Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brownies with Walnuts


Who read Enid Blyton as a kid? Her books were definitely some of my favorite stories growing up. I still remember the Magic Faraway Tree, Mr Galliano's Circus (which instilled in me an unfulfilled desire to run away and live in with a travelling circus) and of course, The Book of Brownies. Because the entire concept of baking was pretty much foreign to my family before I started doing it obsessively and because I was (still am) a bit of a bookworm, my first definition of the word 'brownies' wasn't a chocolatey cake-like sweet but short elf-like creatures who wore pointed hats and had adventures with goblins and princesses. The dessert came after.



I think a good brownie recipe is something everyone should have in their repertoire. There are so many bad ones out there that it's easy to pick the wrong recipe and end up with a gloopy chocolate mess - which happened to me tons of times when I first started baking. My brownies just never seemed to bake up properly - cakes came out round and domed, muffins rose high and cookies puffed and spread, but brownies always eluded me of success. 


It got quite irritating, really, because it's such a basic thing that everyone else seemed to have no trouble. I must have tried at least five different brownie recipes. I still don't know if it was my lack of skill as a baker then or the recipe that was the problem, but I laid off making brownies for a while.


And then a couple of years ago I was asked to make some brownies for a party. After a good bit of grumbling, I decided I couldn't possibly be scared of what's essentially a cross between a cake and a cookie. So I got over myself, found a brand new recipe online, and made some brownies. 


They worked. Sure, they weren't the best brownies ever, but the important part is that they baked up fudgey and firm and, thankfully, looked remarkably like a brownie.


Since then, I've experimented with other brownie recipes with various results (brownies are one of those things that are great to bake because you're pretty much guaranteed a receptive audience - however mediocre you think they are, someone is still bound to eat them for you). I like my brownies more cakey than fudgey, but still with that dense chocolate flavor. To date, the best one I've tried are these Smitten Kitchen ones. 


Even for a previous complete brownie-making failure like me, these have come out perfect every time. The bake up at that perfect mid-point that's soft and cake-like but still feels fudgey, and they have that wonderful crackly skin that forms on top.  I topped these with walnuts because I had some on hand, but they are just as they are, without toppings or mix-ins, too.


Look who's back! Sorry, kitty, you can't have any.

Brownies with Walnuts
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 1 8x8 inch pan full (I made 16 2-inch brownie squares)

Note: You'll notice the measurements are back in weights that really doesn't convert nicely into cups because I've played around with the amounts. Sorry! I WILL be more consistent in the future. For the sugar, do what you feel you'll like more. The original recipe called for 1 1/3 cups (265g) of sugar to unsweetened chocolate. Because my chocolate is not completely unsweetened, I've reduced the sugar by quite a bit. But it's all up to you.

85g dark chocolate (I used 90% cacao)
100g (7 tbsp) unsalted butter
170g (about 3/4 cup) caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp table salt
85g (2/3 cup) all purpose flour
16 shelled whole walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Butter and line a square baking tin.

Melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler (a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water). When melted, take off the heat and stir to remove any lumps and to cool the mixture down a little. Add the sugar and whisk in. Follow with the eggs, vanilla and salt, and finally fold in the flour. Pour the mixture into the tin. Line the walnuts in 4 rows across the pan, just gently pushing each walnut so it sits in the batter rather than balances on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (mine took 30). Take out and leave to cool for about 10 5 minutes, then slice into squares and serve.

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