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Red Riding Hood Brownies

"Dangerously dark" Black Forest brownies, adapted from Marcel Desaulnier's "Simply the Best Chocolate Brownie" from the Death by Chocolate cookbook by K. Ostertag.

These are not your Grandmother's Black Forest brownies-- these will satisfy even the Big Bad Wolf's chocoholic cravings.

Make sure to leave plenty of time before your trip to Grandmother's, as these brownies require a good hour of cooling before cutting (and, as a note, the "knife test" for doneness will not work; these contain so much chocolate that they will still be molten in the pan when they come out of the oven). 

A good RULE OF THUMB for chopping up the chocolate is to make the pieces about the size of an almond-- this is the perfect size both for even melting and for the chunks inside.  It should go without saying: use good-quality chocolate for this recipe, because there's not a lot of sugar for it to hide behind.

INGREDIENTS:

=dry=
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder (NOT baking soda)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. instant espresso powder
1/8 tsp. chili powder (ancho chile powder, if you have it)

=melted=
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped (see RULE OF THUMB above)
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (~85% dark)
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. unsalted butter (a third of a stick)

=wet=
2 tsp. unsalted butter (for greasing the brownie pans)
2/3 c. fat-free Greek yogurt, plain or vanilla (NOT regular yogurt; sour cream is an acceptable substitute)
2 whole eggs
1/2 c. egg whites
1/2 c. light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. plum or prune butter (Lighter Bake or apple butter are acceptable substitutes)
2/3 c. cherry preserves (NOT jam or jelly)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 Tbsp. cherry liqueur (Kijafa or kirsch)

=inclusions & toppings=
2/3 c. dried cherries or cherry-flavored cranberries
12 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped (~70% dark) (half for inclusion, half for strewing)
2 c. hazelnuts, chopped and lightly toasted

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Lightly grease two 8x8" square baking pans with a tsp. of butter apiece (listed under the "wet" ingredients).  (You can use butter-flavored cooking spray for ease, but using real butter here greatly enhances the overall flavor.)

Sift together the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, espresso and chili powders.  (These last two aren't for flavor-- they enhance the intensity of chocolate flavor, just as the vanilla does.)

Melt the amount of chocolate in the "melted" ingredients with the remaining butter.  You're welcome to mess about with a double boiler if you like-- I put it all in a microwave-safe bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and microwave it at 70% power for 30-second intervals, waiting about a minute in between each interval and stirring once it starts to look "wet."  The key is NOT to overcook the chocolate at this point-- that will make it grainy and affect the flavor.  Slowly and gently is the way to go.

Place all the wet ingredients into the bowl of an electric mixer.  (Use a much larger bowl than you think you need, if you're using a hand mixer.  If you've got a splash shield, use it-- this gets messy.  If you're mixing by hand... you'll be able to skip the gym today, but you might want to bribe a massage therapist with brownies afterward.)  Mix the wet ingredients, cranking it slowly up to "high," until fluffy-- about 1 1/2 minutes on high speed.  Turn the mixer back to slowest speed and add the melted chocolate mixture (scraping the bowl well with a rubber spatula).  Mix on medium about another 30 seconds.  Turn back to the slowest speed (or stop the mixer, at intervals) and add the dry ingredients, mixing on low and then medium for about 10 seconds each, scraping down with a spatula between additions.  The batter will have a consistency very much like mousse at this point.  Remove the bowl from the mixer, scraping down the beaters.  (You may give them to your favorite kitchen assistant for, ahem, "cleaning.")

With a spatula, carefully fold in the dried cherries and half (about 6 oz.) of the chopped chocolate chunks.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, spreading evenly into the corners.  Strew the top with the toasted hazelnuts and the remaining chocolate chunks (distribute them evenly; we don't want anyone feeling deprived!).

Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven (325 F), rotating the pans halfway through to be sure they bake evenly. (Make sure there's sufficient air circulation around each pan.)  Remove the brownies from the oven (BE CAREFUL-- contents will still be semi-liquid!) and allow to cool in the pan at room temperature (under armed guard if necessary) for 40 minutes to an hour.  Placing the pans on a cooling rack will improve the cooldown time; don't try to put them in the freezer, as this will bring out a white "bloom" on the surface of the brownies (edible, but unpalatable-looking).

Cut with a serrated knife into 16 squares per pan.  Don't be tempted to make the servings larger; these are POWERFUL brownies.  Once cooled, any remaining brownies (if there are any remaining brownies) may be kept chilled for 4-5 days, but allow them to return to room temperature (about 20-30 minutes out of the fridge) before serving.

Makes 32 2-inch-square brownies.

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