Thinking back to the summer of 1987, when I was working as a service clerk in the local Martin’s supermarket (part of the Hannaford Brothers chain), I remember one day in the break room I asked the bakery manager why all of the brownies had frosting on top. She said it was because they wouldn’t taste like much of anything without it. I was more a devotee of the boxed brownie mixes sold in supermarkets everywhere (Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, and others), all of which had the same basic recipe: dump contents of box into a mixing bowl, add two large eggs and a large quantity of vegetable oil, then mix well (but not too well) and bake until done. With the benefit of modern food technology, these were vastly better than what the supermarket bakery had on offer — particularly since I could take them out a little bit early, while the center was underbaked and still gooey — but still not all that good. The vegetable oil gives an unctuousness to the mix brownies that feels somewhat artificial, and all too often imparts an off flavor as well; of course, the quality of the chocolate used leaves a lot to be desired as well. So I pretty much stopped either buying or making brownies, unless I happened to be at a gourmet bakery where I could be sure that they would be worth the price.
Continuing my exploration of Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook, on Sunday evening I turned towards her brownie recipe — officially, “Intense chocolate brownies”, on page 148. Chang writes that she was searching for a middle ground between the fudgy, gooey territory seen in many gourmet bakeries, and the cakey extreme of supermarket brownies. Or as she puts it:
The thing is, if I want a piece of chocolate cake, I pull out the mixer and the cake flour and make a chocolate cake. And if fudge is what I have a hankering for, I grab the candy thermometer and make fudge!
(Oh, for the life of a pastry chef!) So her recipe is rather unusual by comparison with most other recipes. For starters, she uses five whole eggs. There’s also quite a lot of sugar, and relatively little flour (just over a cup) or leavening. There is butter, of course, and quite a lot of it, and both unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate. But that’s it: the ingredients list is quite short, and the recipe is simple; most of the time required is in melting the chocolate.
Unlike the box brownies, which are prepared using a variation on the muffin method, these are built on an egg base:
(Can you tell I have terrible lighting in my kitchen?) Then (well, actually first) comes the flavoring:
The batter comes together:
The brownies are baked in a 325°F oven, and when they come out, they look like this:
After waiting a few hours, I had to deal with the issue of cutting them up:
I used a tape measure and a pizza wheel to ensure straight and even edges. (Of course, I forgot to take a photo of the whole sheet of brownies on the cutting board just after I cut them up, which is why I’m only showing three of them in a Tupperware container.) The obligatory single-brownie-on-a-plate view:
And of course from above:
Sadly, I do ultimately have to consider how bad for me these brownies are. I’ve computed the data below on the basis of 15 brownies per batch, rather than the 16 stated in the recipe. I asked Joanne Chang on Twitter how big the brownies at Flour Bakery were, and she responded that they were 130–140 grams a piece, which unfortunately means that the ones I had been buying in her café and calling “360 calories” were actually a whopping 570 calories each. (It’s possible that some of the difference in mass is water weight, given all the eggs in this recipe, if the bakery takes them out of the oven even earlier than I did, but I can’t assume that.) I think if I ever buy them again I’m going to have to find enough self-control to only eat half a brownie at a time! Of course, I can always just make them at home instead, where I have control over the portion size, and at the size shown here, they are actually pretty reasonable (very close, in fact, to the walnut brownies at Whole Foods that they don’t sell any more). Multiply the values below by 1.67 for the bakery serving.
|Serving size: 1 brownie (about 80 g)|
|Servings per container: 15|
|Amount per serving|
|Calories 342||Calories from fat 148|
|% Daily Value|
|Total Fat 16g||25%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||10%|
|Monounsaturated Fat 0g|||
|Trans Fat 0g|||
|Total Carbohydrate 44g||15%|
|Dietary fiber 0g|||