When I was a kid my mom would often put my brother and I to work in the kitchen. Under supervision we’d scramble eggs for breakfast, cook spaghetti for dinner, or, if we were particularly lucky, we’d make dessert. My brother’s specialty was sugar cookies. My mother would buy those refrigerated logs of Pillsbury cookie dough at the market, then he’d slice them up and decorate each doughy circle with red and green sugar crystals. I always tease him that, even though he’s in his 20′s now, to me he’ll always be that little boy who loved the color red and was so proud when his ruby colored sugar cookies came out of the oven.
I, on the other hand, opted for desserts with chocolate. My affair with all things chocolatey-good goes way back – as this photo of my brother and I making walnut brownies shows. Do you see that happy expression on my face? That “Heeere comes chocolate!” look of gleeful expectation? I still feel that giddy when chocolate comes to town, though my appreciation of dark chocolate and flavor combinations has certainly matured since those sunny days when warm, gooey brownies were just the thing to eat while watching an episode of Alf. (Do you remember Alf? I loved Alf.)
These days some of my favorite chocolate combinations include chocolate-lavender and chocolate-hazelnut. Dagoba sells bars with these flavors, and there is always at least one of each in my super secret chocolate stash. I also make a chocolate-lavender cake with a subtle floral aroma, chocolate depth, and the lovely look of dark brown cake flecked with violet hued flowers. Recently I’ve developed an affinity for Vosges’ red fire chocolate candy bars, which combine the flavors of cinnamon, chipotle and chocolate in one divine confection. Take a look at the ingredients for the chocolate chipotle brownies featured in this post – clearly, it was Vosges inspiration.
I have often wondered where the name “brownie” comes from, but as it turns out this simple question doesn’t have a definite answer. Most food historians claim that brownies are so called because they’re brown in color, but others claim that they’re named after “brownies”, which are mythological fairies with a thing for sugary sweets. The September 2008 issue of Saveur included a curiosity-satisfying article on the history of brownies which you can check out here. Among other things, it notes how the earliest printed recipe for brownies dates to 1896, when the first edition of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cookbook was published. Modern day bakers wouldn’t recognize these brownies, which were made with molasses instead of chocolate, but soon enough someone, somewhere decided chocolate was the way to go – so in the 1906 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook chocolate was the star.
There are many brownie variations – some with frosting, some without, some with more chocolate, some with less. I won’t land on one side or the other of the ingredient list – other than to say you must use the best chocolate you can get your hands on – but I will say that I like my brownies somewhere between fudgey and cakey. I love brownie crusts that are thin and a little glossy, with a few cracks for good measure, and as you can see from the recipe below, I enjoy brownies with a bit of oomph. In the past I’ve made brownies with peppermint, which gives them a crisp, holiday vibe, or added mix-ins like sliced almonds, chopped walnuts or pecans. This time, however, I decided to make rich brownies flavored with cinnamon, vanilla and chipotle. The combination of chipotle and chocolate gives the brownies a smokey depth – when you bite into these you’ll taste the chocolate on the tip of your tongue, then feel the subtle heat of the chili in the back of your throat. It’s a balance of heat and sweetness that my husband and I both enjoy, especially with a hot cup of coffee – though I doubt the 6 year old girl shown in my childhood photo would have appreciated the assertive flavors. What can I say? Tastes, like us, change over the years.
Chocolate Chipotle Brownies
Adapted from this Epicurious recipe
- Ingredients: Makes about 12 brownies, depending on how large you cut them
- 4 ounces unsweetened best-quality chocolate (I like Callebaut, Ghirardelli or Scharffen Berger)
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into four or five pieces
- 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder, according to taste
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup best quality milk chocolate chips
- 2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, extending foil over sides.
In the top of a double boiler set over simmering, not boiling, water, melt the chocolate with the butter, stirring until smooth. (I used a medium-sized metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. The pot should be big enough for half the bowl to fit inside it, but small enough so that the bowl canâ€™t fall in. Also, make sure the bottom of your bowl is not touching the water – there should be at least 3-4 inches of space.)
Once the chocolate and butter are melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Using a whisk, mix in the brown sugar, cinnamon, chipotle and salt. Add the eggs, mixing after each addition, then the vanilla. Continue to whisk until the batter is smooth, about 2 minutes, then add the flour and mix until blended. Stir in the chocolate chips. Pour batter into the pan, tilting the pan to ensure that batter reaches every corner of the pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely, then use the tin foil to lift the brownies out of the pan for slicing. Dust with confectioners sugar.