Juliette’s Best Cocoa Brownies
My lovely friend Juliette has been living in Panama for the past three years, first as a Peace Corps volunteer, and now as a new mom to a gorgeous Panamanian-Californian baby named Adrian. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to go visit her in her idyllic, green village–a remote community that requires an hour and a half hike to reach (no road).
She’s now living in town, so hiking boots and a horse are no longer required to visit her.
When I was there, she made me hot chocolate directly from a cacao pod, with a bit of milk and sugar. It was the most concentrated chocolateness I’d ever experienced–bitter, rich, coating my tongue. Needless to say, Juliette does not take chocolate lightly. Her trick for amazing brownies is all in the cocoa. Her notes below:
I would recommend leaving out up to a 1/2 cup of sugar for those bakers who prefer brownies with more emphasis on the chocolate than on the sugar. I followed the recipe exactly and they almost tasted like fudge because they were so sweet, though the texture was absolutely perfect. The chocolate I used was 100% cacao from a farmer in Bocas del Toro. Cacao producers working with Peace Corps volunteers can always make a bit of money selling chocolate to all of the PC folks throughout the country. Needless to say, it’s in high demand! This last batch of cacao I bought has notes of cinnamon, so the brownies came out with the same flavor– pretty delish! The recipe is below. I got it off of Epicurious.com, but I believe the original recipe is from Bon Appetit.
10 tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
Special equipment: An 8-inch square baking pan
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, 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 vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using.
Spread evenly in the lined pan. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.
Chocolate note: Any unsweetened natural or Dutch-process cocoa powder works well here. Natural cocoa produces brownies with more flavor complexity and lots of tart, fruity notes. I think it’s more exciting. Dutch-process cocoa results in a darker brownie with a mellower, old-fashioned chocolate pudding flavor, pleasantly reminiscent of childhood.