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)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- 1/3 cup raisins, dark or golden
- 1 1/2 tablespoons water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 12 pieces
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil, place the pan on a baking sheet, and set aside.
Put the raisins in a small saucepan with the water, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the water almost evaporates. Add the rum, let it warm for about 30 seconds, turn off the heat, stand back and ignite the rum. Allow the flames to die down, and set the raisins aside until needed.
Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Slowly and gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the butter, stirring so that it melts. It's important that the chocolate and butter not get very hot. However, if the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl back over the still-hot water for a minute. If you've got a couple of little bits of unmelted butter, leave them—it's better to have a few bits than to overheat the whole. Set the chocolate aside for the moment.
Working with a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they are thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Lower the mixer speed and pour in the chocolate-butter, mixing only until it is incorporated—you'll have a thick, creamy batter. Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 30 seconds—the dry ingredients won't be completely incorporated and that's fine. Finish folding in the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula, then fold in the raisins along with any liquid remaining in the pan.
Scrape the batter into the pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is dry and crackled and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the brownies to cool to warm or room temperature.
Carefully lift the brownies out of the pan, using the foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. With a long-bladed knife, cut the brownies into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side, taking care not to cut through the foil.
Serving: The brownies are good just warm or at room temperature; they're even fine cold. I like these with a little something on top or alongside—good go-alongs are whipped crème fraiche or whipped cream, ice cream or chocolate sauce or even all three!
Storing: Wrapped well, these can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.