Other people’s recipes: Joanne Chang’s Ginger Molasses Cookies

On Monday and Tuesday, I passed around a list of about 40 baking recipes to my coworkers, and asked each one to nominate the top three things from the list that they’d like to see. Strangely enough, the two most popular requests were both recipes from Joanne Chang’s Flour (Chronicle Books, 2010) — strange not because there’s anything wrong with those recipes (I wouldn’t have included them if there were) but because both recipes are top sellers at Chang’s Flour Bakery-Cafe, which is two blocks from our offices. The most popular request was “Midnight Chocolate Cake”, a monstrously high-calorie layer cake that I will have to be feeling really good about myself to make, but the second-most-popular request was simple, easy, and (for Chang’s confections) relatively low-calorie: “Ginger Molasses Cookies”. (That’s pp. 116–117 of Flour if you’re following along at home.)

I originally had been planning on only doing this baking on weekends — long holiday weekends for the more complex things — but given the simplicity of this recipe, and the fact that it required no ingredients to be purchased, I decided I would just go ahead and do it. Who doesn’t like a good ginger cookie? (Little did I know that most of my co-workers would be off at a staff retreat the day I planned to bring them in!) So this is how I did it:

Mise en place
We start with the mise en place, of course. For a recipe this simple, I often find it easier to simply build the recipe in the mixing bowl rather than elaborately pre-measuring everything into mise cups, but I always like to make certain that I have enough of the basic ingredients before I get too far into the recipe. The recipe doesn’t use all that butter (only a stick and a half), but I know two sticks is enough, and likewise the molasses, baking soda, and spices. Speaking of spices: I used true cinnamon for this recipe rather than cassia, in keeping with Chang’s preference for subtle spice flavors, although that may be undermined somewhat by the strong China No. 1 powdered ginger.

Wet mixture and dry ingredients
The construction of the dough couldn’t be simpler: melt the butter, let it cool, stir in the sugar, molasses, and egg, and then mix the dry ingredients in. Of course, I’ll sift the dry ingredients together and then use a whisk to ensure they are thoroughly combined before adding them to the wet bowl.

Completed cookie dough ready to be refrigerated
Once the dry ingredients are mixed into the wet, the dough is done and ready to be formed — but Chang recommends letting it sit overnight, or up to three days, in the refrigerator, and I saw no reason not to follow that advice, which is now standard for many bakers anyway. So I transferred the dough to a smaller bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and refrigerated it until the following evening — somehow successfully managing to not eat any of the dough in the interim! I weighed the dough out at this stage, and it came to almost exactly 800 g. (A good thing, too, since that is nearly exactly how much mass went in, and I wasn’t planning on challenging any of the laws of physics in this baking project.) The stated yield of this recipe is 16 cookies, so that worked out almost perfectly: each cookie would start with 50 grams of dough.

Dough balls coated in sugar, ready for baking
So on day 2 I took the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up for a while. Chang says to portion the dough a quarter-cup at a time, so I got out my #16 disher. The dough balls are coated in granulated sugar before baking, so I put a quarter-cup of sugar in a small bowl and put the whole thing on my scale, which allowed me to verify my portion sizes. I found that the disher made balls that were about 20% too large — a #20 disher would probably have been closer to the mark, but I settled for only partially filling the scoop and reshaping the dough in my hands before rolling the balls in the sugar. Since my new scale can deal with negative numbers, I was able to work out that each dough ball picked up about 3.5 g of sugar. I laid out the dough balls on two cookie sheets, which I baked, one sheet at a time, for 17 minutes in a 350°F (175°C) oven, turning the sheet around halfway through the cooking time.

Cookies hot from the oven
Hot from the oven, the freshly-baked cookies look like this — I think they’re spread out a bit more than the ones at Flour, but they are have the right crackly top, at any rate. You can see that I’m as lousy as ever at laying things out in straight lines….

Cookies cooling on rack
The eagle-eyed will count the cookies on the cooling rack and note that there’s one missing. Did you really think I could or would resist having one for dessert? The remaining 15 will go into the office tomorrow (as I write this) and I’ll probably have one or two more. Luckily, I kept the list of who requested what, so I can make sure they won’t go disappointed even if they go on the staff retreat while I’m in the office advancing.

Nutrition

Based on 50 g uncooked dough coated wuth 3.5 g sugar. You could make them smaller by as much as 20% (10 g), which would increase the yield to 20 cookies.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 cookie
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 224 Calories from fat 81
% Daily Value
Total Fat 9g 13%
 Saturated Fat 5g 27%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 34mg 11%
Sodium 130mg 5%
Potassium 96mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 34g 11%
 Dietary fiber 1g 3%
 Sugars 21g
Proteins 3g 5%
Vitamin A 6%
Vitamin C 9%
Calcium 2%
Iron 3%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Recipe quick takes: Joanne Chang’s Brown Butter-Crispy Rice Treats

This is a really quick “quick take”, since I didn’t take any pictures at all. But look, you all know what Rice Krispies Treats look like? You had them as a kid, just like I did. Well, “Brown Butter-Crispy Rice Treats” from Joanne Chang’s Flour (Chronicle Books, 2010; p. 133) are just like that, only huge, and made with brown butter and vanilla bean rather than plain melted butter (or worse, margarine!) and vanilla extract.

I got the inspiration for making this recipe from having leftover chocolate puffed rice cereal (a fancy organic sprouted brown rice brand, not Kellogg’s Rice Krispies) after making Mindy Segal’s “Barter Brownies”, which have a puffed-rice topping, for Browniefest a couple of weeks ago. As it turned out, I didn’t have nearly enough of the chocolate puffed rice, so I bought a box of regular puffed rice (same brand, actually, but without the cocoa) to make up the difference. Then when I got home and looked at the recipe again, it became clear that I would need a whole box and then some, so I used the plain puffed rice cereal as the main and augmented with the cocoa-flavored rice.

For marshmallows I used the “everyday value” marshmallows sold by weight in huge plastic boxes at Whole Foods. (They used to carry a small local producer, Tiny Trapeze, but apparently this company was bought by Whole Foods, or one of Whole Foods’ suppliers, and shut down, or so I heard. I haven’t verified this in even the most rudimentary way.) The recipe calls for 20 oz (560 g) of marshmallows, which was a bit less than one of those big boxes (Chang writes it as “two 10-ounce bags”, but we can attribute that to the intended audience). Other ingredients are a half-pound of butter, half a vanilla pod, and a little bit of salt. I picked my Le Creuset Dutch oven as the stovetop melting-and-mixing vessel most likely to be able to hold the entire quantity of marshmallow and cereal.

I had a bit of an issue with Chang’s instructions for browning the butter, compounded by the usual difficulty of interpreting what “low heat” means relative to my stove. (If only there were some standardized unit of measure for these sorts of things!) I had a somewhat bigger issue when I went to compute the nutrition for these bars: she gives an equivalence of 240 g to 9 cups, but the labeling on my puffed-rice cereal said that a two-thirds cup serving was 30 g — making 240 g only five and a third cups. If I had noticed this before actually making the treats, I would have at least considered whether I should make up the volume with more of the cocoa-flavored rice, but since I didn’t find out until after, I can’t be sure how I would have resolved the difference, or even whether it mattered that much. Clearly using a less-dense cereal (I didn’t compare labeling for actual Kellogg’s Rice Krispies brand puffed-rice cereal) would have made for larger bars with a somewhat better distribution of marshmallow “glue” and fewer overall calories per unit volume. As it was, I cut my 9×13 pan of rice treats into 18 pieces, rather than the 12 suggested in the recipe, and ended up with servings that, visually at least, appear to be about half the size of the portions at Chang’s Flour Bakery-Cafe. On the scale, my portions come out to about 55 g (2 oz); if using Chang’s portions, that would be about 85 g (3 oz) instead.

Nutrition

Assumes use of One Degree “Veganic” Sprouted Puffed Brown Rice Cereal, measured by weight to 240 g; generic database values used for marshmallows as the Whole Foods house marshmallows provide no nutrition information. Based on Chang’s stated portion size.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 3″x3¼” square (85 g, 3 oz)
Servings per recipe: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 360 Calories from fat 135
% Daily Value
Total Fat 15g 24%
 Saturated Fat 9g 47%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 40mg 13%
Sodium 161mg 7%
Potassium 66mg 2%
Total Carbohydrate 54g 18%
 Dietary fiber 1g 3%
 Sugars 28g
Proteins 2g 4%
Vitamin A 11%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0%
Iron 11%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Browniefest part 13: Other bakers’ brownies and a summary of the results

Finally, we come to the end of the road for Browniefest 2015. As I write this it was still less than a week ago, although you won’t see it for another few days yet. I’ve already written about all the brownies I baked (15 batches!) but I wanted to wrap up with a discussion of what the other bakers did. Sadly, I have no pictures to offer.

Ariel Anders did three different dairy-free brownie recipes: one scratch-made and two from boxed mixes (Ghirardelli and Duncan Hines). I thought the scratch brownies were better than either of the mixes. There seems to have been some mixup with the evaluation results: I have two evaluations for a batch that never came, and none for one of Ari’s, so I’m not sure how that happened. Of the other two batches, the tasters seemed to prefer the Ghirardelli mix over Ari’s scratch recipe, but the sample size is so small (n=2) I wouldn’t want to draw any conclusions, particularly in light of the confusion.

Linda Julien contributed a vegan brownie recipe she found online, which was developed in the “use bean-canning water to replace eggs” community she is a part of. It actually placed surprisingly well, perhaps because it was located near the head of the line, with an “overall impression” score of 3.0 (spot-on “average” on the 1–5 scale) and a 3.5 for “moistness/mouth feel” (n=6).

Tristan Naumann made two boxed mixes, one from Ghirardelli (I think the “triple chocolate” version, which would not be the same as Ari’s dairy-free mix) and a Namaste Foods gluten-free mix. The latter received the worst overall score, 1.8, albeit with a small sample size (n=3). The Ghirardelli mix, on the other hand, was rated quite highly — it tied for fourth place with the “Cinnamon & Ancho Chile Brownies” from Ovenly that I made, with a 4.1 overall score (n=5).

Danielle Pace made “Rich Fudgy Flourless Brownies” by Natalie Dicks from the Web site Life Made Simple; these received below-average marks with a 2.7 overall (n=4) but actually rated better than average on “chocolate flavor” (4.0), “chewiness” (3.5), and “moistness/mouth feel” (3.3). Sue Felshin did another Judy Rosenberg recipe from Rosie’s Bakery, “Boom Booms”, which tied for seventh place with an overall score of 3.7 (n=4) and an excellent “moistness/mouth feel” score of 4.0.

Julie Sussman made a Christopher Kimball recipe, “The Best Chewy, Fudgy Brownies”, which she clipped from a newspaper years ago. She arrived a few minutes late, but her contribution still got ratings from four tasters, with an average “overall impression” score of 3.0. Ramesh Sridharan had issues with cooking times, and arrived even later (unluckily, he had decided to make his contribution the morning of the event), and only one taster evaluated his recipe, which was baked in muffin tins rather than the usual baking pan. Sue Perez was going to do a brownie recipe nased on “Fox’s U-Bet” chocolate syrup, apparently a big thing from where she grew up, but wasn’t able to.

Results

Here are the results in tabular form. I have not attempted to correct any attribution errors here, so you will (for example) see ratings for brownies that weren’t actually there, “topping” ratings for brownies that didn’t have toppings, and so on.

Name Recipe source Baker # eval # fav Choc. Chew. Moist. Top. Overall
Best Cocoa Brownies Alice Medrich Garrett Wollman 5 4 4.6 4.6 4.4 4.6
New Classic Chocolate Brownies Alice Medrich Garrett Wollman 4 1 3.3 3.7 3.5 3.4
Chewy Brownies Andrea Geary Garrett Wollman 6 0 3.2 3.8 3.5 2.9
Fudgy Mascarpone Brownies Joanne Chang Garrett Wollman 5 1 3.8 3.7 4.1 *5.0 3.9
Salty Super Dark Chocolate Brownies Kulaga & Patinkin Garrett Wollman 8 0 2.9 2.5 2.3 *4.0 2.7
Cinnamon & Ancho Chile Brownies Kulaga & Patinkin Garrett Wollman 5 1 3.7 4.2 4.4 4.1
Double Fudge Brownies King Arthur Flour Garrett Wollman 7 1 3.7 3.1 3.6 3.0
Maury’s Best Brownies Brooke Dojny Garrett Wollman 8 1 3.8 3.7 4.3 3.7
Caramel Swirl Brownies Carole Bloom Garrett Wollman 6 1 3.8 3.8 4.2 4.0 3.3
Barter Brownies Mindy Segal Garrett Wollman 4 0 2.8 3.6 4.0 3.0 3.1
Peanut Butter Topped Brownies Judy Rosenberg Garrett Wollman 3 1 4.0 3.3 4.3 4.3 4.5
Hazelnut Brownies Moosewood Collective Garrett Wollman 6 0 3.4 3.0 2.6 3.5 3.5
Fritz’s Fudgy Brownies Fritz Knipschildt Garrett Wollman 5 0 2.6 2.6 2.5 3.8 2.7
Classic Brownies with Pecan-Coconut Topping America’s Test Kitchen Garrett Wollman 2 0 4.5 4 4.4 5.0 4.3
Black Forest Brownies Emily Luchetti Garrett Wollman 7 2 3.9 3.0 4.3 4.2 4.0
Rich Fudgy Flourless Brownies Natalie Dicks Danielle Pace 4 0 4.0 3.5 3.3 2.7
Boom Booms Judy Rosenberg Sue Felshin 4 0 3.5 3.3 4.0 4.0 3.7
Gluten-free Brownies Namaste Foods Tristan Naumann 3 0 1.7 1.7 2.7 1.8
Box Brownies Ghirardelli Tristan Naumann 5 0 3.8 3.2 3.5 4.1
The Best Chewy, Fudgy Brownies Christopher Kimball Julie Sussman 4 0 3.0 3.4 3.5 3.0
*2 0 *2.5 *2.5 *2.5 *1.0 *2.0
Dairy-free Box Brownies Duncan Hines Ariel Anders 1 0 1.0
Dairy-free Box Brownies Ghirardelli Ariel Anders 2 0 3.5 3.5 4.0 3.0
Dairy-free Scratch Brownies Ariel Anders 4 0 2.5 2.3 3.7 2.3
Vegan Brownies ? Linda Julien 6 0 2.8 3.0 3.5 *4.0 3.0
Brown Butter Cupcake Brownies Phyllis Grant (adapted from Alice Medrich) Ramesh Sridharan 1 0 4.0 3.0 4.0 3.5

*Indicates one or more panelists evaluated something that didn’t exist.

Conclusions

Browniefest was a very successful event, but also pretty exhausting, not to mention expensive. I’ll probably manage to organize something very different next time around, and still spend too much and take on too much of the work myself. And my opinions of the brownies themselves? I liked almost all of them. King Arthur’s whole-wheat “Double Fudge Brownies” remain my favorite, despite the poor showing among the tasters at Browniefest. I’d like to revisit the Alice Medrich “New Classic” recipes, with their many variants, to see if any of them make a significant difference in flavor or texture; I thought her “Best Cocoa Brownies”, the overall winner among those filling out an evaluation form, were quite good as well, with an excellent work-to-reward ratio, and like many of these brownies could support a larger serving size. I loved the moistness and texture of Joanne Chang’s “Fudgy Mascarpone Brownies” — but need to figure out how to give them a bit more chocolate flavor. I thought the Ovenly brownies were excellent — both the “Cinnamon & Ancho Chile Brownies” that were a surprise hit and the “Salty Super Dark Chocolate Brownies” that the tasters didn’t care for; perhaps using the dark natural cocoa from Guittard that the authors suggest would make a difference.

I’m inclined to try “Fritz’s Fudgy Brownies” again with less flour and a stronger chocolate, because I’m intrigued by this raisin thing and don’t think it was a fair test with the way they came out this time. Of the other brownies with toppings that I made, my clear favorite is Rosie’s “Peanut Butter Topped Brownies”, followed very closely by Emily Luchetti’s “Black Forest Brownies” — both of these I would make again given the right occasion, although neither one really works as an “everyday” brownie recipe due to the amount of work involved. I thought the “Classic Brownies with Pecan-Coconut Topping” from Cook’s Illustrated were fine, but not worth the work. I wouldn’t bother retrying any of the other recipes, although I will continue to attempt other recipes from those authors and those sources in the future.

Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Browniefest part 12: Brownie or Torte? — Emily Luchetti’s “Black Forest Brownies”

Finally, we come to the very last brownie recipe I made for browniefest: Emily Luchetti’s “Black Forest Brownies with Mocha Ganache” from A Passion for Desserts (Chronicle Books, 2003; p. 74). A number of the tasters were unsure whether this really properly should count as a “brownie” recipe, since the cake was as moist and soft as a rich torte, thanks to the inclusion of chopped fresh cherries in the batter. But I hadn’t known how it would come out, and the title of the recipe definitely says “brownies”, so in it stayed.

Mise en place
This recipe has a half-pound of fresh cherries, pitted and chopped, in addition to the usual brownie ingredients. It has significantly less sugar as a direct ingredient, getting more sweetness from the chocolate (8 ounces “bittersweet” — I used the last of the TCHO 66% baking discs) and the ripe fresh cherries. The assembly is by procedure 2 (as described in part 2 of this series). I accidentally used a tablespoon of Kirschwasser rather than the teaspoon called for in the recipe, but I don’t think this made a significant difference to the outcome.

Not shown here is the mise for the mocha ganache. Unusually (at least in my experience), Luchetti uses a combination of bittersweet and milk chocolate (for the latter, I used TCHO 39% milk chocolate baking discs); the coffee flavor comes from espresso powder, which is bloomed in the cream while it’s being heated. As I don’t like coffee flavors, I cut the espresso powder by two thirds. The ganache is then cooled in the refrigerator — I left it in overnight — and whipped to make a spreadable frosting.

As prepared for service, with a cherry on top
Luchetti’s instructions call for portioning the brownies first, before frosting, and so that’s what I did — on Monday morning, immediately prior to heading in to work, since these are extremely perishable. Each serving is topped with a single cherry, which has the effect of discouraging the tasters from breaking up the servings into even smaller pieces.

Evaluation results

Despite the disagreement over whether they count as “brownies” or not, “Black Forest Brownies” scored very well in the evaluation, with two “favorites” and an “overall impression” score of 4.0 (n=7) on a 1–5 scale. The scores for more specific attributes were similarly high, except for “chewiness” — they were anything but chewy and scored a 3.0 on that question — including the third-best “topping” score. I would gladly do these again, perhaps with a different topping.

Nutrition

Unfortunately, the nutrition analysis is not all that favorable; even for these small servings, the calorie toll is quite high — although they do still count as “A Low Sodium Food” under FDA regulations.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: one 2″x2″ square (80g)
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 410 Calories from fat 162
% Daily Value
Total Fat 18g 27%
 Saturated Fat 11g 55%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 56mg 19%
Sodium 72mg 3%
Potassium 45mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 58g 19%
 Dietary fiber 1g 2%
 Sugars 49g
Proteins 4g 8%
Vitamin A 5%
Vitamin C 3%
Calcium 5%
Iron 9%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Browniefest part 11: Two recipes that I expected better from, by Moosewood and by Fritz Knipschildt

Now we come to two brownie recipes that were real disappointments to me. First up, from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts (ascribed to “The Moosewood Collective”, copyright owned by Vegetable Kingdom, Inc.; Clarkson Potter, 1997) are “Hazelnut Brownies” (p. 198), which were not bad, but not as good as I was expecting. The second recipe, from Fritz Knipschildt’s brand-new cookbook Chocopologie, was much worse. Both recipes suffered from the imprecision of not giving flour quantity by mass, but the difference (as much as 25% depending on how you measure) is far more apparent in the Knipschildt recipe, with three cups of flour, than in the Moosewood recipe with a more manageable half a cup.

Mise en place
Starting with the Moosewood “Hazelnut Brownies”, the ingredients here are fairly standard, except for the natural hazelnuts, which are sitting on a quarter-sheet pan waiting to be toasted. Moosewood uses the traditional (and now somewhat underwhelming) 2 oz of unsweetened chocolate; by this point I had run out of the TCHO unsweetened and instead used an unsweetened chocolate processed in Madagascar by Madécasse. The recipe calls for “white flour”, and according to notes elsewhere in this cookbook, they use this to indicate that either all-purpose or pastry flour will work, so I used pastry flour. Preparation is by procedure #2 (as described in part 2 of this series).

Ground hazelnuts pressed into pan bottom
After the hazelnuts are toasted, the skins are removed by hand, using a towel, although the recipe doesn’t require that the nuts be completely clean. Then the nuts are finely ground in a food processor, and then pressed into the bottom of the prepared 8×8 baking pan. My food processor was not able to get the nuts fine enough to express much of their oil, and as a result the bottom crust did not hold together well — if I had been doing this on my own, I would probably have added some sugar and melted butter, like a crumb crust, to bind the hazelnuts together. (Or even better, mixed the ground hazelnuts into the ganache topping!)

Chilled brownies with chocolate-chip glaze
After baking and cooling the brownies, a ganache is spread on top and then the brownies are chilled to set the topping. The recipe says “chopped semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate chips”, and since my stock of Callebaut 54% was reserved for another recipe, I used Guittard 63% bittersweet chocolate chips. Unfortunately, this chocolate did not react all that nicely to refrigeration, leading to the unsightly bloom shown in the photo above. It didn’t really affect the taste, however.

With one brownie removed, showing internal texture
Of course I ate a serving. You can see clearly in this cross-section the ground-hazelnut bottom crust, the brownie cake itself, and then on top, the ganache topping (which this recipe calls a “glaze”); I wonder if it would have been better whipped, as is usually done for ganache-based frosting.

Ground hazelnuts left behind after portioning
After portioning, a significant amount of the hazelnut crust was left on the cutting board. This makes me think that the recipe could be improved significantly by making the bottom crumb-crust-style rather than just pressing ground nuts into the pan.

Mise en place for brownies
Fritz Knipschildt is a well-known Connecticut-based chocolatier, and for a while he operated a cafe attached to his production facility. For that reason, I had high hopes for “Fritz’s Fudgy Brownies” (Chocopologie, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015; p. 36), but the results were less than splendid. As I noted in the introduction, the recipes in this book give no hint as to the quantity of flour in a “cup”, and that can vary by as much as 25% depending on how you measure — and when a recipe calls for three whole cups of flour, 25% is quite a lot. For recipes like this, I usually assume that the recipes were tested with 5-ounce cups (the result of the “dip and sweep” method, which packs more flour into a measure than spooning), but that turned out to be a mistake. One unusual feature of this recipe, which I actually really wanted to try out, was its use of raisins as an optional alternative to the traditional walnuts, so I might do this recipe again with 4-ounce cups just to see if it comes out any better. The chocolate here is 6 ounces of Callebaut 54% semisweet (the recipe, oddly, calls for “semisweet or bittersweet”) in the brownie proper, and an equal amount of the same chocolate in the ganache topping. (In a redo I would use a higher-strength chocolate, since Knipschildt doesn’t seem to think it matters, and I prefer stronger chocolate flavors — but I’d expect the effect of the flour to dominate anyway.) I used leftover extra-large eggs, figuring that there was enough flour here to absorb the extra liquid (and boy, was there).

Brownies cooling in pan
The dough — it’s much too stiff to be called “batter” — is assembled using procedure #2 (as described in part 2 of this series); I had to press it into the pan using my hands to get it sufficiently even for baking, and you can see the result even after baking. Good thing it was going to get covered by a ganache!

Mise en place for ganache
Unusually, Knipschildt’s ganache calls for a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of butter in addition to the usual cream and chocolate. As noted above, the chocolate is another 6 ounces of Callebaut 54% semisweet.

Brownies in cross-section
After spreading the ganache on top and allowing it to set, I cut myself a serving (and of course portioned the rest of the bar as well). You can see from this cross-section how pale the crumb of this brownie looks — even compared to the relatively low-strength ganache frosting on top. So too was the taste: not nearly as chocolaty as it ought to have been for the amount of chocolate used, since it was diluted so much by the flour.

Evaluation results

Unsurprisingly, “Fritz’s Fudgy Brownies” scored poorly across the board, with ratings below average (n=5) for all categories except “topping”, and a 2.7 (on a 1–5 scale) for “overall impression”. Moosewood’s “Hazelnut Brownies”, despite the issues with the bottom crust and the bloom in the ganache topping, scored significantly better, with 3.5 overall (n=6), landing in ninth place despite a below-average showing in the “moistness/mouth feel” category. Neither recipe received any “favorites”.

Nutrition

Neither of these recipes contain any added salt, and as a result, qualify as “A Very Low Sodium Food” under FDA regulations. They could probably have used some.

Hazelnut Brownies

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: one 2″x2″ square (46g)
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 237 Calories from fat 153
% Daily Value
Total Fat 17g 26%
 Saturated Fat 7g 36%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 38mg 13%
Sodium 9mg 0%
Potassium 101mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 20g 7%
 Dietary fiber 3g 12%
 Sugars 13g
Proteins 3g 7%
Vitamin A 4%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 2%
Iron 11%

Fritz’s Fudgy Brownies

Reflects the use of 15 oz of flour, Callebaut 55% semisweet chocolate block, and extra-large eggs. Your mileage will certainly vary.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: one 2″x2″ square (100g)
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 443 Calories from fat 162
% Daily Value
Total Fat 18g 28%
 Saturated Fat 12g 59%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 53mg 18%
Sodium 33mg 1%
Potassium 103mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 63g 21%
 Dietary fiber 2g 10%
 Sugars 37g
Proteins 6g 11%
Vitamin A 5%
Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 2%
Iron 24%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Browniefest part 10: Judy Rosenberg’s “Peanut Butter Topped Brownies”, a Rosie’s Bakery classic

Until it closed recently, Rosie’s Bakery was a local Cambridge institution, offering unapologetically rich, sweet baked goods. Chef-owner Judy Rosenberg published a number of cookbooks over the years, and this recipe comes from The Rosie’s Bakery All-Butter, Cream-Filled, Sugar-Packed Baking Book (Workman, 2011). Rosenberg has a whole series of brownie-based treats, all of which start with (the batter for) her “Rosie’s Award-Winning Brownies” and then add other flavors, textures, toppings, bottom crusts, etc., to achieve different effects. The recipe I chose to make, “Peanut Butter Topped Brownies” (p. 263) adds a layer of sweet peanut-butter frosting, a chocolate glaze, and chopped peanuts to the basic brownie recipe — doubling the calorie toll for sure, but adding a lot of flavor and texture, to the extent that some tasters weren’t sure if they really qualified as “proper” brownies at all.

Mise en place
The basic brownie recipe starts with 6 oz of unsweetened chocolate (again, I used TCHO 99% dark chocolate critters) along with butter, sugar, vanilla, flour, and four eggs. (I believe this is the only recipe to be baked in an 8×8 pan that uses four whole eggs.) The master recipe allows for walnuts as an option, but since I was making the peanut-butter variant, I left them out (better to stick to one kind of nut). Construction proceeds by procedure #1 (as outlined in part 2 of this series), and the brownies are baked for a fairly long time (it took 38 minutes in my oven, longer even than called for).

Brownies cooling in pan
The brownies must cool completely in the pan before the next layer is applied, as the heat would otherwise melt the frosting. That frosting consists of peanut butter, butter-butter, vanilla, and a whole cup (120 g) of confectioner’s sugar. I found that with my peanut butter (locally-made, all-natural Teddie brand, with no added oil or shortening) that the frosting was much too thick, well beyond spreadability, and ended up adding a few additional tablespoons of peanut butter to loosen it up; the nutrition data below reflect the peanut butter I used. The frosted brownies are then placed in the freezer to solidify the frosting before the next stage.
With peanut butter frosting applied
With chocolate glaze and chopped peanuts
After freezing for an hour, it’s time to apply the last two stages of topping. First is a chocolate glaze, made from corn syrup and melted bittersweet chocolate — having run out of the TCHO 66% dark chocolate discs, I chopped up some Valrhona Caraibe for this. On top of the glaze, I added the optional chopped peanuts — this serves as a visual warning to reinforce to potential eaters that peanuts are present.

Evaluation results

Full disclosure: I loved these, even though they were very sweet and not as chocolatey as one might like in a brownie. If only they weren’t so high-calorie, this is the sort of thing I could eat all day! They reminded me of the sort of things my mother wouldn’t let me have when I was little. Although the sample size was fairly small (n=3), the tasters seem to have agreed, ranking these second on “overall impression” with a 4.5 (on a 1–5 scale), scoring 4.3 on “moistness/mouth feel” and “topping”, 4.0 on “chocolate flavor”, and 3.3 on “chewiness”. One taster gave a “favorite” to this recipe.

Nutrition

There’s no salt at all in the brownie batter; depending on how much salt is in your peanut butter, these may qualify under FDA regulations as “A Very Low Sodium Food” — that’s probably the only nutrient they’re low in! (Note that low/very-low-sodium claims for confections are calculated on the basis of a reference serving size of 40 grams, which would be less than half the normal serving size for these bars.)

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: one 2″x2″ square (93g)
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 493 Calories from fat 279
% Daily Value
Total Fat 31g 47%
 Saturated Fat 14g 72%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 81mg 27%
Sodium 22mg 1%
Potassium 18mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 46g 15%
 Dietary fiber 3g 11%
 Sugars 37g
Proteins 8g 16%
Vitamin A 11%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 4%
Iron 11%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Browniefest part 9: Brownies with unusual toppings by Carole Bloom and by Mindy Segal

The previous posts covered all of the “plain” brownies, some of which had nuts or chocolate chunks in them but none of which had any sort of topping applied. I did all of those brownies first before starting on the brownies with toppings, because I could be fairly sure that some of the toppings would take on undesirable textures if they were frozen — indeed, some of the recipes specifically recommend storage in the refrigerator rather than either room temperature or freezer, and I had to make enough room in the fridge to fit them all.

The first two recipes with toppings that I made were Carole Bloom’s “Caramel Swirl Brownies” (Caramel, Gibbs Smith, 2013; p. 73) and Mindy Segal’s “Barter Brownies” (Cookie Love, Ten Speed Press, 2015; p. 217). Both have toppings that are slightly unusual for brownies: Bloom’s is unusual for being swirled with the batter (most caramel brownies have it just spread on top; compare cream-cheese brownies), and Segal’s is a mixture of melted milk chocolate and cocoa-flavored puffed-rice breakfast cereal. I’ll start with Bloom’s recipe.

Mise en place (caramel ingredients on left)
Starting with the usual mise en place; the ingredients in the caramel — sugar, cream, corn syrup, and butter — are on the left, and the brownie ingredients (including light brown sugar) are on the right; vanilla is used in both. The chocolate flavor here comes from a combination of bittersweet chocolate (my notes say TCHO 66% baking discs, which is at the low end of Bloom’s suggested range, but from the photo above it appears likely that I used Callebaut 70% instead) and unsweetened chocolate (TCHO 99%). Both brown and granulated sugars are used, but no leavening. The caramel is prepared on the stovetop in the usual way, which is not very photogenic so I’m not showing it here.

Egg-sugar mixture with hand mixer
Bloom’s brownie batter is made using procedure #2 (as described in part 2 of this series); unlike most of the other recipes, she explicitly specifies use of an electric mixer for the egg-and-sugar step, so I got out my hand mixer. (Two eggs, all that this recipe calls for, is a bit too small for my large stand mixer to beat effectively.) You can see how the egg-sugar mixture lightens in color and becomes creamy after beating for five minutes. (Obviously few bakers would have the patience to do this with a hand whisk, which would probably take ten minutes or more of continuous wrist action.)

Buttered foil in baking pan
Bloom tricked me into using softened butter rather than baking spray to lubricate the pan by calling it out separately in the ingredients list, which (as a result of the way the cookbook was designed) is on a separate page from the main body of the procedure. The recipe explicitly calls for a foil sling, so that’s what I used.

Brownies cooling in pan
After the batter is added to the pan, the previously prepared caramel sauce is poured on top and swirled with the brownie layer. I didn’t do a very good job of this, so the caramel formed more of a puddle than a swirl design.

Mise en place for brownies
Segal’s “Barter Brownies” are the result of a recipe swap she did with another Chicago-area pastry chef. This recipe has a couple of fairly unusual features, aside from the odd puffed-rice topping (Segal’s own addition): it uses extra-large eggs — most baking recipes are written for large eggs — and it calls for dark brown sugar (I of course used more dark muscovado). These brownies are leavened, and actually contain a significant amount of flour; the chocolate flavor comes from a combination of bittersweet chocolate (again, TCHO 66% discs) and Dutch-process cocoa (my usual Valrhona). Construction is by procedure #1.

Brownies cooling in pan
After baking, Segal’s brownies look pretty ordinary.

Cold brownies with rice crisp on top
The puffed-rice topping is made from a combination of chocolate-flavored puffed rice (I used a weird sprouted puffed brown rice with cocoa flavor that I found at Whole Foods) and melted milk chocolate (TCHO 39% milk chocolate discs). The photo above shows the result after chilling.

Brownies portioned according to recipe suggestion
Segal suggests, rather than the usual square portions, cutting these brownies into “candy bar” shapes, 1 inch by 4½.

Evaluation results

Bloom’s “Caramel Swirl Brownies” received fairly high marks on all of the specific attributes, including “moistness/mouth feel” (4.2 on a 1–5 scale) and “topping” (4.0), but received a mediocre “overall impression” score of 3.3 (n=6), good only for 11th place. That said, this recipe did receive one “favorite”. Segal’s “Barter Brownies” were rated below average (2.8) on “chocolate flavor”, and ended up in 12th place on “overall impression” with a 3.1 (n=4). I personally didn’t much care for either recipe and would be unlikely to make either one again. (Now I have to figure out what to do with leftover goofy cocoa-flavored-puffed-sprouted-organic-brown-rice cereal!)

Nutrition

Both recipes qualify as “A Low Sodium Food” under FDA regulations.

Caramel Swirl Brownies

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: one 2″x2″ square (42g)
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 218 Calories from fat 117
% Daily Value
Total Fat 13g 20%
 Saturated Fat 8g 41%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 51mg 17%
Sodium 48mg 2%
Potassium 11mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 22g 7%
 Dietary fiber 0g 0%
 Sugars 15g
Proteins 2g 4%
Vitamin A 6%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1%
Iron 3%

Barter Brownies

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: one 1″x4½” bar (61g)
Servings per recipe: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 235 Calories from fat 108
% Daily Value
Total Fat 12g 18%
 Saturated Fat 7g 34%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 58mg 19%
Sodium 125mg 5%
Potassium 25mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 32g 11%
 Dietary fiber 1g 3%
 Sugars 23g
Proteins 4g 8%
Vitamin A 5%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 6%
Iron 6%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Browniefest part 8: Brooke Dojny’s daughter Maury’s “Best Brownies”

Brooke Dojny’s The New England Cookbook (Harvard Common Press, 1999) is one of those reference works (like the more famous Joy of Cooking) that I consult fairly frequently when I’m thinking about something I want to cook, but rarely actually choose to make anything from. That’s not because the recipes are bad, but more because of the very traditional, reference nature of this cookbook — the recipes are “exactly what it says on the tin”, the traditional recipes that those of us who grew up in New England remember from our childhood. There are illustrations, but no photos, and there is good historical material about the origins of each recipe, but rarely anything to get excited about. Her brownie recipe — or rather, her daughter’s brownie recipe (“Maury’s Best Brownies”, p. 561) is about as traditional as you can get, and I almost wrote it off completely, but then I noticed one unusual ingredient.

Mise en place
“Maury’s Best Brownies” are traditional in nearly every respect, including the fairly small quantity (2 oz) of unsweetened chocolate as the major flavoring. The recipe departs from the usual in only one ingredient: an eighth of a teaspoon of black pepper (freshly ground, of course). The preparation is by standard technique #2 (as set out in part 2 of this series), with no leavening, and the brownies are baked in an 8×8 pan. I used the optional walnuts, which after toasting and chopping weighed in at 55 g.

Brownies cooling in pan
After baking, they don’t look like anything special, just your usual brownies. For Browniefest I followed the serving suggestion of 16 2×2 squares, but as you’ll see from the nutrition section below, they could easily support portioning into 9 squares instead.

Evaluation results

I was really surprised by the response to these brownies. I had thought that — despite the unusual spice — they were pretty boring, ho-hum brownies, but they came in tied for seventh place with a 3.7 “overall impression” score (n=8), received excellent marks for “moistness/mouth feel”, and despite the limited quantity of chocolate, scored well above average on “chocolate flavor” as well. One taster commented, “Maury’s Best Rocks”, and chose this recipe as their favorite.

Nutrition

These brownies qualify as “A Low Sodium Food” under FDA regulations.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: one 2″x2″ square (35g)
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 164 Calories from fat 90
% Daily Value
Total Fat 10g 15%
 Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 37mg 12%
Sodium 48mg 2%
Potassium 15mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 17g 6%
 Dietary fiber <1g 1%
 Sugars 12g
Proteins 2g 5%
Vitamin A 5%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1%
Iron 4%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Browniefest part 7: An update on King Arthur Flour’s “Double Fudge Brownies”

I’ve already written two posts about “Double Fudge Brownies”, a whole-wheat recipe from King Arthur Flour’s Whole Wheat Baking, including a complete walk-through, so I don’t really have much to add here. However, I did redo the nutritional analysis to reflect how I made and served this recipe for Browniefest. As before, I used traditional whole wheat flour and India Tree dark muscovado sugar.

Evaluation results

These brownies are made with chocolate chips — this time, I used Guittard Akoma 55% semisweet chips — and, like the Cook’s Illustrated recipe with hand-chopped semisweet chocolate chunks, it was marked down by many tasters on texture grounds that I think were due mostly if not entirely to the brownies having been stored in the freezer prior to service, which caused the chocolate chips to re-harden after having partially melted during the baking process. This is still one of my favorite recipes, despite getting an overall score of 3.0 (n=7) and finishing out of the top 10. The same tasters actually gave this recipe better than average scores on the more specific elements (“chocolate flavor”, “chewiness”, and “moistness/mouth feel”), which suggests that there’s some category I failed to capture in my data collection.

Nutrition

Recalculated to reflect the portion sizes and specific ingredients used for this batch. “A Low Sodium Food” according to FDA regulations.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: one 2″x2¼” square (56g)
Servings per recipe: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 251 Calories from fat 117
% Daily Value
Total Fat 13g 20%
 Saturated Fat 8g 38%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 55mg 18%
Sodium 129mg 5%
Potassium 11mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 31g 10%
 Dietary fiber 3g 10%
 Sugars 23g
Proteins 4g 7%
Vitamin A 6%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 2%
Iron 18%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Browniefest part 6: Ovenly’s “Salty Super Dark Chocolate Brownies” and “Cinnamon & Ancho Chile Brownies”

I made two different recipes from Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin’s Ovenly (Harlequin, 2014): “Salty Super Dark Chocolate Brownies” and “Cinnamon & Ancho Chile Brownies”. While I’ve had my complaints about this cookbook before, both of these recipes turned out as advertised, with no hitches during preparation. Although the “Salty Super Dark” recipe is actually the second one in the book, I made it first, figuring it would give me a better handle on how the authors’ brownies come together.

Mise en place
The unique feature of these brownies is the enormous amount of cocoa powder they contain: an entire cup of natural (the authors call it “American-style”) cocoa powder, which I measured at 95 g, plus a quarter-cup of Dutch-process cocoa. (They actually recommend a specific Dutch-process cocoa from Guittard, as well as a specific trendy Brooklyn espresso powder, neither of which I had, so I used the same Valrhona cocoa and Spice House espresso powder as I used in other recipes.) There’s three quarters of a teaspoon of salt in the batter, in addition to the Maldon flake sea salt sprinkled on top, and nearly equal amounts of granulated and dark brown sugars (again, I used India Tree dark muscovado).

Flour-cocoa and egg-sugar mixtures
The construction for this recipe follows a variant of “Procedure 2″ as described in part 2 of this series; in this case, the cocoa is considered a “dry” ingredient, and blended with the flour, rather than being blended with the butter; it might be worth experimenting to see if doing it the other way around would enhance the chocolate flavor.

Brownies cooling in pan
These brownies definitely are dark, and I’m willing to bet that if I had used a darker cocoa (Guittard, I believe, makes a natural cocoa that’s much darker in color, but I chose to buy the TCHO instead) they would have been darker still. This recipe specifies a 13×9 baking pan, but unlike all the other recipes in this size, the suggested serving size gives 15 portions per batch. I was going to cut it in 24, like all the others, but when I did the nutrition calculations, I found that 15 per was actually a reasonable serving size, comparable to brownies baked in 8×8 pans, like the next recipe.

Mise en place
Kulaga and Patinkin’s “Cinnamon & Ancho Chile Brownies” use a combination of natural cocoa powder and dark (not unsweetened) chocolate for their chocolate flavor — and of course they also have cinnamon and powdered chile for an extra spicy kick. They recommend using at least 60% cacao chocolate; I used TCHO 66% baking discs for this recipe, and in the future would consider bumping it up even more, although I suspect it would also go nicely with Valrhona Manjari 64%. This recipe uses three eggs, as compared with other recipes that call for either two (for 8×8 pans) or four (for 13×9 pans); the flour amount is increased to two thirds of a cup to compensate. The recipe suggests adding nuts and/or chocolate chips to this recipe, which I had planned to do but then forgot to include. A dusting of confectioner’s sugar is also suggested, but as this does not freeze well I omitted it.

Brownies cooling in pan
As you can see, these are clearly less dark than the “Super Dark” brownies but still quite acceptable.

Evaluation results

The “Cinnamon & Ancho Chile Brownies” were a surprise for many of the tasters, who had expected not to like them but came away making comments like “my new favorite”. Overall they scored quite well, 4.1 on the 1–5 scale (n=5), good enough for a solid fourth place, despite receiving only one absolute “favorite” vote. These brownies also received high marks on the “chewiness” and “moistness” scales, but somewhat lower on “chocolate flavor”, perhaps because the spices masked some of the chocolate. The “Salty Super Dark Chocolate Brownies” were a disappointment: while they were evaluated by more tasters, they received consistently worse-than-average marks in all four categories, with an overall impression score of 2.7; this came as a surprise to me, because I quite liked them. (However, these were by far the saltiest of the brownies on offer, and at least some tasters were put off by that; I’m less sensitive to saltiness than many others.)

Nutrition

Salty Super Dark Chocolate Brownies

As the name suggests, these brownies are far from qualifying as “low sodium”. However, if you like your brownies broad and flat, they might be a good choice, at only 251 kcal for a much larger surface area per serving than any of the other recipes.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: one 2½”x3″ square (52g)
Servings per recipe: 15
Amount per serving
Calories 251 Calories from fat 135
% Daily Value
Total Fat 15g 22%
 Saturated Fat 9g 45%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 80mg 27%
Sodium 226mg 9%
Potassium 19mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 28g 9%
 Dietary fiber 4g 17%
 Sugars 19g
Proteins 4g 8%
Vitamin A 14%
Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 2%
Iron 10%

Cinnamon & Ancho Chile Brownies

This recipe, however, does qualify as “A Low Sodium Food” according to FDA regulations. It’s also really really tasty; if you like spicy food as much as I do, you’ll have trouble sticking to just one serving.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: one 2″x2″ square (47g)
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 227 Calories from fat 108
% Daily Value
Total Fat 12g 18%
 Saturated Fat 7g 36%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 52mg 17%
Sodium 51mg 2%
Potassium 14mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 28g 9%
 Dietary fiber 1g 4%
 Sugars 21g
Proteins 3g 6%
Vitamin A 7%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1%
Iron 5%
Posted in Food | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment