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)

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