I volunteered to make one of the desserts for the Thanksgiving get-together at a friend’s house. So of course, I decided to make something I had never made before, and to make some changes to the recipe as I went along.
A few weeks before, I had stumbled into a short Twitter discussion about Mexican hot chocolate and other combinations of chocolate with spices. I am pro-spiced chocolate in bar form, and Food Network chef Aarón Sánchez has a Mexican brownie recipe containing cinnamon and cayenne pepper that’s a favorite. I hunted around some more–it didn’t take me long to find a holiday dessert that would allow me some room to experiment: Crème Brûlée Brownies. I’d never before made crème brûlée but had made other thickened sauces, and thebrownie portion was similar enough in volume and ingredients to the Mexican brownies that I figured I could get away with the same amounts of spice. I didn’t want the heat to overwhelm the other flavors, but I did want it to come through.
I tweaked as I went along. I’d been replacing all-purpose flour in recipes with either white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour for years—they’re not as heavy or nutty-tasting as regular whole wheat flour, but they do impart some substance. They also seem to soak up more liquid than all-purpose, which means the batter was likely thicker than it would’ve been if I’d used all-purpose. I also added a little extra salt for overall flavor improvement, and a couple of teaspoons of espresso powder to boost the chocolate.
Then came the heat and spice. I started with the amounts in the Mexican brownie recipe, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder. But I couldn’t detect any heat when I tasted the batter, so I doubled the amounts.
The recipe called for 20 minutes baking time. Um, no. I didn’t have a 9×13 baking pan, so I used a roasting pan with thicker sides and bottom—after 20 minutes, the center of the brownies was still liquid. So I kept them in the oven, and checked them every five minutes. It wound up taking 35 minutes for them to bake.
After the brownies were done, I moved on to the crème brûlée. I added smaller amounts of cinnamon and cayenne, then stirred stirred stirred until it thickened. It smelled so good, that rich vanilla aroma. I poured the crème over the still-warm brownies, then sprinkled sugar over the top and set them under the broiler. I had to pull them out before the sugar turned golden brown and crusty, however, as some spots turned dark brown and I didn’t want them to burn. Next time, I’ll use a kitchen torch.
Anyway, the result? Good brownies. Not as bittersweet as I prefer, but very moist and rich, with just a hint of heat from the cayenne. The crème brûlée topping was delicious; it would make a good dessert all by itself. Next time, I’ll use a different brownie recipe. I’d also like to experiment with the crème brûlée itself by adding chocolate and other flavorings.