Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Brownie Points

The brownie is a classic American dessert. It's a basic that every cook should have in his or her recipe arsenal, the little black dress of the dessert world. It can stand on its own, or be dressed up in infinite ways to transform it into an elegant dessert. Last year I did an article on caramel for Fine Cooking magazine, and this is one of the recipes I created for it. I actually make these brownies often, because they're so decadent and delicious, yet easy to prepare. They never fail to please. A sure way to score brownie points.

Caramel Pecan Brownies
Makes 36 brownies

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups pecan halves, coarsely chopped

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 cup pecan halves, chopped and toasted

Make the brownies:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan and set aside. Place the butter and chocolate in a medium heavy saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until well blended. Gradually whisk in the sugar and continue to whisk vigorously until well blended. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture, salt and vanilla extract. Add the flour and whisk until blended. Stir in the pecans and scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it into an even layer. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until firm to the touch. Transfer the pan to a wire rack.

Make the topping:
2. While the brownies are baking, make the caramel topping. Fill a cup with water and place a pastry brush in it (this will be used for washing down the sides of the pan to prevent crystallization). In a clean, heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, stir together the sugar, water and lemon juice. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, occasionally washing down the sides of the pan to wash away sugar crystals, until the mixture starts to color around the edges. Gently swirl the pan to ensure that the sugar caramelizes evenly. Continue to cook until the sugar turns deep amber. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the heavy cream -- the mixture will bubble up furiously. Once the bubbling has subsided, add the butter and stir until completely melted. Whisk in the salt and vanilla extract. When the brownies come out of the oven, let them cool for 10 minutes, until the top is no longer puffed. Pour the caramel topping over the hot brownies, using a spatula to spread it over the entire top. Let the brownies cool on the wire rack for 45 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour, until the caramel topping is set.

Drizzle chocolate:
3. Combine the chocolate and heavy cream in a small saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour the chocolate into a small sealable plastic bag and seal the bag. Using scissors, snip a small hole in a corner of the bag and drizzle the chocolate over the brownies. Sprinkle the chopped pecans on top. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until the chocolate is set.

4. Using a sharp knife, cut into 36 bars. Serve chilled or at room temperature. (Brownies will keep in refrigerator, well covered, for up to 5 days.)