In my mind, brownies are the ultimate dessert. Let's see, chocolate (check), rich & decadent (check), compatible with ice cream (check)... The list goes on.
I've been baking for over 5 years now, and I've made a great deal of brownies. Brownies are simple, which makes them such a joy to make, but tweaking the ingredients slightly will give you dramatically different results. As such, no two brownies are alike (is that a quote I've seen somewhere before? No?). I don't think anyone can claim to have the best brownie recipe ever, but, I think someone can have a brownie recipe that they like the best. After testing dozens of brownie recipes through my baking forays I can safely say this is one of the best ones I've ever made. Give it a try, see if you agree with me!
I haven't had the pleasure of buying many amazing brownies in my life. Alas, as with most foods/baked goods, if you want outstanding, you need to make it yourself. Of course, with my recipe you need to pull off making ice cream, homemade toffee, a brownie, and two sauces... whether or not that sounds intimidating, believe me when I say it pays off. The best part is that anyone can make this, even the inexperienced bakers. The second best part is that absolutely everything can be made in advance. The third best part... I could go on, overall I just think you and whoever you are cooking for will enjoy this dessert tremendously. As well, if you follow my plating tips you can make it look as if it came out of a restaurant kitchen even if you have no experience with presentation. If you are tasked with making the dessert for a meal, whip this recipe out and you will be known as the queen/king of baking, trust me.
The main theme in this instructable is to allow anyone with minimal kitchen equipment and minimal baking experience to pull off a great dessert. I myself do not have much money for buying special kitchen equipment, but that doesn't hold me back from making awesome desserts, and neither should it let you! The most specialized equipment necessary is a round cake pan (yes, even for making the ice cream!). Kitchen appliances required are an oven and a microwave.
There are four components to the dessert. These are the ice cream, the toffee, the brownie, and the sauces. If you would like to skip any of the components, feel free, but I recommend going the whole way and taking the time to make everything; none of the elements are particularly tricky to make. The toffee and both sauces are so easy that they barely require any work or time in the kitchen. Keep in mind, you will most likely need to make the ice cream the night before as it takes a while to freeze. The steps are in the order you should make everything.
Disclaimer: I take full responsibility for the likely event that you become addicted to these brownies and eat more than your fair share.
Step 1: The Vanilla Ice Cream
What's great about this ice cream is that you are able to make it completely by hand, no stand mixer or ice cream machine required. I adapted a favourite ice cream recipe to allow anyone with a whisk, a bowl, and a little perseverance (you'll see what I mean) the ability to make it. I'll admit, it's not quite as good as ice cream from an ice cream machine, but it's still good. Making the ice cream is likely the most technically challenging part of this entire dessert, but by no means is it very difficult. The only thing you need to worry about is tempering the eggs properly.
Necessary equipment is shown on the first picture. Equipment here is pretty standard, just make sure one of your bowls is Pyrex or metal. Make the ice cream at latest the night before you want to serve it.
Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe (1 hour to make, 8+ hours to freeze)
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown's Vanilla Ice Cream. Feel free to double the recipe if you want more ice cream. Get ready to whisk a lot.
- 1 cup half and half cream (10% cream)
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream divided
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
Step 1. Put your metal or Pyrex bowl in the freezer. You are going to need to make whipped cream by hand, and making whipped cream is so much easier in a cold bowl.
Step 2. If you haven't separated your eggs so that you have just the yolks, you will need to do so. The best way to separate an egg is to crack it into your hand and wiggle your fingers so that egg white falls between your them. You do not want any white mixed in with your yolks, so if you break a yolk, try again.
Step 3. Whisk the eggs yolks with the sugar until slightly pale.
Step 4. Heat 1 cup half and half cream and 1/2 cup heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it starts to simmer, take it off the heat immediately.
Step 5. Up next is tempering the eggs. Read closely. While whisking the eggs and sugar, put one spoonful of the hot cream into the eggs. Do not stop whisking, and continue to add bigger spoonfuls of the hot cream into the eggs one spoonful at a time until you have put about a third of the milk into the eggs. This step is successful if the egg and sugar mixture is smooth without lumps.
Step 6. While whisking the cream in the saucepan, slowly pour the tempered eggs into the cream.
Step 7. What you have in the saucepan now is a custard. Heat this mixture on low heat. Whisking constantly, let the custard start to thicken until it coats the back of a spoon. This can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes, be patient.
Step 8. Once the custard is done, pour it into a different bowl. The warm custard tastes really good, feel free to taste it. Let it cool for 20 minutes.
Step 9. After custard has cooled, stir in the vanilla.
Step 10. After adding the vanilla, take your bowl out of the freezer and pour 3/4 cup heavy cream in. Whisk the cream quickly until it becomes whipped cream, about 3-6 minutes depending on how fast you can whisk.
Step 11. Gently fold the whipped cream into the custard. It probably won't be fully incorporated, so feel free to whisk gently until no lumps remain.
Step 12. Line a bowl with plastic wrap and pour your ice cream in. Cover, and freeze for at least 6-8 hours until firm.
The ice cream will keep in the freezer for a few weeks.
Step 2: The Sauces
The two sauces we will be making are a dulce de leche (caramel) sauce and a sour raspberry sauce. These are both as simple as sauces get, the dulce de leche in particular.
The raspberry sauce is a bit sour, which is what you want, because you need something to cut through all of the sweetness on the plate. If everything is very sweet, the dessert will not be balanced quite as well.
Dulce de Leche Recipe (3 hours to cook, 2 hours to cool)
This sauce is deceptively simple, and goes well with so many things. Try it on: toast, oatmeal and fruit.
- 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
Step 1. Submerge the can in a large pot of cold water. Take the label off.
Step 2. Heat the water to a boil, then turn to low and put a lid on.
Step 3. Simmer the can for 3 hours on low to medium low heat. Check the water once in a while to see if the can is still submerged, add more if not.
Step 4. Once the can has cooked for 3 hours, take it out and leave it somewhere to cool for 2 hours. Open it earlier and it has the potential to explode.
Step 5. Open the can after 2 hours and empty the contents into a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Sour Raspberry Sauce Recipe (12 min to cook)
Similar to the caramel sauce, this sauce is very easy.
- 2 cups frozen raspberries
- 3 tbsp white sugar
- 1/2 a lemon
Step 1. Heat the berries and sugar in a small saucepan on medium heat.
Step 2. The berries will start to break apart, use a spoon to break them up into nice chunks. If the sauce is really thick you can put in a tsp of water.
Step 3. Once the berries are broken up and the sauce has thickened slightly, take it off the heat and squeeze in half a lemon's worth of juice.
Step 4. Refrigerate the sauce in a bowl until ready to use.
Step 3: The Toffee
Homemade candy is easier than you think. Toffee only requires two ingredients, butter and sugar. While some candies require a thermometer to make correctly, this toffee does not. Also, making your own candy and incorporating it into a dessert is a surefire way to impress people; they don't need to know how easy it actually is.
Toffee Recipe (15 min to make, 5 min to cool)
Recipe altered from Yotam Ottolenghi's toffee recipe (Ottolenghi, 240). If you do not have salted butter, add a pinch of salt into the pan (trust me, it doesn't taste salty).
- 5 tbsp salted butter
- 6 tbsp confectioner's sugar (icing sugar)
Step 1. Butter a pan with a slice of butter. I used the same pan I am going to make the brownie in.
Step 2. Set a small saucepan over medium heat, and add the sugar and butter.
Step 3. Stir the sugar and butter until the mixture turns dark brown, around 12-15 minutes.
Step 4. Pour the toffee into the buttered pan and let it cool down. Once it's cool you can break up the toffee into pieces and put them in a plastic sandwich bag until ready to use.
Funnily, the worst part about making candy is having to wash the pot afterwards. If you let it cool on the pot, it will become so hard that you won't even be able to chip it off with a chisel and hammer (slight dramatization). The best technique I've found is, immediately after pouring the toffee out, wipe off any candy on the rim, the sides on the inside of the pot, and the spoon with a paper towel. Now you can put some hot water into the pot and put it on high heat to dissolve the candy on the bottom. It's tedious at best.
Step 4: The Brownie
The hardest part of making a brownie is baking it perfectly. Keep it in the oven too long, and you risk a dry brownie. Don't bake it for long enough and your brownie will be gooey and under-cooked. You want to avoid the over-cooked situation, because a dry brownie is unpleasant. Ideally, you want a toothpick to have a few moist crumbs clinging to it when you stick it in the center of the brownie (Ottolenghi, 236). If you've got thick goop stuck on the toothpick it needs more time in the oven. If the toothpick comes out clean, take it out of the oven immediately, it may still be okay. If you have to, aim for under-cooked rather than over-cooked because later you can cook individual pieces in the microwave to a desired done-ness.
If you want to make these brownies in advance of when you'll be serving them, cut them into pieces and throw them in the freezer for up to month. Brownies reheat exceptionally well in the microwave. They also taste good straight from the freezer, if you're into that.
Necessary equipment is shown on the second picture. You will need 3 medium bowls, and at least one of them should be microwave safe. I used a nonstick cake pan for my brownies, but you can use an 8 or 9 inch square pan if you want; if you use an 8 inch pan the brownies will be very thick. I recommend a fine strainer to sift the flour and cocoa but since it isn't absolutely necessary, it isn't pictured. You'll also need a double boiler or access to a microwave.
If you want to omit the nuts and/or chocolate chips, feel free to do so. A truly good brownie will taste good without any extra additions.
Brownie Recipe (30 minutes to make, 17+ minutes to bake, 1 hour to cool)
This is my personal brownie recipe, a compilation of many brownie recipes and techniques. I stand by it.
- 3/4 cups nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, whatever you've got) (optional)
- 3/4 cups Butter (I used salted, if you use unsalted add 1/4 tsp salt to the flour)
- 6 oz semisweet chocolate
- 2 cups All Purpose Flour
- 1/4 cups Cocoa
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3 Room temperature eggs
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 1 heaping tsp Instant coffee granules (optional, recommended)
- 1/2 cups white chocolate chips (optional)
- 1/4 cups tepid water
Step 1. First, preheat your oven to 325F/160C.
Step 2. If your nuts aren't chopped, chop them coarsely. Once the oven is preheated, pop the nuts in the oven for 5 minutes in the baking pan you are going to use for the brownies. You can tell when nuts are done if you can smell them. Take them out and let them cool on a plate. Savour the smell of toasted nuts.
Step 3. Oil your pan with cooking spray, butter, or any neutral tasting oil (not olive oil!). If you have some, cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of your pan. Place the parchment on the oily pan so that it sticks. The parchment will just aid in taking the brownie out when it's done. If you do not have parchment, don't worry, it isn't mandatory.
Step 4. Chop your chocolate. The finer you chop it, the faster it will melt.
Step 5. Add the chocolate and butter to a microwave safe bowl and microwave it for 30 seconds. Keep microwaving at 30 second intervals, and stir after every interval. Once it's completely melted take it out and let it cool. Do not microwave it more after it's completely melted.
Step 6. Stir the instant coffee granules into the melted chocolate mixture. Instant coffee enhances the chocolate flavour, you will not taste coffee.
Step 7. Sift the flour and cocoa into a bowl, stir in the baking powder.
Step 8. Whisk together eggs and sugar until pale and volume has increased (Worley).
Step 9. Once the melted chocolate has cooled that it no longer feels hot when you stick a finger in, add it to the egg mixture and stir. Stir in the 1/4 cup of water as well.
Step 10. Add this new chocolate mix to the flour and stir. Once it's almost completely mixed together, add the walnuts, chocolate chips, and water. The batter should be sticky.
Step 11. Put the batter into your prepared pan. If you want the top to be smooth, dip a spoon in water and smooth it out.
Step 12. Put it in the oven and set the time for 17 minutes. Here comes the tricky part. Check it at 17 minutes by sticking a toothpick or something similar in the middle. If it isn't done, put it back in the oven, and keep checking it every 3 minutes. Remember, the keyword is moist crumbs. Once you see moist crumbs sticking to a clean toothpick poked in the center, take it out and set it somewhere to cool.
If you did everything right, your kitchen should smell like brownies! If it doesn't, something might have went wrong.
Now, if you find after the brownie is cooled that it's less cooked than you like it, an easy trick is to microwave individual pieces in the microwave, before you serve them, until they are more cooked. It works surprisingly well.
Step 5: Putting It Together
We have five elements to put together, the brownie, the ice cream, the toffee, and both sauces. I recommend using some classic mint to add some colour. Always always always remember, people eat with their eyes first. If you take the time to really make your dessert look good, it will be extra special and it will look as if you spent a lot of time on it.
When serving desserts to people, you may think it to be interesting to plate each dessert differently, but you must not do this. This is a bad practice, you want everyone to have the same experience with what you made, not have people envy how another's plating looks. Strive to make each plate and portion exactly the same, unless someone specifies that they want something excluded or a smaller portion.
I have provided you with two possible ways to arrange everything you've made. The possibilities are really endless, though, so feel free to use my examples as inspiration for your own dessert. Try to use nice plates, for example, long white rectangle plates always make desserts look nice.
For both examples, put your brownie in the microwave for 20 seconds to warm it up. In the first plating example, follow pictures 2-7. For the sauces, put a spoonful onto the plate, and drag the sauce with the back of a spoon. If you want to follow the second example follow pictures 8-13. You will need to warm up a small bowl of the dulce de leche to make it runny. If it won't become runny, you can mix in a little bit of water or milk. Take some of the warm dulce de leche in a small spoon and move the spoon back and forth as you pour it over top of your dessert to drizzle the dessert as in picture 12.
Before plating, make some coffee or tea, and enjoy it with your dessert. This dessert really is bliss on a plate. I'll admit, I ate one of the example plates right after I finished taking pictures of it!
I hope you enjoyed making this, or even just reading this.
Step 6: References
Bilow, Rochelle. "How to Make Ice Cream Without a Machine (Hooray!)". Bon Appetit. Bon Appetit, 20 July 2015. Web. 11 January 2016.
Brown, Alton. "Vanilla Ice Cream". Food Network. Food Network, 2005. Web. 26 January 2016.
Murrin, Orlando. "Best-Ever Brownies". BBC goodfood. BBC, May 2003. Web. 11 January 2016.
Ogrodneck, Joseph, Walker Stern, and Andrew Friedman. Battersby. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2015. Print.
Ottolenghi, Yotam, and Sami Tamimi. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. London: Random House, 2013. Print.
Worley, Sam. "The Secret to Better Brownies: You Must Whip It". Epicurious. Epicurious, 20 March 2015. Web. 8 January 2016.