Sunday, September 13, 2015

Crunchy Candied Pecan Brownies

Crunchy Candied Pecan Brownies - made September 7, 2015 from Extreme Brownies by Connie Weis
It's been almost 2 months since I stopped baking like I used to. Meaning not: baking every weekend, stocking up on cookie doughs and brownies to put in my freezer, bringing in weekly treats to work every Monday, handing out treat bags whenever I got together with friends, trying out new recipes, trolling pinterest for ideas, loading up on baking ingredients every time I went to Costco.
As you can imagine, it's been rather life-changing. On the positive side, I've had more free time (okay, work took up a good portion of that but still, I also got some additional running/half marathon training and reading in there), I'm saving a lot of money from my almost-non-existent grocery bill now that I'm not buying baking ingredients any more (people, I once left Costco and spent less than $30!!), and I've lost more than five pounds.
On the not-as-positive side, I feel like I'm missing some vital part of my identity, one that's shaped me for most of my life. Baking is part of what I've used to define my interests, my activities, what I do online and offline. And hey, I just like to bake. It feels weird not to plan what to make for treat bags whenever I meet my friends (I mean, I just show up now - empty-handed), not to bake on Sundays for the Monday morning dropoff in the work kitchen, not to keep a sharp eye out on sales for chocolate chips, flour, sugar, butter, and baking chocolate. I went down the baking aisle at Target today out of habit and didn't put a single item in my cart. That's just weird.
Fortunately though, I haven't given baking up completely. This was a recipe I had planned to make before I suspended my regular baking schedule and therefore I still had all the ingredients on hand to make it. Used up the last of my Costco butter to do it but it was worth it (eek, I'm now out of butter). This recipe breaks my normal rules of no brownies made with nuts but I did modify it to leave out the step of chopping the candied pecans and adding them to the batter before baking. No way.
Instead, I put all of the candied pecans on top of the brownie before baking. OMG, this was amazing. Perfect fudginess of the brownie, beautifully robust chocolate flavor, and the candied pecans on top were sublime. I did underbake a trifle too much though and that made the middle pieces a bit too soft even after the brownie had set but the edges were terrific. No need to toast the pecans beforehand since you'll bake them in the sugar-cinnamon mixture and again on top of the brownie. Don't skip the candied pecans! They make the entire brownie. If you really do have a prejudice against nuts in brownies though, you can still make the base brownie as it makes an awesome plain brownie. But I'm glad I tried it with the candied pecans on top.

Candied Pecans
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) granulated sugar
2 packed tablespoons (1 ounce) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg white, at room temperature
2 cups (8 ounces) pecan halves

3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon slices
4 1/2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/2 packed cups (12 ounces) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (6.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  1. To make the candied pecans: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a half-sheet baking pan with a silicone baking mat. Place the sugars, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl; whisk to combine.
  2. Place the egg white in a small mixing bowl; whisk until frothy. Add the pecans and stir. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the pecans and fold in well. Turn the nuts onto the prepared sheet pan and spread into a thin layer with a spatula. Bake for 13 minutes, then turn the nuts over with a metal spatula and spread out again. Continue baking until the nuts are fragrant and the sugar coating is caramelized, about another 6 minutes. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack.
  3. To make the brownies: Maintain the oven temperature at 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  4. In a small, heavy saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, unsweetened chocolate and bittersweet chocolate chips, whisking until melted and smooth. Set aside.
  5. Using a large whisk, lightly beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Place the sugars and salt in a separate small mixing bowl, then whisk into the eggs just until combined. Whisk the melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until just combined. Whisk in the vanilla.
  6. Combine the flour and baking powder in a small mixing bowl. Sift onto the batter and stir in with a spatula until just combined.
  7. Place 1 1/2 cups of the candied pecans in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped but not ground into a paste. Sprinkle the ground pecans over the batter; fold until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with a small offset spatula. Place the remaining pecans evenly over the batter. Bake for 38 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let cool at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Refrigerate for 7-8 hours or overnight. Cut into squares.

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