I’m a complete pushover for holidays. It doesn’t matter that I don’t celebrate them in any religious or significant fashion, really – I just love making themed goodies. Halloween is kind of my go-all-out holiday because it’s chocolate, and it’s all about the themed goodies.
I kept going back and forth on what to do for Easter: should I make something themed? should I make something completely holiday-neutral like coffee cake? should I make nothing? Well, if I’m going to make anything for Easter it should be chocolate eggs, right? Nah, I don’t have the skills for that. Bunnies? Molded candies? But that wouldn’t be satisfying. I could just do nothing. Or I could do carrot cake. (That last idea did stick out as a good one, I just didn’t pursue it.) The thing is, I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about my mindset, my expectations, and my frustrations around what I am and am not doing at this point in my life. I get frustrated with my lack of expertise with making chocolates, and my lack of time and resources (money) to spend on testing and perfecting those techniques. So I decided to scale it down a bit: focus on perfecting the handful of recipes I have been using a lot, get scones down, find good muffin recipes – things that would be a good variety for my pseudo-catering gig 203 pastries. (By the way, if you’re in the Bay Area and need yummies, hit me up – I might be able to hook you up with something awesome.)
So what to do that will be relatively simple, but will still feed my need for holiday kitchyness? Why, molded brownies, of course. I spied this silicone mold at JoAnn’s a couple of weeks ago, and had to keep myself from buying it right then and there – mostly because I had no idea what I would do with it.
I mean, that’s way too huge (those eggs are around 2″ wide or so) to make molded chocolates (ZOMG NO THEY WOULDN’T BE! THEY WOULD BE AMAZING!), and it’s not like you would see the definition in coffee cake or cupcake batter. At this point I’m not sure I even care about the design outline of it – I might use it as a guideline if I end up decorating them with cream cheese frosting, but I don’t know that I will. Or I might just leave them be, and let people figure out what they’re supposed to be; they’re totally egg-shaped enough to be logical, right? I’m totally writing this as they are cooling, so I have no idea what will actually happen. I just know that this recipe might just be amazingly amazing.
Out of curiosity, have you ever made brownies not from a box? I mean, the ingredients are amazingly simple, but I found it a bit daunting to figure out an appropriately good recipe for the most awesome of chocolate treats. I was specifically looking for a recipe that does not call for chocolate bits – half the time when I want chocolate I don’t have edible chocolate in the house, so I needed something that would use cocoa powder. So I went to my mainstay, BonAppetit, to find a good recipe. I found a couple of good basic ones – they look to be pretty simple, and something that I can actually put together the dry ingredients for so that Mikal can make amazing brownies when he wants chocolate. But I also found the following recipe for Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts. It’s not so much an easy-on-the-go recipe, though it isn’t terribly hard. I would personally halve the amount of walnuts it calls for – I like nutty brownies, but this is just ridiculous.
Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup walnut pieces
Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. If you’re going to make regular brownies, line 8x8x2-inch baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with oil if you don’t want to be licking the last yummy remnants of chocolate from said foil.
Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes.(I don’t understand the 60-strokes bit. Just don’t over-do it, but make sure things are happily incorporated.) Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), 20-25 minutes.
If you are using silicone molds, just remember to be patient. You will likely have to piece some of the brownies back together once you have them out of the mold, but they’re so moist that you can’t really tell anyway.
Regarding decorating, I think using any kind of frosting would do this recipe a disservice. It’s decadent and amazing. Aside from the nuts.