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Box No-Box Brownies

Remember the mom who always brought brownies to youth group or scout meetings? She was the hero. Her brownies had that thin sugary crunch top and were a little chewy and sometimes had chocolate chunks or nuts in them. The texture was always perfect and the taste was top notch if you were a teenager.

You were sure she must have made them from scratch so you shyly asked for the recipe. Recipe? There is no recipe. These brownies are from a box. No! Right? Nothing good comes from a box.

But decent brownies do come from a box. The best part about box brownies is the texture. That paper thin crispy top of a box brownie is the perfect intro to the thick, chewy, almost fudgy brownie hiding beneath. And then you bite into the chocolaty goodness and discover that it is not quite as chocolaty as you had hoped. It's good but could be better. The chocolaty taste needs to be amped up. Some boxes add chocolate chips to the mix. That helps but does not bring the taste home. Other boxes include a chocolate syrup packet to be squirted into the batter. It helps but not really that much. You might be better off adding it to your milk.

I tried adding espresso powder to my last box brownie pan of yummy. Maybe it helped. Espresso powder tends to support chocolate flavor in baked goods and makes them taste chocolatier (I made up that word) without disturbing the ever-so-delicate fat to liquid ratio. That is techy talk for "be careful adding cocoa powder or chocolate to your cake recipe."

It has taken me years to find the recipe that delivers the texture of the box brownie I loved as a teen-ager and the flavor that I crave as an adult with actual taste buds.

A neighbor gave me the recipe for these great texture explode in your mouth chocolate flavor brownies. I did a little research to see if I could discover the original owner of this recipe. I believe the owner is America's Test Kitchen with a slight tweak to the espresso powder and chocolate; but only a slight tweak. I will present my version of the the recipe my neighbor gave to me.

Box No-Box Brownies

⅓ cup Dutch-processed cocoa

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (72% cocoa is my favorite)

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks

2½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2½ cups sugar

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon salt

6 ounces coarsely chopped 72% bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips (I prefer Ghirardelli)

Adjust an oven rack to the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°.

Prepare a 9x13 inch pan by creating a foil sling. To make a foil sling fold an 18 -20 inch piece of foil lengthwise and press it into the corners and up the ends of the pan. Let the excess overhang the pan edges. Next cut a 14 inch length of foil and fit it into the width of the pan so it is perpendicular to the first sheet. Let the excess overhand the pan edges. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Set the pan aside.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the cocoa and espresso powder. Pour boiling water over the cocoa mixture and whisk until smooth. Add chopped semi-sweet chocolate and whisk until it is melted. Whisk in the oil and melted butter.

Add eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla and continue to work until smooth. Whisk in the sugar until well mixed and then let it set for 3 minutes. Repeat this whisk and let set step 3 times. This step will allow the sugar to be fully dissolved and makes chewier brownies.

Sift flour and salt into a separate bowl. Then fold flour mixture into the cocoa, sugar, egg mixture. Do not over mix at this step. Fold in flour only until it is incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chunks or chocolate chips. My favorite chocolate chips are Ghirardelli 60% cocoa.

Turn the brownie batter into the prepared pan. Use a rubber spatula to spread the batter into the corners of the pan.

Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Rotate the pan halfway through baking.

Let the brownies cool for 2 hours. To cut the brownies use the foil sling to lift them out of the pan and set them foil side up on a cutting board. Very carefully peel the foil of the brownies. Set a second cutting board on the brownies and then flip the boards so that the brownies are now right side up. Use a straight edge and long bread knife to cut brownies into large squares.


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