Belgian brownie bites

It's February!  Thank goodness because I feel like it's okay to talk seriously about dessert again.  I'm also excited because to me, February is the unofficial month for chocolate.  Maybe it's a toss-up between December (the holidays) and February but with Valentine's Day, I have to say February edges out for the title.  I know some people complain about how "commercial" Valentine's Day has become but I don't see anything wrong with a holiday that celebrates love...with chocolate!  Even if you don't have a significant other, celebrate loving yourself and treating yourself well.  It doesn't have to be extravagant but a little box of chocolate goes nicely with it - I'm just sayin'.
So I'm starting February off with a chocolate recipe.  Yes, the majority of the recipes I make and post here involve chocolate so maybe this is just an excuse to do more of the same.  These are Belgian brownies, or Belgian brownie "bites" in their small form.  Specifically, this is the homemade version of Le Pain Quotidien's mini brownie bites that you can find in their bakeries.  I know they might not look particularly alluring but you have to taste them.
Did you ever watch The Golden Girls?  You know how Sophia would start a story by saying "Picture it!  Sicily, 1945..."?  Well, picture it: New York City, December, 2011; a family of 3 heads to Rockefeller Center to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show.  Afterwards, they stop into a bakery nearby for a snack and they pick a couple of things, including a little something humbly labeled  "mini brownie bite."  The mom takes a bite, shares it with her six-year old son, and swoons just a bit.  She vows to try and find the recipe to make it at home...
So that's how this came to be.  I remember how the little brownie bites at Le Pain Quotidien grabbed my attention.  Beyond the fact that hey, it's chocolate, I thought it was odd that these "brownies" were in mini cupcake-like form (I think theirs is a little bigger/taller than mine though; shaped a bit like Thomas Keller's chocolate bouchons - something else to try making  one day) and had these  sunken tops, which I'd never seen on a brownie.  I had a mini but I think they had larger, regular size brownies too but my eye is naturally drawn to cute, miniature things. 

These brownie bites look rustic and humble but the flavor is anything but.  They are actually quite rich and moist inside, with a nice deep, dark chocolate flavor.  I shouldn't be surprised since the Belgians know their chocolate!  When I found the recipe online, I realized this richness  was thanks to generous amounts of butter and chocolate.  What you really have here is  nearly-flourless chocolate cakes that you can pick up and eat.  If you're like me and like super chocolaty desserts like molten chocolate cake, flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, or truffles, this is for you.
Instead of miniature form, you can make these Belgian brownies in standard muffin tin sizes
These Belgian brownies remind me a lot of the brownies from Baked but in this case, the chocolate flavor really shines through whereas I think the inclusion of brown sugar in the Baked recipe masks some of the chocolate just a little bit (but what do I know).  Once baked, the tops of these brownies puff up but then fall and look a little sunken as they cool.  The top is slightly crisp and the center is fudgy and moist.  They are really easy to make (all by hand) and since they bake in muffin tins, they're compact, already individually-portioned, and easy to transport/share for a group.

When I got home from the city that day in December, I was able to find the recipe for the Belgian brownies at Le Pain Quotidien.  Thank you, Internet!  I believe this recipe was first published in the L.A. Times and is adapted from Alain Coumont's (founder of the bakery) cookbook.  The recipe is also available at The Wednesday Chef

At the bakery that day a couple of months ago, these brownies were mini and I'm almost positive they were just called "mini brownie bites."  I really wanted to replicate that mini snack so I baked them in mini muffin tins rather than standard size but the choice is yours.  I also didn't use muffin/cupcake liners when baking and greased the tins with some butter instead because I liked how they looked at the bakery unadorned and I think the more rustic look suits these brownies.  Afterall, these are brownies, not muffins or cupcakes so I opted not to use the liners this time.

You need 5 ingredients to make these, the most important being the chocolate.  The full recipe makes 14 standard size brownies (and probably way too many mini's - like over 40 of them).  The recipe actually says the bakery uses Callebaut chocolate but any top-quality bittersweet chocolate with a 60-64% cacao can be used.  There are not too many other ingredients (not even vanilla extract) here to mask the chocolate flavor so it's really important to use something nice.  The first time around, I made a small batch (just 1/3 the recipe) of these and used Callebaut bittersweet chocolate, which I chopped and added to a bowl, along with some butter (6 tablespoons for 1/3 the recipe).  I also added a touch of instant espresso powder to amp up the chocolate factor even more.
Melt the chocolate and butter over a pan of barely simmering water.  Remove from the water and set it aside to cool slightly.  Separately, sift superfine sugar and pastry flour together.   There is very little flour in this recipe.  For the full-recipe, you only use 3 tablespoons.  I'm actually using whole-wheat pastry flour since that's what I can find in my grocery store.  Stir the sugar/flour mixture into the warm chocolate.
Then add room-temperature eggs and mix well.
Now, cover the batter and let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes.  It will thicken as it sits.  After 30 minutes, scoop the batter into your greased or lined muffin tins.    
For standard size brownies, bake for 30-35 minutes.  Use that as a guideline but check early since mine were done before 30 minutes.  The mini version needs about 12-14 minutes in the oven.  They are done when they puff up and still look moist but is no longer wet.  The puffed tops begins to fall slightly back on itself once it starts to cool out of the oven.  That's how it's supposed to be.
I've made these brownies twice now, a full batch the second time, with a mix of regular and mini sizes.  These pictures below give you a better picture of how they look  when they're done and just out of the oven.  The puffed tops will start to sink immediately.
For one-third of the recipe, I made 9 mini bites and 2 standard size brownies.  I guess the question is do you prefer one brownie or 3 smaller brownie bites?
I didn't get around to making these until recently given all the other holiday baking and the little one kept reminding/requesting that I make them.  Funny he has a great memory when it comes to things like that.  Needless to say, these brownies were popular.  They smell amazing - pure warm chocolate heaven.  And they taste better than they look.  The person you serve them to might not know what to expect.  Is it a muffin, a cupcake, or what?  But take a bite and  what the person gets is a taste of rich, moist,  soft, chocolate that's just sweet enough.  If you need a chocolate fix here in February - the month of chocolate, afterall - give these a try!


Recipe:

Below the first recipe, I also offer you the small-batch recipe, converted into one-third for those of you looking to make the mini version or just a smaller batch. 

Le Pain Quotidien's Belgian Brownies
Adapted (just slightly) from the Los Angeles Times and The Wednesday Chef

- Makes 14 standard-size brownies (or 40+ miniature ones) -

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Callebaut is recommended but you can use any high-quality chocolate)
3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) butter, cut into small pieces
5 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
1 1/3 cups superfine sugar
3 tablespoons pastry flour (or whole-wheat pastry flour like I used)

Chop chocolate coarsely and place into a heatproof bowl with the espresso powder (if using) and butter.  Set bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water until ingredients have melted.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift the sugar and flour together, then stir into the chocolate.  Add eggs and mix well.  Cover and let batter rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  The batter will thicken as it sits.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Grease standard and/or mini muffin tins with some butter or line with cupcake liners.  Spoon batter into cups and bake for approximately 30-35 minutes (check early though) for standard size and 12-14 minutes for mini.  The brownies will be puffed and still be moist but no longer wet when done.  The tops will fall and look a bit sunken once it cools. 


Small Batch Recipe (one-third of above):

Le Pain Quotidien's Belgian Brownies (mini brownie bites)

- For 14 mini brownie bites -


3 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Callebaut is recommended but you can use any high-quality chocolate)
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
6 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
2 eggs*, lightly beaten with a fork
7 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 tablespoons pastry flour (or whole-wheat pastry flour like I used)

* This recipe should use 1 2/3 eggs.  If you're like me, you can lightly beat the egg in a measuring cup and roughly divide the amount.  If you're the laid back sort, 2 small eggs will work. 

Chop chocolate coarsely and place into a heatproof bowl with the espresso powder (if using) and butter.  Set bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water until ingredients have melted.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift the sugar and flour together, then stir into the chocolate.  Add eggs and mix well.  Cover and let batter rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  The batter will thicken as it sits.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Grease 14 mini muffin tins with some butter or line with cupcake liners.  Spoon batter using a small ice cream scoop into cups and bake for 12-14 minutes.  The brownies will be puffed and still be moist but no longer wet when done.  The tops will fall and look a bit sunken once it cools.

(You could certainly make a small batch in the standard muffin tins.  Just bake larger brownies for 30-35 minutes instead.)



8 comments:

  1. Wow, these look absolutely amazing! Super rich and delicious. :)

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  2. Hi Sara - you're so right...they really are rich and delicious. They're not much to look at but so moist and chocolaty within.

    I believe you are the person who submitted the orange-chocolate muffins to Serious Eats a while back? I've emailed myself the recipe but haven't gotten to it yet. They sound so yummy - I'll be sure to let you know if (make that, when) I make them. : )

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  3. My came out tasting like burnt chocolate, unfortunately. :(

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    Replies
    1. Sorry to hear that. It could be your oven runs hot? Or you are using a darker colored tin. I'd suggest keeping an eye on it and taking it out of the oven early...let it cool in the pan and set up so you can remove it.

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  4. I made these brownies with pastry flour and they were too "fluffy", almost lacking structure. But tasting so good! What if trying with AP flour? Anyone has tried this option?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Camilla - these brownies are very moist and fragile. There's so little flour in the recipe that using AP flour isn't likely to change things dramatically. That said, I don't think it would hurt at all to use AP flour instead. Let them cool and very gently ease them out of the pan...good luck!

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  5. making these in a tray and cutting them up??? will they work

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    Replies
    1. I've never done that before so I can't say how it will be exactly. These brownies are very moist and fudgy so the center of your tray will likely be fragile and tricky to cut. I'm sure it's do-able; I would let the pan/brownies cool completely and try refrigerating it to help you slice/remove it a bit more neatly.

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