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updated: 2/12/2014 12:22 PM

Baking Secrets: Dark cocoa powder holds key to decadent brownies

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  • Brownies are the perfect vehicle for enjoying the rich flavors of dark chocolate cocoa powder.

       Brownies are the perfect vehicle for enjoying the rich flavors of dark chocolate cocoa powder.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Brownies are the perfect vehicle for enjoying the rich flavors of dark chocolate cocoa powder.

       Brownies are the perfect vehicle for enjoying the rich flavors of dark chocolate cocoa powder.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 

Chocolate desserts have come a long way since I first tried my hand baking from-scratch brownies in the early 1970s. That original recipe relied upon a few tablespoons of cocoa powder to deliver signature brownie flavor. Back then, dark chocolate remained a well-kept culinary secret.

I was let in on that secret in the '90s during my time at the Culinary Institute of America. The European chef/instructors offered a sampler highlighting the dark side of chocolate -- nothing less than 70 percent cacao.

With the essence of chocolate out from behind the usual curtain of sugar and dairy, the multiple layers of flavors melted luxuriously on my taste buds. To their credit the instructors stood back, allowing students to experience dark chocolate and discover new worlds of flavor.

Up until this point in my baking life, chocolate desserts seldom inspired me. Looking back on it now, my take-it-or-leave-it attitude on chocolate bars, cookies and cakes took root from all the other ingredients getting in the way of the true cocoa flavors.

This month I marked the 20th anniversary of my graduation from the CIA and my stance on chocolate desserts hasn't wavered: too much sugar, dairy and other competing ingredients compromises the culinary possibilities of great cocoa.

Achieving simple elegance in desserts challenges chefs to bring their A game to the bake shop and nothing rises to that occasion like classic brownies. We all have that ideal brownie in our minds and strive for that success. For me, I like brownies that straddle between fudgy and a moist, cake-like style. Frosting need not apply.

Most pastry chefs look to infuse flavor interest into brownies and using high quality bittersweet chocolates always means success. However, with the stellar reviews I read about Callebaut CP-776 cocoa powder, I wondered if new life could be baked into my old-fashioned brownie recipe and save me some chopping in the process.

Callebaut cocoa powder had me at the rich, deep brown hue and enticing cocoa aroma. I doubled the amount of cocoa from the original recipe, cut back the sugar and infused a mellow molasses background note by adding ¼ cup light brown sugar. I mixed in unsalted butter to keep salty notes at my control.

Many brownie recipes rely on vanilla extract to complement the chocolate. On this I run counter to the crowd and opt for a small amount of coffee to deepen and enhance the cocoa flavors without added floral notes to the recipe. Coffee liqueur brings a modest coffee background along with liquid to loosen the batter. Espresso powders overpower the cocoa.

My original recipe called for baking powder and that felt more cake-style than brownie-style. To achieve a slight lift, I diverted from standard practice and beat the eggs with the butter and sugar. Gently mixing in the flour prevents tough texture and baking in muffin tins creates chewiness without the gooey fuss.

Great brownies don't need other ingredient distractions to satisfy the taste buds. In this recipe I hold the nuts, chocolate chips and various stir-ins so you can experience chocolate elegance. Enjoy, preferably with a tall glass of milk!

• Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Villa Park. Write to her at food@dailyherald.com.

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