March 1, 2013

Ramblings, with a side of brownies

What is your favorite dessert?  You've probably been asked before at some point...Are you able to answer it?  When the question came up, my first inclination was to say there's no way I can pick just one!  We all crave different things at different times and, frankly, there is way too much deliciousness out there to limit anything.

But it does get you thinking...If I really had to pick, what would it be?  My first thought was: ice cream!  If I didn't have to worry about my waistline, I'd eat lots of ice cream each and every day!  Chocolate, mint chocolate chip, with lots of crunchy nuts...

But when I thought more about it, my brain went right to molten chocolate cake, with vanilla ice cream.  There is something truly magical about the liquid pool of warm chocolate that flows from this cake that mixes perfectly with the cold ice cream on your tongue.  I guess I may be cheating by incorporating two desserts into one but they belong together.

Now although the molten cake is well established for me, I got to thinking about my next favorite thing and it dawned on me that it must be...good old-fashioned brownies.  It is an old friend, for sure.  Ideally, the brownie would be warm, served (again) with vanilla ice cream.  I rarely eat vanilla ice cream on its own but it is the perfect partner to chocolate desserts, isn't it?
I have not inhaled a brownie I didn't appreciate, including those that come at the end of a kids' meal.  And I didn't fail to notice that my two favorite picks are very similar.  The brownies and ice cream is almost like the predecessor, more accessible/approachable cousin of the two.  If I'd never met the molten cake, maybe my heart would still belong to the brownie...

Long ago when we were dating, my husband and I used to eat at Uno all the time.  We'd order almost the same things every time: buffalo wings or pizza skins (sometimes both) to start, then, almost invariably, fettucine alfredo with chicken and broccoli for me and chicken spinoccoli or something else for my husband (he was/is the more adventurous of the two of us).  And we would always end the meal by sharing the brownie bowl.  Warm brownie, vanilla ice cream, fudge know what I'm talking about!

Don't I wish we could still eat like that on a regular basis!  In fact, we hadn't eaten at Uno (or "Uno's" as we call it) in years - as in at least 7 years since our son was born.  I'm not altogether sure why but what probably got me thinking about all this was we finally ate at Uno again a couple of weeks ago.  Over a long weekend, we took an extended-family trip to an indoor water park.  For dinner that night, we saw an Uno across the street and decided to go.  There were 5 kids in our group, who got to make their own pizzas and get the Uno experience for the first time (it was a hit).  For my husband and I, we marveled that the menu was the same - if anything, the portions seemed even bigger than we remembered - and the buffalo wings were just as good as ever. 

We capped off that meal with mini desserts - for me, the brownie bowl!  I don't know what it is but once I had dessert, my body relaxed and I finally felt satisfied.  Sure, maybe the brownie didn't have a ton of chocolate flavor, but somehow the combination of warm brownie, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate sauce hits the spot no matter what.  (If you ever go to a Houstons, I recommend the warm five-nut brownie that comes with vanilla ice cream.)
I remember fondly making my first pan of brownies at a friend's house when I was barely a teenager.  And I used to make brownies from the box all the time before I started cooking and baking from scratch.  As good as homemade is, I'd forgotten the one great thing about the boxed mix - how chewy the brownies are.  Remember those super chewy edges - the reason why those funny looking brownie edge pans were born?  So this whole walk down memory lane lead me into trying the America's Test Kitchen recipe for chewy brownies.

I won't bore you with all the science behind what they discovered (since I only understand the basics myself) but supposedly, a lower ratio of saturated fat to unsaturated fat is key.  That is, you use more oil as opposed to butter.  There are other nuances but I'll leave the explanations to the experts.  It makes sense when you consider that we never added butter to those supermarket box mixes, just oil and eggs. 
Now, to talk about this recipe, my brownies were not as chewy as I expected or remember the box versions being.  As always, I give my honest experience and takeaway.  Because they're clearly billed as "chewy", I was expecting stick-to-your-teeth kind of chewiness - or something close to it.  Maybe it was me but these were definitely fudgy, with crisp and just slightly chewy edges.  I wouldn't take a bite and say "wow, these are really chewy brownies!"  And I did cool them thoroughly before slicing or tasting them - a good 2 1/2 hours  - as the recipe says is a must.

The combination of taste and texture did remind me of a really good box mix brownie though.  Actually, to be fair, it's much better than a brownie mix as far as flavor goes.  But maybe because it was on my mind or because it does have a slightly milder flavor than other brownies I've baked from scratch, it reminded me of those box mixes I proudly whipped up back in the day.

My taste has changed a bit since I baked that first batch of brownies with my school friend long ago.  Now, I look for fudginess with a bit of chew and I want deep chocolate flavor.  If you're the same way, let me point you to this recipe: here (it's in cake form but you could simply bake it in a square pan and forgo the frosting).  That said, however, we had no problems gobbling up this batch of brownies and I most certainly appreciated it.

If you want to give this recipe a try, it is from the kitchen scientists at America's Test Kitchen

The recipes calls for cocoa powder, unsweetened chocolate and bittersweet chocolate (stirred in at the end for added flavor and texture) so there's a little bit of chopping and prep work involved.  The good news is you can get the batter mixed up in a large bowl with a whisk and a rubber spatula.
I divided the recipe in half and baked mine in an 8-inch square baking pan for just under 25 minutes.  The recipe is very precise about thoroughly cooling the brownies - a total of 2 1/2 hours - before cutting and eating in order to maximize the chewiness. 

Call me crazy but I thought the brownies were less chewy the day after baking but had more chocolate flavor.  It took us less than 3 days to polish off ours, and I can vouch that they stayed moist and fudgy (in the centers) stored in an airtight container.


The America's Test Kitchen recipe for chewy brownies can be found: here


  1. I'm with you...molten chocolate cake (or any warm gooey chocolatey cake) with ice cream is THE BEST. These brownies look great! I can't believe you used to eat that meal at Uno's and didn't weigh 500 lbs!

  2. haha! Amy, I am amazed when I think about all the food I used to put away without a second's thought!

    I think I had a pretty good metabolism but it caught up with me after I had my son and turned 30. A few years ago, I dropped some pounds I'd been stealthly adding on and I'm in the" everything-in-moderation" mode now. It's hard when you love to eat like I do and I feel like I used to eat it all but now my waistline expands just sniffing the stuff! No more thousand-calorie + meals at Uno's for me but I save room for chocolate and all the necessities! : )

  3. I definitely love brownies! Have you tried the King Arthur Flour brownies? They are definitely my favorite fudgy brownies, but they don't use oil like the ATK people said. Oh well. :) We all have our faves!

  4. No, I haven't tried the KAF recipe. There must be 8 million brownie recipe out there but that gives us 8 millions reasons to eat brownies! I think that recipe is a cocoa-only based one? I was just thinking that is one type of brownie I've yet to make so it will eventually get made and consumed. : )

  5. your brownies look perfect! the triple chocolate espresso brownies i make are also an America's Test Kitchen recipe, found in one of their cookbook. I believe this chewy version is in there too, so i'm going to have to try it (all in the name of research, right? such difficult work we all do...i don't know how we trudge through it.) :)

  6. Hi Shannon: if you do try this ATK "chewy" brownie recipe one day, I'd be interested in whether yours came out really chewy. Mine were more fudgy, not that I'm complaining. And you're right, it's such *difficult* work that we have so many brownie and chocolate chip cookies to try! ; )

  7. After just making brownies and writing a huge post about cheating on my old brownie recipe with a new one, leave it to America's Test Kitchen to tempt me with more info and another recipe. Your photos are perfect and make me want to try these!

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Averie. I find that when it comes to brownies, loyalty is fickle at best. They are just too easy to love. : )



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