Friday, March 1, 2013

Orange-Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

Last Thursday, I opened an old February issue of bon appétit with a picture of the Best-Ever Brownies on the cover. It was calling my name, begging me to make it, and I was completely powerless.

I had a few hours to spare before going to a happy hour yoga class and it was time well-spent. What can be better than licking brownie batter off a whisk? The batter was so good… it was just like dark chocolate fondue.

Since I had a bag of Mandarin oranges lying on the counter, I took one orange and used the zest in the batter. My first idea was to add some fresh orange juice in the batter too, but since I had already planned on tweaking other parts of the recipe, I decided not to mess around too much. Instead, I opted to arrange orange slices on top of the batter for aesthetic purposes.  

Penances had to be paid before gorging on these brownies. I got to the happy hour yoga class with only a few minutes to spare and ended up in the teacher’s spot right in front of everyone because the class was so full. Good thing I remembered to wash the chocolate goo off my face from my whisk-licking adventure earlier. After yoga, I made myself a super healthy dinner: a stir fry of bell pepper, spinach, Swiss chard leaves, mushrooms, and a bit of leftover rice. DFJ was out for pizza and beer with his friend Ken. So I had to patiently wait for them to get home for a game of Settlers of Catan and brownie time.

A butt-kicking yoga class and a healthy dinner later, I finally got to taste the brownies. Oh my heavens they are good! Intense dark chocolate taste with hints of citrus and a touch of sweetness. This is the brownie for dark chocolate lovers! The orange slices and walnuts are just lovely. They add a nice flavor and texture… Think juicy orange bites and the soft walnut crunches embedded in soft and fudgy brownie slices. Decadence at its finest!

Orange-Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts
Adapted from bon appétit, February 2011

10 tablespoons (1 and ¼ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
zest of 1 orange
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
heaping ¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
scant ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
orange slices from 1 Mandarin orange
Place an oven rack in the middle slot of the oven and then preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously coat a square baking pan with butter, on the bottom and along the sides.

Place sugar in a small mixing bowl. Zest the entire orange right over the sugar. Use your fingertips to thoroughly massage the zest into the sugar to allow better infusion. Set aside.

Have the rest of the ingredients ready to go before browning the butter. Once the butter is browned, the whole mixing process goes pretty fast.

Melt the butter in a medium size pot over medium heat. The butter will very soon start bubbling and foaming. Continue to cook until the bubbling and foaming dies down and the bottom of the pot is covered with browned bits of butter. This process takes 5 minutes, give or take. Stir well, turn off the heat, and move the pot away from the heat. Right away, add the zested sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons of water, vanilla, and a heaping ¼ teaspoon of salt. Whisk everything together until blended. The mixture will look grainy. Allow the mixture to cool slightly for about 5 minutes then add the eggs into the still hot mixture one at a time. Whisk well after each addition until the mixture thickens and looks smooth.

If your pot is large enough to hold the flour after it is added in, you can continue mixing the batter in it. If not, move the mixture to a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in the flour until just blended, then whisk everything well for 60 strokes. The batter will get thicker and thicker, you may want to switch from a whisk to a flexible spatula. Stir in the walnuts.  

Slowly move the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the orange slices on top. Bake the brownies for 25-28 minutes. The brownies are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. After baking, cool the pan on a rack. Allow the brownies to cool completely before serving.

In my opinion, these brownies are actually even better the next day… somehow, letting them sit overnight allows the flavors to seep in and soften them some more. Mmmm!        

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