Friday, October 22, 2010


Robert's Absolute Best Brownies

I've been meaning to write about David Lebovitz's fantastic new READY FOR DESSERT:  My Best Recipes (Ten Speed Press; $35.00; ISBN: 978-1-58008-138-2) since it was released in April, but my oven betrayed me.  I'm thrilled that I found out it was the oven's fault and not David's.  I have a Jenn-Air oven with one of those down-draft exhausts.  It came with my new house. I love it, but lately, I've had some baking mishaps and David's recipe for Robert's Absolute Best Brownies was my oven's first victim.  This sensationally easy recipe was a snap to throw together (my preferred dessert-making ambition these days is 'no effort'), and it went into the oven for its 30-minute baking time.  At 20 minutes, I smelled something burning.  I opened the oven and was appalled to see the brownies had indeed burned. This was my first experience with a David Lebovitz recipe, and I was incensed.  How could he be so wrong, I thought. A week later, I was eating crow and asking David silently for forgiveness.  My oven is running 25 to 50 degrees hotter and two attempts to correct it have failed so far.  So as I contemplate a new stove, I'm compensating for the extra blast of heat.  I made the brownies, and indeed they lived up to their billing of 'Absolute Best.'  My brownies had a cup of roasted hazel nuts which complimented these beauties.  Served absolutely plain, my guests ate two each! So a little belatedly it is now time to sing the praises of the rest of the book.

David Lebovitz has been thrilling dessert lovers with his bestselling cookbooks and adding readers to his award-wining website (www.davidlebovitz).  His beautifully conceived recipes, clarity of instruction, are thoroughly modern.  These are the desserts we love to make and serve today.  READY FOR DESSERT  is a greatest hits package--a compilation of a decade's worth of 170 updated and revised desserts.

Around the time READY FOR DESSERT arrived, a friend brought me a huge quantity of pink grapefruits. I turned some of them into a pint of homemade pink-grapefruit sorbet, which was resting in the freezer.  Pink Grapefruit-Champagne Sorbet Cocktail was a terrific inspiration, instantly putting my sorbet to use. I had used vodka instead of champagne, and I really don't love the idea of using good champagne for dessert.  Instead, I had a bottle of prosecco in the fridge, and it worked superbly. The small scoops of sorbet looked beautiful in the clear glasses of bubbly prosecco. Served with a good butter cookie, it was a refreshing spring dessert.

In the 80s and 90s, I loved baking cakes but I OD'd on chocolate and found myself powerfully drawn to pie, cobbler, clafoutis, and panna cotta.  But lately I've been making cakes again.  Fresh Ginger Cake is one of the reasons.  Justifiably popular, this elegant and deeply flavored cake is a knockout--it's gingery zing is very appealing.  While we're on the subject of ginger, the Guiness-Gingerbread Cupcakes are an adult dessert that restores sanity to this wildly overwrought category.  The lime frosting is the perfect bright element to these wonderful cupcakes.

I'm a huge fan of semifreddos.  The Lemon Semifreddo, is strictly speaking, not a semifreddo, but it's lemony tartness is irresistible.  So is the Peach-Mascarpone Semifreddo.  A Mixed Berry Pie sounds simple and it is with its combination of strawberry, blueberries and blackberries. A great pie to celebrate the summer's peak berry season.  Apple-Frangipane Galette would add a rustic note to anyone's Thanksgiving dessert offerings and I'll be torn between this and a sumptuous Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Crust and Whiskey-Caramel Topping.   I want spoonfuls of David's ice creams and sorbets.  Let me start with Butterscotch-Pecan Ice Cream and venture on with Chocolate Gelato, Toasted Coconut SherbetBlood Orange Sorbet Surprise, and Blackberry Sorbert.

Like Maida Heatter and Dorrie Greenspan, David Lebovitz has a warm and encouraging voice. He knows where all the dessert pitfalls are and gently talks you down from the top limbs of dessert-making-hell-trees with humor and expertise. You can't have too many dessert collections in your cookbook library, and mine are already bursting.  But I have happily made room for this beautiful new addition.

Robert’s Absolute Best Brownies
Makes 9 to 12 brownies

6 tablespoons (3 ounces/85 g) unsalted or salted butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces (225 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup (35 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (about 135 g) walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line the inside of a 9-inch (23-cm) square pan with 2 lengths of foil, positioning the sheets perpendicular to each other and allowing the excess to extend beyond the edges of the pan. Or, use one large sheet of extrawide foil or parchment paper. Lightly grease the foil or parchment with butter or nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, then add the chocolate and stir over low heat until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and stir energetically for 1 full minute, until the batter loses its graininess, becomes smooth and glossy, and pulls away a bit from the sides of the saucepan. Stir in the chopped nuts.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the center feels almost set, about 30 minutes. Don’t overbake.

Let cool completely in the pan before lifting out the foil or parchment to remove the brownies.

Storage: These brownies will keep well for up to 4 days and can be frozen for 1 month.

Variation: This recipe takes well to mix-ins. I’ll sometimes add 1/3 cup (45 g) chopped dried cherries or 1/3 cup (45 g) cocoa nibs to the batter.

To make minty brownies, crush the contents of one 50-g tin of peppermint Altoids in a sturdy plastic bag. Add the crushed mints to the brownies along with the nuts (or omit the nuts). If you like very minty brownies, add 1/2 teaspoon mint extract along with the crushed mints.

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