What's With All the Hype?: Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

At some point within the last few years, I noticed that the subscription copies of Bon Appétit that Tom and I were receiving in the mail started looking different than the copies of the magazine I would see at the newsstand; the mailed copies were devoid of any text on the front cover except for the magazine name.  I definitely preferred the cleaner look of the uncluttered covers, although I understand that a bare photo is not a good strategy for getting people interested in your magazine at the checkout stand at the grocery store.  Unfortunately, after some period of time, our subscription copies started including all of the cover text again.  

The February 2011 issue of Bon Appétit that recently arrived in the mail instantly grabbed my attention with a cover photo of a stack of four brownies.  But the text accompanying the photo took me completely by surprise: "BEST-EVER BROWNIES... WARNING: YOU WILL EAT THE ENTIRE TRAY."  Bon Appétit does not usually have a tendency towards hyperbole, and I don't recall ever seeing a statement like that on the magazine's cover.  

When I flipped to the page referenced for the brownie recipe and saw that the brownie contained browned butter, I was definitely intrigued.  Plus, the recipe was part of a feature on cocoa powder desserts by Alice Medrich, so I knew the recipe had to be good.  The magazine describes the brownies as "fudgy in the middle and chewy on the outside with a shiny, crackly top," and a "rich, nutty flavor" from the browned butter.  

You can put together these brownies pretty quickly.  You make browned butter, dump in cocoa powder, sugar, salt, water and vanilla, cool the mixture slightly, and then add in eggs and flour.  A unexpected penultimate step was to beat the batter vigorously for 60 strokes after incorporating the flour.  Normally, when you make brownies, overworking the batter will ruin the texture.  But I beat the batter as instructed before adding in the walnuts and the pouring the batter into the pan.  The batter was super glossy and very thick.

The brownies came out of the oven with a level, shiny, slightly wrinkly top.  They were gorgeous.  I cooled the brownies and chilled them overnight before slicing them.  In the magazine article, Alice Medrich specifically admonishes against using dutch cocoa in any of the recipes (as dutch cocoa has a milder chocolate flavor than natural cocoa), but I don't always keep natural cocoa on hand.  Instead, I used my regular baking cocoa, which is a mixture of dutch cocoa and black cocoa that I get from King Arthur Flour.  I like using double-dutch dark cocoa because it lends a rich color to baked goods; the brownies were almost black. 

I loved these brownies.  They have a deep and satisfying, rich chocolate flavor.  To be honest, I couldn't taste the browned butter as a distinct component -- but then again, I am always afraid of making burned butter instead of browned butter, and so I may not have browned the butter as much as I could have.  Still, I was completely sold by the brownies' extraordinary texture and luscious mouthfeel.  They are the perfect combination of chewy and fudgy without being overly heavy.  I thought the nuts added a wonderful touch of texture.  I might not have eaten the entire pan, but I have to admit, I found myself craving a brownie long after they were all gone. 

Recipe: "Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts," by Alice Medrich, from epicurious.com.


Suelle said…
They certainly look dark and delicious.

I've only made brownwd butter once, and I wasn't sure if I browned it far enough either!
Louise said…
Sunday I made a double batch of these brownies to take to a Ground Hog Party that day. Everyone loved the brownies. I was less impressed. For me, BAKED is a better fudgy brownie. Just personal taste. I'm glad I made them as the cover photo would have been haunting me.
Tom also said that he prefers the BAKED brownie -- but it's hard for me to tell, since I haven't tasted the BAKED brownie in a while. I think I may have to have a head-to-head taste test between them to settle the question once and for all!
Alice Q. Foodie said…
I made these this weekend too, and I also happen to be a lawyer and a blogger. :) I don't think the browned butter added much to the finished product, but the batter sure tasted good! I might add a tsp. of espresso powder next time to up the intensity. I liked the ease of stirring everything together in the saucepan. Haven't tried the BAKED recipe, will have to look that one up.