(Originally published in The News Review on February 2, 2016)
I’ve eaten more green smoothies, salads, roasted root vegetables, beans and tofu in the past month than ever before in my life. I enjoy the flavor, nourishment, and variety they bring to my table. My enthusiasm for beets and Brussels sprouts continues to blossom. I’m keen on kale, both green and purple varieties, which I keep on hand, washed, stemmed, bagged, and ready to be tossed into soups, salads, and casseroles.
But February is upon us, and that calls for a little Valentine’s Day indulgence. Not just any treat will satisfy my ever more discriminating sweet tooth. No grocery-store cake for me. No “chocolatey-flavored” candy. If I’m going to spend my hard-earned calories, I’ll make darn sure I get fair value. When I indulge, I’ll do it mindfully, with gusto, and I’ll savor every bite.
If you’ve got a special someone to bake for, might I suggest a batch of dense and fudgy homemade brownies? Brownies are easy enough for even a novice baker. A few additions to the standard recipe and some colorful packaging transforms them into an impressive gift.
There are four brownie recipes on my blog, all variations on a decadent, dark chocolate theme. Picking a favorite is no easy task. The Peanut Butter Brownies have sweet, salty, peanut butter crumbles baked into the surface. The MintBrownies are studded with Junior Mints candies and frosted with mint buttercream. The Caramel-Pecan Brownies have faultlines of gooey caramel running throughout them. Last, but certainly not least, the Marionberry-Walnut Brownies were created to showcase two popular, locally grown ingredients that I always have on hand.
All of these recipes make a huge batch (half-sheet pan) because I used to bake them in quantity to sell at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market. Most home bakers don’t need quite so many brownies at one time, so I’ve come up with a scaled-down version that fits a 9-inch square pan perfectly. This recipe for Raspberry-Walnut Brownies makes 16 (2 ¼-inch square) brownies. You can cut them even smaller for “two-bite” treats. A giant heart-shaped brownie is also an option, if you have the right pan.
As always, start with the best ingredients. I use unsalted butter, farm-fresh eggs, and good-quality chocolate. Store-bought raspberry jam is fine if you don’t have homemade. If you can only find jam with seeds, that’s okay too. Lining the pan with parchment makes cutting the cooled brownies easier because you can lift it in one piece out onto the counter. Place each cut brownie in a paper cupcake liner for a pretty presentation.
These brownies freeze beautifully, but don’t count on that as a way to moderate your consumption; they taste great straight from the freezer!
These brownies are deliciously dense and fudgy, with pockets of dark chocolate and puddles of raspberry jam in every bite. All the melting and mixing is done in one saucepan, so cleaning up is a breeze.
½ cup unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅔ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chocolate chips
⅓ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
about ⅓ cup seedless raspberry jam
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan* with parchment. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate, stirring constantly. Add the sugar, turn off the heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Add the salt, vanilla and eggs and stir with a wooden spoon or wire whisk until smooth and glossy. Gently fold in the flour. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Scatter the chocolate chips over the surface, then carefully smooth the batter over them with a rubber scraper. Sprinkle on the chopped walnuts. Using two spoons, drop small “blobs” of jam all over the nuts and batter.
Place the pan on the center rack of the oven and reduce heat to 325 degrees. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean, (but be sure you’re not poking it through a melted chocolate chip!).
Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack. (When cool, you can cover the pan tightly with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or several hours for easier cutting.) When ready to serve, lift the parchment out of the pan and place on the counter. Cut into squares of desired size. These brownies freeze exceptionally well.
*If you have a heart-shaped pan, you can make one giant brownie for your special someone. You may need to bake it a few minutes longer if the volume of the heart pan is less than that of a 9-inch square pan.