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Didn’t I just equate your lava muffin recipe with divinity?  Haven’t I been your biggest fan since your very first episode, in a burning-adoration-from-afar, entirely nonthreatening, restraining-order-free, totally un-Kathy Bates way? Didn’t I even forgive you for the exercise in self-indulgent whimsy that was your functionally useless book, the first cookbook I have ever in my entire life wanted my money back for?

All that and more, Alton.  So why are you doing this to me?

The only thing I wanted was a recipe to use up my remaining cocoa supply.  As if by fate, your cocoa brownies drifted out of the entropy event that is my recipe binder when I was looking for the instructions for my birthday souffle, which only exists in one newspaper clipping.  Hurrah, I cried, This will finish off all my cocoa, and Alton’s always fantastic! Do you want to tell me why I ended up with nothing remotely special after having to spend two hours deciphering an incoherent garble of directions, then getting up close and personal with my oven in fifteen, ten and five minute increments for nearly two more hours?

The ingredient list and instructions on the Food Network site were so unclear that I had to look up the episode on YouTube just to get started.  I then discovered that the posted recipe not only was a mess on its own terms, but actively contradicted what was in the episode and obliterated all the methodological details that were supposedly critical.  I should have heeded the warning signs and cut my losses there, but I had faith in you.  I made two minor changes, adding nuts and a handful of chocolate chips that also needed eliminating, but otherwise I did exactly what you said, and lived to regret it.

Oh, I’m not saying they weren’t tasty.  They just weren’t by any possible metric better than my preferred Cook’s Illustrated recipe, which makes twice as many identically cacaorrific brownies in a third of the time, with half the equipment and none of the headache.

It’s brownies, my darling bespectacled food geek, not croquembouche. There isn’t supposed to be this much sweat equity involved in baking a simple bar cookie, and certainly not for this little payoff.  I suspect you just got a little too clever for your own good, the way you did with that unsalvageable pie crust recipe. (Apple juice concentrate? Spray bottles?  Not even Shirley Corriher came up with that many hoops to jump through.)  You thought straightforward good eats wasn’t going to be flashy enough, right?  So you threw the entire bag of tricks at a humble little American classic and it collapsed under the weight.

If that’s what it was, I have to say I’m a little disappointed in you.  I can watch Iron Chef for the fun of pyrotechnic excess I have no desire to reproduce, plus the occasional thrill of seeing Bobby Flay receive a well-deserved smackdown.  The only thing you need to do to deserve my undying affection is give me recipes for yummy food that make my life easier because they work.

If, instead of that, it was the geniuses at the Food Network pushing through an episode that wasn’t ready and letting some intern half-ass the transcription for the website, then that’s exactly the exacting attention to detail and dedication to quality control that lost me as a viewer, you tools.

So anyway, thanks for using up all my remaining cocoa, but no thanks for giving me a recipe that was this big a pain in the ass.  I’m going back to the America’s Test Kitchen people for my brownies.  Chris Kimball may not make my heart flutter the way you do, but at least he and his obsessive-compulsive crew have never let me down.

Cut while warm? More like mangle while warm.

Cut while warm? More like mangle while warm.

Consolidated Cocoa Brownies with Walnuts and Milk Chocolate
(Modified by necessity from Alton Brown’s Cocoa Brownies)
Makes 16 brownies

1 cup walnut pieces
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cups natural (not Dutch) cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla paste
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Spread the walnut pieces on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant but not dark, 7-9 minutes.  Transfer to a shallow bowl to cool, and lower the oven to 300 F.

Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with nonstick foil or parchment, leaving overhang for lifting the finished brownies out easily.

Place the butter in a large glass measuring cup and melt in the microwave at half power, approximately 2 minutes.

Sift the sugars, cocoa, flour and salt into a medium bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium speed until light and pale, and just barely foamy. With the mixer at low speed, slowly sift in the dry ingredients, beating until incorporated, then do the same with the vanilla paste.  Still running the mixer at low, pour in the butter in a very slow, thin stream to maintain the emulsion, the way you would add oil while making mayonnaise.  Run the mixer for 30 additional seconds after the last of the butter has gone in, then scrape down the sides and gently fold in the chips.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the toasted nuts evenly on the top. Bake for 60-90 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.  Let cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then lift them out by the overhanging foil or parchment and slice while still warm into 16 squares.  Use the foil sling to transfer the sliced brownies onto a rack and allow to cool the rest of the way.


I’m writing this up because I really did waste four hours of my Sunday and I’ll at least have done the public service of making the recipe intelligible. I don’t recommend actually using it unless you want to practice your fat-dribbling skills and spend fully twice as long as he claimed it would take, only to get standard-issue squidgy brownies no better than your average good one-bowl version, like this one.

If you still want to try this recipe, proceed at your own risk. In contrast to the banana cake above, which, it bears repeating, you need to make right now.