As in, there is brown butter in the brownies and in the cream cheese frosting.
True, my go-to brownie recipe is decadent: flourless for concentrated chocolate flavor, an extra fudgy texture, a layer of chocolate ganache, and then a big pile of whipped coconut fluff. You could argue, though, that desserts are not meant to be gluten free or that “superfood” coconut milk has no place spoiling a big brownie pie. Half the time, I would side with you, and today’s brown butter brownies answer that half. By no means conventional, this brownie pie sneaks in a little flour, stabilizing the texture so they’re easier to eat as finger food (not with a fork), it’s chock full of (and topped with) salty roasted pistachios, and it’s smeared with thick, buttery, cream cheese frosting. Which might also be the fastest cream cheese frosting you’ve ever made. So much to talk about.
Maybe this will become an annual tradition–reinventing this brownie pie in whatever incarnation strikes my fancy around Valentine’s Day that year. Kind of like Molly’s almond cake Valentine’s tradition, which I discovered today. In this world of attempted get-rich-quick food blogging, it’s refreshing to look back and see the journey that many of the “big bloggers” have taken. Their photos weren’t always perfect, their posts weren’t sponsored, and they didn’t write for SEO. They wrote because they love food and want to share what they’re making, just like I do.
Molly’s post got me thinking of family traditions. In our family, there wasn’t a specific Valentine’s food, but like I probably discussed last year, my parents made absolutely sure to create some kind of special occasion around the fake holiday, to reinforce that we were an essential part of a loving family. I think the deeper message was that, should we find ourselves single in our twenties or later, which my sisters and I all did at various points, we were every bit as worthy of love as if we were in a relationship. I wish I could go back and tell my twenties self that with absolute conviction, because there were definite moments of doubt. Lots of them. Basically, it’s much harder to believe you’re an awesome, independent, capable person when you’re single on Valentine’s Day (or any day) than it is years later when you’re cozying up on the couch with your partner and a glass of wine or mug of hot cocoa, wearing your sweats, and knowing that he or she finds you the best, most beautiful/handsome, most intelligent, cutest human being on the planet.
Unlike Valentine’s, we Scandinavians have plenty of Christmas food traditions. And why are we now talking about Christmas??? You’ll find out in a second. The minute I bit into this brown butter iteration of my new Valentine’s brownie tradition, I tasted something so familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Something I had eaten over and over again, but nothing I intentionally set out to replicate in this brownie recipe. Here I am, thinking brown butter is a newfangled food trend, but when I texted my mom about the weird hunch I was having, she nonchalantly confirmed that, yes, those cakey sour cream cookies of my youth were topped with brown butter frosting, before moving on to ask for my internet password so she could stream American Idol. But I want to reminisce about cookies! Luckily that’s what I have you all for.
That shorter blog post I’ve been promising myself for the last few paragraphs is quickly going out the window, but I’ll try to wrap it up. In case, like uber negative commenter here, you need confirmation that this is not some crappy made up, Pinterest bait blog recipe, I tested out three batches at last Sunday’s Super Bowl party, to several glowing reviews. I liked them at first taste, but I’m really not a big baker anymore, so watching people down slices of my creation helped confirm that, yes, I can post recipes for delicious baked goods! Early in the week, as I took a little wine hiatus, I wished so hard that I had taken just a couple leftover brownies back home with me for those sweets cravings, but it’s all for the better (for our host and my waistline). As I write this, Thursday night is here, and we’re hunkering down for a Minnesota-cold-on-the-east-coast weekend, wine in hand, puppy on the couch, and ready for a Valentine’s Day filled with sweatpants, meatless “tuna” hot dish, and hopefully another big brown butter brownie.
- A little softened butter, to grease the pan
- 6 oz semisweet, bittersweet, or dark chocolate, chopped
- 5 T butter (70 g)
- ½ C light brown sugar
- ½ C granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, near room temperature (see notes)
- 1 t vanilla extract
- ¼ C all-purpose flour
- ½ C salted shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped small (plus more for garnish)
- 6 T unsalted butter
- 8 oz. cream cheese, cold, cut into 4 pieces
- 2 t vanilla extract
- 3 C powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 (F) and line an 8 inch round cake pan with foil. Use your fingers to lightly coat the foil with softened butter. Place chocolate into a small heatproof mixing bowl and microwave at 50% power until nearly melted, about 3 minutes, stopping to stir every minute so chocolate doesn't burn. Set aside.
- Cut the butter for the brownie into tablespoons and heat in a small, light colored (i.e., not cast iron) pan over medium low. After it melts, stir frequently. The butter will bubble noisily. Once noisy bubbling subsides or gives way to quieter foaming, carefully watch butter as you stir constantly. Particles in the butter will start to turn golden brown after a few minutes and it will smell nutty. At this point, immediately remove from heat. Pour over the chocolate and stir until will combined and all the chocolate is melted, then set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk both sugars, eggs, and vanilla by hand until well combined. Gradually stir in the slightly cooled chocolate mixture to ensure the warm chocolate doesn't cook the eggs. Mix in the flour. Fold in the pistachios, then pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until just set (no liquid jiggles when you shake the pan gently). Cool completely (a couple hours) on a wire rack in the pan, then use the foil to lift out the brownie before frosting.
- Brown 6 tablespoons butter as described above and remove to a small bowl. Cool in the fridge at least 10 minutes, but don't let it solidify. Pulse cream cheese, vanilla, powdered sugar, and cooled butter in a food processor until creamy and spreadable, about 10 to 20 seconds, stopping to scrape down sides once. Spread a thin layer of frosting on the cooled brownie (to pick up loose crumbs) and freeze for 10 minutes. Spread remaining frosting (or desired amount) over the first layer, then sprinkle with extra chopped pistachios (or sprinkles!). Serve immediately or keep refrigerated up to a few days. Extra frosting keeps in the refrigerator for about a week.
Chocolate: I've used all types listed in variations of this recipe, but this time, I used Trader Joe's 72% dark chocolate pound plus bar with great results. You can use chocolate chips, but they often contain stabilizers or additives that are, at least, unnecessary and, at worst, will affect the texture and taste of the brownie.
If you plan to make the brownie and icing back to back, you can brown the full quantity of butter all at once. Add two extra tablespoons butter, then measure out the quantity needed after browning, making sure to get some of the browned solids in the butter for each use. That said, I find it simpler to just brown the butter in two separate batches for this recipe, for measurement and timing purposes.
Adapted from my favorite brownie recipe out of Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way. Cream cheese icing recipe adapted from Joy of Cooking's cream cheese frosting.
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