My friend Nancy Baggett knows her chocolate. The Columbia resident recently published "The International Chocolate Cookbook" (Stewart, Tabori and Chang), a follow-up to her widely acclaimed "International Cookie Cookbook."
Almost everyone likes chocolate, she's noticed. So she decided to devise ways to make baking with chocolate, a tricky effort at best, easy for the home cook. "Chocolate must be handled properly and the recipes must have solutions to all problems built in," she explains.
During research for her book, Ms. Baggett came to the exciting realization that "the U.S. has chocolate desserts that are every bit as good as the Europeans'." She adds, "Fudge and chocolate chip cookies are uniquely American."
One of her favorite desserts is an easy-to-prepare fudge brownie pie a la mode with hot fudge sauce. The pie comes out fudgy and chewy. And because the batter puffs up and then falls, you can cut wedges that are ideal for cradling scoops of ice cream.
Her hot fudge sauce is the result of weeks of experimenting to reproduce the sauce she remembered from childhood: dark, glossy, faintly bittersweet, tasting of rich chocolate, not cocoa powder. She found the solution in a sauce with a caramel base that imparts a distinctive flavor and a chewy-gooey texture as it cools over ice cream.
I think you'll agree with Nancy's declaration that this is the quintessential American chocolate dessert.
FUDGE BROWNIE PIE A LA MODE
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons vanilla
Melt chocolate and cool. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Combine butter and sugar in a small mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed until blended. Beat in egg and yolk, then vanilla. Beat 2-3 minutes until mixture is very light and fluffy and sugar has dissolved. With mixer on low speed, beat in melted chocolate. Gently stir in flour mixture just until evenly incorporated.
Turn mixture into a greased 9-inch, deep-dish pie plate, carefully spreading to edges. Bake on center rack in a 325-degree oven 34-39 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean but moist. Transfer to wire rack. Let stand until thoroughly cooled. It keeps, tightly covered, for up to 24 hours or can be frozen for several days. Cut in 8-10 wedges and serve topped with scoops of ice cream. Pass hot fudge sauce.
REAL HOT FUDGE SAUCE
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/4 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 2 ounces semisweet chocolate and 6 ounces unsweetened)
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Using a large wooden spoon, stir together butter, sugar, corn syrup, cream and milk in a 4-quart or larger heavy saucepan or cast-iron Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Initially, mixture will boil up pot sides, then gradually subside. Wash all sugar crystals from stirring spoon. Continue to cook, uncovered. Occasionally stir gently, 3-4 minutes or until mixture begins to boil down and thicken slightly. Lower heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is a pale caramel color.
Remove from heat and add chocolate, stirring until melted. Stir in 1/3 cup hot water and vanilla. Cool slightly. If sauce is too thick, gradually add hot water until still fairly thick and gooey. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to three weeks. To serve later, reheat in top of a double boiler. If too thick, thin with water after reheating sauce to barely hot. Makes about 3 cups.