Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chewey Brownies So Good...They'll Disappear!

If you read the sourdough bread entry, you'll understand why you're staring at a single brownie... They were very popular.

This recipe for chewy brownies comes to us from Phil in Kent, and he relayed it from America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated. I have made one correction.

Here's what Phil had to say about this recipe.

"So when I got my March issue of Cook's Illustrated I instantly was intrigued by the article and recipe for their Chewy Brownies. Basically, they wanted to recreate the texture that is unique in box mix brownies. You know, that chewy goodness, it's fudgy but not oozing out of your mouth and onto your shirt. The research was really interesting...The reason why boxed brownies have such a satisfying chewiness is because it has a strategic balance of fat ratios. (29 % saturated fat 71% unsaturated is ideal) You get a certain percentage of saturated and unsaturated fat from your ingredients. So by combining eggs, egg yolks, butter, chocolate and oil in just the perfect amount, you can achieve the same fat ratio and texture as a box mix brownie.

And…to make sure you get little pockets of oozing chocolates, the recipe has you add chocolate chunks into the batter. Awesome! Here's the recipe. Enjoy!"

Cook's Illustrated Chewy Brownies

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon table salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate


1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Referring to directions in Making a Foil Sling (related), make sling using the following steps: Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and fit into width of pan in the same manner, perpendicular to the first sheet (if using extra-wide foil, fold second sheet lengthwise to 12-inch width). Spray with Pam-type nonstick cooking spray. Note: a glass pan holds heat almost too well; metal could be better.)

2. Whisk cocoa, espresso powder (if using), and 1/3 cup, or so, boiling water together in large bowl until smooth. Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted. Whisk in melted butter and oil. (Mixture may look curdled.) Add eggs, yolks, and vanilla and continue to whisk until smooth and homogeneous. Whisk in sugar until fully incorporated. Add flour and salt and mix with rubber spatula until combined. Fold in bittersweet chocolate pieces.

3. Scrape batter into prepared pan (line pan with aluminum foil, to facilitate removal, and spray the foil with Pam) and bake until toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached,
30-35 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack, leave brownies in pan, and cool 1½ hours.

4. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Return brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve (try serving with ice cream on top.)
Cook's Illustrated
Note: For the chewiest texture, it is important to let the brownies cool thoroughly before cutting. If your baking dish is glass, cool the brownies 10 minutes, then remove them promptly from the pan (otherwise, the superior heat retention of glass can lead to over-baking). While any high-quality chocolate can be used in this recipe, our preferred brands of bittersweet chocolate are Callebaut Intense Dark Chocolate L-60-40NV and Ghiradelli Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar. Our preferred brand of unsweetened chocolate is Scharffen Berger. Leftover brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

I have an admission to make... The kiddos did not permit me to let the brownies cool long enough, but it really didn't seem to matter. They were delicious and very, very CHEWEY!

Sourdough Bread for Dummies

You probably expected to see an entire loaf of sourdough bread, right? Well, it went too quickly for that, I'm afraid.

I've been baking sourdough bread for about a year now, and, while it's not complicated, it can be time-consuming. The process begins with the "sponge." This is the sourdough bread starter, and it can take a while before it's ready for sourdough bread (or as an added ingredient in other recipes).

I started my sponge with special sourdough yeast found at a local grocery store. The key is to remember to take it out every few weeks for its "feedings." This ensures that the yeast remains viable. I generally will remove about half a cup of sponge every time I bring it out, being sure to replace with a half cup of flour, a little warm water, and a tsp of sugar, or so.

Here's a recipe for the sourdough bread--once you've got the usable sponge.

1 cup warm water
3 & 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 cup sourdough starter
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of yeast (optional / as bread insurance)

The yeast is optional. If your sourdough sponge is sufficiently active, it's not necessary. Of course, the yeast is added to a little bit of the warmed water and sugar prior to adding to the rest of the ingredients; it has to be activated.

I start the sourdough in the bread machine, then I transfer the formed loaf to a gently warmed oven. (Be careful not to leave the heat on in the oven, as 200 degrees is even too warm for the rising bread.) I generally give the bread three or four hours rising time total. This seems to improve the flavor.

Bake for the first ten minutes at 475, then lower to 450 degrees until nicely browned.  I always put a little water in a bake-safe dish as it improves the bread's texture.  

Don't forget that sourdough starter can be used in many different kinds of ways. I frequently use it in bread recipes instead of sour cream. It's particularly great in pretzels and pancakes. Be creative!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lunch at Grand Lux Cafe (Dallas Galleria)

I hope my readers had a great Christmas and New Year's Day! We recently returned from a few pleasant weeks in the Dallas, TX. area to visit family.

The trip gave us the welcome opportunity to try a number of great restaurants, but the Grand Lux Cafe at the Galleria Dallas has to be at the top of my list. I hate to admit it, but one of the criterion I weigh heavily in looking at a restaurant is the quality of the coffee that's served. So frequently in Texas, coffee has the strength of a weak cup of tea. Unfortunately, it often has neither a bold or full flavor nor welcoming aroma. In fact, it often appears to be prepared using unfiltered water in communities sometimes recognized for relatively poor water quality to begin with. If good water isn't the first ingredient, the best coffee will fall short.

While the disclosure above may set me apart as a crazy Pacific Northwest coffee purist, the truth of the matter is that the Grand Lux Cafe understands all this. The coffee, the first thing I believe I tried there, was as satisfying and full-flavored as the best Pacific Northwest restaurant could offer. (Granted, a view of the ocean would have been an added benefit.) Being a little under the weather at the time with a cough, it was also greatly appreciated to have such attentive waitstaff ensuring that one's coffee cup never ran dry.

The quality and attention to detail didn't stop there, though. The fresh-baked bread delivered to the table before the meal was absolutely delicious. The whole wheat bread was particularly awe-inspiring, perhaps the best I've eaten. For my main entree, I selected the Reuben Sandwich, which included "warm Pastrami Topped with Sauerkraut Or Cole Slaw, Havarti Cheese and Thousand Island Dressing on Grilled Rye. Served with an Organic Green Salad or French Fries." I have to say that this was one of the most delicious Reubens I've ever eaten.

As a table, we ordered several different deserts in order try an assortment. We tasted their fabulous Creme Brulee Duo (both vanilla as well as a dark chocolate version) as well as something called New Orleans Beignets. These were similar to doughnuts, but included several delicious dipping sauces. While everything was excellent, I think the classic vanilla creme brulee was my favorite desert for the day. It was such a great lunch, I don't think anyone was particularly interested in dinner that evening.

A few words also need to be added about the restaurant's appealing architecture and design. As can be seen in the second photo above, there was a great deal of attention to detail in this area, as well. The good lighting and high gold-colored ceilings give the dining area a remarkably pleasant ambience. In fact, it all creates such an inviting atmosphere that one just wants to continue to sit and enjoy it after the meal has concluded. Tasteful art reproductions are also included. Even in areas where no windows were possible, elegant decorative windows were added which really do compliment the overall lighting and feel of the room. I hope we can look forward to a Grand Lux Cafe in Seattle or Portland in the coming years. We'd love to welcome them to the Pacific Northwest!