There are two brownie camps where one can reside: the camp of dense, fudgy brownies with a crinkly top and the camp of the thick, cakelike brownie topped with a thin layer of frosting.
The former is my encampment of choice. For me a thin, dense brownie with a crackled crust is made even more perfect with an addition of pecans or walnuts. The nuts and their crunch are an essential brownie ingredient, like tent poles for a tent — you cannot build one without the other.
On a recent brownie urge, I went searching for a recipe with an even more intense fudgy flavor. I altered this recipe with my must-have nuts and at the last minute threw in some cacao nibs I had on hand. Cacao nibs are not normally in my pantry, but one small bag has yielded several different opportunities to put these tiny treats to work, the perfect description of a good pantry staple.
If you are not familiar with them, cacao nibs are cocoa beans that have been roasted and hulled. Slightly smaller than mini-chocolate chips, cacao nibs smell like cocoa powder and taste slightly like coffee beans when eaten raw. In baked goods, they stay crunchy when baked and are a great stand-in for nuts, if you so desire. In my case, I desire the crunch of pecans and cacao nibs in this brownie. The nibs are stirred in, almost hidden, in the dark batter while the pecans stand out like a flashlight beam in the midst of the dark woods. No scary stories in this camp, just lots of happy campers chewing and crunching their way through these intensely chocolate treats.
Rich Cocoa Brownies with Cacao Nibs & Pecans
•1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
•1 1/4 cups sugar
•3/4 cup good quality unsweetened cocoa powder like Ghirardelli or Scharffen Berger
•1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
•1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•2 large eggs
•1/3 cup all-purpose flour
•1/4 cup cacao nibs*
•1/4 heaping cup pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-by-2-inch glass baking dish with foil, pressing firmly into pan and leaving a 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with non-stick spray; set aside.
Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Let cool slightly. Whisk sugar, cocoa and salt in medium bowl to combine. Pour butter in steady stream into dry ingredients, whisking constantly to blend. Whisk in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating vigorously after each addition. Stir in cacao nibs. Add flour and stir until just combined. Pour batter into pan and smooth top with spatula. Sprinkle pecans over top and press into batter slightly with fingers.
Bake until top begins to crack and toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes.
Let brownies cool completely in pan. Using foil overhang, lift brownie out of pan; transfer to cutting board. Cut into 12 to 16 squares.
*Cacao nibs can be found locally at places like New Pioneer Food Co-op and The Bread Garden Market in Iowa City.
Source: Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2012