Salty Deep-Dark Chocolate Brownies
During our backpacking trip through Europe, (many, many years ago), David and I had some specific “touristy” things we definitely wanted to do. For David some of the “must” things were to visit the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s David, and as many museums as he could. There were also a number of buildings on the list; the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Big Ben, St. Peters Church, The Parthenon, the Pantheon, and the Acropolis to name just a few. All the things David wanted to see I thought would be great, but there was one special place I could not wait to get to… The Toblerone Factory in Berne, Switzerland! Our schedule had us taking a train from Pisa (Leaning Tower) to Milan where we would have a few hours to wander and visit another “must see”… the Convent Santa Maria delle Grazie where Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper” is housed. From Milan we would continue our journey towards Berne and the free samples of Toblerone chocolate that would surely be passed out on the tour. On the day we were to leave Pisa there was a scheduled Italian train strike, which was to begin at 2:00pm. This meant that everybody that needed to be anywhere in northern Italy that day was on the morning trains and that caused the train we needed to catch to be more than an hour late. By the time our train arrived in Milan there was no way we would have had enough time to get to the Convent and back to catch the train we needed for Switzerland before the strike started. In fact we had so little time that we never even made it outside of the train station. The train we had to catch (and did catch) would take us to Interlaken, Switzerland. We would stay for two nights there before traveling to Berne to visit the Toblerone factory and then on to Lausanne to catch the TGV to Paris.
When we arrived in Interlaken there was a large map of the surrounding area, which included icons for all of the hotels and a handy telephone to make reservations from. All you had to do was pick up the receiver, push the button next to the hotel where you wanted to stay and you were automatically connected. The hotel we chose was just up the hill a short distance (albeit we needed to take another train to get there) in a small little town called Lauterbrunnen. I am not sure I can describe how picture perfect this little town was. It was one of those towns that you think Disney must have had a hand in making (but without being cheesy). The whole town was clean and bright, no litter, no graffiti, very few cars, quiet, green grass everywhere, beautiful architecture, and best of all, outside one of the shops was a coin operated soft serve ice cream vending machine. I am not kidding! It cost two francs and the whole process took about a minute for the machine to drop a sugar cone into the bright stainless steel holder then dispense perfectly delicious chocolate ice cream into it (I had to have one, of course). The hotel we stayed in had big feathery beds with big feathery comforters and big feathery pillows on it, everything in crisp, bright, white linen, and when you looked out of the window the view consisted of a large green field where three or four cows, (fitted with cowbells I might add), grazed during the day and into the early evening.
The next day we hiked a glacier trail, road a funicular, walked through a small village, took a train to another small village, strolled through rolling green hills, called out “hello” (loudly) from the trail to a man named Walter, as we passed by his home (the guide book said if you’re near that spot be sure to say hello to Walter – so we did) and we rode a cable car. When we arrived back in Lauterbrunnen with our bodies depleted of any excess fat calories, I headed right for the ice cream machine. To my dismay I found out (after I inserted my 2 francs) that the machine was out of order (or simply out of ice cream) and even though this made me a little sad, I knew the next days visit to the Toblerone factory would more than make up for it.
We checked out of our room very early the next morning and the woman who ran the hotel insisted on packing us a very large bag of breakfast rolls and croissants, including packets of butter and jelly. When I said she didn’t need to give us any food, she told us breakfast was included with the room, and because we didn’t eat breakfast the day before she added four or five extra rolls to the already stuffed bag! She thanked us so much for staying and wished us well and we were off to the train station. It’s a little more than an hour by train to Berne and about half way through the trip I was so glad she made us take those rolls and croissants.
As we got closer to Berne, I was getting pretty excited, and David… well, he perused the guidebooks to see what other things there would be for us to see after the chocolate factory. When the train pulled into the station I was beside myself with anticipation. We exited the train and checked the map and my pace quickened a little. I kept looking down the streets waiting for that first glimpse of the factory. We finally turned the final corner and could see straight down the street; the factory sat quietly in the distance. As we approached it became very clear that something was a amiss… Something was not quite right… we reached the doors and found a sign that informed us that the Toblerone factory was shut down for a two-year period for maintenance! Topping it off, since it was Monday, all the museums, historic sites, and any other touristy things were also all closed. So there we were, (me obviously broken hearted and suddenly craving chocolate) with nowhere to go and nothing to do and the entire day to do it.
By now you should know that I have always had a soft spot for chocolate. Chocolate cake; Chocolate ice cream; Chocolate chips; Hot chocolate; Chocolate cream pie; Chocolate croissants… basically chocolate anything. Hey, I’ll drink Hershey’s syrup straight out of the bottle if there’s nothing else to eat (ok… I’ll do that even if there is something else to eat; don’t judge me!). David’s choice of flavour (that’s for you Daphne) is vanilla (especially when it comes to ice cream), so he has never really been a huge fan of brownies… that is until I made these. Let’s start out, though, by saying I think any brownie is a good brownie. These brownies are a fairly simple brownie put together in the usual way, but they have a secret ingredient… black cocoa powder. Black cocoa powder, if you’re not familiar, is just what it sounds like, a super dark, super rich black cocoa. Plus, these brownies also have a little flaky sea salt sprinkled on top that sort of melts into the batter as it bakes for a second “bonus” flavor as well. And as you might be able to see by the pictures, these are super gooey, not at all cake like (unless you really over-bake them). I would even say that these are the gooiest, fudgiest brownies (which is a big time bonus in my book) that I have ever made. Are these brownies that much better than any other well-made brownie? That’s hard to say as I have not tried them all yet. Why would you want to make these instead of your tried and true recipe? Well, honestly if you have a brownie recipe you just love, there’s no need to change – but you may just find that this becomes your “go to" recipe and if you don’t try them how will you ever know? Not trying these may make you constantly wonder if you made the right choices in life and that will eat away at you until you finally breakdown and make them. And then you might be sad that you didn’t do it earlier in life. So take the plunge, try a batch, if you don’t like them (I can’t imagine) at least you’ll know, and you can always bring the leftovers to me and I will finish off the pan in no time.
I actually found this recipe while surfing the web for something else. (Funny how web searches for me usually end in up with desserts). The recipe is from David Lebovitz, who adapted it from Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York’s Most Creative Bakery and you can view it here. There really isn’t too much to putting these together, it is pretty straightforward but as I mentioned you will need black cocoa powder and a good flakey sea salt (fleur de sel or Maldon). I know, I usually frown on recipes that use ingredients that are either hard to find or that you may only need once… but a bag of black cocoa powder (even if you only make these brownies and nothing else) will be well worth it and fleur de sel can be used in so many things that you won’t regret that purchase either. You can get black cocoa powder from King Arthur Flour via their website and I have often found it in stock at Sur La Table, and of course you can always try Amazon. Fleur de sel is sold in many grocery stores now but a quick web search will provide loads of options.
So here is how these come together:
1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces (plus more for greasing the pan)
1 cup (100 grams) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup (25 grams) black cocoa powder
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
¾ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
¾ packed cup (170 grams) dark brown sugar
Flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon
Start by preheating the oven to 350ºF with the rack in the center position.
Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to overlap the edges of the pan a few inches on each side, then grease the pan with some melted butter or nonstick cooking spray.
Now, melt the butter in a small saucepan set over low heat, then set the pan aside until the butter is lukewarm.
In a large bowl, gently sift together the natural cocoa powder, the black cocoa powder, the flour, the espresso powder, and the ¾ teaspoon salt. I usually give it a little whisk just to combine everything after I sift it – just be gentle as cocoa powder can make a dust cloud if your too vigorous and that can make a mess. Set the bowl aside for now.
Grab a second bowl and whisk together the granulated and brown sugar making sure there are no large lumps of brown sugar that might not dissolve.
Next, add the eggs to the sugar and whisk them until everything is well combined.
Using a wooden (or silicone) spoon gently stir half of the egg mixture into the cocoa powder mixture, then stir in the melted butter.
Add the remaining egg mixture and stir just until it is incorporated. David says that if the mixture isn’t smooth, you can give it a few vigorous stirs with a whisk, but don’t overdo it.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula to smooth the top.
Sprinkle the batter with some of your flaky sea salt. You don’t need to go over board with the salt here, you just want a little taste of salt in each brownie.
Bake the brownies just until the very center feels almost set, but not quite, about 22 to 28 minutes. As with all brownies try not to over bake them!
Remove the pan from the oven and let the brownies cool completely in the pan, which you have set on a wire rack.
When cool use the aluminum foil to help lift the brownies from the pan, then cut into 16 squares and serve… (you can cut them into 9 squares if you’re like me – or just put the whole thing on a big plate and get a fork!)…
So, here’s the deal… There are so many recipes for brownies out there… some with nuts, chocolate chips, marshmallows, and even peanut butter cups; Some are iced, drizzled with hot fudge or caramel sauce, dusted with powdered sugar or simply left plain; Some are cakey and some are fudgy; All of them, delicious in their own way and you are bound to find one that you really like… and I encourage you to do so. I have several brownie recipes that I really like and I think of these as my special occasion brownies… super rich, super dark, super gooey and super good.