Browned Butter Cocoa Brownies

Look, I’m the last person to advocate using food to address problems.  It’s not going to solve anything, you’ll just end up feeling gross, and then you’ll be worse off than you were before.

Which is not to say that I am not occasionally guilty of doing exactly that.  But there are certain times when you need to indulge a little.  When you’ve spent the last week feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut, when you’ve lost your appetite because your stomach muscles are all balled up, when you feel like one of those cartoon characters with a rain cloud over their head that follows them everywhere – those are the times when you’ve got to be good to yourself.  And in this case, being good to yourself means eating one of these decadent brownies.  (And buying unreasonably priced shoes.  That may or may not have happened.)

The brownies…Holy cow.  I never thought it was possible to pack this much rich, chocolatey flavor into a small 2 in. by 2 inch. square, but now I’m a believer.  The chocolate is so intense it’s almost like a slap in the face…in a good way.  (Can a slap in the face ever be good?  Whatever, I’m working on little sleep and more appropriate analogies just aren’t coming to me.)  These little dudes are everything a brownie strives to be: crackly on top, chewy in the middle.  It would be advisable to have a glass of milk handy.

So, sure, these brownies aren’t going to chase the clouds away.  But thankfully, the human spirit is remarkably strong, and there is a reason behind the old saying, “This too shall pass.”  In the meantime, as I try to cobble things back together into some semblance of normality, these little squares of chocolatey goodness do a pretty decent job of bringing a few moments of much-needed sunshine into my life.

Browned Butter Cocoa Brownies

Adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2011

Yield: 16 two-inch squares

Note:  It is crucial to let these brownies cool completely before attempting to cut them.  I was trying to finish taking photos before the sun went down and cut the brownies while still semi-warm, with the result being that portions crumbled and I couldn’t get clean cuts.  DON’T BE LIKE ME.  Also, the walnuts can be difficult to cut through, so I suggest chopping the nuts into smaller pieces to try to ameliorate that problem.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) butter, cut into 1 in. pieces

1 ¼ cups sugar

3/4  cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into measuring cup, then leveled)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons water

2 large eggs, chilled

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)

1 cup walnut pieces (I used 1/2 cup because I’m not fond of nuts in my brownies)

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 325 degrees F.

Line 8x8x2 baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2 inch overhang.  Coat foil with nonstick spray.  This allows you to lift the brownies out of the pan easily after baking.  However, if you’re clumsy with foil like me, you can spray the pan liberally with flour and butter (Baker’s Joy, available at most supermarkets, is a godsend), which will allow you to dump out the brownies without much trouble.

In a medium mixing bowl, add sugar and cocoa.

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat.  Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often.  This will take several minutes.  Remove from heat.  Immediately pour into bowl containing sugar/cocoa.  Add water, vanilla, and salt.  Stir to blend.

Let cool 5 minutes, then add eggs 1 at a time, beating vigorously (a rubber spatula is fine, no need to use an electric mixer) to blend after each addition.  When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended.  Beat mixture vigorously 60 strokes.  Stir in walnuts.  Pour into prepared pan.

Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 25 minutes.  Cool completely in pan on rack.  Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan (or gently turn them out, if you used the butter/flour spray method).  Cut into 16 squares.

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