Alice Medrich's Cocoa Brownies

Browniebaked

Darlings, I have an apartment! With real walls, ceilings, windows - windows! - and a balcony looking at rooftops. The balcony is currently filled with snow drifts, but does that matter? Not one little bit. It features largely in my nighttime fantasies in which pure golden sunlight drifts down from the heavens as I sit outside in the morning on that balcony, drinking tea and feeling blessed. Around the corner from the apartment is an Italian wholesale grocery store and a lovely greenmarket on Tuesdays and Fridays (here some summertime photos of said market that might make your eyes hurt what with all the sunshine and the green leaves). Plus the Charlottenburg Palace is in spitting distance. I interpreted these three things as auspicious signs that I should take the apartment. Doesn't that sound sensible? I sign the lease in two days and move next week. Next week!

All in all, these past few days have felt wonderful. An apartment to call my own, the acceptance of my health insurance application (making the black ice all over Berlin's sidewalks feel just a little less treacherous), and the discovery of Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies. Yes, I did just put a brownie recipe on the same level as finding a home. With good reason. These brownies can bridge cultures. They can make people fall in love. They can bewitch you into making them twice in two days. They are powerful, killer brownies.

Batter

Furthermore, they are a piece of cake. I mean, all you do is melt butter, sugar, cocoa and salt into a coal-black, grainy sludge in a water bath. Then you beat in vanilla extract, two eggs and a fillip of flour. The batter looks like silk. And that's it. A monkey could make these brownies. A small child could master them.

The first time I made these, on Friday, I underbaked them. The middle was oozy and gooey and when I brought them to a party, people fell upon them. And can I say, there's something sort of deeply satisfying about seeing one of America's greatest exports, the humble brownie, being so fervently appreciated. Like I said, culture-bridging. I got all warm inside.

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The second time I made them, on Saturday, I brought them to a somewhat more intimate gathering. In which, err, I was hoping rather hard to show off my baking prowess. This time, I baked the brownies a little longer. The centers were now all purely fudgy, without any goo, but with the same deep, dark chocolate flavor and that alluring chew. Ooh, they were spectacular. Certain eaters present ate three brownies in one go, making me feel all warm inside, too, but of a distinctly different order.

Apartment, insurance, brownies. I'd say it was a pretty great week.

Best Cocoa Brownies
Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies

10 tablespoons (141 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (280 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (82 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (66 grams) all-purpose flour

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added.

3. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

4. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. (Deb suggests putting the cooled pan in the fridge or freezer for a while, which helps if you want clean lines when cutting the brownies.)

5. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.


Bret Thompson's Double Chocolate Cookies

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Uhh. Looky there. Chocolate. On chocolate. More chocolate. Can't speak, can't think. COOOKIE.

Is this what it feels like to be a 15-year old boy in the presence of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model?

The Culinary SOS column has struck again and with a vengeance. I read it last Wednesday and by Thursday night was in the kitchen, up to my elbows in chocolate. It's January! We're meant to be eating brown rice noodles and copious amounts of steamed spinach! Instead, these cookies - these insane, ridiculous, almost unbearably good cookies - will bewitch you. You will not be able to resist. Just try to! You won't.

Think about this: 1 and 1/4 pounds (yes, pounds) of chocolate. To only 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 stick of butter. Are you starting to sweat a bit? These cookies demand respect. And yet are easy enough to make on a school night. You don't even need an electric beater. I did the whole thing with a whisk and a wooden spoon.

You know, melt chocolate and butter, whisk eggs and sugar, fold in dry ingredients, the usual deal. And then dump in one entire pound of chopped bittersweet chocolate. Yeah, that's where things get interesting.

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Somehow I managed to keep my wits about me and, instead of following the instructions to make 16 cookies out of this batter, decided to make smaller cookies, 26 to be exact. You can fit about 12 spoonfuls of the dough on a regular baking sheet. I advise that you do the same, because 16 cookies out of this amount of batter will make monster cookies, ones that might just kill you.

You have two choices when baking the cookies. You can slightly underbake them (5 minutes on each side), which leaves them ooey-gooey and you in desperate need of a napkin when eating them. Or you can let them go one or two minutes longer on each side, so that they firm up a bit. The benefit of doing this is that when you remove them from the oven, you don't have to (cruelly) wait until they cool completely, as per the recipe. You can pace for a few minutes, pour yourself a glass of milk and then dig in while they're still hot and the chocolate is molten. This is possibly the best thing since sliced bread.

Not too sweet, velvety and complex and rich, tasting almost of coffee, though there's none in them, yes, these are possibly among the world's best cookies. There, I've said it.

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Now, the milk. You cannot - I repeat, cannot - eat these cookies without milk. Oh sure, you might try to, but you will fail. I tried, I really did, and I hit a chocolate wall after about my second bite. A chocolate wall that could only be scaled by having a glass of cold 1% milk nearby. Yes, they are that intense.

Another thing: you should not eat more than two in one sitting. You might die of chocolate. When you try these, you'll see that it's totally possible. (My friend Seb managed three in one sitting, but he's 6 foot 8 and operates differently.) I have to warn you that in the presence of these freshly-baked discs, greed and insatiable desire will take over you and you will want to eat as many as you possibly can. It's practically evolutionary! You will be powerless. But try to resist. Will you believe me if I tell you that I almost regretted eating two in one go? And yet, couldn't help myself. So just be forewarned.

These cookies are a force to be reckoned with.

Double Chocolate Cookies
Makes 26

1/4 pound (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (chunks or chips)

1. In a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

2. In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a fork, combine the eggs, vanilla and sugar. Mix just until incorporated and set aside.

3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.

4. Add the melted chocolate to the egg mixture and mix just until combined. Stir in the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until combined, then stir in the bittersweet chocolate.

5. Cover the batter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to chill thoroughly. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

6. Drop spoonfuls of the dough on a greased, parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving 2 inches between each.

7. Bake until the edges of the cookies are just set and the center is still soft, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Place the cookies, still on the parchment, on a rack and cool slightly.


Chocolate Chip Cookies with Buckwheat Groats

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Fine, you got me. I skipped a day, yesterday to be exact. I'm sorry. It's just that Sunday was such a nice day, so pretty outside and so full of other things to do besides cook and write, like walking in the Gardens and talking about our wedding and sitting around being indolent. Oh, and eating chocolate chip cookies with buckwheat groats. Of course. What were you doing?

Now I know that some of you pricked up your ears at chocolate chips, some others at cookies and then the rest at buckwheat groats. Otherwise known as kasha. What? In cookies? I know.

It's like this: a few months ago, in July, to be exact, we took a day trip to Fire Island with some friends. While waiting for one of the trains (we took two trains, a minibus and a ferry to get there) just before lunchtime, my friend Sara pulled out a Ziploc bag filled with cookies and offered me one. I don't usually eat dessert before lunch, but it was one of the those summer days where rules like that don't matter, where you happily drink beer at two in the afternoon and eat cookies before lunch and spend the day dreaming about moving to a beach community.

Anyway, the cookie. This was no ordinary chocolate-chip cookie. It had serious crunch to it, but also good chew, and then there was the taste: mysteriously minerally and roasty-toasty, in addition to the more familiar flavors of caramel and butter and bittersweet chocolate. "What's in this thing?", I wondered. Sara promised me the recipe. She got it from a friend, who got it from another friend, who got it from, well, I don't know.

It turns out that the cookie is made with whole-wheat pastry flour (though it's pretty resilient: this latest batch I made half with regular whole-wheat flour and half with white pastry flour) and buckwheat groats - which give the cookies that gorgeous crunch (the groats retain their integrity throughout the baking process). Don't mistake the groats and the whole-wheat necessarily for virtue: there's still a stick of butter in the recipe and a whole cup of sugar. But you can count on a bit more fiber and some blood-sugar regulation, apparently.

But all of that mumbo-jumbo aside, the real point is that these cookies taste delicious. I absolutely adore them. When they first come out of the oven, their centers are soft, with little crystals of crunch, and their edges are caramelized and the chocolate is oozy in the center. With a glass of milk, you're all set for nirvana. The next day, the cookies are a little harder perhaps, but no less brilliant. They keep well and make for excellent afternoon snacks.

Shall I go ahead and do it? It's been a while. Okay, here goes. They're lamination-worthy! Yes, indeed.

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Buckwheat Groats
Makes 20

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buckwheat groats (kasha)
6 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped into chip-sized chunks

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a mixer or bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and two extracts until well-combined.

3. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt and buckwheat, and add to the butter mixture, beating to incorporate. When combined, add the chocolate and stir to combine.

4. Drop 2 tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto ungreased cookie sheets, 3 inches apart. Bake for 6 minutes, then reverse the sheet pan in the oven and bake for an additional 6 minutes. The cookies should be still slightly pale in the center and golden brown on the edges.

5. Cool the cookie sheet on a rack for 5 minutes, then transfer to the rack directly with a spatula.


Banana Chocolate Walnut Bread

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I know it's only Thursday. I know we technically have a whole new day to get through before we can collapse in good conscience. But in the last four days, I've battled a fever and a cold and a smattering of seriously evil hormonal swings, so I've decided that this week is done. Done and over with. Move along, week. We've had enough of you here. Wake us up when it's next week and we can go back to speaking, walking, and living like normal people again.

If you've not yet been stricken by this miserable plague making the rounds of the Tri-State area, bless your lucky stars, then rush rush rush into the kitchen to bake something, preferably this banana cake. Trust me, it'll be the one bright and shiny spot in an otherwise miserable week when you, too, are felled by this winter ailment and need to eat something other than yet another half a grapefruit, a dusty Ricola lozenge, and that never-ending thermos of mint tea. (Oh yeah. It's coming for you. Don't think you can escape it.)

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I happen to like baking my banana cake in a loaf pan, and if it's baked in a loaf pan, then I happen to like calling it banana bread instead of cake. You know? The butter versus oil debate is secondary to the pan debate and while it's true that all of this is semantics, yes, it's about the only thing my fever-addled brain can handle at this moment.

In fact, I don't even really seem to be capable of stringing coherent sentences together anymore, at least not without going cross-eyed and yelping feebly at the computer screen, so with that I leave you, folks. I'm going to bed and if my prayers are answered, I'll be waking up in about 72 hours.

Over and out.

Banana Chocolate Walnut Cake
Serves 8
Note: I made a few changes from the original recipe, like eschewing the whole streusel thing Gourmet's version has going for it by incorporating the cinnamon, walnuts and chocolate directly into the batter. Oh, and reducing the sugar a little. Just a little! Yeesh.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
3/4 cup sugar
2
large eggs
1 1/4
cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
2/3
cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1
teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Trader Joe's chocolate chips)

1
cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Butter a loaf pan.

2. Stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

3. Beat together softened butter (1 stick) and the sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in eggs 1 at a time until blended. Beat in bananas, yogurt, and vanilla (mixture will look curdled).

4. With mixer at low speed, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Fold in the chopped nuts and the chocolate. Pour the batter into the cake pan, smoothing the top.

5. Bake until loaf is golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool loaf in pan on a rack 30 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely.

Nigella Lawson's Chocolate-Almond Whirligig Buns

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Sometimes - do you know those mornings? - all you want is a truly trashy breakfast. No ascetic shreds of wheat in a bowl with thin, blue milk, no virtuous globes of fruit cut up into a stern puddle of white yogurt, no hard-boiled egg eaten, hurriedly, on the way to the train. Some mornings, the ones when you wake up languidly, stretching like a cat, with sun streaming through the blinds and a blissful sense of purposelessness enveloping you, the perfect breakfast is puffy and sweet, threaded with butter and sugar and pockets of melting chocolate, and best eaten on the couch. Absolutely no balance is needed when you're starting the day off with something like that, well, other than a cup of something hot and steaming.

Ben was still asleep on Sunday morning when I snuck into the kitchen. Doing my best not to wake him with my kitchen clangings, I stealthily shook flour into a bowl, heated milk and butter on the stove, and came to a screeching halt when I read, then re-read, Nigella's amounts of instant yeast. Three packets? As in Three Entire Packets? As in 6 and three-quarter teaspoons of instant yeast? I went online in an attempt to figure out if this was a misprint, then found my answer in Nigella's How to Be a Domestic Goddess on my bookshelf: yes, she really does mean three whole packets, which will seem like a positively obscene amount of yeast, but just go with it, it'll be fine, I promise. Because what you'll end up with will be a riotous tangle of fragrant dough baking up into burnished perfection just in time for when your sweetheart shuffles into the kitchen, eyes growing wider by the second when he spies what awaits him on the kitchen counter.

(And remember, folks, instant yeast is also known as bread-machine yeast or rapid-rise yeast. It's not the same as active dry yeast, which needs to be proofed in liquid before being added to the flour. Instant yeast goes directly into the dry ingredients.)

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So, yes, the dough - it was easy-peasy. It comes together in a matter of seconds, then all you have to do is knead it to a smooth, elastic state. This takes a few minutes, if you're doing it by hand, but on a lazy Sunday morning, there's no better way to ease your way into wakefulness. And, while I didn't exactly miss baking with yeast during the summer, there's no better way to welcome our cooler temperatures than by slapping around a yielding piece of dough. The dough, buoyed by the ridiculous quantity of yeast, practically exploded out of the bowl - billowing puffily upwards with what looked like almost unrestrained glee.

I punched down the dough, spread it with a paste of sugar and butter, scattered chopped almonds (in place of the splintered pistachios called for in the original recipe) and fat chocolate chips over the dough, then rolled it up into a plump, nay, corpulent sausage of doughy, sweet goodness. Nigella also has you roll one reserved piece of dough into a rectangle to form the bottom of the rolls, but I'm not exactly sure why. If you make these, I'd suggest skipping this step. After another quick rise, the pan went into the oven and the dough practically shot skywards, growing and twisting and glowing in the heat of the oven.

The recipe says to bake the buns at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, but after only 20 minutes, that bottom rectangle was scorched into a flat, black plank. So, my suggestion to those of you itching to make these right now is to bake the buns at 400, without that bottom sheet of dough, for 25-30 minutes. Keep an eye on them, maybe they'll have to go for a few minutes longer, but something tells me that will be just right.

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Oh, you're meant to wait until these puppies have cooled a bit before tearing them apart and eating them, but to that I just say good luck. The scent of them baking will wake up even the deepest sleeper in your house and, before you know it, pleading eyes and beseeching hands will push your careful self aside to reach for the hot pan. In a blink, you'll be on the couch, popping sweet, plump strands of fluffy dough studded with chocolate chips and crispy almonds into your mouth, thinking it was sensible indeed to throw caution to the wind. Who cares about burned mouths when there are more buns to be eaten?

Chocolate-Almond Whirligig Buns
Makes 20-30 buns

Dough
5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 packets instant yeast (6 3/4 teaspoons)
7 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
Vegetable oil

Filling
8 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
3/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 large egg, beaten

1. To prepare the dough, combine 5 cups of flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In a small saucepan, combine butter and milk and heat to lukewarm. Beat the eggs lightly, then whisk them into the milk mixture. Sitr the liquid ingredients into the dry ones.

2. Using a mixer with a dough hook, or by hand, knead dough until smooth and springy, adding more flour if necessary. Form into a ball and place in a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 30 minutes.

3. Punch down dough. Line a 13 x 10-inch baking pan with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll out one-third of the dough and place in pan (I skipped this step and think you should, too). Roll out remaining dough to a rectangle about 20 to 10 inches.

4. For the filling, mix together the butter and sugar to a paste. Spread the paste over large rectangle of dough. Sprinkle almonds evenly over the dough, then top with chocolate chips. Starting from longest side, carefully roll up dough so it looks like a long sausage. Cut dough into 20 slices, about 3/4 inch thick, and arrange with a cut side up on top of the dough in the pan.

5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (original recipe says 450). Brush buns with beaten egg and let them sit in a warm place until puffed up and snugly fitting pan, about 15-20 minutes. Bake until buns have risen and are golden-brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from baking pan to cool on a rack. Serve warm.


Nick Malgieri's Supernatural Brownies

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Nineteen boxes are packed, seven paintings are bubble-wrapped, and it still looks like I've got at least four more days of work ahead of me. In the meantime, is there anything worse than going to bed in a room with bare walls and boxes lining the bedside? I put a few things back on my bedroom walls and shoved some boxes out to the living room, making the middle-of-the-night bathroom run somewhat of a dangerous slalom exercise, but at least I don't wake up in the morning to a room resembling a mental health ward.

Speaking of mental health, I have some advice for the change-averse and move-phobic. First of all, on your last weekend in Manhattan, make some friends have you over for an unexpectedly raucous dinner party, where you find yourself belting out Tom Petty lyrics at the top of your lungs along with seven other inebriated souls at two o'clock in the morning, convincing you that this dinner party is by far the best dinner party you've ever been to, which then, instead of leading you to wallow in self-pity about the fact that you will no longer be able to walk home from dinner parties such as this one, leads you to start brainstorming ways in which your Queens apartment can be soundproofed for the next drunken singalong.

Second of all, invite a group of single men and your boyfriend over for a "clean-out-the-fridge barbecue" in which all the frozen beef and half-empty bottles of ketchup and mustard are turned into juicy, drippy burgers and the conversation degenerates so quickly that before you know it, you've been dispatched out of your own backyard into your living room, where you find yourself a secretly contented packer as the boys stay up late talking about slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails. Oh, and picking up chicks, natch.

Thirdly, have your boyfriend recoil in horror at the world's largest millipede, positioned conveniently in the corner of your bedroom and over your shoulder, then have him chase the millipede with a rolled-up Sunday Styles section around your room (that your boyfriend is 6 foot 5 and the room is 10 by 11 and littered with boxes only adds to the tragicomedy) until the millipede ends up on the end of the newspaper roll along with dust bunnies you didn't know you had, leaving you so disgusted that you think the movers can't come soon enough.

At this point, you'll be champing at the bit, I promise.

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In other news, I thought you might like to know that we finished all the coarse-ground cornmeal in the cupboards this weekend - it was exactly enough to make a nicely creamy mound of polenta alongside some ratatouille and a broiled chicken breast for our last Sunday lunch in Chelsea. Throwing out that crinkled plastic bag was immensely satisfying. Not as satisfying, though, as finishing the last corner of Parmigiano (grated into the zucchini risotto at dinner yesterday) and definitely not nearly as satisfying as using up all the butter, eggs and brown sugar in a pan of brownies tonight.

Mmmmm. Brownies. Mmmmm-yessss.

Well, wait a minute. I don't mean to be an ingrate - after all, I've got fresh brownie smell wafting through my apartment - but these exalted brownies are cakier than I was hoping for and frankly, need. After all, moving week requires something darker and fudgier, something practically clay-like. No? Wouldn't you agree? There's a time for cakey brownies and a time for fudgy ones, and this just happens to be one of those fudgy times.

...

(Fourthly, consider how nice it will be, once you live in Queens, to be able to run upstairs to your friends' apartment and make them eat the other half of the brownie pan in return for a cuddle with their baby. Maybe moving ain't so bad after all.)

Supernatural Brownies
Yields 15 large or 24 small brownies

2 sticks (16 tablespoons) butter, more for pan and parchment paper
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, such as muscovado
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2  cup chopped walnuts or  3/4 cup whole walnuts, optional 

1. Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan and line with buttered parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, or on low power in a microwave, melt butter and chocolate together. Cool slightly. In a large bowl or mixer, whisk eggs. Whisk in salt, sugars and vanilla.

2. Whisk in chocolate mixture. Fold in flour just until combined. If using chopped walnuts, stir them in. Pour batter into prepared pan. If using whole walnuts, arrange on top of batter. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until shiny and beginning to crack on top. Cool in pan on rack.


Chocolate Bouchon Pudding

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Oh ho, this is thrilling, thrilling stuff. Quite possibly the best thing I've made all week, all month! Just you wait. You'll be so excited! I just know it.

Remember those chocolate bouchons from Thomas Keller that I made last month? The ones that turned out too salty, inedibly salty, really? Oh, you were all so sweetly sympathetic. And then remember the comments on those bouchons? Specifically, the one from David that told me to turn lemons into lemonade, or rather, salty chocolate bouchons into bread pudding?

Well, I heeded his instructions and I am so glad I did. Because out of those salty chocolate cakelets and a simple little custard came a dessert so delicious and fantastic that you will be compelled - compelled, I tell you! - to make it over and over and over again. I swear. I think you'll even find yourself making oversalted chocolate bouchons on purpose. Just so that you have a reason to make this. I know I will.

Oh, oh, it is so good. Hall-of-fame good. Laminate-this-recipe-I-beseech-you good.

So you've baked a batch of bouchons and have tried one or two just to make sure that I'm not entirely insane and that the bouchons are in fact unpleasantly salty. You should take six of them and cut them into chunks. Mine were frozen for a month and then defrosted the day before I made the bread pudding, so they were ever so faintly stale. This is a good thing! You put the chunks in a 2-quart souffle dish, along with a handful of pitted prunes that you've chopped as well.

If you're really cunning, you could soak the prunes in some rum before adding them, liquor and all, to the pudding dish, but my prunes were soft enough, and, in any case, I thought of this trick after it was too late. Instead, I added the splash of rum to the whole milk boiling up on the stove, along with a fillip of vanilla extract and a cinnamon stick. While this infuses, you whisk together sugar and eggs, then pour the hot milk into the eggs and whisk furiously so the eggs don't cook, before dumping the custard over the bouchon chunks and sliding the dish into a preheated oven.

This bakes for a while until the custard is set and the pudding has risen deliciously and the house is filled with the scent of baking chocolate and your salivary glands are feeling somewhat strained and put-upon. Can't you satiate them already?

Pull the souffle dish out of the oven, let it cool as long as possible, then scoop out portions onto small plates and - this is Important Stuff, mind you - serve the warm pudding with a small spoonful of vanilla ice cream so that it melts gently around each dark, quivery spoonful.

I tell you, you will be floored, simply floored, by how good this is. I could wax on for days about the perfection of combining prunes and chocolate, but you've got so many other lovely things going on here as well, texturally and flavor-wise. Silky custard, light-as-air cakelets, an air of sophistication and nuance from the rum, the prunes, the cinnamon, the dark chocolate, and then, the creamy cap of vanilla ice cream.

The whole thing? A dessert for the ages. Thank goodness for salty chocolate cakes and the ingenuity of a certain Parisian expat pastry chef. I'm thoroughly depressed that there aren't any leftovers.

Chocolate Bouchon Pudding
Serves 6 to 8

6 chocolate bouchons (see recipe here)
12 pitted prunes
2 cups whole milk
2-3 tablespoons rum
1 small cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut up the bouchons into chunks and put them in a 2-quart round souffle dish. Add the pitted prunes, cut into chunks. Mix well.

2. Put the milk, cinnamon stick, vanilla extract and rum into a saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Turn off the flame and let the milk infuse for 20 minutes. In the meantime, whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large bowl.

3. After the milk has infused, bring it back to a boil, discard the cinnamon stick, and then turn off the heat. Using a whisk, pour the hot milk in a thin, slow stream into the bowl of eggs and sugar, whisking all the while. Then pour the bowl of hot custard evenly over the souffle dish of bouchon chunks and prunes.

4. Put the dish into the oven and bake for an hour, or until the custard has set. Let it cool for a bit, then serve warm with good-quality vanilla ice cream.