Serious Eats: Recipes
Baking with Dorie: Les Brownies, from America to France and Back Again
A friend and I were talking this week about how popular some American desserts have become in Paris. There are les brownies and le cake aux carottes and le cheesecake made with Philadelphia, which is what Kraft cream cheese is often called there. And all this talk made me think of my own Gallic-American creation, French Chocolate Brownies, a dessert that started as one thing and ended as another.
It had been my intention to make a fondant chocolat for a dinner party I was having in Paris. As I'm writing this, it occurs to me: That was a terrible idea! What was I thinking? Of all the French things I could have chosen, why a fondant, which is super easy and one of only a few desserts the French make at home? (Most French people go to their handy, fabulous pâtisseries to buy dessert.)
It was a silly idea, but it turned out to be just fine because, when I brought out my fondant and was about to serve it to my guests, they saw this American holding squares of moist, dense, dark chocolate cake and they leaped to a cultural conclusion: les brownies! Once they began rubbing their hands in anticipation, what could I do, but say, "Yup, they're brownies!" When they got to the rum-soaked raisins, not at all traditional in brownies, or in a fondant, for that matter, I just said it was a little innovation. Since not a soul mentioned the similarity between these brownies and their beloved French dessert, I said nothing and just dished out seconds.
Maybe this whole "a rose is a rose is a rose" thing doesn't really work. Maybe when something doesn't turn out, the trick is just to give it another name.
No matter what you call these, they'll be perfect if you:
- Use great chocolate: As with most brownies, the lion's share of the flavor comes from the chocolate, so you want it to be the best you can get and have the taste you love most. I'm a bittersweet gal, but use semisweet, if that's your druthers - just don't substitute milk or white chocolate, they bake completely differently
- Melt the chocolate very slowly in a double boiler: You don't want the chocolate to get very hot; ditto the butter that you'll add to the melted chocolate. Keep the heat low and you'll have a smoother, denser (in a very good way) brownie
- Try to get your hands on some aged dark rum: It will be stronger, far more flavorful and a lot more interesting than standard, fairly sweet dark rum. (There's very good rum from the Caribbean Islands)
About the author: Dorie Greenspan is the author of several books on dessert, most recently Baking: From My Home to Yours. Dorie can also be found at DorieGreenspan.com and on the Bon Appétit website, where she is a special correspondent.