Monday, February 6, 2012

A Taste of Home: Killer Brownies

In terms of food items, New York City considers bagels, black and white cookies, pizza, and cheesecake as its premier local delicacies. In Akron, Ohio, where I'm from, the biggest local delicacy could easily be West Point Market's Killer Brownie, two layers of brownie sandwiched with a thick layer of caramel and chocolate chips, and dusted with copious amounts of powdered sugar.

Back when I was in college, I used to work at the Market as a cashier, and would have to keep myself from heading back to the bakery counter. West Point Market, a gem of a specialty foods store, is known for their Original Killer Brownies, a brownie so rich, so sweet, and so gooey it will put you into delightful sugar coma. When I worked there, and for many years later, I remember hearing how guarded the Market was over their brownie recipe. One rumor I remember hearing was that the bakery counter employees had to sign a confidentiality agreement to prevent them from sharing the secrets of the Killer Brownie.

Several years ago, my grandparents (who both worked at the market part-time after they retired, with my amazing 84 year-old grandfather recently retiring a second time after working in the market's kitchen) bought me the West Point Market Cookbook for Christmas. I happened to be looking through my cookbooks the other day, and stopped to flip through the book. Imagine my surprise in seeing that the top-secret Killer Brownie recipe was included in the book! Of course, I had to try the recipe.

The biggest surprise in the recipe is that it is made from a cake mix. But don't let that fool you into thinking this recipe is as easy as a piece of cake. It's a serious time investment. In an introduction to the recipe, Russ Vernon, the former president and CEO of the market, wrote that the store uses only specific brands of ingredients, although none are listed with the recipe. Some secrets, he stated, had to be preserved.

I decided to use German chocolate cake mix because the chocolate used is a bit sweeter, and these brownies are meant to be sweet. For the chocolate chips, I went with the high-quality Belgian brand, Callebaut. The nuts and caramel topping came from Trader Joe's.

After I already began mixing the brownie batter, I realized I didn't have any condensed milk, as called for in the recipe. My family will note the irony of this, as it seems one of us is always forgetting the condensed milk. One year on Thanksgiving morning, my husband and my mom were sent on a mission to find condensed milk, as my dad and I realized we didn't have any half-way into our pumpkin pie baking. They ended up finding a not-expired can at BAHO, the lone gas station/convenience store open down the street. It has since become a running family joke. And now, there I was, with no condensed milk and no desire to run to the store to get any. I decided to substitute the milk with cream and a little water. It seemed to work fine.

Half of the brownie batter goes into a 9x9 pan to bake (in my case an 8x8 pan, as I don't have a 9x9 pan).

The batter wasn't as dark as brownie batter usually is. Perhaps that's because of the cream. The pan bakes for 25 minutes or so.

Once baked, the pan has to cool until room temperature. Then, you add the caramel topping followed by chocolate chips and stick the pan into the freezer until the carmel is hard. I kept the pan in the freezer for about an hour or so. I probably should have kept them in longer, but it was late, and I was impatient.

The remaining brownie batter goes on top, with a few more nuts, and you bake it for an additional 25 minutes.

Once cooled, you melt some of the remaining chocolate chips and drizzle on top of the brownies. The remaining caramel is heated and poured on top of the chocolate. Pop the pan into the refrigerator for at least an hour, so the chocolate and caramel can harden. Then, sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. The end result is a pan of really gooey and chocolaty brownies.

But are they as good as the ones from West Point Market? Not quite. If I were to make them again, I'd make sure to have condensed milk and I'd start making them earlier in the day, as they take a lot of time. I also think I'd use a different brand of caramel, as most of it seemed to bake right into the brownie instead of giving a nice middle layer of carmel and chocolate. Perhaps Smuckers, another Ohio brand, is what West Point uses. Overall, they were a sweet taste of home and a fun baking challenge.

The recipe is listed in the West Point Market Cookbook, a worthy book, which also features my dad's Award-Winning Salsa recipe. You can also view the brownie recipe here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Sweets

One of my favorite memories as a kid was the almost yearly Super Bowl party my parents had. Even though my hometown team, the Cleveland Browns, never made it to the big game (although they did have some close calls), there was always something exciting about watching the Super Bowl. My dad would invite his fantasy football league over and my brother and I would try and make decorations for the festivities (okay, I did and he begrudgingly helped). We contentedly watched the game in surround sound, eating my dad's famous meatball sandwiches.

Since moving to New York and marrying a huge baseball fan, it seems as if I've become a little less excited about football. But there is always still something exciting about watching the Super Bowl. Even if you don't care about the teams playing, the commercials are fun and there's usually a great half-time show (I'm really excited about Madonna's performance this year!).

This year, the Super Bowl is a bit more exciting because the New York Giants are playing the New England Patriots. Not only are the Giants my adopted hometown team, but they're playing their northern rivals. It's almost as good as the Yankees vs. the Red Sox.

We're heading down to my brother-in-law's house to watch the game and I thought some treats were in order. I decided to make some Ghirardelli chocolate brownies and cut them into the shape of a football.

I used the recipe found on the back of the Ghirardelli cocoa and added some Guittard chocolate chips for an extra chocolate kick.

Here's the recipe, from Ghirardelli:

Ghirardelli Award-Wining Brownies
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup butter (melted)
3/4 cup Ghriardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa
2/3 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1/4 t.sp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup walnuts (optional - I omitted)
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with butter and flour. Stir eggs, butter and vanilla together until well mixed. Add melted butter and mix well. In a separate bowl, sift together the cocoa, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the egg mixture. When well blended (but not over-beat), add nuts and/or chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes.

I decided to use a brownie pan I had that was 9x13, so I made a batch and a half. That seemed to fit the pan perfectly, without making the brownies too thick.

When done, set pan on top of a cooling rack and cool until room temperature. Then, use a football shaped cookie cutter (this can be done with any shaped cookie cutter), and cut out footballs.

The brownies hold their shape well, so there was little cracking of the tops or sides. I was able to get about 10 footballs cut out of the 9x13 pan, since the shape was a bit large.
I then, melted some white chocolate in a pastry bag and piped the laces on the footballs.
I think the kids (and the adults!) will enjoy them. Since it is Super Bowl Sunday, I also wanted to use up some cute cupcake liners and topers I picked up on clearance at Michael's awhile ago, thinking they would make cute treats for my husband's Young Men's Club. He'll be taking them the extras tomorrow!
These cupcakes are nothing fancy: Devil's Food cake mix and vanilla icing (from a container). The liners and toothpick toppers are cute though.

Hope you all have a great Super Bowl Sunday! Go Giants!
P.S. - And as for the Cleveland Browns, as my Dad says, "There's always next year!"