You’re having nice people to dinner and you need a nice dessert. You’d like something easy but brilliant, sweet but sophisticated, deceptively simple – you know, a plated version of our ideal selves. Here’s what you don’t want: a labor-intensive tower of dubious taste. You’ve already cooked three courses, and though you sent someone else for wine, you’re now back in the kitchen with only one earring and half-shaved legs. You don’t need to stack genoise or fold souffles; you need a brownie.
I have no new insights on brownies, and good is the only word that fits. Brownie ties run deep and satisfy deeply; good from scratch, good from a mix, from the counter, the bakery, the party and the potluck. Surely every American man, woman, child and beast enters the world begging for brownies.
Years ago I dreamed of moving to Paris and opening a bakery – a cozy ex-pat shop with coffee, apple pie, chocolate chip cookies and brownies, every kind of brownie – iced or bare, with or without nuts, I was sure that Le Brownie would draw cheeky Parisians and comfort-seeking Americans. But today, after baking and eating enough fancy desserts – and brownies – to fill that imaginary store and more, I’m happy here, feeding my friends something pretty – something sweet, low, and easy.
I’ve learned the great chocolate secret: with just a few kitchen basics, the humble brownie easily climbs to a plated dessert, and wows your guests without overwhelming you. Ready? I mean, it’s a brownie. You’re always ready.
Warm Mocha Brownies with Strawberries & Cream
You will need:
4 – 6 mocha brownie rounds
1-2 squares of good chocolate – Baker’s semi-sweet works fine
About 1/2 hour before serving, preheat oven to 300 F.
Brownies: make a 9 x 13 pan of deep, dark Mocha Brownies (recipe below). When completely cool, cut shapes from the brownie “slab” with a tall, fluted cutter. Wrap the cut brownies in foil and set aside, up to one day ahead. Gather and eat the brownie scraps. Immediately.
Whipped Cream: Using an electric mixer, beat about one cup of heavy cream with a little powdered sugar to nice, soft peaks. If you’re short on time, you can certainly use ready-made whipped cream. Set whipped cream aside.
Chocolate Shavings: Use a microwave to barely soften the chocolate squares, heating for a few seconds only. Watch carefully – chocolate should not feel warm or melted, just barely softened and room temperature.
Over a small plate, hold a chocolate square in one hand and a vegetable peeler in the other. Pull peeler down one long side of square to create rough curls and shavings. Repeat until you’ve created a small chocolate heap, and set plate aside.
Strawberries: slice or “fan” large strawberries and set aside.
Serving: Place mocha brownie rounds on a baking sheet, and warm in preheated oven for about 5 minutes, just to heated through.
Remove from oven and immediately place each round on a plate. Spoon or pipe whipped cream atop each brownie. Using a spoon, sprinkle chocolate shavings over whipped cream. Sift powdered sugar lightly over each dessert and garnish plate with strawberries. Voila!
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups golden brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon instant espresso or coffee
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Cut parchment or waxed paper to fit the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking pan. Butter or cooking spray the pan. Press in the parchment or waxed paper to fit, and butter or spray again. Set aside.
In a large, microwave-safe bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, instant espresso or coffee, and chocolate. Microwave on high for 1 minute, then stir. If chocolate is not softened, continue to microwave at 20-second intervals, removing before completely melted. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally to release steam, at least 5 minutes.
Whisk the melted mixture to smooth, then whisk in eggs and vanilla to thoroughly combine. Switch to a spatula, and mix in the flour and salt until just combined. Pour mixture into prepared pan and smooth top with spatula. Bake in 325 F oven for approximately 30-35 minutes, or top appears dry, feels almost firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out nearly clean. Remove from oven and cool.
When completely cool and firm, run a knife around the edges of the pan. Turn the brownie sheet out onto a baking sheet, then invert again onto a work surface. Cut into squares or use cutter to create shapes, and serve.