A luxurious treat no one can resist

Brownies: It takes practice to perfect this rich, sweet favorite, so what are you waiting for?

October 14, 2001|By Ronnie Fein | Ronnie Fein,Special to the Sun

Brownies are like magnets; people are drawn to them as if by some inherent, natural power. From the first seduction by smell as the brownies bake, to the last caress of tender crumbs on the tongue, this is the delectable force: sweet, melted chocolate mixed with just enough ingredients to give it some form. It is potent stuff, made for sheer enjoyment.

It's simple stuff, too. The recipe is fairly straightforward, but simple recipes are often the most difficult to perfect.

Purists will tell you that the only way to eat a brownie is plain, as is.

But how many folks can pass up a brownie sundae? Or brownie ice cream?

Fudge brownies, the kind that drive dentists and doctors mad, contain massive amounts of sugar and butter. The relatively small quantity of flour is what distinguishes this bar cookie from others and what gives brownies their characteristic moist texture and the faintest, crispiest surface. The number of eggs in a recipe also has a bearing on texture. A one- or two-egg formula will produce a rich, dense cookie. With more eggs, the brownies are lighter, more cake-like. Cake-like brownies usually contain leavening as well; fudge brownies don't. (Some food historians think brownies were invented when a home cook, baking chocolate cake, forgot to include baking powder).

The most popular flavored brownies are always made with melted chocolate. It can be tricky to do this properly. You must use very low heat and stir almost constantly to be sure that all the hard pieces liquefy evenly.

You can melt the chocolate over direct heat; if so, it is a good idea to chop it into smaller pieces that melt more quickly. You may also use a double boiler. The problem here, though, is the risk of steam dripping on the chocolate, which makes it get so hard you can't use it. If you use a double boiler, make certain that the water below the pan is at a bare simmer and that the top portion fits snugly into the water-holding pot below.

Once all the ingredients are ready, the way you mix them makes a difference to texture. For classic, dense fudge brownies, you need only stir until the batter is blended and has a uniform color. Lighter, more cake-like varieties are usually beaten more vigorously.

There are numbers of ways to alter the basic brownie. The easiest is to add a different seasoning: 2 teaspoons instant coffee powder or 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, for example. Or mix in texture ingredients: about a half-cup of chopped dried fruit, chocolate chips, chopped toffee, tiny marshmallows or raisins.

When baking brownies, timing is important. Check them after the minimum time suggested in a recipe. If you bake them too long, they will be too dry; if you don't bake them long enough, they'll be soggy. Insert a cake tester into several spots; if it comes out without any liquid clinging to it, the brownies are done.

Ronnie Fein contributes to the Stamford Advocate, a Tribune Publishing paper.

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