A dark chocolate brownie that easily (and deliciously) crosses borders
This may make me sound like a chauvinist, but I haven’t had very good brownies outside of the U.S. Some bakeries in Paris give them a go, and once I tried one from a bakery in my old neighborhood, which ended up being dry and lacking in chocolate flavor. Honestly, those two things are the only things that we require of brownies. Everything else is optional. So I gave them a recipe of mine, and when I went back to try one the following week…it was dry and lacking in chocolate flavor.
I don’t know what they did to my recipe, but bless them for making beautiful buttery croissants and crackly baguettes. As much as the term “Stay in your own lane” is like nails on a chalkboard to me, those driven bakers weren’t doing any favors to lovers of les brownies.
Maybe brownies are like poké: The farther you get from the source, the less you should eat it. So that settles it; let’s all go to Hawaii! Or, you can come to Paris and have great croissants and baguettes.
My only-in-America theory was proved wrong with this recipe, adapted from one baked and served in the café of Honest Chocolate in South Africa. I came across it in the book Somebody Feed Phil by Phil Rosenthal, star of the Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil.
I met Phil years ago when he started his television series and came to Paris, and we’ve kept in touch ever since. He recently returned to Paris for a public event, and it was a pleasure when he asked me to join him on stage for a Q+A with a live audience. Needless to say, the few days before the event were filled with wonderful meals together. And yes, a few French pastries, too.
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His book contains the most frequently requested recipes from the television show and included this recipe, which the coffee shop in South Africa dubbed, “Phil’s Brownies,” because people are coming in to request them, using that name. To be honest, whatever you want to call them, they’re pretty great brownies.
The recipe is a bit unusual. To start with, the batter is dark, rich, and very thick. When baked, it puffs up in the oven and may appear a bit liquidy, so you might think you made a mistake. But like most chocolate desserts, underbaking them is the way to go, and I took them out a few minutes before the recipe indicated when they felt just about set, and they were perfect.
I also made a few other modifications, including adding extra chocolate chunks and swapping out the cake flour with all-purpose flour, since one of the other joys of making brownies is that you have all the ingredients on hand, and I didn’t have any of that on hand — and you may not either.
Like most recipes from outside of the U.S., this one uses Dutch-process cocoa powder, which is made from cocoa beans that have been acid neutralized, which reduces their acidity and darkens the color of the cocoa powder. I buy it in bulk at G. Detou in Paris. I’m partial to Valrhona cocoa powder when I’m using Dutch-process cocoa as it’s darker than other cocoa powders, and I find it richer in chocolate flavor, too. It’s available in small boxes (250g/9oz for around €10/$12) or boxes containing three 1-kilo (that’s 6.6 pounds…) bags, which is a lot of cocoa powder. So feel free to use your favorite brand.
But now G. Detou sells it by the kilo (above) for around €20…so who says the French aren’t consumer-friendly?
I have not seen natural cocoa powder in Europe, even though people have sent me links to it (which I’ve diligently followed and read, and saw they are, indeed, Dutch-process — it’s not always called ‘Dutch-process’ outside the U.S.). But perhaps that’s changed. Either way, the recipe calls for Dutch-process cocoa powder, which is available here and there.
The answer to a FAQ is about swapping one out for the other. Generally, recipes that use for natural cocoa — which is more acidic — call for baking soda for leavening, and those that use Dutch-process cocoa powder — which is acid-neutralized, call for baking powder. However, when I asked food science writer Harold McGee about it, he told me that once you add eggs to a recipe, they neutralize the pH in a batter or dough and all bets/rules are off. So there you go.😀
Adapted from Somebody Feed Phil by Phil Rosenthal, from a recipe by Honest Chocolate.
Unlike other brownies, these beauties are made in a rectangular loaf pan. The size the original recipe indicated is in the recipe, below, although my pan was 11-x-3 inches (28 x 8cm), and they came out really well. So if your pan isn’t quite the same size, not to worry. Just check them 5 or so minutes before the recommended baking time, and rely on tactile clues for doneness, rather than sticking strictly to the baking time given.
Nut free? Feel free to swap out another nut, leave them out, or add a handful of roasted cocoa nibs in their place.
Here are some helpful links: Chocolate FAQs, Cocoa powder FAQs, American Baking Ingredients in Paris, and more brownie recipes.
3/4 (150g) cup sugar
6 tablespoons (60g) all-purpose flour or cake flour
5 tablespoons (40g) Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 1/2 ounces (70g) coarsely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup (35g) toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces, 70g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
1. Butter an 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-inch (22 x 11cm) loaf pan. (See headnote.) Cut a long, narrow strip of parchment paper that will line the bottom of the pan and go up the two smaller sides of the pan, which’ll help you lift the brownies out later.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.
3. Stir in the chocolate and almonds, then the cooled melted butter and egg, mixing just until combined. Spread the batter in the prepared baking pan. If it’s thick, use a spatula or the back of a soupspoon to even it out.
4. Bake until the center of the cake feels barely set, about 22-25 minutes. (I baked mine for 22 minutes, and they were quite soft when cooled and sliced, but firmed up perfectly the longer they sat.)
Remove from the oven and let cool. When cool, lift out the brownies using the parchment paper as handles, and cut into bars.
Note: The pics in the post may lead some to think the top and sides got overbaked, but they’re just well-caramelized, not burnt. I loved the slightly crunchy top and corners, but if you want them less colored, drape a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of the pan midway during baking if you feel the tops are getting too dark for your taste.
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For anyone who's wondering, these veganize like a treat. Used a flax egg, swapped the butter out for 50 grams of walnut oil. I only had whole wheat pastry flour, so used that, as well as some hazelnuts that needed using up. Have only eaten the edges, but oh, what edges they are. A great vegan brownie, for those that need it.
The thought of you hanging out with Phil makes my heart happy. ❤️