High Altitude Baking: Chocolate brownie sweethearts (recipe) | VailDaily.com

High Altitude Baking: Chocolate brownie sweethearts (recipe)

Editor's note: High altitudes make 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 that make baking in the mountains successful.

Better than good — that's how this brownie's been described. The chocolate is deep and dark, and the moist, soft, slightly chewy texture is divine. And since you can make them in about 15 minutes of active time, they're a great way to celebrate Valentine's Day with your sweetheart. Just bake them, cool the slab and use cookie cutters to turn them into charming little chocolate hearts.

They're delicious unadorned, but you can boost their visual appeal by topping them. Frost them, drizzle them with caramel, chocolate or berry sauces, add chopped candies or sprinkle them with confectioners' sugar.Almost anything goes.

A word of caution: Two things can ruin these cuties — too much flour (be sure to measure by gently spooning flour into the cup and leveling it with a knife) and too much time in the oven (the brownies must remain soft and chewy).

Metal cookie cutters with sharp edges work best when cutting out the hearts; make sure the edges are clean before each cut. If you want to double the recipe, bake it in two 8-inch-by-8-inch pans; if you use a large pan (9 inches by 13 inches, for example) the edges of the brownie slab may get hard and crusty before the center is done.

Brownie sweethearts

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(Make in an 8-inch-by-8-inch metal baking pan. The yield depends on the size of the cookie cutters you use.)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick)

1 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker's

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa

1½ teaspoons instant espresso powder

½ teaspoon salt

Scant ½ teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large eggs

¾ cup bleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)

1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the pan with nonstick or regular aluminum foil, extending it several inches on two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked brownie. Grease any part of the pan that's exposed with a vegetable oil and flour spray. If using regular foil, grease it well.

In a large bowl (if using microwave) or saucepan (if using stovetop), use low heat to melt the butter. Remove from the heat, immediately add the sugar and whisk or stir to combine well. Add the cocoa, espresso, salt, baking powder and vanilla, and whisk or stir until blended. One at a time, whisk in the eggs until the batter is smooth and shiny.

Whisk or stir in the flour in three additions. Before adding the last addition, add the mini chocolate chips to it and toss them until they're coated with the flour to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the batter and then add both the flour and chips to the batter. Don't overmix when adding the flour; stop as soon as each addition is incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until the top is set on the edges and barely set in the center and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few moist clumps sticking to it (if it comes up with a glob of chocolate on it, it probably hit a chocolate chip, try again in another spot); start checking at about 20 minutes. Be sure not to overbake these beauties; err on the side of removing them too early. They'll firm up some more as they cool. Remove to a rack and cool completely before cutting. At this point, the brownie slab can be stored, covered airtight, overnight or frozen for a month.

Use the foil handles to remove the brownie slab from the pan. With one or more cookie cutters, cut out as many hearts as you can. To cut them, firmly press the cutters straight down (don't twist them) and then remove each brownie heart from the cutter by gently pressing it down until it slides out. Serve at room temperature or warmed; they're good both ways.

This recipe is a variation of one from King Arthur Flour. Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbook "Cookies in the Clouds" (available at The Bookworm of Edwards), is a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at veradawson1@gmail.com.