It might be safe to say that I've eaten more box mix Ghirardelli brownies than most people I know. I've made those brownies with such persistent regularity that it's possible it could be diagnosed as a mild obsessive compulsive disorder. So when I began the shift from pre-mixed store bought to made from scratch, I reluctantly gave up that box mix brownie, conceding I was better off without all those additives. Then, one day, oh happy day, I found a from-scratch recipe for Ghirardelli-like brownies in Cook's Illustrated magazine.
Andrea Geary, the dedicated test cook behind this recipe, must be as addicted to those brownies as I am, because it took her an admitted two months and several hundred tests to reach perfection. But what a sweet two months that must have been! I've adapted a few things for my version of the brownies, and reduced the recipe amount by half. In addition to adding rosemary, grey sea salt, and substituting a fruity extra-virgin olive oil for the vegetable oil, I used a white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour to complement the more unusual ingredients. For the extra-virgin olive oil to work well with the chocolate, it's important to use a brand that has more fruity and buttery notes than grassy and peppery ones. When it comes to the chocolate, use a high-quality brand that has at least a 60% cacao content so it holds up well to the other flavors.
Here's the thing-I'll admit that this is a brownie recipe for the chocolate brownie obsessive. It might not be as quick as some basic recipes, but it's intensely good to eat when it's finished. There are a couple of techniques I use to blend the flavors and make the cooking process easy. First I use a mortar and pestle to create a smooth mixture of the minced rosemary and coarse kosher salt, and then I let the mixture soak in the olive oil. After that I pre-measure and organize the rest of the ingredients while the olive oil mixture rests. Melding the olive oil and rosemary balances those flavors in the final brownie, and prepping the other ingredients helps things move quicker as you cook. It also keeps you from forgetting to add an ingredient. As strange as combining rosemary and olive oil in a brownie sounds, it's a combination that works. If you like brownies with just about everything all the time, this recipe might just be a blessing and a curse.
Rich Chocolate Brownies with Rosemary, Sea Salt and Olive Oil
(adapted from Cook's Illustrated magazine)
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon fruity extra-virgin olive oil (I used Colavita's Fruttato)
1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, very finely minced
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon boiling water
2-1/2 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/4 cup organic sugar
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons white whole wheat flour
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon grey sea salt
Mortar and pestle
8-inch x 8-inch square baking dish or pan (I use a ceramic baking dish)
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Adjust the rack to the second lowest position in the oven. Measure olive oil into a small bowl. Mix minced rosemary and kosher salt together in a mortar and pestle and grind until as smooth as possible. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, you can use the side of a wide chef's knife to smash the rosemary and salt together. Whisk the rosemary mixture into the extra-virgin olive oil, and let meld for several minutes while you pre-measure and organize the rest of the ingredients to prepare for making the brownies. Lastly, grease an 8" x 8" baking dish with butter to help the parchment paper adhere to the dish. Then line the baking dish with parchment paper, leaving enough length so that the paper is a couple of inches taller than the sides of the baking dish. After the brownies have cooled this will allow you to lift them easily out of the baking dish.
Add the cocoa and espresso powder to the boiling water, and whisk until blended. Add the unsweetened chocolate and stir until melted. Add the melted butter and the olive oil/rosemary/salt mixture and whisk well. Blend in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Stir in the sugar until well mixed. Fold in the flour with a spatula until blended, then stir in the chocolate chips.
Pour the brownie batter into the lined baking dish. Sprinkle half of the 1/2 teaspoon of grey sea salt lightly on top, and carefully put the pan in the oven without disturbing the salt on top. Cook for 15 minutes, then rotate the baking dish 180º degrees and sprinkle the rest of the grey sea salt over the top of the brownies. Cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, testing for doneness by inserting a toothpick half of the way between the center and the edge of the pan, and remove the brownies when only a few moist crumbs stick to the toothpick.
Let the brownies partially cool while still in the pan placed on a wire cooling rack for 90 minutes. After an hour and a half, remove brownies from the pan using the edges of the parchment paper and let cool completely while still in the paper on the wire cooling rack for another hour. Cut into 16 equal pieces, and deeply and obsessively enjoy.
Makes 16 1-1/2 inch square brownies