Monday, October 19, 2009

Macadamia Shortbread Brownies

Macadamia Shortbread Brownies - October 17, 2009

This is one of my exceptions of no nuts in brownies. You make a shortbread crust, sprinkle the top with chopped macadamias and bake until golden before pouring the brownie batter on top and baking the whole thing. What makes the nuts in these brownies work is they're part of the crisp crust, not the fudgy brownie itself so they provide a texture contrast against the rich fudginess of the brownie. It wouldn't work as well if you actually added nuts to the brownie batter. Plus, these are macadamia nuts, a step up from the more plebian walnuts and pecans.

This recipe is from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet cookbook. I met Alice Medrich when she did a cooking class demo at Sur La Table some years ago and she autographed my copy of Bittersweet for me. She's the one I learned the trick of lining baking pans with foil - you turn the pan bottom side up, shape a sheet of foil over it, turn the pan over and drop in the foil that's now shaped like the inside of the pan. Nothing could be easier. Your pans last longer this way too since all you have to do once you bake something is lift the whole thing out of the pan with the foil and cut it on a cutting board instead of the pan. Prior to this, my baking pans had knife marks in them. Not anymore.

I like this recipe because the shortbread crust is crisp and buttery and provides both a texture and taste contrast to the rich, smooth fudginess of the brownie itself. Plus they look pretty. The same advice as in earlier posts - use the best quality chocolate you can find. It'll make the brownie much more worthwhile. I use Lindt, Valrhona or Ghirardelli.

Bittersweet Chocolate Brownies
6 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate (66% - 72%)
7 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cold large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Macadamia Shortbread Crust
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup untoasted, unsalted macadamia nuts, chopped medium-fine

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F.
2. To make the crust, combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in a bowl. Stir in the flour to make the dough.
3. On a square of foil or wax paper, pat or roll out the dough to a square slightly smaller than the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan. Sprinkle the dough evenly with the nuts and press them in. Cover with a 12-inch square of foil and then a tray or piece of cardboard. Slide your hand under the bottom piece of foil or paper and invert the dough onto the tray. Remove the top sheet of foil or paper. Lift the foil and dough off the tray and into the pan. Press the dough, on the foil, evenly into the bottom and press the foil up the sides of the pan.
4. Bake until the crust is nicely brown all over, 15 to 20 minutes.
Make the brownies
5. Combine the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until the chocolate 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.
6. Remove the bowl from the skillet. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and salt with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring until the first one is incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the flour and beat with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the batter is smooth, glossy and beginning to come away from the sides of the bowl, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the nuts, if using.
7. Spread the brownie batter evenly over the hot crust and bake until the edges puff and begin to show fine cracks, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack.
8. Remove the brownies from the pan by lifting up the ends of the foil and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 25 squares with a heavy knife.

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