The Most Successful Cookbook on My Shelves

June 2, 2014


I have a fair number of cookbooks, but I’m by no means a collector. Compared to many of my friends, I have a relatively tiny collection, and that’s because I don’t use cookbooks that often. For the most part, cookbooks give me ideas. They help me come up with new dishes or combinations of ingredients. Occasionally, I’ll learn a new technique. I’ll even read a cookbook from cover to cover now and then, just because the writing and stories are so good. But for the most part, cookbooks are reference materials, to be picked up now and then for guidance and inspiration.

The first cookbook where I really started to look at how and what I was cooking, the guide that introduced me to Thai cuisine, the book that I’ve followed more recipes than any other book was The Frog Commissary Cookbook by Steven Poses from Philadelphia. An old girlfriend gave me this book as a Valentine’s Day gift over 25 years ago, and it’s as worn out as any cookbook I have. It’s not just dog-eared, it’s dirty. The binding is broken and pages are falling out. I’ve made at least 50 different dishes from that cookbook, and most of them have been great hits. The sour cream apple pie. The Asian chicken wings. The Thai curries. The crab and tarragon and tomato pasta dish. I could go on and on, and maybe one day, I will spend more time highlighting this wonderful cookbook.

But today, I want to focus on Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. I’m not sure I’ve had a cookbook that has been as slam-dunk successful as this one. Everything that I have made from this book has been not just good, but amazing. His recipes have replaced the tried and true dishes I’ve made for years. Chocolate chip cookies? None can compare to the version in this cookbook, and except for having to chop your own chocolate, they’re really simple. His cream of cauliflower soup has become my family’s favorite soup — nothing else comes even close. I now dress my salads totally differently because of this cookbook. The newest item to make our “best of” list is his brownies. Brownies??? Yes, brownies. I mean, I thought I’ve had brownies every different way and had come to the conclusion that it was a dessert that would always be good, but would never be great. Well, these brownies aren’t just great; they’re fucking awesome. Why you ask? Well, it comes down to chocolate and butter. Chocolate in the form of lots of cocoa powder then with dark chocolate chunks added to the batter. And butter? Well, we’re talking about a 9×9 inch square cake pan of brownies calling for THREE STICKS OF BUTTER!!!! Nope, not a typo — there are 12 ounces of butter in this recipe. Even if cut into relatively small pieces, you’re going to get a couple of tablespoons of butter in each brownie. Holy smokes, these brownies are rich. Over the top without a damn excuse but 0h-my-god-they’re-delicious rich. My daughter made these brownies yesterday, and I want more. I’m channeling my inner Veruca Salt because I want more NOW!

 

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The brownies are absolutely perfect on their own, or with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. A little soft cream would be great, too, but of course, we topped them with good old fashioned vanilla ice cream. I didn’t want to take the time to get a quality photo, because, well, once again, I’m a little impatient. So you’re stuck with a photo of ice cream hiding the most amazing brownie I’ve ever eaten.

Now I have to figure out what to make out of this book next. Because I’m a bit uneasy about displacing my current favorites. Like his carrot cake muffins. Or beef stroganoff. Ah, hell, I’ll just give in and be thankful that I have a cookbook that I can always turn to, and come out with something extraordinary.

Ad Hoc at Home Brownies

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (recipe calls for vanilla paste, but I didn’t have any on hand — plain vanilla works)
6 ounces 61 to 64% chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces ( about 1 1/2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9×9 baking dish. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside.

Melt half the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat (or in the microwave), stirring occasionally. Put the remaining butter in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter and stir to melt the butter. The butter should look creamy, with small bits of unmelted butter, and be at room temperature.

In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then add one-third of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester or wooden skewer poked into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs sticking to it. If the pick comes out wet, test a second time, because you may have hit a piece of chocolate chip; then bake for a few more minutes longer if necessary. Cool in the pan until the brownie is just a bit warmer than room temperature.

Run a knife around the edges, and invert the brownie onto a cutting board. Cut into 12 rectangles. Serve with dusted powdered sugar, soft whipped cream or ice cream. The brownies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days, but if they last that long, there’s something wrong.


Chile-Chocolate Brownies

September 19, 2011

My 10 year old daughter Clara has become quite the baker. She’s always surprising me with cookies, breads, muffins, and lately, even pies. But one of her favorite things to bake is also one of the easiest: brownies. She’s been making brownies for years, and she occasionally looks for a new variation on the tried and true standard chewy chocolate version that our family prefers.

Well, do I have a great variation for you: Chile-Chocolate Brownies from Sandra Gutierrez’s new cookbook, The New Southern-Latino Table. (It’s funny, but I’ve never met Sandra, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told, “Oh, you two should really meet!” Even now, after receiving a complementary copy of her new book, we still haven’t met. Time to fix that!)

But back to these brownies. I recently read a local magazine’s take on this rich, dense and moist brownies, which combines two different types of chile powder, one in the brownie itself and a spicier, smokier chipotle for the glaze. This magazine said that if you’re making these brownies for kids, leave out the chile powder. Leave out the chile powder? Are you completely out of your mind??? Yes, this recipe would make a very nice brownie without the spice, but it would still be relatively ordinary. It’s the chile powder that makes this dish something special, something unusual, something truly memorable. And the amount of heat is really not that great. We had a bunch of kids trying these brownies, and they all loved them. Were they a bit spicy? Yup. But combined with the sweetness and all that chocolatey richness, it was a perfect combination. So please, try making these brownies, just the way Sandra intended you to (although you can leave out the nuts, if so desired — we did). But do not leave out the chile powders — it’s all the difference between a good brownie and a kick-ass one.

And the recipe is so simple, even a 10-year old can make it!

The recipe below comes directly from Sandra’s cookbook. We made just two minor variations. First, we did not include the pecans. We wanted a nut-free version. Second, rather than melting chocolate in a double boiler, we did our standard operation of combining the butter and the chocolate in a large Pyrex measuring cup, and melting it in a microwave, thirty seconds at a time, stirring after each cycle. If you’re wondering where to find the chile powders, check out a Latino store, but I was lucky enough to find both types at my neighborhood Whole Foods.

Chile-Chocolate Brownies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ancho chile powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped and toasted pecans (optional)

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon coffee-flavored liqueur
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 9x9x2-inch baking pan.

Place the butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler and heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they have melted and are well combined. Lift the bowl carefully from the pan so no water droplets come into contact with the chocolate mixture; let cool for 5 minutes and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the sugar; add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; stir in the vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ancho chile powder, and salt; gradually add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, beating well until fully combined. Add the pecans. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the center is set and the brownies begin to pull back from the sides of the pan. Cool brownies for 1 hour in the pan.

To make the glaze: in a medium bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, butter, liqueur, vanilla, and chile powder; blend until smooth. Place the glaze in a pastry bag (or zip-top bag with a snipped corner), and drizzle back and forth over the brownies.

Cut them into 20 bars.

Makes 20 brownies

 

Note: This post is part of the New Southern-Latino Table Dinner Party!