August 11, 2012

Scharffen Berger (one bowl) brownies

There are lots of brownie recipes out there.  Much like with chocolate chip cookies, or, for that matter, most popular desserts.  One might call for a little more/less butter, chocolate, or flour and, oftentimes, the differences can be quite minute.  I want to stay faithful to a good recipe (and I certainly have my favorites) but I like to try something new in hopes of stumbling upon a great combination.
I've mentioned before that I've yet to meet a brownie that I didn't like.  We can count these Scharffen Berger brownies among the list.  The recipe is from the late Robert Steinberg, of the American chocolate company Scharffen Berger (now owned by Hershey).  It's a simple, one-bowl recipe, that just requires a little muscle power because you must mix the batter rather vigorously by hand (but it only takes about a minute). 

Normally, I don't think you need to use your best chocolates to make brownies (though it never hurts) but in this case, I thought it appropriate to use Scharffen Berger.  I realize that you really can taste the difference in the end result.  I'm not totally convinced it's necessary for everyday, particularly if you intend to down your brownie in ice cream and chocolate sauce, for example, but you really do taste what you put in.  That's particularly the case here because this recipe is heavy on the chocolate, lighter on the butter and other accompaniments.
The fun part of making this particular batch of brownies were the little helpers I had in the kitchen with me: my 5-year old niece and my little guy!  We'd just gotten home after a five-day road trip together and the next morning, I thought it would be fun to try this simple recipe together and have a little project in the kitchen.  My little niece was an enthusiastic and excellent helper!  She wanted to do each part, watch everything, and would wait patiently for instruction.  And ironically, she does not even like chocolate (sigh...) and most sweets in general.  My little guy was more interested in playing that particularly morning but he also helped and is my very reliable taste-tester.
These brownies came out fudgy in the center and deep in chocolate flavor.  Texturally, I prefer the brownies from Baked, which are just sinfully moist, but these have a more pronounced chocolate flavor.  Next time around, I'd use a smaller, 8-inch, rather than 9-inch, baking pan.  Partly since I didn't use nuts, these brownies were thinner than I like.  Better yet, I'd use some toasted nuts next time (despite the little guy's likely protest) since I think some crunchy nuts would be a great balance against the dark chocolate flavor of these brownies. 

I didn't have to do too much work to make these brownies.  The recipe is easy (dump and stir) and I had my little helpers, of course. 

I found this recipe in my copy of Ready for Dessert.  The instructions actually call for melting the butter then chocolate right in a saucepan and continuing the rest of the recipe straight from there.  I opted for my tried-and-true "double boiler" method instead since I'm more comfortable with it. 
Start by melting 8 ounces of dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of just simmering water.  I used 4 ounces, each, of Scharffen Berger semisweet and bittersweet chocolate.  Melt the chocolate with 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter.  Once the chocolate and butter has melted, take it off the hot pan.  I stirred in 1/4 teaspoon of espresso powder but that's optional and something I usually do just out of habit when there's chocolate involved. 
Here's where the kids take over most of the work!  Use a wooden spoon and stir in 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.  Then add two eggs, beating each in one at a time.
Add just 1/4 cup of all purpose flour (I threw in a pinch of salt) and here comes the crucial part.  Stir the batter vigorously for about a minute, or until the mixture is glossy, smooth, and pulls away from the bowl!
By all accounts, this serious stirring after the flour is added will make the difference between a good, fudgy brownie, or a dry, crumbly one.  I took over some of the initial stirring but my niece finished it off.  She was quite energetic and did a stellar job of it; I was impressed!  Here she is (below) giving it a good final swirl around.  The batter is quite thick by this point.
Transfer the batter to an 8 or 9-inch (I'd use 8-inch next time) square pan that's been greased and lined with parchment paper.  Spread the batter evenly and bake the brownie in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or when the center feels just set or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out a bit moist.  Mine were done in about 25 minutes so keep an eye out and avoid over baking.
The sooner you can eat these brownies the better, although they can be kept a few days at room temperature or frozen for about a month.  I cut and wrapped the brownies individually and we shared some with friends of ours.  I find that unless your brownies have a ton of butter in them and are really moist, wrapping them individually in plastic wrap before storing in an airtight container is a good idea.

I like to enjoy brownies on their own but right now, I've been warming one up in the microwave for about 15 seconds or so and then topping it with a scoop or two of ice cream for dessert.  It is a great chocolate/dessert fix!

Thanks again to my special helpers!!


Scharffen Berger Brownies ("Robert's Absolute Best Brownies")
Adapted from Ready for Dessert

- Makes 9 to 12 brownies -

8 ounces Scharffen Berger (or other) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 cup walnuts, or other nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9-inch (or 8-inch, which I'd use next time, particularly if omitting nuts like I did) square baking pan with butter or cooking spray and line it with a piece of parchment paper allowing for about 2-inches of overhang on two sides.  Lightly grease parchment.

Place chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl and set it over a pan of just simmering water.  Stir until chocolate and butter are melted.  Remove the bowl from the pan and add sugar and vanilla.  Using a wooden spoon, stir until combined.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, until combined.  Add flour and stir vigorously for about 1 full minute, or until the batter is glossy and pulls away from the bowl.  This step is crucial to the success of these brownies.

Scrape batter into the baking pan, smoothing out the top.  Bake until center feels almost set (toothpick inserted in the center comes out a bit moist), about 25 to 30 minutes.  Avoid over-baking. 

Let brownies cool completely in the pan before lifting out of the pan and cutting into pieces. 

Like most things, these brownies are best eaten the same day they're baked.  But they can be kept in an airtight container, at room temperature (I recommend individually wrapping each in plastic wrap), for about 4 days, or frozen for 1 month.

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