promising my co-worker something wonderful and delicious after the holidays, and feeling terrible about not being able to give her anything. I kept the brownies at home, in a sealed container, for about two days, and now, miraculously, they taste amazing! Still rich, and still a little crumbly, but almost like if it were peanut butter brownie fudge.

There is a point to this long-winded, boring story. Let your brownies sit before judging them!

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

Ingredients:

For the brownie batter:

8 tablespoons of unsalted butter

6 ounces coarsely chopped chocolate (Semi-sweet or the dark chocolate of your choosing, the original recipe calls for equal parts semi-sweet and unsweetened baking chocolate.)

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the peanut butter mixture:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

¾ cup smooth peanut butter (But I’m sure crunchy would have been delightful.)

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and butter an 8 inch square baking tin.

For the brownie batter:

2. Place butter and coarsely chopped chocolate into a double boiler, or make-shift double boiler (A heatproof bowl over a saucepan containing about an inch of simmering water works for me.). Stir the chocolate mixture until melted together.

3. Take the mixture off the heat once it is melted, and while it cools whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate mixing bowl.

4. Gradually whisk the granulated sugar into the melted chocolate mixture, then add eggs one by one, whisking until the mixture is smooth.

5. Stir in the vanilla extract.

6. Gradually add the flour mixture until your brownie batter is uniform.

For the peanut butter filling:

7. In a separate mixing bowl, stir together all the ingredients until the mixture is smooth.

To assemble:

8. Pour a third of the brownie batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly over the bottom.

9. Drop dollops of the peanut butter mixture into the pan, however which way you like. I used all the peanut butter mixture in this step, but you could save some to layer on top.

10. Pour the remaining brownie batter over the dollops of peanut butter (and then dollop the rest of the peanut butter mixture on top, if you chose to save some for this step).

11. Run a butter knife through the layered mixture in the prepared pan, length-wise, width-wise and diagonally, a few times.

12. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, though I would test it at the 35-minute mark. The tester should come out with just a few crumbs.

13. Let the brownies cool in the pan until lukewarm, then transfer the brownie square to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

There was someone helping me marble, which might be why they are so cute looking.