Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Artpark Brownies

I've been working on making some changes in my life.  The biggest, and change I'm most nervous and excited about, is my recent career change.  I've been feeling a little ambivalent about architecture lately.  I still love architecture and design, and I think I always will.  At the same time, however, this little interest I have for food and writing and such has been growing more and more over the last few months.  It's grown so much, that the thought of going back to graduate school to study architecture was just not sitting well with me anymore.  I figured that the best course of action would be to step aside from architecture for a bit and try something new for a while.  I embraced this decision whole-heartedly, and I actually landed a job at Random House, to work with the Clarkson Potter editorial team. I started this week, and while it's a major change, it's a change I'm very happy with so far.  I can't say I'm completely sure I know what I'm doing or where I'm planning on going with all of this, because I don't know, but I'm excited to find out and see what happens.

I've been reading a lot more food-related books lately, and I'm hoping to grow a nice little collection to match my growing cookbook collection.  One of the books I recently finished reading is Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table.  In this book, Ruth Reichl, a well-known food writer, shares memorable moments from her life and details how she came to love food.  The book is charming and funny, and makes you love food just as much as she does.  Scattered throughout her stories are the recipes from the defining moments in her life, and the recipe for these Artpark Brownies caught my eye immediately.  Ruth's brownies were known for being "the best in the world," so I knew that this was one recipe I had to try for myself.

The brownies themselves are very simple to prepare.  There's nothing overly complicated, but unlike most brownies I make, I actually pulled out my stand mixer for these.  It's an unusual piece of equipment for brownies, but when a recipe calls for beating something at high speed for ten minutes, the stand mixer just sounds like a good idea.  Like any fudgey brownie, these start off by melting butter and chocolate together in a double boiler until they're smooth and silky. For these brownies, use the best unsweetened chocolate you can get your hands on.  Chocolate is one of those ingredients that truly does make a difference in the final outcome of your baked goods.  That's not to say that you need to splurge on Valrhona chocolate discs every time you make a simple batch of brownies, because I certainly don't do that, but if you use the best chocolate you can afford, you'll end up with a richer and more delicious product.  While the chocolate and butter are melting, the eggs and sugar are beaten together on high speed for a full ten minutes until they're pale, pale white.  The eggs will be soft and fluffy, and when combined with the fudgey chocolate base, will give the brownies an amazing hybrid texture.

While Ruth describes these brownies in her memoir as being very fudgey, I actually thought they were a perfect balance of cakey and fudgey, which is hard to come by in brownies.  At first bite, I'll admit that I was slightly disappointed in the brownies because I was expecting a dense, fudgey chocolate brownie, and what I tasted wasn't exactly that.  It was kind of cakey, and as I chewed, and took more bites, I realized that the brownies were somehow also kind of fudgey.  It's a little unusual for a brownie to be both, but after about thirty seconds, I realized that I was completely ok with this new textural experience.  This may be the brownie that ends the cakey vs. fudgey debate, because it's really the best of both worlds. 

Aside from having such a unique texture, these brownies are also rich and dense, but more importantly, aren't very sweet.  I really appreciate all chocolate treats that are lightly sweetened, because it means that I'll then be able to really taste the chocolate, rather than sugar-masked chocolate.  Essentially, this is a brownie for those who really love chocolate.  These crackle-topped brownies are decadent little treats that really just might be the best brownies in the world.  Since this recipe was such a success, I know that I'm going to have to give the other recipes in Tender at the Bone a try soon as well.  Enjoy!

Artpark Brownies
recipe from Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, by Ruth Reichl


4 large eggs
pinch of salt
2 cups sugar
5 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sifted all purpose flour


Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease a 9x9-inch baking pan with nonstick spray and line with aluminum foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides.  Spray the foil lightly with nonstick spray.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs with the salt for a few seconds, just to combine.  Add the sugar, and beat on high speed for ten minutes.  The mixture will be very white and fluffy. In the meantime, melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter in a bowl set over a pot with an inch of simmering water.  Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter form a smooth mixture, and then remove from the heat; stir in the vanilla extract.  Set aside to cool until the eggs and sugar have finished mixing.

With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour in the melted chocolate mixture, and mix until incorporated. Stir in the sifted flour, stopping once there are no more streaks of flour.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and level by giving the pan a few firm taps against your kitchen counter.

Place the pan in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 350 degrees F.  Bake the brownies for 40 minutes, or until the top is crackly.  The brownies are meant to be fudgey, so don't over-bake them!  Set the pan on a wire rack and allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan.  Once cool, use the foil overhang to easily lift the brownies out of the pan.  Slice, and enjoy!

Makes 16 brownies


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