Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Word About Chocolate, and Some Crazy-Ass Brownies

It's been said (and established) that most chefs are slaves to their vices of choice. Entrenched in an industry focused on a carnal sensory pleasure like eating, the typical chef is usually a cigarette/cannabis smoker, intense drinker (hard alcohol, no light beer), dangerous and belligerent overeater, pervert/sex addict (especially with the revolving front-of-house staff) and/or closet tweaker. The great majority of chefs I've worked with were a colorful and unpredictable multi-combination of the basics. I am slightly outside the hard circle, not a smoker, monogamous, light occasional drinker (wine, girly cocktails, German or Belgian lights), not a drug experimenter and still eat like I did when I was 15 (moderate, homemade and snacky). Don't get me wrong though, I have a vice, and it's lifelong, cherished and hard-wired: Chocolate.

I eat chocolate every single day. Not a lot mind you, but unless I'm mostly unconscious and sick with the flu, I'm having a bite of chocolate at some point between breakfast and bed. Sometimes chocolate is breakfast. That 1-pound box of See's sitting on top of my mixing bowls? It has a 2-week lifespan at best. Sometimes it's one piece, sometimes it's three. Sometimes it's a corner of an organic Green & Black's almond bar scooping a sneaky bite from the peanut butter jar. Sometimes it's the ganache topping from a fleur de sel cupcake off the cupcake truck (yes, we have those, and yes, they are simultaneously evil and wonderful). But it's my only real vice, and it's mine, and it's passed on genetically. My daughter's first full sentence? "Want chocolate please, Mama!" She's obviously mine.

And the recent scientific declaration that chocolate is not only okay for you, but is actually beneficial to your health? That headline was like 20 Christmas and birthday presents all rolled together. Yes, I celebrated. Guess how.

Yes, that would be me. Not much has changed.

Although I gave up second-rate cheaply mass-produced Hershey’s milk chocolate a long, long time ago in favor of the good stuff, I've found that really good chocolate doesn't have to be expensive or hard to get. Lindt is good. Dagoba is a nice choice, and organic to boot. The aforementioned Green & Black? So delicious. Scharffenberger (recently bought by the evil empire but still close to my heart) is fantastic and easy to find in any supermarket on the west coast and beyond. After a class a few years ago where we blind-tasted and rated twenty kinds of boutique American and imported high-end and moderately-priced chocolate, and used them in identical recipes to compare them in different applications, which one came in first? Which one soundly trumped Callebaut and Valrhona? Trader Joe's pound-plus bar. For real.

So it's my own humble opinion that you can get great chocolate wherever you are, as long as you skip the checkout candy bar display and go to the specialty aisle, or the little chocolate shop on the corner (they know what they're doing), or the one-man stand at the farmers market, or pop into Whole Foods or TJs for something more deserving of your time and calories and money. By the way, those chocolate-covered pretzels at Trader Joe's, since you're already there? Those are pretty awesome too.

See these babies? Their days are numbered.

One day not too long ago, I got an excited call from my best friend. She'd just had lunch with her mom at a girlfriend's house, and being a good girlfriend, the nice lady had served brownies for dessert. But not just any brownies. Unbelievable, delicious, fudgy, rich, decadent brownies. The best brownies she'd ever had. And the kicker? They were made in a slow-cooker. Crock pot triple chocolate crack brownies. I begged for details. A slow-cooker? Really? They were that good? Really? Being my best friend, she not only had the skinny on the world's best brownies for me. She had the recipe.

As I write this, my house is filling with the blissful aroma of butter and chocolate. It's a good smell. Maybe it's like the heartwarming smell that a smoker experiences when she unwraps a new pack of cigs, or the woody sweet aroma of the first glass of Makers Mark from the new bottle that the drinker just poured himself, or the whiff of hair conditioner as the newbie waitress swings her shiny bob past the pervy executive chef. But I have four hours to wait for this chocolate fix to be ready, enough time for a healthy little lunch and a pre-emptive trip to the gym. I may be patient, but one thing that's typical of addicts is that they do like company. My name is Annie, and I'm a chocoholic. This is for you:

Slow-Cooker Triple Chocolate Brownies
Transcribed directly from the xeroxed page from a cookbook of so-far unknown origin. If I can figure out who the creator of this magnificent recipe is, I will let you know!
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon coarse salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped (note from Annie: I lightly toasted my walnuts before adding to the batter)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (6 ounces)
Nonstick cooking spray

Lightly coat a 5-quart slow-cooker insert with cooking spray. Line bottom with parchment paper and lightly coat with spray. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.
Place butter and chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until chocolate is melted. Add sugar; stir to combine. Stir in eggs. Add flour mixture, walnuts and chocolate chips and stir just until moistened (do not overmix). Transfer to slow cooker and smooth top.
Cover and cook on low, 3 ½ hours.. Uncover and cook 30 minutes. Remove insert from slow cooker and run a knife around edge to loosen brownies. Let cool completely in insert on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Turn out onto a work surface and cut into 14 brownies.
Cooks note: The center may look undercooked when time is up, but it will be perfect once cooled.
(Note from Annie: I learned through trial and error that my particular slow cooker – a round West Bend model - most likely runs a little hotter than the one tested in this recipe, as I had some burnt edges the first time. For my particular model I cook on low for the first hour, then turn it to the “keep warm” setting, and they do exactly as they should. If you have a hot-blooded slow cooker, you might want to try this and see how they do.)


  1. You perfectly described so many of the chefs I've worked with over the years: unique and all with their own quirks and addictions. I too am a chocolate addict, and these slow cooker brownies look delicious.

  2. These brownies are happening asap :) Delish!