Monday, March 19, 2007

Red Fire Brownies

Ever since Valentine's day, when D got me those spectacular Vosges truffles, I've been itching to bake with some of their specialty chocolate. They make all sorts of flavors: Red Fire, a kicking combination of Mexican ancho and chipotle chili peppers with Ceylon cinnamon; d'Oliva, Venezuelan white chocolate spiked with dried kalamata olives; Calindia, a rich, dark chocolate bar infused with green cardamom, organic walnuts, and flecked with dried bits of plum. They're expensive -- $7.00 a bar -- but the price is worth it. The second we walked into the store, we were greeted by the only saleswoman, who then proceeded to bring out plates filled with chocolate nibs, trays of chocolate matzos, and crumbly bits of spicy cookies. Every time we glanced at something on the shelf, we were offered a taste -- which meant that we ate about $5.00 worth of chocolate during our short stay.
We settled on one bar and one bag of chocolate chips, which contains an extra ounce of chocolate for a mere $1.50 more. I wanted to make some ultra decadent, fiery brownies, and three ounces of chocolate just wasn't going to be enough. Obviously, we chose the Red Fire chips: a compact white bag of chocolate discs that smelled hot before the bag was even opened. The bar that we bought is Black Pearl (an intensely dark, spicy brick of chocolate, ginger, wasabi, and sesame seeds) which I'll be using on another batch of banana nut muffins with chocolate chips and candied ginger -- stay tuned for that delicious post. I've never made more successful muffins. Ever. And I'm extremely excited to notch up their flavor even more with the black pearl chocolate.
As I mentioned, the Red Fire chocolate is a rich, dark chocolate -- vegan and gluten free, by the way -- that contains flecks of both ancho and chipotle chili peppers. The moderate cacao content of this particular chocolate (55%) makes it less intensely bitter than, say, their Oaxaca chocolate, which is also made with chili peppers but contains a much lower percentage of sugar. I find their Oaxaca flavor a bit bland, as a matter of fact -- the amount of sugar really contrasts with the chilies in the Red Fire, heightening the sensation that one is eating something simultaneously sweet and hot. In the Oaxaca blend, the lower ratio of sugar to spice kind of dulls that sensation. The texture, too, of the Red Fire bar is superior to any other chocolate I've tasted. The chilies are carefully crushed, and they bring a layer of roughness to the smooth chocolate. This roughness didn't translate into the brownies, exactly, but the spiciness certainly did. I would have liked to have added some more chili peppers directly into the batter -- the chips come with a recipe for BB Brooklyn Red Fire Brownies that includes freshly ground Guajillo chilies (along with 10 whole ounces of the Red Fire chocolate, a huge amount compared to my recipe, which contains a paltry 4 oz.) -- but I didn't have those peppers on hand, and I wasn't going to make a separate trip for one teaspoon of chili peppers. Besides, I was trying my hand at creating my own brownie recipe, a task that I believe was extremely successful. While I do love experimenting in the kitchen, I'm often afraid to deviate too far from any given recipe, especially when I'm baking. This weekend, though, was a nice break from that standard: I hauled out eight or ten cookbooks and compared all the brownie recipes (as well as all the muffin recipes, for those aforementioned banana muffins) and was able to concoct a recipe of my very own. It was quite simple, actually: especially for something like brownies or muffins, the recipes are all going to be about the same. There are slight differences in the amount of eggs and sugar, sure, and the temperatures and cooking times are bound to be different, but it's not too difficult to pull apart the pieces and end up with something that works. So, without further ado: Red Fire Brownies. And as a quick aside: if you can't find Vosges Chocolate in your area (it's a Chicago-based brand, with few stores outside of the Chicago area: there's one in New York City, London, Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and Las Vegas) it's available to purchase online at their website: They recommend using 2-day air shipping, however, because the chocolates may melt in transit, so be ready to pay a good deal for shipping. Or! You could always ask me to pick some up for you and send it out: I'm more than happy for an excuse to go back to their store. If you're in the Chicago area, I urge you to stop by: they have a Michigan Ave. location at 520 North, which is small but has everything edible that they sell in stock, and the staff is both knowledgeable and extremely friendly. There's also a larger store at 951 W. Armitage in Lincoln Park, which stocks clothing and yoga gear in addition to the chocolates.

Red Fire Brownies
This is a fairly simple brownie recipe that requires little beyond melting some chocolate and butter, stirring it into a few eggs and sugar, and adding just a bit of flour and a few handfuls of nuts to round everything out. The results, though, are far from mundane: using the red fire chocolate and adding an additional swig of cinnamon and cayenne pepper makes these brownies deliciously complex, with a crunchy outer shell and a gooey, fudge-like center. The addition of two eggs makes the batter even gooier than a standard brownie, which creates a pool of spicy chocolate that quite literally melts in your mouth. Eating them warm only enhances the sensation that you're doing something terribly, terribly naughty, but they're just as good chilled -- and they stay together much better after they've cooled completely. I imagine the perfect dessert would be one of these brownies topped with a heaping scoop of cinnamon ice cream, drowned in extra melted chocolate, and garnished with a single dried red pepper.
Before you begin working with the ingredients, remove two eggs from the fridge and preheat the oven to 350º. You want the eggs to be at about 70º before you begin baking; otherwise, they'll begin to cook when you add the warm chocolate to the egg mixture. You will cool down the chocolate a bit before adding it to the batter, so this isn't too dire; however, if you forget to remove the eggs from the fridge in time, simply bathe them in a bowl of warm water for about 5 to 10 minutes until they're no longer chilly to the touch.
Begin by melting 4 ounces of Vosges Red Fire chocolate chips with 1/2 a cup of butter cut into squares. Do this over a double boiler. If you don't own a double boiler, make your own by placing a glass or metal bowl on top of a saucepan filled halfway with water. Just be sure that your homemade double boiler works properly by not allowing the bottom of the bowl to touch the top of the water. Another good double-boiler tip is to make sure that the water doesn't actually boil: you don't want to make your chocolate hotter than about 115º, so be careful when you heat the pot. Good chocolate melts at about 93º -- just below body temperature -- so it's not essential to heat it up that much to get it to melt properly. Melting chocolate isn't as easy as it seems: you can't get it too hot, as I mentioned, because that will begin to separate the cocoa solids from the cocoa butter, streaking the chocolate gray and making it grainy and unappetizing. Also, you must take great care to never allow any moisture to touch the chocolate as it melts: this is one reason that you shouldn't boil the water in the double-boiler: steam will rise and hit the chocolate, causing it to seize up and behave as if it was overheated.
Once most of the chocolate pieces have melted, remove the bowl from the hot saucepan and discard the water so that any remaining steam won't permeate the chocolate. It will continue to melt even after it has been removed from the heat source, so don't be alarmed if there are some small chunks of chocolate swimming about: like I mentioned before, you want to err on the side of cool chocolate rather than chocolate that's been overheated. Allow the mixture to cool -- if you add it to the eggs and sugar while it's still hot, your brownies will turn out heavy and dry rather than rich and gooey.
While the chocolate cools, rapidly beat two eggs and a pinch (less than 1/4 teaspoon) of salt in a large bowl with a whisk, until the mixture is light and foamy. At this point, I also added two shakes of cinnamon and two shakes of cayenne pepper. To the foamy eggs, gradually add 1 cup of white sugar -- I like to use superfine sugar. In baking, sugar is technically a liquid ingredient, and the finer it is, the less likely you are to end up with grainy bits in your brownies. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth.
With just a few quick strokes of the spoon, mix in the melted chocolate. Even if you use an electric mixer for everything, this recipe is best mixed by hand -- not literally, of course, but by using a spoon or spatula -- because using a mixer can easily lead to over-beating. Before the mixture is entirely combined and becomes a uniform color, fold in 1/2 a cup of sifted flour. Folding the mixture carefully is a key to creating the right texture brownie. Before the mixture is entirely combined again, add 1/2 a cup of chopped nuts -- walnuts are a wonderful addition to any brownie, and in this recipe they add a wholesome flavor and welcome texture to an otherwise bold kick of fudge-like chocolate. You could also add 1 to 2 teaspoons of chopped dried red chili pepper at this point, which I will certainly do the next time I make these.
Bake at 350º for 25 to 30 minutes -- mine needed the entire time -- in a 9-inch round pan or an 8x8 inch square pan. Check out this handy pan size conversion chart for more pan sizes you could use at baking911.
Pan size, by the way, is very important when baking: using a smaller pan will result in brownies that are over or under cooked, too flat or too puffy, and can create a disaster out of a perfectly great recipe. When they're cooked, remove from the oven (they should still yield to pressure, however -- you want a soft brownie, not a brick) and allow them to cool for 10 to 20 minutes in the pan, then remove and allow to cool completely on a wire rack, if possible -- my brownies were much too gooey when warm, even after 20 minutes cooling, but I was impatient and they were certainly cooked through. I love eating brownies straight from the oven. These brownies in particular are a treat to eat while hot because it adds another layer to the spice and heat. And the chili peppers? Wonderful. Addictive, even. They really make the chocolate taste richer and sweeter than you could imagine. I only wish they had even more of a kick -- perhaps next time I'll throw in a few more shakes of cayenne pepper and a few minuscule squares of chili to really spice things up.


Maggie said...

Dear sweet jesus! I have found what's missing from my soul! Those look about on par with a good fuck.

sarah said...

haha maggie!

anyway, agreed. i must say that these are most likely the next thing from your blog i will make! anyway, your easter package is sent! i win! (unless you sent mine already) i would like to highlight the fact that i am not sending you delicious classy chocolate but rather commercial eastery trash-which will be nonetheless delicious! i sent you a not-huge egg so i included some other little things including a sugar sheep-never tried it, never want to, but it's wonderfully kitsch!

K8 said...

maggie: i would say, yes, they are right on par. dare i admit that there aren't even any crumbs left? good thing I had a partner in crime to help me devour them, or I'd be pretty ashamed...

sarah: you may think you've won, but the battle was over before it even began. i have already sent out your package as well (sadly devoid of any Vosges chocolate, but that's for next time.) The customs form is labeled Easter Candy, so... no surprises there.
What is a sugar sheep? Should I be afraid to ask? HAHAHAHHA: The packing material we used for your package is genius, by the way; it was all D's idea.

And Maggie, again: Would you like me to send you some Vosges chocolate? I don't think they have it in Portland, and... life really is incomplete without it.

And Sarah, again (boy, you'd think I would just go edit the comments in this same textbox, but noooo, I'm too lazy for that): I luves commercial trash that is also delicious. Hooray for trash!!

K8 said...

I have to add: I have a wonderful plan to make candied chili peppers, and that's what I'm going to add to this the next time I make these brownies.
I'll carefully skin some red hot chilies, and cut them into long, thin strips. I'll toss about a half a cup of these strips in a cup or so of sugar, then make a sugar syrup by melting an equal amount of water with the sugared peppers and the remaining sugar from the bowl. Don't let the sugar caramelize -- boil it very slowly for about a half hour to forty five minutes until the peppers become soft and sweetly tender. I'll drain these, roll them in a bit more sugar, and place them on a rack to cool.
When I'm ready to use them (I'll probably put about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup in the recipe) I'll chop them into smaller bits and stir in with the nuts.

Maggie said...

Candied chili peppers are next?! Damn it all to hell, I am on my way to your house for dinner.

Thank you for the kind offer! I think I'm content enough with my jar of Nutella for the time being. I may add a dash of cayenne the next time I make hot chocolate, though. Yuuuuum.

Anonymous said...

Warm red fire brownie, a couple scoops of premium vanilla ice cream on top, with a drizzle of dark chocolate = Red Fire Brownie Sundae!

D & I design merchandise related to the HUAC hearings. Visit our store: