I've been away from my computer for a few days--busy with soccer games, fall parties and our local street fair, as well as a trip into San Francisco yesterday. We had our first rain of the fall season, and fall is seeping into my skin and my sensibility in other ways, too.
The party we went to is an Annual "Games Party" open house where the guests hang out from mid-afternoon until after midnight playing various board games, video games, card games and so forth, while we all catch up on the past year. I used to have to chase my babies around, now they join in the games with the adults and often win! For many years now, I've brought the same thing to the potluck by popular request--Mexican Chocolate Brownies. (Thank you, Herr Doktor, for the food porn photo).
These treats are very rich, yet I'd say they fall on the cake end of the brownie scale. Rather like Kinsey has the sexual preference scale, there's also an official cakey versus fudgy brownie measurement...okay, I just made it up...but if 0 is basically unbaked batter and 10 is "could be pound cake," these brownies are about a bi-textural 6. I know fudgy brownies are cooler in culinary circles these days, a cookie version of flourless chocolate torte, but I have a secret fondness for the cakey kind mom used to make, and in fact I probably bake these a bit too long. Some day I'll have the courage to take them out of the oven when the toothpick is still slick with melted batter just to see if they're better fudgy. But they're pretty irresistible just the way I made them on Saturday.
Imagine you're holding in your fingers a tall, dense square of buttery chocolate confection, fragrant with teasing hints of almond extract and cinnamon. You'll be tempted to bite off the topping. I rarely resist the urge, but sometimes I open my mouth wide to taste the mixture of chocolate and topping. In any case these are best eaten slowly, as befits the first ritual food of autumn. Soon I'll be making the butternut squash-barley-black bean casserole, the chestnut risotto, pumpkin muffins, pancakes and pudding, then cranberry-Grand Marnier sauce for Thanksgiving. But it all starts with a slow, finger-licking affair with a couple of these little beauties.
Fearless home chef Susan DiPlacido, famous for her feasts that draw standing ovations, and I were talking about our mutual love of brownies and as usual Susan's humor and passion on the topic inspired me to surprising creative acts. I realized I love blondies, too, and concocted--in my mind, not yet on the plate--a new ice cream sundae which I'll call the "24th Street Sundae" in honor of the San Francisco street that runs from affluent Noe Valley to the Mission. This grand dessert would consist of a square of my signature Mexican chocolate brownie beside a rich blondie. Each would be twinned with a small scoop of homemade Mexican vanilla bean ice cream. The scoop beside the brownie would be drizzled in a golden praline sauce, the scoop beside the blondie would be adorned with cinnamon-spiked chocolate sauce. Softly whipped fresh cream optional.
Sound good? Maybe I should try this at my next dinner party? In the meantime, if you're a brownie fan, definitely try this south of the border version. But don't take it to a potluck, because you might find yourself baking them year after year....
Mexican Chocolate Brownies
Makes 48 small, rich brownies
Prep and cook time, 75 minutes
3/4 cup butter
8 oz. unsweetened chocolate finely chopped (about 2 cups, higher quality preferred)
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs at room temperature
1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vanilla (“Mexican” style preferred)
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mexican chocolate streusel (recipe follows)
In a large bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stir butter and unsweetened chocolate until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in brown sugar and granulated sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in vanilla and almond extract. Stir in flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt until well blended. (Do not beat with a mixer, it toughens the texture).
Spread batter level in a buttered and floured 9” x 13” baking pan. Squeeze handfuls of Mexican chocolate streusel until it sticks together, then crumble into chunks evenly over the surface of the batter. Press lightly into batter.
Bake brownies in a 325 degree oven until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 30-35 minutes (my oven takes up to 45 minutes). Let cool in pan on a rack for at least 20 minutes, then cut into 48 squares. If making up to one day ahead cool completely then wrap uncut brownies airtight.
Mexican Chocolate Streusel Topping:
Chop two 2 oz. tablets of sweet Mexican chocolate with cinnamon (like Ibarra or Nestle) by hand into medium-fine pieces. In a medium bowl, mix 10 Tablespoons (1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons) all purpose flour and 5 Tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar until well blended. Add 6 Tablespoons butter and rub in with your fingers until mixture forms coarse crumbs, then mix in chopped chocolate. Or mix flour and sugar in food processor, add butter and pulse, then pour into bowl with chocolate and squeeze with hands until clumps form.
This recipe was adapted from Sunset Magazine 9/04--I cut down the chocolate from 9 oz. and added more streusel from the original. And I bake it longer. Cause I'm chicken!