Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Brownies


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By Alaina Sullivan

Despite its simple seven-ingredient roster, this recipe is rich, complex and sinfully delicious. I bolstered the classic version with some nutty additions: ground almonds were substituted for part of the flour, chopped almonds were folded into the batter, and I even sprinkled more on top before it went into the oven, just for good measure.

When it comes to baking, brownies live outside the "toothpick test" rule that signals the doneness of other baked goods (like cakes and quickbreads). Once a brownie releases a clean toothpick, it's gone too far. The trick is to time the baking so that the top firms up just enough to seal the molten middle. A good brownie is fudgy and moist; a bad brownie is cakey and dry. When my batch emerged, still slightly gooey and studded with nuts, it was hard not to indulge straight from the pan. But if you have the patience to plate, you can't go wrong with a slice a la mode. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

Brownies

Ridiculously easy, ridiculously good.

Time: 30 to 40 minutes

Makes: 9 to 12

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, plus a little more for greasing the pan

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a square baking pan with butter or line it by overlapping 2 pieces of parchment paper or aluminum foil crosswise and grease the lining.

2. Combine the stick of butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan over very low heat, stirring occasionally. (Or microwave them in a large microwave-safe bowl on medium for 10-second intervals, stirring after each.) When the chocolate is just about melted, remove the saucepan from the heat (or bowl from the microwave) and continue to stir until the mixture is smooth.

3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl (or use the bowl you put in the microwave) and stir in the sugar. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gently stir in the flour, salt, and the vanilla if you're using it.

4. Pour and scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until just barely set in the middle. Cool on a rack until set. If you used parchment, lift it out to remove the brownies. If not, cut them in squares right in the pan. Store, covered, at room temperature, for no more than a day.

Tips:

If you use parchment paper (or foil) to line the pan, leave an extra inch or two overhanging each end. When the brownies are cool, grab each flap and lift them out of the pan.

Err on the side of underbaking: An overcooked brownie is dry and cakey, while an undercooked brownie is gooey and delicious.

Variations

Nutty Brownies: In Step 3, substitute 1/4 cup finely ground hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, or pecans (use the food processor or blender to grind them) for 1/4 cup of the flour and add 1 cup lightly toasted, roughly chopped nuts to the batter.

Cocoa Brownies: After the brownies cool a bit but are still warm, put 2 tablespoons cocoa in a small strainer and shake it over the pan to dust the tops of the brownies.

In How to Cook Everything: The Basics Mark Bittman reveals how truly easy it is to learn fundamental techniques and recipes. From dicing vegetables and roasting meat, to cooking building-block meals that include salads, soups, poultry, meats, fish, sides, and desserts, Bittman explains what every home cook, particularly novices, should know.