Rich and gooey brownies have a way of returning us to our memories, but re-creating this classic American cake can be challenging in a foreign context.
There are those times which occasional crop up when it is very easy to miss the little things you really enjoyed from an earlier time or different location. This doesn’t often happen to me, but I will admit…I do have an Achilles heel when it comes to brownies.
For some reason (a reason I’ve never really tried to figure out), I always seem to close my eyes as I prepare to take that first bite out of a rich and moist deep chocolate brownie. I simply savor the feeling of all that fat and chocolate oozing down my throat…and I don’t feel an ounce of guilt. I am, once again, that sneaky little child doing something that may get him in trouble.
It’s not surprising to me the brownie is much adored in the United States. After all, this very sweet and rich sponge cake with a crisp outside and fudgy inside has been known in America at least since Fannie Farmer first published her recipe in 1896 in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book. And even though this famous brownie recipe has undergone radical changes throughout the years, somehow good taste and sense eventually brings us back to the original.
Brownies are actually quite humble. They are simply made with eggs, flour, sugar, butter and chocolate, then cut into squares after they are baked. That’s it…except for the intermittent use of vanilla essence and walnuts. Simple…right?
Well…no actually! It’s just not that easy to successfully make a recipe from a source which has a different context.
There are always a few things to consider when trying to re-create a recipe from the past…or from a different country. For instance, the ingredients can be radically different, the measurements might be in metric terms rather than volume terms, the oven may be smaller (which creates a hotter environment), or past techniques may no longer apply in this modern world.
To give my brownies a Swiss accent, I used the following ingredients.
The Chocolate: There is no room here for sacrifice …hey, this is a chocolate recipe remember – so I used the finest Grand Cru dark chocolate available, which also happens to come from the Swiss company Felchlin. I used 65% Maracaibo in the recipe below.
The Butter: Butter throughout most of Europe has 82% butterfat and contains no salt. This is what I would recommend.
The Flour: I used normal Swiss all-purpose flour for the brownies…and I would definitely recommend weighing the flour. Volume measurements are simply not accurate, and the actual weight of the flour often greatly differs depending on how fine the wheat was milled.
The Eggs: Not much mystery here…just use normal sized eggs for the recipe.
The Sugar and Brown Sugar: I used normal crystallized sugar in the recipe. I easily make my own brown sugar by combining 10 grams of real molasses with 100 grams of extra fine sugar (not powdered sugar).
The Vanilla: I really like the added boost of vanilla in these brownies, but real vanilla extract is difficult to find in Switzerland. Here are the options… Make your own extract by soaking split beans in a small amount of vodka for one month, use 1 teaspoon of vanilla sugar (preferably homemade), or split a vanilla bean into the eggs before mixing them with the sugar.
These brownies have now become a staple for my future…one I love even more than the memory. Now…time to close my eyes and take a bite…
Fudge Brownies – Our Recipe…
Start by heating the oven to 160°C and greasing your brownie pan well with butter (we use one measuring 16-cm x 24-cm), then lining the bottom of the pan with some parchment paper. Go ahead and grease the paper as well, then set aside the pan. Measure all of the ingredients: Combine 110 grams of butter with 220 grams of dark chocolate in a glass or stainless steal bowl; then mix together in a separate bowl 200 grams of sugar with 25 grams brown sugar, 3 whole eggs and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract; Finally, in a third bowl combine 110 grams of all-purpose flour with 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder and a small pinch of salt.
When your ingredients are set aside and ready, go ahead and begin making the brownies. Melt together the butter and chocolate carefully over a double boiler by placing the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Make sure to stir the often to prevent the chocolate from scorching. When everything is melted, remove the bowl from the pot and wipe the bottom dry with a clean towel. Meanwhile, beat together the eggs, vanilla extract and sugars. Whip until the mixture just becomes pale and slightly thick – this will take about 2-3 minutes. Add the whipped egg mixture to the melted chocolate and mix well until everything homogeneous. Fold in the flour mixture, then pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely before slicing.
We like turning the brownies out onto a parchment paper lined cutting board, then flipping again onto another parchment paper lined cutting board in order to cut even squares. We trim off the sides, then measure and cut 4-cm squares. The brownies taste great warm, but they are even better after refrigerating them over night…that is if you can wait that long.