I was irritable this morning for several trivial reasons: I was having trouble with my computer, the folding table I’d ordered had arrived broken…twice; and I have this chronic, annoying eyelid problem (or is it sinus issue>?) that only Dr. House can fix….and he’s not real. My week wasn’t getting off to a very good start and I figured the only thing that might help would be brownies — plain old fudge brownies. Luckily I had what I thought would be the perfect recipe.
This recipe is from a book called The Perfect Recipe Baking Book: 50 Foolproof Recipes for America’s Classic Cakes, Pies, Cookies, and More by the late Murray Jaffe. Now I’d never heard of Mr. Jaffe until I found this little book in the Pleasant Hill library, but I wish I could have met him. He made his fortune helping his 17 year old daughter Barbara start a baking company in 1971. They named it Barbara’s Bakery, and after running the company for many years they sold it to Weetabix. Barbara, and especially Murray, remained very passionate home bakers, and during his retirement Murray wrote this little cookbook in which he cited Barbara as his inspiration. In it are the 50 recipes he saved over the years and which of course, he believed were perfect.
This brownie recipe was Murray’s idea of perfection and in the intro he states that he must have tried 50 brownies recipes before stopping at this one. With an endorsement like that, how could I resist?
One interesting thing to note for all you avid brownie bakers is that this recipe, like the Robert’s Fudgy Brownie recipe from Scharffen Berger, requires a good beating *after* the addition of flour. Since the success of many baked items hinges on how the flour is treated after adding it to the batter (gently stirred to avoid strengthening glutens or beaten briskly to build them), I found it interesting that this brownie recipes required the latter. What would building the glutens due to a brownie recipe? They wouldn’t be tough, or Murray wouldn’t have put them in his top 50. So I suspected the brownies would have a little chewiness too them are at least be more rigid…..much like boxed brownies.
I was right. If you want a brownie with the texture of a box and the flavor of homemade, Murray’s recipe is perfect. Because the chocolate flavor comes from cocoa, your brownie will be only as good as the cocoa you use. However, I can tell you that if you break out the “every day” cocoa, you’ll still get an awesome brownies. These are chewy on the outside (sort of), thick, soft on the center, and have a perfect balance of cocoa.
Meanwhile, if you can get your hands on a copy of this book consider yourself lucky. It’s been out of print for a while, but Murray Jaffe was ahead of his time as far as home baking goes. Every recipe has an intro, but his advice on kitchen scales, salted vs. unsalted butter, types of cookieware, weights of eggs, is all ahead of his time. Or at least in terms of home baking. All I can say is if you are looking for a useful, collectible, cookbook for yourself or a gift, this is a good one.
- 4 ounces (1 stick) salted butter, room temperature **
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa – measure then sift after measuring
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt **
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
- Line an 8 inch square metal pan with foil and spray bottom with cooking spray.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Position rack to center.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Beat in the sugar until mixed in. Beat in the eggs (just until mixed — don’t beat in a lot of air), then add the cocoa and mix until smooth. Thoroughly blend together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the mixing bowl and beat for 2 minutes (important ). Add the water and vanilla and mix, then mix in the walnuts. Dough will be stilff and sticky.
- Spread dough in pan and bake for 30 40 minutes (I baked for 30) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out without batter on it.
- Let cool for a few hours, then lift from pan and cut into 16 squares.