Consider giving the fudgiest homemade brownies and buttery chocolate chip cookies as gifts put into attractive tins and boxes or as presents to bring to holiday parties.
Whereas Thanksgiving dessert tables were all about pie, Christmas is definitely the time for cookies. All of those decorative thumbprint, frosted and filled cookies are great, but for me I happy to have a platter of fudgy brownies anytime or a batch of classic chocolate chip cookies. I used to make brownies regularly until I wrote a recipe article on them for Gourmet Magazine in the 1980s, or thereabouts. At the time, after weeks of testing and tasting all sorts of brownie recipes, it would be many years before I could stomach one again.
I’m happy to say that I’m back into the brownie fold and glad to be reunited with these scrumptious bars. They can be fudgy or cakey, with or without nuts and as rich with chocolate as you want. And whether tucked into a child’s lunch box, served as dessert with ice cream or packed into a fancy tin to give as a Christmas present, plain or fancy, this is a very versatile sweet.
For the chippers I prepare a classic Toll House cookie with a few changes. I like a thinner cookie (less flour) and butter the baking pan so that the cookies are more like a crisp wafer that’s very buttery. I also add a touch of strong-brewed coffee, which enhances the dough with a distinctive zip of flavor.
The brownies call for three chocolates: unsweetened baking chocolate, cocoa powder and chocolate chips. And the texture is both dense and fudgy because the batter is beaten on high speed for 10 minutes until it’s as thick as mayonnaise. For chocolate flavor, you can go all the way and opt for the expensive premium chocolates. But it’s not necessary. For the unsweetened chocolate I like Baker’s Chocolate, though Guittard also has unsweetened baking chocolate disks that are quite fine.
I spring for the extra cost, however, with the cocoa and chips. Valrhona cocoa powder from France is superb with a rich, winey flavor. And for chips, Callebaut, Guittard or Ghirardelli are a great choice. Whole Foods carries these chocolates and Leroux also has a good selection of premium baking chocolates, too. Also, check out the King Arthur Flour website for their excellent collection of baking chocolates to order online. Otherwise supermarkets generally carry both Ghirardelli and a few other premium brands in addition to Nestlé’s.
For the chippers, Nestlé’s chocolate chips work just fine and cost much less than Ghirardelli or Guittard. Still for a distinctive cookie try the premium chips. Also Guittard has both chocolate chunks and larger chips, both of which offer great texture and extra chocolate flavor to the cookie. And of course chopped walnuts are essential in the cookies.
Baking brownies are tricky and the biggest mistake is to overbake them. Traditional testing with a cake tester is not always accurate. Touching the top of the brownies after 25 minutes will tell you how much longer they need to bake. By about 30 to 32 minutes it should be set and a cake tester should come out almost clean, with just a few crumbs on the tester. If it comes out totally clean you’ve over baked it.
Triple Chocolate Fudge Brownies
Servings: 20 to 24 pieces
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, cut into pieces
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup dark-brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup flour, sifted before measuring
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups roughly chopped pecans (see Note)
8 ounces (1 cup) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 by 13-inch pan and position the rack in the center position.
Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave using a large microwave-safe bowl. Start at 50 percent power for 1 minute, stirring often, then continue to microwave on high power with 30-second bursts of power, stirring each time until the chocolate and butter are completely melted. Let cool for 5 minutes before using.
Meanwhile beat the eggs and both sugars and vanilla on high speed of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip for 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. The mixture will be thick and ribbons will form when the beaters are lifted.
On “stir” speed or by hand with a wooden spoon, mix in the chocolate mixture and until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and cocoa and mix until the dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed. You can use the mixer on stir speed or the next higher speed to blend, but don’t over beat. Stir in the nuts.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes at which time test for doneness. They will be done when top center feels firm and set to the touch. If a cake tester comes out quite wet with crumbs, bake for another 5 minutes. A tester should come out with only a few crumbs. If there are none, then you’ve over baked it and the brownies won’t be as moist or fudgy. About 30 to 32 minutes should be just right.
Note: For optimal flavor roast the nuts (before chopping) on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes or until slightly darkened. Cool before adding to batter.
Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
Double the recipe for a bigger batch using 3/4 cup light-brown sugar, packed and 2 cups flour and doubling all the other ingredients.
Servings: about 30 cookies, depending on size
6 tablespoons light-brown sugar, each tablespoon packed into spoon
6 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons strong-brewed coffee
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
Extra butter for greasing the pan
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease the pans with softened butter for each batch of cookies.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars for several minutes until thoroughly combined and creamy. Add the egg and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Add the flour and stir on low speed until combined. Add the coffee and vanilla extract and stir until combined. Add the chips and nuts and stir with a wooden spoon until blended in. Put the dough into the refrigerator to firm up slightly for about 10 minutes.
Scoop out using a soup spoon enough to form into a ball the size of a golf ball or slightly smaller. Put on the greased pan at least 1 inch apart and then, with moistened wet hands flatten to a disk with your hand until about 1/2 –inch thick. This method will produce a nice size cookie.
Bake for 6 minutes, rotate pan and continue for another 6 minutes or until the edges are brown and crispy and the center is cooked and set.
Let rest for 2 minutes in the pan and then using a spatula transfer to cooling rack. Regrease the pan for each new batch. You can also use several sheet pans by placing one on the lower third of the oven and the second on the upper third level. Switch the pans to each level, rotating the pan and continue to bake for about another 6 minutes or until edges are brown and center is set.
Cool on a rack and store cookies in a covered tine. You can also make the dough ahead of time and refrigerate for up to 2 days covered. Note when you roll the dough into balls it will help if your hands are slightly wet.