June 13, 2019
I opened my first bag of Dutch-processed cocoa powder and found religion.
I now worship at the altar of chocolate.
What's that you say? I disappear for more than a year, and then come back declaring my alligance to some random deity?
How did I get here?
Well, then. Since no one asked, but I run this website, I am going to tell such stories anyway.
A friend from work makes very good Mexican ceviche. Colleagues offered to pitch in for ingredients if he would make extra and share, and as I could offer something else, I did - brownies. This promptly led to banter about what other (now legal) botanical material could be slipped into brownies, and while I declined, I had been looking for another special plant product for a long time: Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Treated with alkaline, the flavor, aroma and color are deeper and a bit less complex than natural cocoa powder, and oddly enough, hard to find here in the United States. It's possible to order it online, but for a series of reasons, I never did. One day, though, I stumbled upon a bag at a Costco Business Center, which is like the Costco version of Costco*. Of course, I purchased it.
And then I held onto it for over six months, because that is what one does when their work schedule demands that they travel for four to five days every other week, and cooking dinner is already a bit of a luxury, not to mention baking sweets.
Nothing quite motivates me like a finite deadline, though, so once I had offered, I was honor-bound. This led up to my opening the bag and carefully inhaling the fine particles that floated up, probably accidentally snorting some of my favorite drug and flirting with a sneeze attack at the same time. The aroma was rich and enticing, as one would expect. Then I dipped into it with a measuring cup, and came up with the smoothest powder I had ever encountered.
I was stunned.
The cocoa powder that I find almost always has lumps. Light, fluffy and usually requiring a thorough sifting, cocoa powder is both pure chocolate flavor and a moderately frustrating exercise in mess containment. This stuff was none of that. In addition, when I tried the batter, the flavor was bold and true, lingering past the butter and sugar. I didn't know it back when I started my hunt, but the literal years of searching on and off were worth it.
This recipe is one that I have used for just as long, and may have been the one to kick off my long search for Dutch-processed cocoa powder. I trust Deb of Smitten Kitchen implicitly with any recipe, which is, I suppose, another reason for calling these my own religion brownies. It's quick, simple, and reliable. I've dropped the sugar and added a few spices and extra vanilla for additional depth, but neither change is really necessary. I have also made this with only 8 tablespoons of butter, and didn't find it lacking. The extra butter this time is the result of my doubling the recipe, to account for colleagues, friends, and my household. And in any case, what better showcase for a quality cocoa powder than simple brownies?
Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Best Cocoa Brownies
Makes 1 8" X 8" pan.
10 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder (Dutch-processed or natural)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
2. In a medium-sized pot, melt the butter. Turn the fire off, and add the sugar, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
3. Add the vanilla extract and mix thoroughly.
4. Add one egg and mix until it resembles a lumpy, gritty mess. Add the second egg and mix until it transforms into the very definition of seduction.
5. Add the flour and mix until there are no flour marks, then mix some more. The more stirring that happens, the chewier the brownies.
6. Line an 8" X 8" pan with parchment paper or foil, and spread the batter evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 325F. Allow to cool; Deb of Smitten Kitchen says that she cools hers completely for clean cuts. I've never gotten the brownies to stick around long enough to be cut cleanly. Either way, slice with a sharp knife, and enjoy!
* Costco is a warehouse store for food, clothes, tools, and other things. The contents might be able to feed the population of some countries for a week. It's both American excess at its finest and an excellent resource for small businesses.
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