Better-Than-Boxed-Mix Brownies

IMG_5367In late April, my boyfriend, Kaleb, and I decided to take a Saturday off of homework and instead spend the day shopping in a nearby city. That meant clothing stores for me, an art supply store for Kaleb, and REI for us both. We ate lunch buffet-style at a little Indian restaurant I had heard good things about, and it was delicious. Kaleb bought me a new sundress at Target, I watched him wander around his art store with childlike excitement in his eyes, and we had fun pining over all the incredible REI running clothes we can’t afford. We got back to our university campus in the early evening and ate chicken gyros at the cafeteria, which was a pleasant surprise considering that on weekends it usually features very few, very unexciting options. After dinner, we settled down to watch House M.D., one of the shows that we are currently re-watching. It was a fabulous day…until about 8pm.

To spare you the details, I ended up getting a mild case of food poisoning, which kept me in bed all the next day and unable to attend one of the massive outdoor programs we were putting on as Resident Assistants. Darn. 😦 I moaned to Kaleb that I might never eat at a buffet again, sounding just like my mother. She once had a horrific experience at a buffet in an airport–food poisoning on an airplane=not fun at all–and has refused to come within five feet of so much as a salad bar ever since. Of course, seeing as there was an eight-hour gap between my lunch and my symptoms, the culprit could just as easily have been the gyro I ate in my very own university cafeteria, but there’s no way of knowing. Either way, it might be a while before I will touch chicken curry or Greek tzatziki sauce again. IMG_5369

The kicker is that just that morning I had exclaimed to Kaleb how I hadn’t been sick in over a year, which seemed like quite the triumph. I immediately regretted saying anything that could jinx my healthy streak, and sure enough I paid the price for that moment of gloating with my illness later that night.

“Isn’t it so weird that I got food poisoning on the very day I was bragging about not getting sick?” I asked Kaleb.

“Umm..not really, actually….” he said, much to my disappointment.

“Why?!” I demanded.

“Well, because you worry about getting food poisoning pretty much every day,” he said. I thought about this for a few moments, then begrudgingly agreed. Yeah, okay…that is valid.

The truth is, I am just a teeny bit paranoid about food poisoning, and am constantly asking if it’s okay to eat this turkey sandwich that’s been sitting out for an hour, drink this milk that has a sell-by date of three days ago, or buy sushi from the cooler in our campus store that seemed to be not quite cold enough. My dad patiently texts reassurance from hundreds of miles away, and Kaleb patiently voices reassurance from our kitchen counter or a cafeteria table. It’s not like I question everything I eat–maybe one thing every few days–but I certainly have earned my reputation as a constant food-poisoning-worrier amongst those who know me well.IMG_5377

Surprisingly, one thing I have never worried about is raw eggs–but only if they’re in something I’m baking. I grew up licking mounds of raw cookie dough off my fingers as my mom washed the dishes, and I can never resist taste-testing cake batters, muffin batters, and brownie batters. I once read a book in which a girl’s mother let her mix up an entire bowl of brownie batter and eat it with a spoon when the girl came home from a hard day at school, and I always yearned to re-create that scene in my own kitchen. I don’t think I ever did, but not for lack of want. I realize that salmonella and other food-borne pathogens are potentially very dangerous, but I’m afraid that my cookie-dough-eating days are far from being over. Sometimes I think I am nothing more than a walking contradiction, but I mean, we’re talking about raw chocolate chip cookie dough. Let’s be real.

Anywhoo, enter these fantastic brownies. The title says it all: they really are better than a boxed-mix version, but still have those characteristic crackly tops and chewy, fudgy interiors. These are not, I repeat not, cakey brownies. There is nothing dry, crumbly, or cake-like about them. One of the reasons I love them so much is that it almost seems like you are eating a square of brownie batter…they’re that rich! I had the slight problem of “evening my rows” as I cut these babies, and by the end of the whole ordeal I had probably consumed close to a whole brownie’s worth. I still maintain that I was ensuring that each square had perfectly straight edges and no stray crumbs attached, but I also refused Kaleb’s offer to help me cut them and take some of the “work” off my hands. IMG_5390

All you need to mix up these brownies is one bowl, one whisk, and one rubber spatula. I recommend weighing your ingredients to ensure the perfect texture, but regular measurements are also listed for those of you who don’t own a kitchen scale. Be careful to take these brownies out of the oven as soon as a toothpick comes out clean so that you don’t over-bake them, which could result in dryness. I warn you that they are a little difficult to cut cleanly due to the fudginess (which I declare is a word), but that just means all the more post-cutting “clean up” for you. 🙂 And you don’t even need to worry about consuming raw eggs, since they’ll be all baked up by then! You can have your brownie “batter” and eat it too, without a trace of salmonella paranoia. Yay!

Note: just to be on the safe side for food poisoning, you should probably eat up all these brownies as fast as you can. No point in risking it by letting them sit around, right? 😉IMG_5382

Better-Than-Boxed-Mix Brownies

1/3 cup (28 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons boiling water

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

4 tablespoons (57 grams) unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (140 grams) vegetable oil

2 eggs + 2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 & 1/2 cups (496 grams) granulated sugar

1 & 3/4 cup (248 grams) all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Adjust your oven rack to its lowest position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9×13″ pan with aluminum foil, leaving a 1″ overhang. Spray with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth. Quickly add in the chopped unsweetened chocolate, and whisk until the chocolate is melted. Add the butter and oil and whisk until combined (the mixture may look separated or curdled, which is fine). Whisk in the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla until smooth.

Whisk in the sugar until the mixture is homogenous. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour and salt until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean (or with just a few crumbs attached). Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 1 & 1/2 hours.

Holding onto the foil, lift the brownies out of the pan and place directly on the cooling rack. Cool completely before slicing into squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Recipe from Brown Eyed Baker, originally from Cook’s Illustrated

Classic Fudge Brownies

IMG_6573In less than one month, I’m heading off to college. I know it’s cliche to say so, but time really did fly by this past year…more like the past 18 years, for that matter! So much change is about to come my way, which is both exciting and scary. Not mildly exciting and mildly scary, mind you. More like some days I’m busting at the seams to enter college life, ready to make new friends, take new classes, and live it up during my last few years before real adulthood begins. Other days I wish I could stay a kid just a little bit longer and could magically back up a couple years. Like to when I was, say, five. Yep, there are many days when five years old sounds pretty darn good.

On those particular days, nostalgia sets in. While deciding what to bake today, the idea of a new, complicated, or fancy recipe just wasn’t appealing. I wanted a plain, simple, classic something-or-other that I had made a million times in the past. A tried-and-true treat. Chocolate chip cookies definitely fit the bill, but since I made those so recently I went for another oldie-but-goodie: brownies. The kind I used to make before I was even allowed to turn on the oven, when I would secretly try to sneak bites of the unsweetened chocolate squares even though my mom warned me again and again that this won’t taste like chocolate chips, honey. Every time I spit out my sneaky little taste in disgust. And then the next time we made brownies, I tried again. You could say I was a slower learner. I say I was a true optimist, thinking that the chocolate would magically taste good the next time around!

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Not gonna lie, making simple chocolate brownies was a bit of an exercise in suppressing my tendency to make recipes more elaborate. Maybe add a little toasted coconut? A cupful of white chocolate chips? Some chopped pecans? No, no, no, I kept telling myself. I knew I had to resist my foodie urges and stick to the plan: classic, old-fashioned, good old  brownies containing nothing more than rich, fudgey chocolate and a crackly crust. Sometimes simple is all you need.

This recipe from The Joy of Cooking was just what I had imagined. No fancy brands of chocolate, no complex cooking methods, just your standard brownie ingredients, a bowl, and a spoon. I chose to bake these in an 8″x8″ pan, meaning they were incredibly thick and rich rather than thin and chewy. To me, when it comes to thick, cakey brownies vs. dense and chewy it’s like apples and oranges. Today I opted for tall and thick but you can definitely use a 9″x13″ pan if you prefer your brownies chewier. I promise that regardless of pan size they will still be moist, fudgey, and spectacular.

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I must say, this recipe also produced some killer brownie batter. Taking the time to beat the mixture thoroughly before adding in the melted butter/chocolate and flour produces an incredibly thick, silky-smooth batter. It was all I could do to scrape the brownie batter into the pan before it all disappeared into my mouth. I daresay I used up my entire supply of willpower for the day.

These brownies reminded me just how good an old classic can be. No frills, no tricky instructions. Just thick, chewy, chocolatey brownie perfection.

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Classic Fudge Brownies

Yield: 16 large brownies or 24 smaller brownies, depending on pan size

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8″x8″ baking pan with foil and spray with baking spray.* Set aside.

Place the butter and chocolate into a shallow bowl. Microwave for 30-second intervals on 50% power, stirring between intervals, until melted and smooth. (Alternately, you could simply melt the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat.) Let the chocolate mixture cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat or whisk the eggs and salt together until light and foamy. Slowly beat in the sugar, followed by the vanilla, until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the cooled chocolate mixture. Stir in the flour just until no streaks remain. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake for 40-50 minutes (decrease baking time to around 25 minutes if using a 9×13 pan) or until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs.

Cool the brownies in the pan on a cooling rack. When brownies are completely cool, grasp the foil, lift the brownies out of the pan, and cut into squares. Serve plain or with ice cream, whipped cream, etc.

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*For thinner, chewier brownies, use a 9″x13″ pan.

(Recipe from The 75th Anniversary Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker)

Secret Ingredient Brownies

This recipe is a good example of mind over matter.  I think that a lot of times, how things taste to us is only partly influenced by the actual food we’re eating.  The rest is affected by what we think about what we’re eating.  I think that a cool experiment would be to bring diners to an upscale, super-expensive restaurant and serve them generic, run-of-the-mill food presented in a fancy arrangement.  Then you could give the same food, served with a less inviting presentation, to people in a cheap, low-quality fast-food joint and observe the two groups’ reactions.  I’d bet anything that the people in the expensive restaurant would think their food tasted a whole lot better than that of the people in the cheap restaurant.  It would all be in their heads!  This thought-interfence is why it’s often said that food tastes better when someone else prepares it, and why parents are often successful in finding creative ways to sneak vegetables or other unsavory items into their children’s meals.  It’s not only the actual taste of spinach (for example) that makes kids cringe; it’s the knowledge that their food contains it!

These brownies have a secret ingredient in them, and I think they’re much more enjoyable when eaten with an open mind or just plain ignorance.  Since I was the one who made the brownies, I could taste the secret ingredient, but the rest of my family, who had no idea what it was, simply tasted a moist, chocolatey brownie.  I won’t lie, these are brownies that have been bumped up several notches on the healthiness scale, and they really do taste different than your usual homemade, boxed, or store-bought chocolate brownie.  But they taste different in a good way, and are still sweet, dense, and fudgey.  Make these for your unsuspecting friends and family and do a little experiment yourself…don’t tell them about the black beans secret ingredient, and watch what happens.  You just might be surprised!

Dark Chocolate Black Bean Brownies

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

3 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup + 1 Tbs coconut sugar*

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp sea salt

1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

1/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8″ x 8″ pan and set aside.

Place the black beans, olive oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large blender or food processor.  Blend or pulse until smooth.  Add in the coconut sugar, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder and blend again until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs.  Let brownies cool in the pan before cutting.  Yield: 12-16 brownies.

*Coconut sugar is great in this recipe because of its not-overly-sweet taste and low glycemic value, which makes it healthier than cane sugar.  However, if you can’t find coconut sugar in your store and don’t want to order it online, the same amount of regular granulated sugar is an easy substitute.

(Recipe adapted from Eat Good 4 Life, originally from All Recipes)