November 23, 2012

No crust, no-fuss brownie pie this Thanksgiving

I hope you and your family had a happy and delicious Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving kind of snuck up on us this year, following the heels of Sandy.  We didn't really have much time to think about it and partly as a result, it was relatively low-key, less stressful, but no less joyful.  We have a lot to be thankful for and I'm very grateful for that!
Our version of Thanksgiving is always eclectic.  Besides the requisite turkey and gravy, the sides take off on all different tangents.  We have anything from noodles to seafood and vegetables on the table.  Mom does most of the work (as usual) but I've been in charge of the turkey in recent years.  Now, I like to cook (not just bake) but generally, I lean towards the 30-minute, 5-ingredient or less, and/or one-pot variety type of everyday cooking.  I have to admit I haven't relished my job as turkey maker and at the end of last year's Thanksgiving, I vowed to buy a prepared turkey next year. 

So don't laugh (or cringe) when I tell you that we did, indeed, buy a pre-cooked turkey this year.  Hurricane Sandy made the decision final and I have to tell you, it felt so good to bypass the whole turkey shopping, cleaning, stuffing, cooking, gravy-making process.  The kids really enjoy the turkey but it's definitely the accompaniments that I look forward to eating at Thanksgiving.
I extended the same easy/low-key mantra towards dessert.  I made Ina Garten's brownie pie; no crust-no fuss for this easy Thanksgiving!  The recipe even calls for simple chocolate chips - and plenty of it, at over 3 cups or more than a pound's worth!  If you look at the recipe, it's actually called a brownie tart with instructions to bake it in a tart pan.  Ina makes a brownie pie on her show though and I find the pie version far more appealing here, not only because it was for Thanksgiving, but because it just seems more befitting the casual American brownie.

Bake the batter directly in a glass pie plate and it's a dessert that's easy to transport and just generally low-maintenance.  To dress it up a little, drizzle some chocolate ganache randomly over the top but you could even skip this step.
Come dessert time, we sliced into our rustic brownie pie and enjoyed it with grateful hearts.  I loved its simplicity, which was particularly welcomed this year.  As importantly, it was yummy - I mean, it's a brownie, afterall!  The top is crusty and crunchy while the center is fudgy and studded with chunks of chocolate chips.  I omitted nuts given the audience (most of the kids prefer it without) but otherwise, I highly recommend adding nuts.  Some walnuts would provide extra crunch and some earthy flavor to balance the sweetness. 
Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, it's time for Christmas!  I love this time of year because, despite the busyness, I love the general feel of celebration, kindness, and giving that fills the air.  Plus, Christmastime means lots of cookies, hot chocolate, and an array of other treats so I say...bring it on!

The recipe for this brownie pie can be found on Food Network.comInstead of using a tart pan with removable sides, bake it in a 9-inch pie pan.  I used a 9.5 inch glass pie pan because, for some reason, I seem to have an 8.5 inch and a 9.5 inch but not the standard one in between!

This recipe calls for lots of chocolate chips.  I played around and used mostly semisweet, and some bittersweet, chocolate and a combination of Ghiradelli and Callebaut chips/callets.  I find that when it comes to brownies, in most cases, you don't need to use the absolute best/most expensive chocolate you can find - though it certainly doesn't hurt.

Start by melting 6 tablespoons of butter with 2 cups of chocolate chips over a double boiler.  Do it over barely simmering water, gently, making sure not to overheat the chips (take it off the heat to stir and transfer it over the simmer water as needed).  I also stir in 1 teaspoon of instant espresso powder to amp the chocolate flavor rather than using instant coffee granules as per the recipe.  Once the chips are completely melted and the mixture is smooth, set it aside to cool completely.  You want it fully cooled because we'll add additional chocolate chips into the batter later and want don't want those chips to melt.

Using the standmixer, beat 3 eggs, a cup of sugar (I use a scant cup) and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract together for about 3 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Mix the fully cooled chocolate into the egg mixture.  Then fold in a cup of chocolate chips that's been tossed with half a cup of flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt.  If using, also toss a cup of walnuts into the flour mixture.
Pour the batter into a greased-floured pie pan, smoothing over the top.  Bake in a 350 degree oven until the top puffs, about 35 to 40 minutes.  The top may crack or will likely crack as it settles out of the oven and cools.  Let cool to room temperature.
The pie is perfectly good as is or served with a scoop of ice cream.  To dress it up and add yet another dimension of chocolate, take a quarter cup of chocolate chips and melt it with 3 tablespoons of heavy cream over a double boiler with just barely simmering water so you don't overheat the chocolate.  I had a very close call with my chocolate separating (it starts to seize and look grainy, with the oil separating from the chocolate).  To avoid that, don't overheat, have the cream at room temperature, and melt the two gently together so there's not a big difference in temperatures.  The recipe calls for 2-3 tablespoons of cream but I find you need at least 3 and possibly more to get the ganache to a thin enough consistency to drizzle.


Brownie Pie
Adapted from Ina Garten

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
3 large (or extra-large) eggs
1 scant cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature

Grease and flour a 9-inch glass pie pan (or use a cooking spray for baking). 

Melt butter in a bowl set over just simmering water.  Add 2 cups of the chocolate chips, instant espresso powder (if using) and remove from the heat.  Stir until chocolate melts.  If necessary, set the bowl back over the barely simmering water and stir until chocolate is completely melted and smooth.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, 1 cup of the chocolate chips, and the walnuts.  Set aside

Beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a standmixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the cooled chocolate.  Fold the flour mixture into the batter until just combined. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pie pan, smoothing the top, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the center is puffed (while the center is soft and fudgy).  The top may crack or is very likely to once removed from the oven and allowed to cool.  Let cool to room temperature.

For the chocolate ganache drizzle: gently melt the remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate chips along with 3 tablespoons of the heavy cream in a bowl set over barely simmering water (be careful not to overheat the chocolate or it could separate).  Stir until the consistency is fluid enough to drizzle with a spoon, adding a bit more cream to loosen, if necessary.  Drizzle chocolate over the cooled tart.

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