Some people I know have declared that they're giving up this, that or the other for Lent. The odd thing is, none of them are particularly religious, or even all that disciplined, so I wonder why they do it. Has Lent become just another trending thing, like being disgusted with Tiger Woods has become a trend? How does giving something up for 40 days make one a better person, or change the world? Surely it takes much longer than that. Does abstaining from something like alcohol or dessert or shopping mean we give up the deeper emotional hungers that lead to these cravings in the first place?
Not knowing the answers to any of that, I baked brownies. When I'm in doubt about anything - anything at all - I bake. In fact, I baked two, just to give abstemiousness a kick up the backside. Abstinence and Catholic guilt have failed me as both moral compass or slimming aid, so I abandoned them a long time ago. I've been a happier camper since.
I'm not giving anything up for Lent, except the artifice of Lent itself.
Over the years I've experimented with dozens of brownie recipes. I found a few I really liked and tweaked them until I came up with a version that really rocked. Everyone loves my brownies. They're complex, fudgy and aromatic. People fight over them. Girlfriends hide them from their husbands and children. I get invited to dinner parties on the off chance I might bring some. Once, someone asked to marry me because of them. I kid you not.
Use the best quality dark chocolate you can get. Therein lies redemption.
This recipe makes two pans of brownies because chocoholics never bake just one. You can half the recipe if you wish.
185 grams / 6.5 ounces unsalted butter (If you substitute margarine, I'll hex you.)
170 grams / 6 ounces best quality dark chocolate (I use 74% dark chocolate)
2 cups / 400 grams white sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-raising)
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1 tablespoon espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Optional (nah, not really):
1 cup walnuts or pecans or a combination of both, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup or more dark or milk chocolate chips or a combination of both (If you can't get chocolate chips, simply medium chop some good chocolate with a knife.)
Adjust oven rack to middle position. Heat oven to 325 degrees F / 162 degrees C / gas mark 3.
Butter and flour two 8- or 9-inch baking tins (square or round are both fine).
Spread chopped nuts evenly on baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, about 5-6 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl, whisk to combine flour, ground almonds, powdered coffee, salt and baking powder. Set aside.
Melt chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely-simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, folding in with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth. Do not overbeat, unless you want your brownies rigid like Victoria Beckham.
Transfer batter to prepared pans. Using spatula, smooth batter into sides and corners of pans. Do not resist the urge to lick the spatula when you're done. Sprinkle toasted nuts and chocolate chips over batter.*
Bake until a toothpick inserted into center of brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 30-35 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours. Turn out into a serving plate, slice and serve.
Store leftovers (leftovers??) in an airtight container at room temp, for up to 3 days. Storing them in the fridge will give them an even fudgier texture.
* Sometimes I like both nuts and chocolate chips on top. Sometimes I mix the nuts into the batter but sprinkle the chocolate chips on top, as shown in these photos. Or vice versa. Whatever turns you on.