Since childhood, I’ve loved chocolate, nearly every form, from Hershey’s milk chocolate bars,(with or without nuts) to thickly iced cupcakes, to brownies and layer cakes. The brownies I first encountered happened when I visited my father,Irving, a baker, at one of his six bakeries in Newark, New Jersey. Baking was his business for several decades from the 1930’s to late 1950’s. His father Pincus, wanted him to take over the bakery business shortly after my Dad finished law school at Rutgers college. Back then it was called Mercer Beasley college based in Newark.
My father worked long, late hours and when he arrived home, after he settled in an easy chair in the basement, eyes closed from exhaustion, I sprayed Bactine on his feet because they hurt him a lot and the cool, green liquid soothed him. He giggled when the chilly medicine, as it was called back then, hit his feet! I performed this service often for my Dad when I was about 8 until just after I turned 10. My father died suddenly when I was 10.
Although awful and traumatic of course to loose my Dad when I was so young,(I was numb for decades. My mother took me to therapy which was indeed helpful. As an adult I also partook of more therapy), I credit my father with ingraining in me my passion for baking. When I would visit Dad at one of his bakeries (the one where he had his main office upstairs), I still can visualize rows and rows of cakes, cookies, donuts, and especially brownies in the glass cases. The brownies were iced in a flowery pattern, attractive and so yummy!
So today, over the past fifty years, chocolate has been my go-to sweet when I bake. My kitchen shelves are full of all different kinds of chocolate– cocoa powder, semi-sweet chocolate,bitter chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, white chocolate.
Lately, I’ve done some research on chocolate as I learn more about premium American chocolate, imported varieties from Switzerland, France, Germany as well as Dutch varieties. I quote the recently-deceased cookbook author and chocolate expert, Alice Medrich who states,”Ordinary chocolate makes good-enough desserts, but great chocolate makes fabulous desserts”. The composition of chocolate has changed in the last 10-15 years, and still unfolds, as Americans continue to buy imported brands from around the world.
As one looks at the chocolate liquor and cocoa bean content on labels, you’ll see the higher percentage of those ingredients,(for example, bittersweet chocolate 70%) indicates more intense flavor of chocolate. However,more sugar in chocolate, such as with milk chocolate and you’re down, on average to 27% which shows the sweet flavor of milk chocolate is high sugar, not the intense chocolate flavor in premium chocolate with more chocolate liquor and cocoa beans. American baking companies are learning from their European counterparts and recently have begun to blend their chocolate baking products differently. Some are using less sugar,and more real chocolate flavor and may be having more success!
12 oz. butter
1/4 cup Crisco – solid piece
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 Tablespoon honey
1 egg, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup high quality cocoa powder, sifted
8 oz. flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 rd cup semisweet chocolate chunks or chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts of your choice, but not peanuts
sprinkling of sea salt or confectioners sugar, as topping
1 Using a 10-inch cast iron skillet or an oven safe one, heat the butter and Crisco together until just melted. Take off the heat and add the sugars and honey, stirring occasionally. This can take 3-5 minutes. let the mixture cool several minutes.
2 Add the egg and egg yolks one at a time, stirring slowly after each addition. Add the vanilla,stirring gently with a spatula, then in 2-3 portions add the cocoa, stirring it in gently. Finally,add the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, mixing them together first, and then slowly folding them into the pan until well mixed. Add the chocolate chunks, and the nuts, if using.Stir lightly until combined. With a spatula, even out the chocolate mound.
3 Chill the pan, covered with plastic, in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
4 Preheat the oven for a good 15 minutes at 350 before you put the pan in the oven. Remove the pan from the refrigerator 10 minutes before you put the pan in the oven. And, before you do put the pan in the oven, sprinkle with a small handful of sea salt, or after the cookie is baked and cooled, sprinkle a small handful of confectioners sugar through a strainer with very small holes. Do this process as you hold the strainer many inches above the pan so you avoid any clumping of the confectioners sugar.
5 Bake 20-22 minutes until the center looks slightly dry and the edges seem to be pulling away very slightly from the pan. A bit in from the edges and you’ll see some cracking, which is fine. Don’t over bake, unless you want crispy cookies!
6 Serve warm or cooled with ice cream or whipped cream or, just alone.
Tips and Tweaks
# Different additions can be added, such as raisins, unsweetened coconut, dried fruit or berries etc.,to the brownies if you don’t want to keep it pure and simple. However, don’t overdo it since it might interfere with the luscious taste of the brownie. Yet if you add any of these suggestions, keep them to about half a cup total, otherwise too you might overfill the pan!
# use, if available, the best high quality chocolate for the cocoa and the semi sweet chocolate. Like Alice Medrick says, the best chocolate does make a difference in taste!
# Regarding nuts, keep them chunky to really relish the nice combination of chocolate and nuts when you bit down.