10.04.2014

Extreme Brownies: Extremely Good! {a book review}

The saddest part about reviewing a cookbook is that making every recipe isn't required. For this book, I wish it were... (although I imagine I will be making them all at some point.) No one - especially my colleagues at the office - will complain.


Andrews McMeel Publishing sent me a review copy of Connie Weis' Extreme Brownie: 50 Recipes for the Most Over-the-Top Treats Ever. {All opinions herein are my own, and I was not required to write anything if I felt it was unwarranted.} My first thought for the review is that, yes, they are over-the-top. But not in a bad way, for sure.

These recipes gild the lily. They are as rich as Croesus. They have Midas's golden touch. Even the most basic recipe - Weis' signature square - has three sticks of butter! More on that recipe later.

The book is divided into three sections:
   • the introduction, which includes ingredients, equipment, techniques.
   • brownies - 37 recipes
   • blondies - 13 recipes

I like this set up, and I especially commend Weis on her thorough introduction. Knowing the information she has shared will change brownie making forever. Her list of ingredients, and how to choose them, is great. The equipment list, too. Her pan prep, tips for baking, and the "how to" section on removing them from the pan, cutting, storage, and shipping are extremely helpful. Who doesn’t have a friend whom they’d happily surprise with a gift box of homemade brownies? (Nan... there will be brownies coming your way!)

She writes about the percentage of cacao in each chocolate and, at first, I was a little perplexed when she mentioned high-fat, (at least 20%) Dutch-processed cocoa. Packages of cocoa, unlike chocolate where the percentage of cacao is made clear, do not tell you the fat content. You need to know the math.

"Math? Seriously? I am just baking brownies here..." Okay, relax - it's pretty easy. You simply divide the grams of fat listed by the number of grams in a serving. (Use a calculator to avoid brain sprain.) By this calculation, I find the cocoa I used had 25% fat content.

Then there are the recipes. I received the book on the same day I was having two colleagues to lunch. We paged - nay, pawed - through the book and each of us chose favorites. Anything that included salted caramel got major attention from them both. Some brownies from Weis' book to consider include: caramel-stuffed sea salt (this was by far the favorite of my guests), la dolce vita hazelnut, harlequin truffle, crème de la crème de menthe, or raspberry rapture. On the other hand, you might want to make these blondies: lemon mascarpone, triple blueberry white chocolate, moby pb cup, or bombin' blondies.

However, because I just posted a salted caramel dish, I chose for my first test recipe her first recipe in the book. Her signature brownie: Connie's "PMS" Brownies. She tells her customers that these little gals, “take me from ’pre to post.’" They have a really intense, buttery chocolate flavor, and they store beautifully.

I tested this first batch on my colleagues at work and got responses like, "Holy Moly!" and "Jeez, I really needed these today" and "That was the best brownie ever." My favorite response was from a friend who was detoxing and turned them down. Later that day, I got an email saying, "I looked at them, and that was my first mistake." Her second mistake was testing one. Detox schmetox. Finally, another colleague asked, "Why do you do this to us?" (She also thanked me.)

Connie Weis is owner of Brownies, Cookies & S'more, a bakery in Virginia Beach, VA. (Any of you in the deBeer clan ever dropped in?) Her early passion for food launched her career in the specialty food business as the merchandise manager/buyer for the Taste Unlimited stores in southern Virginia. Since them, she has been an executive pastry chef, director of food development, restaurant consultant, food editor, and has appeared on the TODAY show. She is also an avid organic gardener.

The book is now for sale ($21.99 suggested retail price). If you order it, I recommend that you stock up on butter, flour, eggs and chocolate. You will need them.

~ David

Connie’s “PMS” Brownie
vegetable shortening for pan
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter
2 cups (12 ounces) 60% bittersweet chocolate chips
6 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups (1 pound 5 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) cake flour
1 cup and 2 tablespoons (4.2 ounces) Dutch-processed unsweetened 

     cocoa powder
To make the brownies, adjust the middle rack to the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Prepare a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. (Weis starts by putting the foil on the outside of the pan to create a form. She then greases the interior of the pan with vegetable shortening and sets the foil mold on top of the shortening within the pan. The foil is also lightly greased.

Cut the butter into 1-inch slices. In a small, heavy saucepan, melt the butter pieces over the lowest setting; add the bittersweet chocolate chips. Stir with a small whisk until combined and the chocolate is melted and smooth. Turn off the heat buy leave the saucepan on the burner while proceeding with the recipe.

Using a large whisk, lightly beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Place the sugar and salt in a separate small mixing bowl, then whisk into eggs just until incorporated. Briefly whisk the melted chocolate mixture, then gradually whisk into the egg mixture until just combined. Briefly whisk in the vanilla.

Place the flour and cocoa powder in the small mixing bowl; whisk to combine. Sift through a medium strainer directly into the batter; stir in with a (sturdy) silicone spatula until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with a small offset spatula. Bake for 34 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (C&L note: the toothpick did NOT come out clean; but the brownies had domed nicely and had started to crack, so I knew they were done at 34 minutes) Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let cool at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, then refrigerate the pan for 7 or 8 hours, or overnight.

To remove brownies from the pan, run a thin knife between the foil and the sides of the pan, then turn the pan over on a sharp angle and push on the center back of the pan, catching the top edge of the brownie slab with your other hand. Peel off and discard the foil, and place the slab right-side-up on a cutting board.

For sharp, clean edges, score the brownie (using a ruler if you want exact sizes) and then cut into squares with a 10-inch chef's knife. Clean and dry your knife between each cut. Do not drag the knife through - simply press down, then wiggle a little so that it releases from the knife.

Serve and wait for the compliments.

Makes 12 large (3-inch square), or 24 small (about 2-inch square), or 96 one-bite brownies (1-inch)




52 comments:

  1. I love your coworkers responses - almost as good as the name 'PMS brownies' haha! The brownie looks great and I'm sure the book is choc(olate) full of great brownie recipes! ;)

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    1. Lol. Yes, this is chock full of chocolate! All tasters agreed that these were among the best they had had. Only one (who inexplicably likes cake like brownies) didn't love them. But she is weird, right?

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    2. something must be seriously wrong with her tastebuds! haha! can't wait to hear how your vanilla extract comes out!!!

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    3. Haha - that is what I thought! She is crazy! :) I got the vanilla extract started yesterday - used vodka (got a really nice bottle on sale fro $10 (from $21), and then topped it off with bourbon and cognac... a bit of a mongrel vanilla... :)

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  2. I think a book just about brownies is a lovely idea. Who doesn't make brownies?

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    1. How about a mystery story with brownies as the theme, Susan?

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  3. I have been in a chocolate kind of mood lately…these would definitely fit the bill! Love the idea of a book dedicated to just brownies! Have a great weekend, David!

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    1. Thanks, Kathy! Hope you get the chocolate you need! :)

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  4. O.M.G. T h e s e are what brownies are supposed to be like. I seriously could eat the whole pan! Glad you chose this recipe to share - I will definitely have to make these. By the way, I adore the bear bowl! (Or is it part of the measuring cup set?) Have a splendid weekend, David!

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    1. Cathleen - the bear bowl is part of a measuring set from Anthropologie. It is pretty fun! And, yes, these are the way brownies are supposed to be!

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  5. David, thank you so much for your kind comments! I hope that you bake more of my brownies (and blondies) and continue to share them with your co-workers. I find that a good jolt of chocolate perks up any day! I was interested in your math equation to determine the fat percentage of cocoa powder, but being a math idiot, I take the easy road. I buy my cocoa powder from worldwidechocolate.com or chocosphere.com. They list the fat content of all of their cocoas. Voila! Keep on baking and blogging!

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    1. Connie - you are so welcome. Th ebook is fantastic and I am making my first blondies tomorrow. My coworkers ware both thrilled and horrified! I just checked out both sites and chcocsphere has my favorite cocoa of all time - Pernigotti. Have you tried it? It is worth a test. I used Ghiradelli in the recipe because I was really low on the Pernigotti and my shipment is en route. (I couldn't be caught short for my morning cocoa...) Thanks for the tip - and for the websites. New places to get into trouble. I look forward to making many more of your recipes, and I hope my friends who summer in Virginia Beach come in and see you! Cheers! David

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  6. What a book, what a batch of brownies! Swooning at the sight of these, David... and three CUPS of sugar! Whoa.... will mine be sweet enough I wonder? Lovely post, many thanks for sharing! xo

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    1. Well, Liz... it IS a big pan (23cm x 33cm)! And they were not super sweet!

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  7. David, the title for the brownies is, of course, hilarious and it was wonderful reading through your post - the brownies look absolutely perfectly baked and judging from the comments that you received from your co-workers and the way they look, they must have tasted wonderful and decadent!
    Noch einen schönen Sonntag und ganz liebe Grüsse an euch beide,
    Andrea & Co.

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    1. Thanks, Andrea - for your comment and weekend wishes! I feel the need to bake many more of them!

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  8. It sure is the perfect cooking companion for any brownie lover. Bring on the brownie extravaganza!

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    1. I will "bring it on" John, as long as I have coworkers to save me form eating them all myself!

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  9. Brownies definitely fall into 'take em or leave em' category for me, so I think I'll have to give these a try. GREG

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    1. Wise decision, Greg. Hope it is cooling off there...

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  10. i should get this "pms" brownies for my girlfriend then....
    the name is really eye catching, i hope the daily dose didn;t made any resistance, lol

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    1. Dedy - I think if there had been more brownies, people would have kept on eating them!

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  11. We're surprised the recipe doesn't include the requirement of a husky security guard to keep control of the crowds awaiting a taste. You do know, of course, that brownies so good are probably illegal in at least ten states, so you may be condemning some of us to prison (where you'll just have to make deliveries).
    Bob & Ursula

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    1. Happy, neighbors, these have not yet been outlawed in Arizona. There is a chance you could see them at a Catalina Pueblo event! Lookin forward to your return!

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  12. Painful post to look at today! I just started a five day cleanse, so I need to sign off ASAP. These are wonderfully tempting. :)

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    1. Sorry, Kirsten! I think it is best you don't look for another five days.... It was the undoing of my colleague, for sure.

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  13. Yes I prefer cake type and with lots of nuts...

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    1. Sory, dear friend, by this is one time we will have to agree to disagree! No nuts and really moist. (If I wanted cake, I would have made a cake!) Hope you and Dave are having a quiet day. xox

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  14. Wow - these do look pretty insane. There's nothing like that thin, delicate, slightly crispy top surface. I can see exactly how delicious they are.

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    1. Thanks, Valentina - I have often wondered what makes that iconic, flaky top on a brownie. The butter? The eggs?

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  15. This is what I want for my bday!
    I love the tops of brownies, how they magically get delicate & flaky.
    D, you are a rockstar! xo

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    1. Thanks, Colette - you are so sweet! (Just like the brownies!)

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  16. OOOOOH!! Brownies! These look pretty decadent and totally necessary. I've been making A LOT of brownies and cookies lately because of work, but I think I can manage another pan. I'll have to plan it for PMS week :)

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    1. I am sure all the guys at the showroom will enjoy them, too, Nazneen!

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  17. The book sounds like heaven for chocolate lovers and the PMS brownies name
    is :)).
    Beautiful pictures and setting and delightful brownies.

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    1. Thanks, Daniela - it is a cute name, and they are so tasty! I can't wait to make more!

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  18. we can surely understand why you wished you could test all the recipes in this adorable book.....now we are so going to make those silky,shiny brownie recipe you have posted,they look irresistible,thanks :-)

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    1. Thank you Rakesh and Swikruti! They are pretty irresistible - I suggest you have lots of friends around with whom to share them!

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  19. Hi David, love these over the top brownies, looks like a great book. Back in Phoenix.......

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    1. Thanks, Cheri - and welcome back! So glad you are starting with some slightly cooler weather for your return to the desert!

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  20. WOW, David! These look amazing. And, I love your polar bear - you always have the most unique pieces. I don't think many people can resist brownies.

    I also forgot to tell you that I got butter from President, too! I've been so behind on blogging but hope to catch up now.

    Have a fabulous weekend! <3

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    1. Thanks, Susan! I love the little polar bear measuring cups. I think measuring cups are becoming my fun thing to collect!

      I am going to discuss the Beurre Président soon. Hope you and John have a good weekend looking at trip photos.

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  21. oooh that sounds like my kind of book those brownies look gorgeous!

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    1. I think you would love the book, Karen - hope it is available Down Under!

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  22. Stopping by to let you know that I made these for a care package for my son in college, and they were truly the best brownies ever. The best part is that they keep beautifully, and taste even better a day or two later. Thanks so much!

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    1. Thanks, Sharon - I am so glad you liked than. I find they lasted better than any brownie, cookie or cake I have made. Must be the butter! :) I hope your son liked them, too.

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  23. So David, I have to start this by saying that I am truly not a "brownie-girl". I rarely make them and am just not that fussed about them and if I see them on a plate, I can actually leave them untouched. That said, when I was at the BBC Good Food Show in Glasgow 2 weeks ago, there were brownies all over the place. I didn't touch them, but after hearing about the fifth person say they were the best brownies ever, I had to have a taste. O.M.G. truly they were! Even BBC Food said the same thing, but the problem is these brownies are made in Wales! I brought some home and my daughter asked if they delivered! When I said, "Not to California because they're made in Wales." She responded, "Then look up the recipe for Welsh Brownies." Seriously! The reason I'm telling you all this is to say that these brownies you've made look and sound (according to your colleagues) dangerously close to the Welsh Brownies! They also kept very well (and traveled well!) I will give the recipe a try and report back! I may follow Sharon's lead and send some to my son too! Thanks! CC

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    1. Welsh brownies? Who knew? (And I am part Welsh, too...) I am very curious to find out if these are as good as the ones you had - let me know! Do glad you had such a good time in Glasgow!

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    2. UPDATE: I made the brownies, David and the flavor was fabulous (I used Green and Black's cocoa and TJ's chocolate chips) and if I hadn't tasted those Welsh brownies in Scotland, I would say these were the best brownies I've ever had. However, I did taste those Welsh brownies and the texture of these was not as good...somehow the Welsh ones were almost melt-in-your-mouth! I will keep trying to recreate them, but sometimes, you just can't reach the level you want.

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    3. When you succeed, I want to know about it! :)

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  24. Sometimes I add 2teaspoons espresso powder and 1/2 teaspoon each of baking powder & baking soda.

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    1. Thanks for those hints, WB! I will give them a try.

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