Chocolate lovers' holiday

Entertainment: Brownies with cherries and almonds make a perfect temptation for a Valentine indulgence.

February 06, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

One of my good friends and fellow colleagues is a professional baker and cooking teacher. A petite woman no more than 5 feet tall, who weighs less than 100 pounds, she once confessed to me that her secret passion is chocolate and admitted that every day she weighed herself just to see how much chocolate she could have.

Well, she found a soul mate in me. I don't bother with the weighing-in routine. I just simply allot myself some small chocolate token to enjoy each afternoon. You can imagine, then, how much I look forward to Valentine's Day, the holiday of the year synonymous with chocolate indulgence.

Every February I try to invent a simple new chocolate confection to share with my husband and friends.

This year I have been working on a recipe for brownies baked with dried cherries and toasted almonds. The first time I made these brownies I felt they were slightly undercooked, but my spouse thought otherwise. They lasted only two days in the kitchen. It seems he got up in the middle of the night to munch on them along with a glass of milk. I baked the brownies again, giving them a few extra minutes in the oven and was pleased with their dense, rich, moist texture and crusty top. The cherries add a slightly tart note to counter the chocolate's sweetness, while the almonds provide a subtle nutty flavor as well as a hint of crunchiness.

These brownies, which will keep well for up to five days when stored in an airtight container, would make a fine chocolate creation for celebrating Cupid's holiday.

A single recipe yields 16 small squares, but you can double or triple the recipe if you are a chocoholic and feel the need to have more on hand.

Dark Chocolate Brownies With Dried Cherries and Toasted Almonds

Makes 16 small brownies

small amount of butter and flour for preparing baking pan

1/2 cup (4 ounces or 1 stick) unsalted butter

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

2 large eggs

1/2 cup flour

dash salt

1/2 cup dried sour cherries

1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds, toasted (see note)

Adjust oven rack 1/3 up from bottom of oven. Butter and flour 1 (8-inch-square) pan, shaking out excess flour.

Line pan with parchment or wax paper, cut to fit bottom of pan, and butter and flour paper, shaking out excess flour.

Place 1/2 cup butter and chocolate in top of double boiler set over simmering water or in very heavy medium saucepan placed over lowest heat. Stir occasionally until chocolate and butter are melted. Remove from heat. Cool 5 minutes.

Stir in sugar and almond extract. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add flour and salt. Stir in cherries and almonds. Spread batter in prepared pan and smooth top.

Bake at 350 degrees until wood pick inserted in center comes out clean, 28 to 30 minutes. Top of brownies should be shiny and cracked and inside moist and somewhat soft. Do not overbake. Cool brownies to room temperature. Then, using small knife, loosen edges of brownies from baking pan. Gently invert onto cooling rack and peel off parchment paper. Invert again onto work surface and cut into 16 squares. Store brownies in airtight container at cool room temperature up to 5 days.

Note: To toast almonds, spread on rimmed baking sheet and bake on center shelf at 350 degrees until light golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully. Check after 5 minutes to make certain nuts do not burn. Remove from oven and cool before using.

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