Can a brownie be too rich? I suspect that many brownie-lovers would answer with an immediate — and perhaps slightly defensive — no.
Historical chauvinists might disagree. The exact origin of the brownie is hazy, but the first published recipes, from 1906 and 1907, contained less chocolate and fewer eggs than most contemporary recipes. The result was probably what today are euphemistically called “cakelike brownies,” a term that covers all manner of dry, crumbly sins. Generally, as good chocolate and butter have become cheaper and more widely available, sensible home cooks have implicitly agreed that fudgelike brownies represent progress, not a perversion.
Let us then accept that the purpose of a brownie recipe is to maximize fudginess and minimize everything else. The chief impediment to this goal is flour. Brownies need flour, of course — without it, they’d be eggy chocolate soup — but too much flour makes them parched, stiff, and literally hard to swallow.
There are at least two ways to circumvent flour’s dehydrating properties. The first is to substitute ground nuts for some of the flour. Once pulverized in the food processor, almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts mimic flour’s powdery texture, while bringing the added benefits of extra fat and a mild nutty flavor. And unlike the chopped or whole nuts people often add to brownies, the pulverized variety don’t distract from the chocolatiness of a truly great brownie.
Another way to heighten brownies’ fudginess is to stir extra chocolate into the batter right before baking. I like using milk chocolate chips, but semisweet and bittersweet chips also work well. The result is a slight but delightful variation in texture between the moist brownie crumb and the waxy chocolate chips.
These brownies are thicker and a little saltier than average. Like Kathleen Edwards’s new album, they’re plenty sweet, but not cloying. And while it may not be possible for brownies to be too rich, these ones push the fudginess envelope about as far as it can go.
Chocolate Chip Brownies
Yield: 12 to 16 servings Time: About 1 hour, partially unattended
Oil or butter for greasing the pan
½ cup almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts
¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch slices
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1¾ cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8- or 9-inch square or round pan with foil or parchment paper and grease the lining. Put the nuts in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the flour and salt, and pulse a few times to combine.
2. Put the butter and chocolate in a large saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until they melt and the mixture is smooth. (Or combine the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval, until they melt.) Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Beat together the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl, then add the egg mixture to the saucepan and stir to combine. Stir in first the flour mixture, then the chocolate chips, and transfer the batter to the greased pan.
3. Bake until the brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes. Cool thoroughly before removing from the pan and serving. (The brownies will keep for a few days wrapped in foil or parchment paper at room temperature.)
L.V. Anderson writes about food for Slate.