There are several ways to make a brownie a more decadent treat by adding ingredients to the brownie itself or icing it with a frosting or ganache or another flavorful, eye-catching topper.
One of the most basic ways to spruce up a brownie is to add nuts.
While many people would probably consider adding pecans or walnuts to brownie batter, Bloom suggests toasting the nuts and using hazelnuts as another option. Or add broken bits of cocoa nibs, which are unsweetened, roasted cocoa beans that require no preparation and can be found in specialty shops or online.
Other options to add to the batter are dried cherries, chopped dried apricots or lightly toasted coconut shreds or shavings, Bloom said. To toast the coconut, bake it at 350 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes, shaking the pan or stirring the coconut after a few minutes. The coconut will be lightly golden when ready.
To increase the decadence factor of the flourless chocolate torte he serves at James Buchanan Pub & Restaurant in Mercersburg, Pa., Chef de Cuisine Andrew Thornton modified his usual recipe. He added some complementary flavors to the brownie, which also features a ganache topping.
Thornton used a reduction of sangiovese Italian wine in the brownie batter and added pink peppercorns to the ganache.
Dark chocolate goes well with a nice glass of red wine, so Thornton tried adding the wine, through a reduction, to the dark chocolate brownie itself.
The tannins in the wine provide a bitterness or natural tartness that goes well with dark chocolate, which is bittersweet, Thornton said.
The peppercorns are mildly sweet and spicy, he said.
The wine gave the chocolate more flavor and the peppercorns gave the brownie an extra semi-spiciness, Thornton said.
Another way to make a brownie richer is to substitute a nicer, darker chocolate, Thornton said.
Bloom, whose pastry training included an apprenticeship at a pastry shop in Venice, Italy, shared a recipe from her 2007 cookbook, "The Essential Baker: The Comprehensive Guide to Baking with Chocolate, Fruit, Nuts, Spices, and Other Ingredients," that features gianduia - chocolate blended with hazelnuts.
Some other ways to spruce up your brownies, courtesy of Thornton and Bloom, are:
· Make a stencil and dust the tops with confectioners' sugar or cocoa powder, Bloom said.
· Drizzle the tops of the cooled brownies with dark, milk, or white chocolate, Bloom said. Melt the chocolate in the microwave.
Top brownies with a dollop of liqueur-flavored whipped cream, Bloom said. Whip heavy whipping cream on medium speed until it thickens. Fold the liqueur into the cream (Use 1 to 2 tablespoons of liqueur to 1 cup of cream so the flavor is subtle.). Then whip the cream so there are soft peaks. Try Grand Marnier, which has an orange flavor; Chambord, which has a black raspberry flavor; or coffee-flavored Kahlua.
· To make the brownies crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside, raise the baking temperature 25 to 50 degrees during the last 5 minutes of cooking, Thornton said.
· Make a ganache icing to spread atop the cooled brownies.
Bloom's ganache recipe follows: Place 6 ounces finely chopped dark chocolate in a bowl. Heat 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate, then stir together until smooth. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and chill until thick, but not stiff; about an hour. Lightly beat the ganache in a mixer with the flat beater attachment. Use a small spatula to spread on top of the brownies.
For Thornton's basic ganache recipe, see the ganache recipe with pink peppercorn and sangiovese-spiked flourless brownie. Omit the peppercorns.
For more tips on making brownies, visit these Web sites:
· Duncan Hines brownie tips at www.duncanhines.com/newDuncan/pub/kitchen-connection/baking-tips/brownie.asp.
· Betty Crocker's brownie site includes a recipe for cookies 'n creme brownies, www.bettycrocker.com/products/brownies-and-dessert-bars/Brownies-and-Dessert-Bars-Home-Landing-Page.htm.