Wednesday, August 26, 2009

less (can be) more

Once in a while you just need chocolate. I'll amend that -- once in a while, a girl just needs chocolate. I'm not sure we'll ever know what it is about chocolate that calls women of all ages across the room to the cupboard, down the street to the deli, or even to a nearby Starbucks to get their fix. For me, the hankering often starts its familiar pull around 3pm, and it's all I can do to stop myself from walking into my boss's office and stealing from her bottomless jar of bite-size candy bars. Don't get me wrong, half the time I DO sneak down and stealthily (if no one sees me, it never happened...) pick a snack that is usually safe in my belly before I'm back at my desk.

Sometimes the chocolate need rears its ugly head after work, usually resulting in a Skinny Cow ice cream bar if my conscience is weighing on me. If it's not, look out. The motto at my previous job was "go big or go home" and I like to think I've applied that mentality to several aspects of my life -- serious chocolate cravings included. Tonight I found my conscious hiding behind two sticks of butter, so what was I to do... but whip together a batch of perfect brownies.

This is the best recipe I've found for instant -- and truly satisfying -- chocolate gratification. It comes together in moments and is out of the oven before you can thaw the ice cream enough to scoop. It's the perfect medium between fudgy and cakey and yields just the right amount so you won't be indulging all week long.

So go ahead, get your fix. Just remember to get up in the morning to run it off :)

Best Cocoa Brownies

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup pecan pieces

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.*

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

*Like other reviewers of this recipe, I microwaved the sugar and butter, then mixed in the salt and cocoa powder before adding the vanilla and eggs.

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