Granted, “Mini Brownies” lacks the alliterative ring of “brownie bites,” a name already popularly in use. Other names were batted around only to be shot down by the IK’s other half: no to Brownie Buttons. No to Brownie Bits. By the time “Wee Brownies” rolled around, visions of miniature Stonehenges were dancing in our heads. After three weeks of illness-induced silence, this seemed a bad omen.
“What about mini brownies?” John asked, thinking, no doubt, of the mini-muffin pan sparking the whole business.
And lo, we had a name.
Let us digress. The IK would like to chat about the holidays.
Once a upon a time, not so very long ago, the holiday season did not begin until after Thanksgiving. Okay, one might encounter the occasional Christmas bow or beginnings of a tree lot in early November. But the IK’s birthday is a week before American Thanksgiving, and her childhood celebrations never felt shortchanged by holiday proximity. Back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, a late November birthday wasn’t proximate to the holidays.
Enter any drugstore or big box emporium today and find pumpkins and witch costumes alongside boxes of tinsel and red ribbon. You don’t need the IK to tell you it’s too early for Christmas merch.
Were this not bad enough, the catalog onslaught has begun, a mailbox-choking exercise in silly forks, insanely expensive light fixtures, “seats” hewn from artisanal logs, and gift mustards no sane person would ever, ever eat.
Then, of course, there’s family.
There are people who actually get along with their families. Come the holiday season, they travel to their relatives, or their relatives travel to them, and a fine time is reported by all. These are admirable folk.
Then there’s everyone else. People who view the holiday season with creeping dread. As magazines, blogs, and television shows chatter about gathering happily round the big bird ‘neath the Christmas tree’s glow, these people–the majority, I suspect–experience a wide range of emotions, few of them pleasant. That the United States is reeling from a divisive election while Great Britain copes with Brexit only exacerbates tensions in many households.
After a terrible year marked by personal ill health, widespread international suffering, and the loss of numerous beloved public figures, we at the IK are weary. We intend to have a little fun over the holidays, which will be spent à deux.
To this end, it occurred to us that a few smaller menus might be useful. Menus that celebrate the season without inducing heartburn or creating decades of leftovers.
Granted, mini brownies don’t quite fit the bill, apart from being small. Then again, use the best chocolate you can, and you’ve got quite the decadent little bite without any of the bloat or attendant guilt. Besides, chocolate is an antioxidant. And these wee darlings freeze well, a boon to any small household.
Some excuses–explanations–before we do the recipe thing. With their emphasis on bitter chocolate, with just enough sugar to get by, these brownies are what Food 52 writer Amanda Hesser would call austere, in the best possible way. Serve mini brownies after dinner with your deepest, darkest espresso. If you wanna fancy things up, you could always add whipped cream. We found a little confectioner’s sugar to be more than enough…and as you might imagine, by the time I was done photographing, the living room sported an attractive layer of the stuff.
This recipe is adapted from one found in Gourmet Magazine. The amounts were originally intended to fill a 13×9 inch pan, and still do, as I am not a skilled enough baker to confidently downsize a recipe to fit a 24-well mini-muffin pan. Were this a savory recipe, no trouble. But I’m a home cook, not a professionally trained baker or chef, and I’d rather be honest. Why waste your time and money?
If you want to make the brownies in a mini-muffin tin, as I did, expect to get 36–meaning you can use your tin twice, (assuming, like me, you have one mini-muffin tin) or you can make 24 wee brownies and bake the remainder in a regular muffin tin–I got 7 more–or, indeed, bake the whole shebang in a 13×9 in baking pan. The choice is yours.
An overnight rest allows the flavors to blossom. Mini brownies truly taste better the next day.
If you have a real sweet tooth, or want to share these with small people, increase the sugar by 1/4 cup.
Paper baking cups make cleanup easier. I found mini-baking cups at Jo-Ann fabrics–until recently I had no idea they sold baking supplies. Now I find myself making excuses to visit their store, which is alarmingly nearby.
adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Yield: approximately 36 mini brownies
One 13×9 inch sheet pan of brownies
Baking time: 15 minutes for the mini brownies
30-35 minutes for a 13×9 inch pan
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups superfine sugar (regular sugar is fine if that’s what you have)
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract (vanilla extract is fine, too)
1/4 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
1 cup flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted (see note)
1 cup semi-sweet baking morsels
Have all ingredients at room temperature before beginning.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Either butter and lightly flour the wells of a 24-well mini-muffin tin or a 13×9 inch baking pan or, for the muffin tin, use paper muffin cups. Brownies can also be baked in 12-well muffin tin: butter and flour, or use paper liners.
Crush chocolate with a rolling pin or by hand, making sure there are no large pieces. Place chocolate and butter in small saucepan over low-medium heat to melt, stirring continually so chocolate does not seize. This takes a little time, so be patient. It pays to break the chocolate into small bits so you aren’t left waiting for a hunk of chocolate to finally melt.
Once chocolate and butter are melted, remove pan from heat. Set aside for a moment.
Crack eggs into a large mixing bowl. I use a Pyrex 4-quart bowl.
Whisk eggs with fork or whisk until foamy. Add sugar, whisking vigorously until blended. Add almond extract (or vanilla), and the salt.
Before adding the egg/chocolate mixture, you might want to switch to a large wooden or metal spoon. Whatever you find easiest. Pour egg/chocolate mixture into mixing bowl. Stir to combine. Add cocoa, flour, and chocolate morsels. Stir until just blended.
If using muffin tin, use a measuring tablespoon to scoop mixture into mini muffin tin. Fill the muffin wells; there will be batter left in bowl.
Place muffin tin in oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake.
Place on rack to cool.
Finish baking using the mini muffin tin; you will get about 12 more mini brownies.
You can also finish using regular muffin tin: butter and flour wells, or use paper liners. Expect to get 7 more brownies. Bake for about 25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
If using a 13×9 inch baking pan, spread mixture in pan and bake 30-35 minutes. Brownies are done when tester comes out clean.
Cool on a rack.
Scatter with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.
Brownies will keep, well-wrapped, three days at room temperature. May be frozen, well wrapped in tinfoil and a Ziploc style bag, up to three months.
Notes: I used Droste’s Cocoa. Sift by placing small strainer over a measuring cup. Spoon cocoa into strainer and shake gently into measuring cup.
Feel free to increase sugar up to 1/4 cup and use regular or milk chocolate morsels, if preferred.