Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chile + Chocolate = a very satisfying brownie

Quick! Raise your hand if you've ever seen the movie Chocolat?
Quick! Raise your hand if you're tired of the whole chiles and chocolate with sweet thing?

Has the trend of pairing chiles with chocolate in sweet baked goods faded into sweet oblivian?
Or did it kind of flicker on the horizon and then disappear just as quickly?
Or has it just barely fluttered its wings out of the nest of culinary trends?

Honestly, I have no idea. I just know that I love chiles; I love chocolate and putting the two together produces some very sweet things indeed. My favorite lovechild of this amorous couple is brownies (sweet and spicy hot chocolate is a close second).

A rich chocolate brownie that showcases the potential of chiles is tricky to pull off successfully. Honestly, I have never produced good results on my own, so when I found a recipe for Aztec Brownies from Barbara Fisher's blog Tigers & Strawberries, I was over-the-moon ecstatic.

Barbara's recipe looked promising and oh-so appealing. It was rich with chocolate, with a complexity of flavors that looked to be swoon worthy. Best of all, it featured a chile that I had never considered before--ground chipotle!

I was convinced I had to make this recipe--especially for a show 'n' tell to a potential employer/client (more about that later). I made a mental note to make a trip downtown to The Savory Spice Shop for my ground chipotle.

Three days later I readied myself in the kitchen to start baking. I was preparing my "mis en place" and was just about finished when I realized I had forgotten to get my ground chipotle!

I don't allow mess ups like this to set me back in my kitchen, so I dug around for a substitute: Urfa crushed red pepper paired with cayenne.

Urfa is a Turkish pepper that is sun dried during the day and then wrapped up tightly at night (called sweating). The sweating infuses the pepper with its own moisture produced during the day. The result is a very flavorful, complex, almost smoky tasting pepper that is dark purple at the end of processing. It is ground into flakes and often used as a condiment in Middle Eastern cuisines. While highly flavorful, it only has a moderate amount of heat--hence the pairing with cayenne pepper.

The result of my efforts was a wonderful and satisfying brownie that hits all the right notes for me--rich with chocolate; complex with the addition of espresso powder, Saigon cinnamon, and vanilla; and just the right amount of smoky spice that hits you in the back of the throat and then fills your entire mouth with wonderful warmth.

The only other change from Barbara's original recipe (besides the chile substitute) was that I bloomed the chile powders, cinnamon, and espresso in the warmed melted chocolate and butter mixture--instead of mixing them with the sugar. I thought this would allow even more flavor to develop, and I think this was right on the mark.

Also, for high-altitude purposes, I raised the oven temperature from 325 to 345. This change allows the brownie a quicker rise and a faster set, as the only leavening in this recipe is eggs. At this altitude, such a recipe needs higher heat in order to rise and set properly before it dries out in the oven.

Also, some high altitude bakers may need to add a little bit more salt to this recipe for the flavors to come out fully. I don't know what it is about high altitude, but often times recipes need more salt (but just a pinch or more--don't go overboard). I don't seem to have a problem with the salt in most of my baked goods, but if you make this, and you think the flavor is a bit muted, just add a bit more salt next time.

This recipe calls for 62% chocolate, and Barbara swears that if you use a higher percentage chocolate, the brownies will be too rich. I would take her word for that one.

One last thing before I present the recipe: I conclude with Barbara that this is a very fudgy brownie. Let it cool COMPLETELY before you even attempt to cut it into squares and serve it. In fact, I chilled mine for about an hour, then sliced them up (worked beautifully). Then I allowed them to come back to room temperature before serving. If you follow this guideline, you will have a prettier looking brownie.

Aztec Brownies
originally developed by Barbara Fisher, some changes made by me

4 oz. 62% bittersweet/semisweet chocolate
4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into large pieces

1 tsp. Vietnamese (Saigon) cinnamon
1 TBS. espresso powder
1.25 ground, dried chipotle pepper OR
1 tsp. Urfa crushed red pepper flakes, &
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1.25 cups sugar
.25 tsp. salt (table grind)

.75 cup all purpose, unbleached flour
2 TBS. Dutch processed cocoa

3 large eggs, room temperature

Preheat oven to 345 degrees F. Line an 8″ square glass baking pan with foil and spray with some sort of flour spray like Baker's Joy.

In a double boiler, melt butter and then add the chocolate, stir until the chocolate is completely melted.

Add the cinnamon, espresso powder, ground peppers, and vanilla to the hot chocolate mixture to bloom them. Set this aside to cool (although, if melted correctly, the chocolate mixture should just be barely warm anyway--just a bit warmer than body temp).

Place sugar and salt together in a mixer bowl and blend well.

Put flour and cocoa in another bowl and mix well.

Scrape chocolate mixture into the sugar mixture and beat on medium speed about 30 sec. to 1 min. or until the sugar becomes incorporated into the chocolate. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl and beat another 20 seconds or so.

Add eggs, beat to incorporate, scraping as needed.

Add ½ of flour mixture, and stir on low speed until mostly mixed in. Scrape bowl and add rest of flour, mixing until incorporated. Scrape bowl.

Beat on medium high speed for about 45 seconds, or until mixture lightens visibly. This is to incorporate air, which is the only leavening in the batter.

Scrape into prepared pan and bake at 345 for 25-35 minutes. A toothpick should come out just barely wet, but not liquid-like. The middle of the brownie should just be set when touched, but not firm. You want them to finish baking out of the oven so that they don't over bake and dry out.

Allow to cool in pan for fifteen minutes. Lift out foil and place on a wire rack and allow to cool COMPLETELY before cutting (they can be chilled until firm for easier slicing, and then allowed to come to room temp for serving).

Keep these tightly wrapped to prevent them from loosing their fudgy texture.

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