Ina Garten is my idol. Long before I ever heard of her, I had a dream of creating a shop where people could come and buy prepped foods that were in ready-to-bake containers with full cooking instructions, then take them home and cook them. I knew people wanted home cooked meals but were too busy to make them on busy weeknights. I was never able to make my dream a reality, but Ina did when she took over Barefoot Contessa.
Ina’s and my style of cooking are very similar. We both love easy to prepare meals utilizing fresh, seasonal ingredients, often bought at our local farmers’ markets. I love that her recipes are extremely well tested, guaranteeing close to 100% success rate for her readers. Ina is far more experienced and accomplished than I am, something for me to strive for.
Today’s recipe was an exercise in trust. My trust that Ina’s recipe would be a winner (it is!), and The Artist’s trust that the dessert I made would not be too pudding-like. That’s right The Artist doesn’t like pudding. But he was working at the kitchen table while this was baking and couldn’t wait for it to come out of the oven. He kept asking me, “How much longer”? LOL
This is a fascinating recipe. When you are making it, the mixture looks just like a cake batter. But because you bake it in a water bath (in French it is called a bain marie) with a lower temperature (325°F) the top bakes into a crusty layer covering a soft, almost pudding-like center very similar to a lava cake. So it is the best of two worlds. All the full chocolate flavor you expect from a brownie with crunch from the topping and creaminess that really satisfies. Pure heaven!
One thing to watch out for … I know it sounds like you are beating the eggs and sugar for an incredibly long time, but the eggs are the only leavening in this recipe so you need them as light and airy as possible to give it lift. Having a stand mixer will be a lifesaver for this recipe.
When you first see the interior and transfer it to a bowl, you think it is going to be very cake-like. But the second it hits your mouth it dissolves into a creamy pudding. I love the unexpected surprise when you take your first bite.
Be prepared to have a second spoon available to push the pudding off the serving spoon. It is so soft that it doesn’t release easily. And don’t expect this to be a beautiful dessert – it breaks apart too easily to serve neatly. So don’t worry about and just let everyone dive in. I promise there won’t be any complaints!
Ina recommends serving this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and I totally agree. You really need something to cut through the sweetness. In order to stand up to the intensity of the chocolate, I suggest a French vanilla ice cream or Chantilly cream. If you use vanilla paste it will give you the beautiful speckles of vanilla seeds scattered through the cream.
This is a very easy dessert to make and virtually foolproof. Even someone who normally doesn’t bake should get great results. So for Valentine’s Day (or anytime) pull out your prettiest serving bowls, scoop up this decadent chocolate, and add some cream for a dessert that will win anyone’s heart!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Vanilla paste is an ingredient you should have in your cupboard. It is vanilla seeds suspended in a gel-like substance and you can use it exactly the same way you use regular vanilla extract. It gives you a stronger vanilla flavor and in lightly colored foods, you can see the vanilla seeds. Also it is a whole lot less expensive than buying vanilla beans and scraping them!
You can use a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend and/or almond meal in place of the regular flour. If you are going to use almond meal, pulse it in a food processor to break it up into an even more finely ground mixture. You don’t want the chewy texture to overshadow the creaminess. Also check the cocoa powder for gluten ingredients.
Kitchen Skill: Making Chantilly Cream
Chantilly cream is a fancy culinary term that means lightly sweetened cream with some vanilla or other flavoring added. Start beating the cream with the whisk attachment until frothy. Then add confectioners’ sugar or granulated sugar to taste and some vanilla paste. Beat at high speed until thick and soft peaks form.
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the dish
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature (about 5 large eggs)
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
3 tsp vanilla paste or the seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
1 tbsp Framboise (raspberry) or Cassis (blackcurrant) liqueur, optional
Vanilla ice cream or Chantilly cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly butter a 2-quart (9x12x2-inch oval or 8x11x2-inch rectangle) baking dish. Set out a larger baking pan that is big enough to easily hold your buttered baking dish.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, transfer to a measuring cup with a spout, and set aside to cool.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium speed for 4 to 8 minutes, until very thick and light yellow. It will look like slightly thin cake batter. (If you are using a lower power mixer, like a hand held, it can take up to 10 or 12 minutes to get this beaten to the right consistency.)
While the mixer is beating the egg/sugar mixture, sift the cocoa powder, salt, and flour together onto a sheet of parchment paper and set aside.
When the egg and sugar mixture is ready, turn the mixer off and add the vanilla and liqueur (if using). To add the dry ingredients, fold the parchment in half, lifting the short edges until they meet at the top, hold the two pieces together at the top and carefully pour the dry ingredients into your mixing bowl. Pulse the mixer a few times to start incorporating the dry ingredients and to help keep you from getting covered with a “cloud” of flour. Mix on low just until combined, about 30 seconds. Slowly pour in the cooled butter, using a flexible spatula to scrape the cup, and mix just until combined.
Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared dish, smooth the top with the spatula, and place it in the larger baking pan. Add enough of your hottest tap water to the bigger pan to come halfway up the side of the brownie dish, place in the hot oven, and bake for 1 hour. A cake tester inserted 2-inches from the side will come out with just a little batter on it.
Allow pudding to cool; the residual heat will finish cooking the center. Very carefully remove the brownie pan from the water bath and set on a clean kitchen towel. Using a large spoon, break through the crust and scoop brownie pudding into serving bowls. Add vanilla ice cream or whipped cream alongside if desired.
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