Editor's note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn't. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Want to deliver a memorable Valentine greeting? Forget the sappy cards and try surprising your sweetie with these luscious brownies, served with cherry whipped cream. They definitely make a statement.
Almost all brownies are a treat, but this one stands out. The mixture of unsweetened and mildly-sweetened chocolate plus the inclusion of a little coffee give it a remarkable depth of flavor and the low oven temperature results in a fudgey, moist texture. It's pretty impressive on its own, and can be served that way, but the optional glaze of shiny chocolate ganache takes it over the top. As if that isn't enough, presenting it with a dollop of cherry whipped cream provides a perfect visual and flavorful contrast.
You can make the brownies well ahead of serving and store them, covered, in the refrigerator. Whip the cherry cream up to an hour and a half before you put the two on the table. Keep in mind that the uncut brownie must be chilled before slicing.
Brownie Valentines with Cherry Whipped Cream
(Make in an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan.)
1⁄2 cup of unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup of dark brown sugar
3⁄4 cup of granulated sugar, preferably Bakers
1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate
6 ounces of high-quality bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate
3 large eggs
11⁄2 teaspoons of instant coffee granules
11⁄2 teaspoons of hot water
2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
1⁄2 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 cup minus 1 tablespoon of flour
Optional Ganache Glaze
41⁄2 ounces of high-quality bittersweet or semisweet
1 scant (slightly less than) tablespoon of light corn syrup
1⁄2 cup minus one scant tablespoon of heavy whipping cream
Optional Cherry Whipped Cream
3 tablespoons of cherry preserves
1⁄2 cup of chilled heavy whipping cream
1⁄4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
A drop or two of almond extract
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the 8X8 inch pan with non-stick aluminum foil or greased aluminum foil, letting the foil extend beyond two opposing sides of the pan to use as handles when removing the baked brownie. Finely chop both chocolates (I do this in a food processor) and set them aside.
In a large saucepan, start melting the butter over medium-low heat. When about half of it has melted, add the brown sugar and whisk until the all the butter has melted and combined with the sugar. Gradually add the granulated sugar, whisking continuously until the mixture is well blended. Don't let the mixture boil. Remove it from the heat. If it is too hot to touch, let it cool slightly. While still quite warm, add the two chopped chocolates and gently whisk until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny.
Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. The mixture should be thick and shiny. Dissolve the coffee granules in the hot water and add them, along with the vanilla and salt, whisking until combined. Add the flour and whisk again, only until the flour blends into the other ingredients. Bake until the top is shiny and set but still fragile to the touch. The center will rise slightly and the edges will just start to pull away from the pan. The brownie will still appear soft below the surface; it won't spring back when touched. Baking takes from 33-38 minutes in my oven, but start checking before that time; if overbaked the brownie will lose its velvety texture. Remove to a rack to cool completely. The puffy center will fall as it starts to cool. If the edges are higher than the center, gently press them down while they are still warm and pliable. Once cool, refrigerate or freeze, wrapped airtight, before glazing (if using) and cutting. Wrapped airtight, the brownie can remain in the 'frig for a week or so and in the freezer for several months.
Glaze (optional): Finely chop the chocolate (I use a food processor for this) and set it aside. Place the corn syrup in a half cup container and fill it with the heavy whipping cream (together, they make a half-cup of liquid). Pour the corn syrup-cream into a medium-sized microwaveable bowl and microwave until almost boiling. Remove, add the chocolate, cover and let sit for about five minutes (the chocolate will melt). Gently whisk the mixture until it is fully combined, smooth and shiny (don't whisk vigorously or you'll create air bubbles in the ganache). Let it rest until it thickens but is still pourable. Invert the brownie (the bottom is smoother and more level than the top), pour on the glaze, and spread it, gently, with an offset spatula. Once the glaze is set, cut the brownie into individual servings.
Cherry Whipped Cream (optional): Finely chop the cherries preserves. Put them, along with the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl or four-cup measuring cup. Whip with an electric mixer or by hand until medium peaks form. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to one and a half hours.
The brownie recipe is a variation of one in "Brownie Points" by Lisa Slater.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.