Hello From London,
This week, I’m writing to you from one of my favorite cities in the world. I love many things about London - the food, the people, the architecture, but I also love the spontaneous bursts of rain (something we simply don’t get enough of in L.A., and I wish we did). While this week is less sightseeing and more work, I’ve carved out some time for myself to relax. It’s also nice to get the chance to take a break from the construction work back home. No more drilling sounds for a few days! If you've got recommendations for places for me to see and eat, leave a note in the comment below; thank you!
Now I don’t care about Valentine’s Day that much, but I love that chocolate seems synonymous with it. As someone who can never remember when National or International Chocolate days are, February 14th and its connection to chocolate are deeply ingrained in my mind. Each year for Valentine's Day, I make something chocolate-themed, and this year was no different except I planned a week early. Before I went off on my trip to London, I made us a batch of hazelnut-loaded brownies.
Brownies are personal, and everyone has their own preferred flavors and textures.
These brownies contain cocoa and my favorite nut - hazelnuts/filberts because honestly, IMO that is the most irresistible combination. Serve me any chocolate and hazelnut concoction, and I will wipe the plate clean. It’s also one of my favorite combinations when I make Chocolate Chip Cookies, and if I could, I would eat them with a steaming cup of hazelnut-flavored cocoa (this might sound like a sensory overload, but I can’t help it, I love it).
I like my brownies with a thin crust on top that shatters easily and a soft, moist interior that is slightly fudgy yet cakey. Unfortunately, brownies are notorious for drying out once they cool. Luckily, there's a way to avoid this. I’ve used superfine baking or caster sugar; their smaller crystal size increases moisture absorption and retention. Consequently, the brownies don’t dry out as fast. Sugar loves water and acts as a hygroscopic agent by drawing water closer. Now you might think of using confectioner’s or powdered sugar because it has a much smaller particle size, but there’s a problem. Confectioner’s sugar is usually mixed with anticaking agents that block this water-loving property of sugar to help increase its shelf life. If used, the anticaking agents in the confectioner’s sugar will affect the brownie's texture and make it drier. You’re better off using the confectioner’s sugar to decorate the brownie by giving it a light dusting.
When baking with chocolate or cocoa, the baking temperatures are kept slightly lower, and it is better to bake the dessert in a lighter-colored pan than a darker one. Darker objects absorb heat much faster than lighter colored ones, and the dessert runs the risk of burning quickly. To avoid this, bake the cocoa and chocolate-based desserts at a lower temperature like 325F/165C and use either glass, white enamel coated, or light-colored baking dishes (I use aluminum pans for all my baking needs, they work efficiently). This will reduce the risk of burning and charring.
Now, these brownies aren't too sweet, they're like a sweet kiss of fragrant cocoa and hazelnuts that I want to wrap myself with. Cut into squares and enjoy every bite with joy.
Cocoa and Hazelnut Brownies
The Cook’s Tips
For the cooking oil spray, use a neutral oil like grapeseed or extra-virgin olive oil.
There are many options for hazelnut extract; this one from LorAnn is what I use.
Use superfine, aka caster sugar, for the brownies because the smaller crystal size will produce a moister brownie. The smaller the crystal size, the better the sugar absorbs moisture (no one wants a dry brownie).
Like most baked desserts, this one depends on ratios. The butter is browned, and it loses water; some of it needs to be added back, so I add some towards the end.
Makes one 8 inch/20cm square pan/16 pieces
¾ cup/70g blanched whole hazelnuts
Cooking oil spray
6 Tbsp/85g unsalted butter, cubed
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp hazelnut extract
1 ¼ cup/250g superfine/caster sugar
¾ cup/60g unsweetened cocoa
¼ tsp fine sea salt
2 cold large eggs
½ cup/70g all-purpose flour
2 to 4 Tbsp/30 to 60ml cold water
Preheat the oven to 325F/165C.
Spray an 8 inch/20cm square baking pan with a bit of cooking oil and line with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with the cooking oil.
Heat a medium stainless-steel skillet over medium-high heat, add the hazelnuts, and toast until they turn lightly golden brown and fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Swirl the pan occasionally to prevent the nuts from scorching. Transfer the nuts to a mortar and pestle, and gently crush them. If you prefer, chop them with a knife. Keep aside.
Melt the butter in a small stainless-steel saucepan over medium heat and cook until the milk solids separate and start to turn reddish-brown. The time will vary, so I’m not going to tell you how long it will take; color is a better indicator for this step. Once the milk solids change color, remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk to remove any solids stuck to the bottom. Transfer the browned butter with the milk solids to a medium mixing bowl.
Add and whisk in the olive oil, hazelnut extract, sugar, cocoa, and salt by hand until combined. Whisk in one egg at a time, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and 2 Tbsp of water, whisk to combine. If it is a little stiff, add the remaining 2 Tbsp of water. Whisk until there are no visible dry flecks of flour. Fold in the crushed toasted hazelnuts with a silicone spatula. Transfer to the prepared baking pan and level with an offset spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top develops a crust and begins to crack, and a skewer, when inserted through the center, comes out slightly moist with the batter.
Let the brownie cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove the brownie using the sides of the parchment paper, and transfer to a cutting board, cut into 16 squares. Store cooled brownies in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Have a lovely Valentine's Day!
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