Despite readily agreeing that it is ideal to end a meal with a chocolate-based dessert — especially when hosting a dinner party — on regular days I find myself picking a non-chocolate option. A pavlova, crème brulee or a neat slice of lemon meringue pie will usually fill the void that others opt to satisfy with chocolate. With my coffee, I’ll take a frosted wedge of carrot cake any day.
I remember buying a locally produced chocolate bar when visiting Egypt every summer holiday in the early 90s. Wrapped in bright blue vintage looking paper and molded over what was supposed to be stretchy caramel, there was something awfully compelling about risking a chipped tooth or jaw pain to get to that rock-hard center. The chocolate, broken off and flung to the side or swallowed in haste, was merely an afterthought. Dusty tasting with textures of wax, the chocolate seemed as old as the design on the wrapper. The memory was what brought me back.
Continuing to find many chocolate desserts disappointing in Egypt, I tend to move to the other side where the simple exclusion of chocolate might add a worthwhile element to the sweet confection placed before me. Yes, I do consume the complimentary bite-sized brownie offered to me next to my cup of coffee at many coffeehouses but I do not necessarily enjoy it. Rarely, in fact, do I find a brownie that really sings to me and that’s when I took it upon myself to hunt down a recipe that would stick with me anywhere I go.
Depending on the availability of good chocolate, it can be frustrating to bake a tray that ends with a bitter aftertaste. You can disguise it under ice cream or mix in some peanut butter but a good brownie needs not much more than good chocolate and a recipe that will serve you your preferred brownie texture ranging from light-weighted and cakey to chewy and fudgy.
Since my preference leans towards the fudgy rich kind, I couldn’t resist trying out this recipe that has now become my quick go-to brownie recipe. With the elimination of chocolate and the substitution of a rich unsweetened cocoa powder, which I always have lying around, this recipe has been described by Alice Medrich, a well-known baker and the creator of this recipe, as having “the softest center and chewiest candylike top ‘crust’ of all because all of the fat in the recipe (except for a small amount of cocoa butter in the cocoa) is butter, and all of the sugar is granulated sugar rather than the finely milled sugar used in chocolate.”
Heavy on the butter and extremely rewarding as a flavor, all I did was add a hint of cinnamon because cinnamon and chocolate are a favorite combination of mine. Feel free to eliminate it for a truly decadent chocolatey experience.
Cocoa Cinnamon Brownies
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Cocoa Brownies
140 grams of unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups of sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup of walnuts
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line the bottom and sides of a 20×20 cm square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water.
Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.
Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer then beat for 40 strokes. Stir in the nuts. Spread evenly in your lined pan.
Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter — 20 to 25 minutes. Take them out. Let them cool for a while then pop them in the freezer, as they are, for 20 minutes — this makes for even slicing. Slice and serve.