Brownies

Chocolate is one of my favorite vehicles for spices. Its sweetness and fat hold flavors nicely, especially when baked into brownies rich with butter. The short-cut to success here is melting the butter and chocolate in the microwave. It’s a trick I learned from a pastry chef in France who swore by it because, with the traditional bain-marie method of melting chocolate in a heatproof bowl over simmering water, there’s a risk of water splashing into the mix and seizing the chocolate. Besides, brownies don’t require perfectly tempered chocolate to come out delicious, so the microwave works just fine. If you don’t have one, simply place the butter and chocolate together in a heavy saucepan over very low heat and stir just until melted. The rest of the batter is straightforward and foolproof and can turn into mini cakes or even ice cream treats. Just don’t overbake it, and you’ll be guaranteed fudgy brownies.

Pink pepper brings a floral piquancy that cuts through the richness of chocolate and complements the aroma of cardamom. Urfa pepper heightens the chocolate flavor with its natural cocoa notes.

Recipe by Lior Lev Sercarz, from “Mastering Spice” by Lior Lev Sercarz

Serves one 9 x 13 inch pan (about 2 dozen)

Make ahead:

The brownies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Ingredients

Main Spice Blend

1 teaspoon green cardamom pods (2 grams)
1 1⁄2 teaspoons pink pepper (3 grams)
1 teaspoon Urfa pepper (2 grams)
3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Vietnamese (2 grams)

Finely grind the cardamom and pink pepper together and immediately mix with the Urfa and ground cinnamon.

Brownies

1 cup salted butter (226 grams), cut into tablespoons
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (173 grams)
1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour (242 grams)
2⁄3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (64 grams)
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt (5 grams)
6 large eggs (360 grams)
2 1⁄2 cups sugar (500 grams)

Instructions

1. To make the brownies: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line the bottom and all four sides of a 9 × 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper. If the paper won’t stay down, you can wet the pan a little before pressing in the paper.

2. Combine the butter and chocolate chips in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute and stir until smooth. If the chocolate and butter don’t melt completely, microwave for another 15 seconds and stir. Repeat, heating in 15-second intervals, until smooth. Let stand to cool slightly.

3. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk in the spice blend. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until foamy. While whisking the eggs, add the sugar in a steady stream and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Add the butter-chocolate mixture and stir rapidly with a silicone spatula until fully incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and fold gently with the spatula until no traces of flour remain.

4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spread it in an even layer, and bake until a toothpick inserted 1 inch from the edge comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

5. To serve, lift the brownies out of the pan using the parchment paper and cut into 2-inch squares.

Variation

ice cream brownie bites

When frozen, these brownies become an extra-chewy, extra-delicious base for ice cream. I prefer vanilla ice cream, but you can use any flavor you like. These are easiest to make in a silicone mini muffin mold: bake the batter in the mold, fill with ice cream, and pop out when frozen. If you’re using regular mini muffin tins, run a thin-bladed offset spatula around the edges of each to release.

Follow the brownie recipe on page above, substituting 4 dozen mini muffin cups, preferably silicone, for the cake pan in step 1. If you’re not using silicone, generously grease the mini muffin cups. If you don’t have enough mini muffin cups, you can halve the quantities below (which is a half batch of the original recipe) or bake them in batches.

Make the batter with
1⁄2 cup salted butter (114 grams)
1⁄2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (87 grams)
3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour (104 grams)
1⁄3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (32 grams)
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt (3 grams)
3 large eggs (180 grams)
1 1⁄4 cups sugar (250 grams)

Use only half the main spice blend in the batter.

In step 4, fill the muffin cups one-third of the way with batter and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a brownie comes out clean, about 15 minutes.

The baked brownie bites should come only halfway up the sides of the muffin cups.

In step 5, cool the brownies completely in the silicone molds or tins. Fill each cup to the rim with slightly softened vanilla ice cream, smoothing the tops. (You’ll need about 1 pint of ice cream.) Freeze until firm. If you’d like, you can sprinkle the remaining spice blend on top before serving. Otherwise, reserve the leftover spice blend for another use. The ice cream brownie bites can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.