September 15, 2010

Hazelnut Brownies I: Fluffy, Rich and Chocolatey

I worked tirelessly last week on Hazelnut Brownies.  Okay, maybe not, "tirelessly," but the concept was in the forefront of my mind all week.  I baked two batches of brownies, and at first I hesitated to post either one, because neither one exactly filled the craving I had. Then I read a post which reminded me that, more than anything else, I blog to keep track of my kitchen adventures and recipes.  As I post all my favorite recipes here, I can find them more easily than in the mess of clippings and cookbooks on my kitchen bookshelf.  So I've decided to post both recipes.  Maybe one of them will inspire someone to  somehow create a better Hazelnut Brownie.  Me, I'm shelving the Hazelnut Brownie concept for now, but in a couple months (or years) when the craving strikes again, I'll have this record of what I have already tried...

As I wrote in my original Brownie post, Judy Rosenberg's cookie recipes have never really failed me--I really think the issues I had with the brownies in my original post had to do with the chocolate I used, not the recipe-- so my first attempt at Hazelnut Brownies were hers.  I followed her recipe almost , hexactly. 

Being leavened with egg, they are moist and fluffy, fudgy and satisfying in a very-chocolate way. And there is the rub:  The chocolate element overpowered the hazelnut element. Also, like a lot of Brownie recipes, this one calls for coffee.  Generally speaking, a little coffee in a chocolate cake or brownie recipe isn't going to make it a mocha-flavored dessert.  Rather than flavoring the dessert, the coffee does something to enhance the chocolate flavor.  But in this instance, I could taste the coffee, which further overpowered the hazelnut flavor.  Maybe it is because I used cheap Tasters Choice instant coffee, because that was the only instant coffee I had on-hand.  (And, no, I don't drink Taster's Choice; it was a free sample.  I know, I know, lame chocolate in my first brownies, lame coffee in my second brownies... When will I learn that if I want a top-quality end-result, every ingredient must to top quality, too?)  In any case, I've dialed back the coffee from 1 1/2 teaspoons to 1 teaspoon.

It was a great brownie, but in the end, I didn't see a reason to use $24 Frangelico when the flavor didn't come through.  I can think of better things to do with the rest of the bottle (read: drink it over ice).

Hazelnut Brownies
Adapted from Judy Rosenberg

Thick and fudgy, these are the perfect texture to use as a mix-in for ice cream.  Freeze, then use a sharp knife to cut into 1/2" cubes.  Fold about 3/4 cup brownie bites into 1 quart fleshly churned ice cream,  freeze the ice cream for 2 hours before serving. 

1 heaping cup hazelnuts (you want to end up with 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts)
7 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs (or 6 medium eggs), separated
1 teaspoon good-quality instant coffee or espresso powder
1/4 cup Frangelico* or water, or a mixture of the two (or use a shot of espresso instead of the instant coffee)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Roughly chop hazelnuts.  Toast on ungreased rimmed cookie sheet 5 minutes.  Stir.  Toast 3-7 minutes more until just golden.  Nuts may go from white to burnt in less than a minute, so keep an eye on them and be smelling for a nutty aroma. Let nuts cool. Decrease oven temperature to 325º.  Line a 9" square baking pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking oil.  Set aside.  Then grind hazelnuts into a powder in a food processor (or coffee grinder--but don't blame me if it breaks).

2.  Meanwhile, melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler** over simmering water.  Remove the top of the double boiler from the heat and let cool.

3.  Sift all-purpose flour and cornstarch together in a small bowl and set aside.

4.  In small bowl combine instant coffee with Frangelico and/or water.  Stir to combine well.  Alternatively, skip the instant coffee, and draw one shot of espresso.  Add Frangelico to make 1/4 cup.

5.  Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, 9 tablespoons of the sugar and the vanilla extract together until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds.  Scrape the bowl.  Add the egg yolks and beat on medium speed until blended, stopping once to scrape bowl.  Add the melted, cooled chocolate and beat on low speed to blend, just a few seconds. Scrape bowl.  Add the flour mixture and ground hazelnuts and beat on low speed just until blended.

6.  In a separate bowl, on medium-low speed, beat the egg whites and salt until frothy, about 30 seconds.  Increase the speed to medium high and gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Beat until soft peaks form, about 30 seconds.

7.  Using a rubber scraper or wooden spoon, fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the brownie batter to loosen it.  Then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites.

8.  Spread the batter in prepared baking pan.  Bake at 325º 30-35 minutes, until cake tester or toothpick inserted toward the middle comes out with moist crumbs.  Let the brownies cool in the pan for 1-2 hours.  Then lift out of the pan using the parchment paper and cut into 1 1/2" squares with a sharp knife.  Brownies can be kept at room temperature, covered, for up to 2 days.  If you plan to store them longer than that, wrap with plastic wrap or waxed paper, and store in freezer p to 2 weeks.

* A couple of my friends seem to agree that Frangelico tastes like Reese's Pieces.  According to its website, Frangelico is the original Italian Hazelnut Liqueur with notes of chocolate, coffee and vanilla. Either way, at 40 proof, it has the right amount of alcohol to be enjoyed over ice, without further dilution.

**For a makeshift double boiler, I put a little less than an inch of water in my smallest saucepan, then I rest my smallest Pyrex glass mixing bowl on top on it.  The mixing bowl should not be touching the water (which should be simmering, not boiling).  The point is to cook over low even heat.

Photo credit:  Jason Powers Photography

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