High-altitude baking: A slimmed-down brownie treat
The Anti-Brownie … that’s what I almost called this cookie. I decided against it because it sounds malevolent and this little gem is too tasty to be seen in negative terms. Yet, it is, in many ways, the opposite of a typical brownie. Rather than thick, fudgy and dense, as are most brownies, this hit of chocolate comes in a crisp, thin wafer. And the difference in shape and texture, along with the bitterness of the chocolate, give it a very adult edge. As an accompaniment to strawberries and cream or sorbet, it makes a sophisticated, but simple dessert.
The thins come together quickly and (hip, hip, hooray) require the use of only one bowl and no electric mixer. If you decide to glaze the cookies, which adds another hit of chocolate and a decorative touch, a second container is involved. But, hey, can we really complain about two dirty dishes?
The recipe is almost a no-brainer. The only problem I’ve ever encountered is underbaking the thins, so, once cut and cooled, they lack crispness. If this occurs, it’s easily remedied: Just reheat the oven, place the cookies on a cookie sheet (or, if still on their foil liner, slide it on a cookie sheet) and bake them until they firm up (usually about more five to 10 minutes). Remove them and let them cool.
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Make in a 15 X10 X1 inch jelly roll pan
8 (eight) tablespoons (one stick) of unsalted butter
1 (one) ounce of unsweetened chocolate
1 (one) teaspoon of instant coffee crystals
1/2 (one half) cup of granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
1 (one) large egg
1/2 (one half) teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 (one fourth) cup of all purpose flour
1/4 (one fourth) teaspoon of salt
1/2 (one half) cup of finely chopped walnuts, almonds, or pecans
1-1/2 (one and a half) ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 (one half) teaspoon of mild vegetable oil (I use canola)
Step One: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line the jelly roll pan with non-stick Reynolds aluminum foil, parchment or regular foil, letting two ends of the lining extend several inches beyond the pan to use as handles when removing the baked cookies. If using regular foil, grease it.
Step Two: Cut the butter into about 16 pieces and chop the unsweetened chocolate into one-quarter inch pieces. Place them in a large, microwave-safe bowl, put it in the microwave, and, using a medium-low setting (I use #4 in a range from 1-10) heat them until they are almost fully melted. Remove them from the microwave, add the instant coffee crystals, and stir until the melting is complete and the mixture is smooth and shiny.
You can also melt the butter and chocolate in a saucepan over very low heat, stirring until smooth and shiny. Add the instant coffee toward the end of the melting process. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
Step Two: Whisk in the sugar, then the egg and vanilla, whisking until the mixture is smooth, shiny, and thoroughly combined. Add the flour and salt and whisk or stir only until they are completely combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth and level it. It will only be about one-eighth of an inch thick. Sprinkle the chopped nuts all over the top and gently press them into the batter.
Step Three: Bake the brownie (the batter will bubble throughout the baking time) until it is set and firm from the edges to the center. This takes from 16-18 minutes in my oven. Remove the pan from the oven and let it rest a few minutes. Cut the brownie into squares (or whatever shape you choose) while it is still warm. If you wait until it cools and hardens it will break when cut. Leave the cut brownies in the pan and let them cool until they are barely warm. At this point, use the foil/paper handles to carefully remove the cookies from the pan. Leave them on the foil to cool completely.
Step Four: Make the glaze, if you are using it: Finely chop the semisweet chocolate and melt it in the microwave (you may also melt the chocolate in a double boiler). Remove it from the oven and stir in the vegetable oil. Drizzle the mixture decoratively over the cut brownies. Once the glaze sets, the brownie thins are ready to serve or to store, airtight, at a cool room temperature or in the freezer.
This recipe is inspired by one in Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.
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