Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Test Kitchen: Espresso-Shortbread Brownie Bars

My apologies that I’m a bit late with my monthly Test Kitchen since last month I was away in Chicago. But I’m excited because for May I’m testing a dessert for the first time!

I admit I may have skewed last month’s poll toward these espresso-shortbread brownie bars by offering up two boring alternatives. More than 42 percent of you voted for the brownies, closely followed by the smoky paella (41 percent) and far in the distance was poor curried cauliflower green bean salad (16 percent).

This recipe is from Food and Wine Magazine’s senior recipe developer (how can I get her job?) Grace Parisi, and like most of the magazine’s recipes it promised to be simple and easy. Let’s see how it all went down in my kitchen. (As always, you can get the full recipe at the magazine’s website.)

This brownie is taken up a notch by adding an espresso shortbread as the base. So I started off by making the shortbread. First I got some espresso beans from my local Peet’s Coffee. Thankfully, the bean people are pretty nice about letting you buy as much or as little of the beans that you want. And since I’m not a coffee drinker, I really only needed half a cup, which is what I bought.

I got home and grounded 1 tablespoons of the espresso beans in my spice grinder. Then I was ready to assemble the shortbread ingredients of butter, flour and sugar. Again, I ran into the problem of not reading the recipe before putting it up for the poll because it said I should pulse the ingredients in a food processor, which I don’t have. So I improvised and just used my hand mixer and turned it on and off, imitating the pulsating action of the food processor. Hey, a guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do.

I then pressed the shortbread dough onto a pan. Again, the recipe called for a 9X13 inch pan and I had an 8X12 inch pan. So you know what I did? I just used enough dough to make a thin layer and just tossed out the rest. (It was only a little bit leftover.) In the end, because the dough had the espresso beans, the color looked odd and reminded me of cardboard. Not very appetizing. Here’s how it looked after I baked it for about 30 minutes until golden brown (or as golden as cardboard can get).

Then I worked on the brownie batter. So you guessed it, I didn’t really read the recipe carefully and it says to use unsweetened chocolate and I only had semi-sweet. So I was worried my brownies would be too sweet, which I hate. I improvised again and to compensate for the sugar in the chocolate, I only put 1¼ cup of sugar when the recipe called for 2 cups. I poured my batter over the crust and then placed it in the oven to bake for another 30 minutes.

So that was it! Pretty easy steps. After taking it out of the oven, I let it cool and then cut it up into little squares. Here’s hot they turned out. Food and Wine Magazine didn’t have a photo of the brownies in its magazine, so there’s no shot for comparison. I’m just going to have to imagine that my brownie turned out how it should be.

My tips and warnings about this recipe:

  1. The brownie batter turns out to be like chocolate cake, but I like my brownie a bit more gooey. So next time I might do the trick of mixing in chunks of chocolate that will then turn to ooze when baked (instead of melting all the chocolate ahead of time).
  2. The brownies actually didn’t taste too sweet. In fact, I think they were under-sweetened. So maybe you might want to use semi-sweet chocolate with the full 2 cups of sugar and not unsweetened chocolate.
  3. The recipe says you can make these ahead and keep them in an air-tight container for five days. I really doubt that. After a day, they started to lose color (looking like blondies instead of brownies) even though I had them in a plastic container. I think they’re good for maybe 2 or 3 days, max.
Ease of cooking: Another really simple recipe that didn’t take too long to prepare. The only part that was hard for me was the shortbread, and only because I didn’t have a food processor. Otherwise, really easy.

Taste: Like I briefly mentioned above, they didn’t taste as sweet for a brownie. Also, the batter was more cake like. The shortbread was an odd addition, giving the brownie a tough edge to it. I definitely tasted the espresso flavor in the cookie portion, but I don’t know if it added or detracted to the brownie. It was just different.

Overall grade: C+ because even though it was easy to make, I don’t think the brownie portion of it was that outstanding. It really tasted average. I brought a bunch to my office and people didn’t rave over them, mostly because I think it wasn’t as sweet and didn’t have a texture of brownies as much as cake.

Don’t forget to vote in my poll on the upper right column. It’s the grilling season and Food and Wine’s June edition has lots of grilling recipes, which sucks for me because I don’t have a grill or backyard. So I had to look for non-grilling recipes to test.

Previous test kitchens:
Basil-Crusted Leg of Lamb
Pork Tonkatsu
Winter Vegetable Chili
Penne Rigate with Spicy Braised Swordfish


Carolyn Jung said...

I remember seeing that recipe, too. Wow, they start to turn pale after a day? That's surprising. Thanks for your insightful report. It makes me realize with all the other good brownie recipes out there that I already like, I probably don't need to try this one.

Hungry Dog said...

Hm, that's disappointing--the recipe name sounds amazing! Oh well. You gave it a go. I'm with you--I prefer gooey to cakey brownies.

jen laceda said...

i'm going to try this recipe this weekend. i only have instant espresso coffee powder. hope that works! will post on my blog the results!