Saturday, February 5, 2011

Browned Butter Brownies (with or without pecans)

This past Wednesday the Burlington School district had their first snow day since Sebastian (my third grader) was in kindergarten.  It could not have come at a better time for my family.  Right in the middle of a small school vacation drought.  Early in the day on Tuesday most of the surrounding school districts declared the following day a snow day before a single flake had fallen.  Burlington however has a higher percentage of poverty and in the winter school means heat and food for many children, and for that reason rarely close for a mere snowstorm.  I was sure if we had a snow day it would be declared at the last possible minute.  However shortly before 7 PM we received the robocall canceling school and I did a little dance at my seat.  (I really did, I think I might have been even more excited then my children).

My husband played hooky from his work as well and we got to steal a midweek day in the snow.  We began, shortly after a breakfast of Liege Sugar Waffles, by stepping out our front door to X-county ski to the park with our sleds.  We returned home starving and snowy, which for most families means breaking out mugs and making hot chocolate.  The only problem is Sebastian only likes the idea of hot chocolate. When faced with a mug of his own, even when I make it with milk, melted bittersweet chocolate and sugar,  he only takes a few tentative sips before allowing his brother, the liquid chocolate addict, to finish his share.

These brownies can happily satisfy a post snow adventure for my whole family, and you can even take them with you as an easily transportable snack.  I like that they rely on cocoa powder, which for most people is far more easy to stock then bakers, bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate.  Somehow I still needed to rely on my neighbors pantry for some of the cocoa powder called for.  Brownies aside, it was a great snow day.  After the sledding we played monopoly and then the boys went outside with a neighbor flopping into patches of untouched snow.   The editing of memories are already whitewashing any whining of overtired boys that happened and focusing only on the day spent playing. I am sure my boys will remind me of this day for long to come, "remember the snow day when we skied to the park, played monopoly, ate sugar waffles for breakfast...?"

One more note on these brownies, which I am not going to say "Are the best brownies ever" as was stated by many commenters on Bon Appetite's website.  Personally I have many brownie recipes that I love and I refuse to trouble myself with declaring a favorite.  Instead I choose to make whichever recipe suits my mood at any moment.  These are suitably rich and decadent even though they use cocoa powder in place of chocolate because of the browned butter.  Browned butter is nutty, richer and sweeter because the sugars have been caramelized and the flavors intensified.  However given my deep love of brownies and love to play, next I am going to try these olive oil brownies.  Maybe I will make my friend Heather's decadent mint layer brownies instead...

I made the browned butter brownies in 2 pyrex loaf pans so I could make half of the batch with pecans and leave the other half naked for my heathen children.  If you enjoy nuts in your brownies they really do help balance the richness of this recipe.  Although neither of my boys complained once about their version without the nuts.  They did not even notice how much less height, and therefore deliciousness there was without the nuts.  I made these using only whole wheat pastry flour as I realized several years ago a good brownie recipe has enough chocolate to allow you to use any flour you want without anyone knowing the difference.  Not that these can now be classified as health food, but I see no reason not to add more whole grains to my diet any time I can.

Browned Butter Pecan Brownies
Adapted from Bon Appetite

Nonstick cooking spray (I used Reynolds release foil and eliminated this step)
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat
1/2 to 1 cup pecan pieces (I used 1/2 cup for half of the batch, use 1 cup for all nut brownies)

Preheat to 325°F with a rack in the lower third.  Line either one 8x8x2-inch pyrex dish or two 8x4.5x2 inch pans with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray (or don't bother if using nonstick foil). Melt butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan (my pan was 3 qts).  Cook the butter, stirring often, until it becomes golden brown and smells nutty, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend and then allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Butter/cocoa mixture will still be hot, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one until no signs of egg are present before adding the next one.  When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes.  If making some with and some without nuts pour half of the batter into one prepared pan before stirring in the nuts and adding the rest of the batter to the second pan.  Otherwise add the nuts to the whole batch and pour into prepared pan.

Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes (I think mine were more like 35 - 40). Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into up however you want. 

The recipe states these can be made 2 days ahead, perhaps that is the longest they were able to resist them in the test kithcens.  I was able to hide mine and store them for at least a week.


  1. Sounds like you had a wonderful family day Robin.

    Brownies look soooo good. Great photo.


  2. Mmmm, sounds wonderful! Will have to try the brownies. We're out of luck on the snow day here...

  3. Yum, those brownies look super fudgy. The pecans would add a nice crunch in contrast. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog right now called "Sweets for a Saturday" and I'd like to invite you to stop by and link your brownies up.

  4. They look lovely. Were they at all greasy? Many brownie recipes I've tried without chocolate have been greasy due to the lack of emulsifiers.

    Christina! xo

  5. Christina, I did not notice them being greasy. I will have to make them again to to make sure.