Thursday, February 23, 2012

BROWNIE PECAN CUPCAKES WITH SALTED BUTTER

SALTY AND SWEET


When I was about eight or ten years old, my father bought an ice cream maker. Revelation! You see, we were an ice cream family: our freezer was always well stocked with gallon containers of everyone’s favorites, an array of flavors to suit each one of us, chocolate, coffee, Neapolitan (I would only eat the chocolate and vanilla stripes, leaving the strawberry for my brother) and Checkerboard. Out would come the tub of whipped topping, the jars of chocolate and berry sauces, the bottles of colored sprinkles and we’d go to town. The sky was the limit: as our parents were each as ice cream nutty as we kids were, there were no rules as to when or how much; ice cream, for all intents and purposes, was in our blood.

Ice cream sandwiches and ice cream on a stick were choice after-school snacks and how many times a week would dad pile us all in the car for a trip to Dairy Queen for a cone or a cup? The familiar tinkling music of the beloved ice cream truck every summer afternoon had an almost spontaneous effect and we would drop whatever we were up to and dash out into the street, coins clutched in expectant, eager hands. Maybe the Florida sunshine and heat created this yearning, this overwhelming need for ice cream, but I don’t think so. My grandmother up in her northern home, half the year under snow, practically lived on ice cream, even more so as she entered her 70’s and 80’s, a habit (or a diet) her daughter, my mother, has quickly taken on as well. So snow and ice or searing heat and beaches makes no difference where our family is concerned, ice cream is simply our way of life, one of our basic food groups.


So when dad brought home that old-fashioned hand-crank ice cream machine we were ecstatic! It was adoration at first sight, love at first bite. I have only vague memories of us sitting on the driveway in front of the house, churning ice cream. I don’t remember much about the ice cream itself; there may have been vanilla and peach, possibly strawberry. But I do remember the chocolate ice cream that came out of that maker. The flavor haunts me to this day, and, like a Pavlovian reflex, just pulling up the memory makes my mouth water. Maybe it was the rock salt that we had to pack around the central canister, but the chocolate ice cream, light and icy, had a salty undertone that I simply loved! I had always been a kid intrigued by unusual flavors and flavor combinations, eating peanut butter and salami sandwiches, for example, so the hint of salt in the chocolate ice cream was the best thing that I’d ever tasted!

So, well before the trend of salt and chocolate, I was into it. The clashing sensation amazed me and still does to this day. Sweet and savory is my favorite way to go with meat dishes, but in a dessert it is utterly delectable and astounding. I find it rather intellectual, the unexpected discord, which somehow goes so perfectly together, creating a balance of salty and sweet that makes the tastebuds tingle and the palate come alive. Think chocolate-covered pretzels and potato chips…


My son is now home, as you well know, and he hovers around me asking for baked goods, snacks to feed his sweet tooth and man-sized appetite, yet he always demands, nay, requires, the same things over and over again. At the top of the list are brownies, simple, cakey rather than dense, fluffy rather than gooey, chocolate and plain with only a handful or two of chopped pecans to alleviate the usual, adding just a bit of earthy crunch to an otherwise, well, plain chocolate cake. I succeeded in sneaking in a splash or three of Cointreau on top of the orange-infused baking chocolate in the last batch and the occasional addition of Amaretto doesn’t illicit so much as a raised eyebrow, so this time I thought that I would be safe in using a large quantity of salted butter to add that subtle salty undertone. The salty flavor is subtle indeed, barely perceptible, rather leaving a beautiful, indescribable lingering bouquet in the mouth, begging for more. This is the ideal recipe for those craving a brownie or two yet want something cakier to assuage the brownie hankering without the guilt – my men gobble them up for breakfast. Soon, I’ll post a more adult version of this one, the dense, gooey, decadent brownie bite, but for now I leave you with a lighter, more delicate cupcake version of the brownie.


LIGHT & FLUFFY BROWNIE CUPCAKES
From Brownies by Linda Burum with a salty twist

Makes 48 mini cupcakes

3.5 ounces (100 g) semisweet chocolate
0.7 ounces (20 g) unsweetened chocolate *
16 Tbs (1 cup/225 g) salted butter, softened
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups (266 g) sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup (140 g) flour
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

* You can use a total of 4 ounces (120 g) semisweet chocolate if you prefer

Slowly melt the butter and chopped chocolate together in a bain marie or in a heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, stirring to keep it from burning. Remove from the heat when the chocolate is almost but not quite completely melted; continue stirring until completely melted and smooth. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line 48 mini muffin/cupcake molds with paper cups (mine measure just under 2 inches/5 cm at the wide open end).

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until combined and smooth. Whisk in the melted chocolate and butter until very smooth. Stir in the flour and then the chopped nuts, fold and mixing until well blended and smooth.

If you like your brownies or chocolate cupcakes saltier, simply add pinches of fleur de sel or table salt to taste.

Using a spoon, carefully drop tablespoons of the batter in each paper cup, filling each about ¾ the way up. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until puffed up and just set in the center. Remove the muffin trays to a cooling rack and carefully pop each muffin out of the mold. Allow to cool on cooling racks.


You can top these bites with a dollop of your favorite buttercream frosting, ganache or freshly whipped, barely sweetened cream. Or eat just as they are with a mug of coffee or a tall glass of cold milk.

30 comments:

Jeanne said...

Cupcake brownies? Is there a term for that, like muffcakes? Cupnies?! ;o)

Whatever the name, they sound divine - and yes, I have always had a thing for the sweet/salty combo too - as a kid I used to year Marmite and apricot jam sandwiches. Fact!

Jamie said...

@Jeanne: Muffcakes? Cupnies? Why do those both sound slightly vulgar ha ha. I guess your marmite and apricot jam is my peanut butter, grape jelly and salami :-)

Fabulicious Food said...

Oh my, these look gorgeous. I am not entirely sure that Jeanne's suggestion of "muffcakes" will take off!! Love sweet/salty!

Javelin Warrior said...

You're completely right about the salt - with the right pairings, salt really does make all the difference in a delicious dessert, from ice cream to brownies. I have found that simply adding salt doesn't always result in happy endings. Especially in desserts. ::eh-hem:: But these brownie cupcakes look delicious, especially with the whipped cream tops...

A Thought For Food said...

What am I going to do with these?!?! I want to jump into the computer right now and gobble these up!

Maria said...

Love the salty and sweet combo!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Oh, those atre definitely for me! I love cupcakes and brownies. So cute!

Unlike you, I've never been a big ice cream fan even if I enjoy this treat... Maybe it has to do with the fact that I was not brought up in an ice cream-friendly environment.

Cheers,

Rosa

thelittleloaf said...

I'm not normally a big cupcake fan, but a brownie cupcake? Now you're talking!

Your ice cream memories made me laugh - I was exactly the same, I always tried to trade the strawberry stripe with my brother for more chocolate!

Lisa said...

Why not salted butter? We go nuts for salted everything nowadays, from caramel to chocolate. The amount couldn't possibly ruin a recipe if you lower any additional salt. I love that you used it in these luscious brownie pecan cupcakes! Sinful, but in such a good way..and not one oreo in the middle ;)

Lora said...

I love the salt and chocolate pairing as well. I want to eat one (ok more than one) of these lovely cupcakes now.

Sara {OneTribeGourmet} said...

Jamie, I want one of these..no three of these cupcakes right now! love the sweet & salty combo!

shaz said...

Cupcake brownies? Oh my! They are so cute. I've only recently gotten into the whole ice-cream thing, thanks to my ice-cream machine. So many amazing flavour possibilities :)

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

I so relate to your stories about ice cream Jamie. I have to think that it must have been an affordable treat. I recall my dad would gather all of us kids to walk to the local dairy (Bergens; it could be gone but will never be forgotten) for nickel scoops of ice cream. If we had been especially good we might even get two scoops.

To this day, no matter it's hardly available, I still think fondly of Butter Brickle ice cream, my favorite!

I always wondered who liked cakey brownies...your boy can have all of my flour OK? I like them just barely held together, the gooier the better!

Jamie said...

@Barbara Creative Culinary: Indeed, Simon hates the gooey, dense brownies and insists on "fluffy" cake ones so more for him! I have to say that my men like these as breakfast food, like muffins. But I'll be making your kind soon. Already at the top of the list :-)

Deeba PAB said...

Cook sistah cracks me up...thanks to her I forgot what I was going to say!! I love all your salted butter caramel posts...something in the sweet-salty is charming. Yay twin sistah, I think I love this idea of brownie cupnies, no muffcakes ....lol! HUGS!!

Jamie said...

@Deeba PAB: LOL! I know and the fact that Jeanne commented first really ruined it for the rest of you! Keep up! Muffcakes oy :-)

Aidan said...

I think I like cupcake brownies best. And the salted butter is what mDe me click tonight. I love salty and sweet. Popcorn bucket with m&ms thrown in. Yum!
Thanks Jamie.
Aidan

Eggs on the Roof said...

I love the thought of you churning your own ice-cream as a child and what a wonderful sounding Dad! My salt/sweet experiment when I was little featured cheese and tinned pineapple on toast. Another inspiring and touching post - full of memories and fun.

Love and other Spices said...

I use few pinches of salt in most of my dessert bakes as it brings out the sweetness.
Now cupcake brownies ? that's something my kids will love too.

Katrina {In Katrina's Kitchen} said...

Oh salt! What would we do without it?! These are a treat my dear!

Priscilla said...

What a lucky kid to grow up with a freezer full of ice cream! I love salty/sweet combinations and add the crunch of pecans - heavenly!

Jill Colonna said...

Recently addicted to the salty sweet tastes and this is crying out for a taste, Jamie. No wonder your son is craving your baked goodies back home!

Anna @ the shady pine said...

These sound lovely....love that sweet and salty combo!

educatedpalate said...

I've always loved the combo of sweet and savory. I'm impressed that you were left alone long enough to get your wonderful photos. In my house they would be gone in an instant!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I'm sure I would love these (maybe too much?), and I'd definitely add a bit of fleur de sel into the batter. I'm somewhat new to the salt-chocolate combo, and I can't believe how much better chocolate tastes with just a hint of salt added in. Now I must hide this wonderful recipe from myself (even though I'm saving it), to bring out for one of those times when I deserve a treat!

Nuts about food said...

I am more of a dense, chewy kind of brownie person but cannot resist the combination of chocolate, pecanse and salted butter.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful ... wonderful work, congratulations!
I love your blog, I will visit more often!
kisses! (Brazil)

Also visit the Sweet Kitchen.

Mairi @ Toast said...

Delicious...I am with you on the salty & sweet...as a child I loves salt & vinegar crisps with some chocolate on the side! And just this week the most delicious salted, chocolate covered caramels....heaven!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Your brownie cupcakes sound great and I can't wait for the adult version.

Terra said...

Oh they do look fluffy, and way too delicious! I love that plate, so fun:-) AND I told my hubby I need one of those sugar shakers, makes the picture so fun!!! Sending love your way:-) Hugs, Terra

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