When I was in Brooklyn a few months back doing a booksigning with the lovely folks from The Brooklyn Kitchen, a friendly woman came up to me bearing a box of treats from her bakery. I don’t like to eat in front of people, because, frankly, no one wants to meet up with an author while he is shoving pastries in his mouth. And in this day and age of people wanting pictures, I’ve learned that absolutely no one looks good when they’ve got a mouth full of food. And I have a hunch that there are a bunch of photos tagged with my name on them, around the internet, that will prove that.
Results tagged brownies from David Lebovitz
One of the best ways to ensure that baked goods will come out of a pan, especially sweet treats that tend to have sticky edges, it to line a baking pan with aluminum foil. Bar cookies and brownies are very good candidates for baking in foil-lined pans. I recommend using the heaviest aluminum foil you can find as the flimsy stuff tears easily. Here’s how I do it:
The French do a lot of baked goods very well. if you’ve been to Paris, you don’t need me to tell you that with over 1300 bakeries in Paris, it’s not hard to find a pastry or baked good on every block that will be more satisfying than you can imagine.
One of the rare baked goods that the French haven’t quite mastered are les brownies. If you see them in bakeries and try one, you’ll find they’re often on the pas humid side. I’m not sure why, because they’re simple to make, and don’t require any special techniques: You just stir everything together, scrape the batter into a pan, and bake them. The only astuce (cooking tip) is that it’s important to watch them like a hawk, taking them out of the oven at the point where they’re still going to be soft and crémeux à l’intérieur.
In August, we were visiting some friends who live on an organic farm in the Poitou-Charentes, and after dinner, Hélène, presented us with a large tart-like creation that looked like a big, flat chocolate cake that she’d baked up in between her other chores. I was told they were les brownies, but hers were different. In addition to a little bit of coconut that was added, which gave them a slightly elusive tropical flavor, they were moist and uber-chocolaty. I couldn’t keep myself away from them.
The French don’t usually snack with the same fervor that Americans do (Romain’s father was once shocked to learn that I ate between meals), but I spend a good part of my day picking at any and all desserts that are within arm’s reach. And when everyone else was out in the fields down on the farm, weeding and working on hedges, I stayed back in the house, reading in a comfy chair — and found myself circling back around and around the pan of brownies, cutting off une lichette (a sliver), to help myself.
Where I grew up, we were neighbors with the Hepburn family. They were very nice people and were considered “walkers”, those curious people who live in suburbia that walk, rather than drive everywhere. We used to see them walking all the time and we’d always give them a wave. And then, we’d hit the gas pedal and keep driving.
We didn’t mingle much, and I didn’t see the most famous member of their family since she lived down by the seashore. Perhaps it was a mixed blessing that she didn’t live all that close because she was reputed to be a handful at the neighborhood meetings where she lived, and was said to be pretty sharp with a retort. But I don’t deal in celebrity gossip and as they say in New England, “High fences make good neighbors”, and we all kept to ourselves. Although word has it that she made excellent brownies, which I never got to sample from her oven, unfortunately.
Years later, when I went to chocolate school in Belgium, I asked why unsweetened chocolate, which we frequently use in recipes in America (especially brownies), wasn’t easily available – or used – in Europe baking as well. And the folks at Callebaut Chocolate Academy didn’t really know either but told me that almost most of what they made was for the American market.
One of the nifty things about a blog is that you can easily revisit recipes and make revisions, while learning more about baking, and sharing those discoveries, as you go. When I wrote Ready for Dessert, I was able to update my favorite recipes, many created over a decade ago, and I had fun including the changes I’d made over the years.
I know I’m just starting here, but before you and I go any further, I just have to say one thing about these brownies: They’re pretty insane. I made these brownies about fifteen years ago and found it patiently waiting in the back of my recipe files. And giving it a read-through, it all came flooding back to me and I was struck with the urge to make them again.
One of the things I remember most about these brownies is how massive they were and how heavy the pan was. The pan is so heavy that I can’t imagine most people would be able to heft it with one hand. In fact, I was going to weight the pan just to prove it to you but my baking scale didn’t go that high. Yowza.
I’d been planning for this trip for years, ever since I first laid my hands on a copy of Baked, the cookbook. Quite a few baking books come out and a lot are really good, but this one spoke to me. I mean, each and every dessert sounded like something I not only wanted to bake, but wanted to eat. As in right away.
As I read through the pages, I have to say that I fell in love with everything in there, from the Baked brownies to the Sweet and Salty Chocolate Cake. With those swirls and swirls of shiny, dark chocolate, I just wanted to dive right into that cake headfirst. And I know this might get me into a little trouble, but I found I had a sweet spot for the authors as well.
I was entranced because Renato Poliafito and Matt Lewis of Baked share with me a similar sensibility about desserts: we seem to agree that forceful, dynamic flavors, trump elaborate presentations, and prefer to let just a few great ingredients shine. Unfortunately it took me about a year after I read their book (and an interesting bus ride from Manhattan) to get there, but it was worth the wait.
One of the things that no one prepares you for when you write a book, is that people are going to be in touch, many that you haven’t seen in a long, long time.
When Room for Dessert came out in 1999, I heard from people that I knew all the way back in high school. While I don’t quite share everyone’s glee for wanting to relive all the “good ol’ days”, I did get a message from someone who’d gone to the same college as me, and whose family had been making wonderful-smelling extracts since 1890. And what particularly caught my attention was that he mentioned the magic word—chocolate.
His family’s company, Star Kay White, produces extracts, mostly to sell to the ice cream and confectionery industry. But back then, they were just launching their extracts for home bakers. I asked Ben Katzenstein, who wrote to me, what exactly chocolate extract was, and he explained that when cacao beans are ground up into chocolate, some of the ‘top notes’ of the beans are lost in the process and adding chocolate extract replaces them.
Their chocolate extract is made without heat to avoid ameliorating the true flavor: the beans are soaked in alcohol, then removed. What’s left is a deep-dark brown elixir of highly-concentrated pure chocolate flavor and aroma. If you take the cap off and give it a sniff, the scent of pure chocolate will blow you away.
The vexing thing is since chocolate extract somewhat of an unusual ingredient, it’s hard to call for chocolate extract in a recipe, since a majority of people probably don’t keep it on hand, like I do. So it falls into the “optional” category. But at home, I find myself adding a teaspoon to almost any chocolate cake, cookie, brownie, or ice cream mixture that I’m stirring up. You can replace the vanilla extract with chocolate extract, but they work so well together, I often add both.
When I taught cooking classes, I’d often bring bottles with me to pass around for a sniff, and the look on people’s faces was first of disbelief, then surprise, and a big smile would rise in their face. It was always quite a surprise to find something so chocolaty in such a little bottle.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, this morning when I was mixing up my second batch of Baked Brownies for the week (I have no idea what happened to the first one…I swear), I pulled out my little bottle and spilled a bit into the batter, then stirred it up.
And when the batch of brownies went into my now-famous oven, I licked the chocolate-covered spatula clean as the day I bought it. I can’t say for sure whether I would’ve done that had I not added some chocolate extract to the batter. But it definitely didn’t hurt.
Related links and posts:
Star Kay White Chocolate Extract (Amazon)
Star Kay White Chocolate Extract (Dean & DeLuca)
The Best Ingredients Make the Best Cookies (Fine Cooking magazine)
Clotilde’s Very Chocolate Cookies (Recipe)