Words Vicki Ravlich-Horan Images Ashlee DeCaires
This winter I embarked on a selfless project. It consumed my weekends and counteracted my efforts at the gym. Thankfully the result was not just wasted lunges and grateful family and friends (who benefited from the tests), but what I think is the perfect brownie.
That’s right, I pulled out the P word to describe this recipe that I am mighty proud of. And now (you can thank me later for my sacrifice) you can enjoy these dense, yet fluffy, rich but not overly sweet brownies.
There are a couple of crucial steps in making the perfect brownie, skip them and you will have a nice brownie but perhaps not the perfect version. I know this as this recipe started out as a story on how to make a quick and easy brownie, but my extensive research led to the conclusion, why would you? A brownie is a treat, an ultimate indulgent delight and the perfect specimen is worth the calories, anything else is just chocolate cake masquerading as brownie and possibly not worth having to add the extra ks to my run.
250g dark chocolate
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
6 size 7 free range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup good quality cocoa
1 cup flour
1 tbsp ground coffee (optional)
½ tsp baking powder
Melt the butter and chocolate together, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile beat the sugars, eggs and vanilla together until thick and pale. A stand beater is best for this as you want to beat the egg and sugars until very thick and if using a hand-held beater you are likely to cut this step short.
Mix in the cooled melted chocolate and butter and coffee (if using). Then sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder. Trust me, sifting the flour and cocoa is important, it not only keeps the mixture light, it also ensures only the fine particles of cocoa make the brownie.
Mix until all the flour is incorporated then pour into a lined and greased 20cm x 30cm brownie tin/baking tray.
Bake at 140°C for 20‒25 minutes. Judging when to take the brownie out only comes with trial and error. Forget testing it with a skewer as you would with a cake, for if it came out clean you have over-cooked it! You want the brownie to still have a slight wobble to it, remembering it will continue to cook a little as it cools.
Note: if you are adding any toppings your cooking time will be longer, especially if the topping is wet like cheesecake.
The key to a rich chocolatey flavour
The Chocolate – I used Whittakers 62% dark chocolate. A good quality dark chocolate is key to the rich chocolatey flavour.
Cocoa – Continuing to build a rich chocolate flavour requires a rich cocoa. I loved the results when using Valrhona Cocoa (available at Vetro Tauranga).
Coffee – The addition of coffee will enhance the chocolate flavour.
Vanilla – Throw out the fake vanilla essence, pure vanilla extract is the way to go and now readily available
Salt – Finally a pinch of salt counterintuitively brings out the sweetness and helps to balance the brownie.
Once you have mastered the perfectly plain version you can customise your brownie to any occasion or taste. Here are a few that worked for me.
Make a gluten free option by replacing the flour with ground almonds.
Beat together 250g soft cream cheese with 2 tbsp sugar, an egg and the zest and juice of an orange. Dollop or spread this over the uncooked brownie followed by a scattering of fresh or frozen berries before baking.
Scatter the unbaked brownie with chopped marshmallows, chopped nuts, white chocolate shards, coconut and dried cranberries, and bake.
Dollop and swirl in a jar of store bought caramel and sprinkle with some sea salt before baking.
Plum & Almond
Drain a tin of black Doris plums. Cut each plum in half and dot these onto the unbaked brownie. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and bake