Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Brandywine Campfire Brownies

We had an unusually cool summer here in Ohio this year, with many of the days more like early fall than dog-days heat.  I am not complaining about this in any way.  I don't do "hot" and I really wilt in humidity.  When the temps are mild like this, I find myself daydreaming of campfires and wine.  Chocolate and s'mores.  Going to bed and waking up with smoky hair and refreshed spirit.
I've been trying to make a dessert out of this feeling for many months now.  I've been talking about it to my hubby for over a year.  As I have mentioned before I've been inspired to return to my kitchen by a sweet friend of mine and so I quit talking about it and started the experiment, in order to prove that I've still. got. it.
The result I put before you is my spin on a s'more, er, or a brownie.  S'mownie?  No.  It's elevated.  Come on up with me!
First I needed to see if these two could play together.

Cocoa, meet Applewood.
That's right.  We're going to infuse cocoa powder with apple wood smoke.  This little trick works on a lot of different base ingredients as I learned in my experiments.  More on those possibilities at the end of this post.
You don't need to do this for a good brownie. But I bet if you want to raise a brownie to a place where you could make all your friends say, "OMG what is IN THIS?" while their eyes widen, you should try it.  My instructions will not overpower your brownie with bacon-like heaviness in the smoky department, but rather heighten and enhance the chocolate and berry flavor to a new level.  Think of it as subliminal smoke.  You can intensify the level of smoke in a few ways which I'll share with you later.  For now, let's get to square one.  I'd like to thank my friend Chef Shawn Guffey, graduate of Johnson & Wales University, for helping me discover this simple-anyone-can-do-it method for cold smoking ingredients.
We did this outside at the grill to keep our smoke alarms from going off, but if you have a fab vent hood over your stove and want to tempt fate, go ahead and do it inside.  (no no no don't!)
Soak a portion of apple wood chips in a bowl  of warm water for about 30 minutes.  I used about a cup or so of chips. 
While soaking, assemble your tools: 
  • a stainless still bowl, a stainless steel strainer that fits well on the bowl with room below for the chips (they can't touch, only flirt)
  • a layer of coarse cheesecloth doubled to fit inside the strainer,
  • a small cast iron skillet,
  • aluminum foil doubled and ready to cover the strainer
  • the recipe's required amount of cocoa powder plus a tablespoon to account for the amount that may stick to the cheesecloth
While the grill  or grill burner heats up, spoon the cocoa into the cheesecloth lined strainer.  Make the layer as even as possible, and let the cocoa climb up the sides of the strainer.  The more surface area the smoke has to grab onto the more flavor you will have. 


Have this set up and standing by, as once we achieve smoke, we'll move fast.
Heat up the skillet and add the chips.  We started ours on the gas burner beside the grill and spread the chips around the hottest parts of the skillet.

    Why wet the chips if we are just going to blaze 'em up?  Well, soaking is going to help us create even heat as the chips dry out, and water is a great conductor of heat.  Each chip will be able to evenly heat, with out a hot spot here and a cold spot there.  Soaking also rinses away some impurities and dust you just don't need.  Heat these up for a while (time depends on your heat source) and you'll see they steam, then dry out and hiss a bit.  Then they'll be very dry and it won't take much to catch them alight.

    Dry Chips, Wisps of Smoke
    Now, you may need to help your chips with a match or lighter to get the flames.  Just get one chip to catch and they will all obediently follow.   Be ready for phase two with that stainless steel bowl and your prepped cocoa hammock.  At this stage we just moved the pan to the grill which was not heated, but safer than lighting chips over a gas burner...

Once all the chips are ablaze, extinguish them quickly and make sure you're smokin'!

    OK, I think we're ready!

    Glowing Embers Await Their Date
    Quickly put the strainer above the bowl, making sure the chips are below the strainer and there is air space between them.  IMMEDIATELY cap with the double layer of foil and tightly seal around.  If you see smoke escaping from your tub of smoky love, tighten it further.
    Cue Barry White.
    OK now carefully take that hot bowl with a heat resistant pot holder below it into a quiet place in the refrigerator.  We'll skip the science of how this works but the cold is going to help the smoke attach to that layer of cocoa.  Let this happiness go on for up to 8 hours. 
    When this step is done, proceed to the brownies recipe, using the cocoa as indicated below.
    Brandywine Brownies
    adapted from Cooking Light, September 2008 issue, Dark Chocolate Cherry Brownies
    3.4 ounces all-purpose flour
    1 cup sugar
    3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, smoked as indicated above
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup American Spoon Brandied Wild Blackberries* (strain seeds out if you prefer the smooth textured brownie without the little snap of seeds and chunkier fruit)
    1/3 cup water
    5 Tablespoons unsalted organic butter
    1 large egg, lightly beaten
    1 large egg white
    1/3 cup semisweet chocolate morsels or coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate
    *if you cannot access American Spoon Wild Blackberries, recipe follows for a quick homemade blackberry jam.  Make this a day ahead of the brownies.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper; coat with cooking spray.
  3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, level with a knife. Combine flour, 1 cup sugar, unsweetened smoked cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.  Combine brandied blackberries, 1/3 cup water, and butter in a small saucepan; bring to a boil.  Add preserves mixture to flour mixture stir well.  Add egg and egg white; stir until smooth.  Stir in semi-sweet chips.  Scrape batter into prepared pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-28  minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted comes out with a few moist crumbs.  Cool in pan on wire rack.  Garnish with vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche, fresh blackberries, and graham cracker cut into shape of your choosing with a sharp cookie cutter.
I am not paid to advertise, but the American Spoon company out of Michigan really got me hooked on their Brandied Wild Blackberries.  This is a luxury for me, and I would be happy to receive jars of this in my Christmas Stocking, Easter Basket, and any other giftable holiday. 

If you don't want to go the boozy route, try this simple recipe for a quick homemade jam.
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla (I use Mexican vanilla)
  1. Mash blackberries in a saucepan with a potato masher. Stir in sugar until juices form; place about 3/4 tablespoon blackberry juice in a small bowl and stir in cornstarch. Pour cornstarch mixture into saucepan.
  2. Bring berries to a boil, stirring often, until jam is thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in cinnamon, allspice and vanilla. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer jam to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until chilled. Stir in lemon juice.
Notes on cold-smoking recipe elements
In my experiments and chats with Chef Shawn, a lot of ingredients we use every day can be put to the cold-smoke test.  Rethink your favorite recipes from the  kitchen and consider if smoke might like to play along.
I smoked raw all-purpose flour and cornmeal using hickory chips before making cornbread.  It was delightfully forward and reminiscent of cornbread on a campfire. 
Some elements that have an affinity for smoke:  salt, ingredients with fat content like butter, nuts, and even the humble marshmallow.  
To really ramp up the brownies, try smoking the salt and flour along with the cocoa powder.  You can also repeat the smoking process, making a new batch of smoldering chips and setting the same strainer of cocoa above it to intensify.  Since you are using cold smoke, heat shouldn't change your ingredient that could prevent it from behaving in your recipe.  The heat of the cooking may reduce the smoky end-result, so trial and error is encouraged.