Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jaggery Brownies

Rich, chocolatey brownies...and eventually we're going to get to them.

A little while ago, Christa mentioned that she had a particular craving for some baked goods...not bread, though, something more along the lines of a pastry.  As I try my best to oblige her, the very next week I had baked some personal venison pies.
Swing and a miss...

This, apparently, was not what she had in mind. She wanted something like a cookie, or a cake, or maybe even a sweet puff pastry, but not a savory meat pie.  OK, back to the drawing board.  I will admit that I'm not much of a dessert aficionado.  I like chocolate, and I do like ice cream on occasion, but I don't really like cake or sweet pastry (with the rare exception of some pies) or cookies or brownies.

Then, inspiration came in the form of a one pound block of very fine unsweetened chocolate from my good friend, Tricia.  She's a fine artist with her own webpage that I recommend you check out while you're here.  Go ahead; I'll be here when you're done.  She needs to update it, right?

Anyway, she picked up a luscious block of rich dark goodness while she was at the store recently, and was kind enough to gift it to me on my return from a recent vacation weekend.  She's cool like that.  I decided that this was a good opportunity to try making brownies.  I was going to kill four birds with one stone:  make a baked dessert for my love without any questionable ingredients, try out the chocolate, test out the jaggery that I had recently received from Pure Indian Foods,  and attempt making brownies from scratch (something that I have never been inclined to do in the past).

I found the simplest recipe for brownies that I could which utilized real chocolate and also roughly conformed to the types of food that I prefer to prepare (no vegetable fats, etc...).  I came across this recipe and decided to run with it.  It's mostly just chocolate, butter, eggs, a minute amount of flour, sugar, and salt.  I would replace the sugar with jaggery as I try to avoid refined sugars in anything that I make.  There's a certain level of compromise inherent between the culinary preferences of Christa and myself, and sweeteners is one place where I need to get creative on occasion.  My baby does love to have her sweet tooth satisfied, whereas I could easily not keep anything sweet in the house.  Maple syrup, raw honey, dates, and (hopefully) jaggery help me to bridge the gap between satisfying her desires and providing food that I can feel good about.  This is supposed to be a dessert, anyway.

Finally, we can get on to the brownies themselves.  No, actually we need to take a look at the jaggery.  It's unlike anything that I have used before in baking.  Baking sometimes give me grief, as unlike cooking in general, baking often requires a certain level of exactness in the ratio of ingredients in order to succeed.  I was chartering new territory with a recipe that I had never tested on a dish I had never made and was already planning to substitute one of the main ingredients with something that I had only recently heard of.  Great plan.  Here's the jaggery:
 It came vacuum sealed in a plastic bag, which was a fine way to ship it.  I cut open the bag to get a closer look.

The smell was sweet and rich with molasses.  It was a little bit sticky, and not at all inclined to come out of the pouch, so I set about dumping/scraping it out with a spoon onto a plate.
The website for the product shows that jaggery as a firm block that can be grated by hand and used like a very coarse granulated sugar.  This was not a firm block.  Some of it was firmer and drier than other parts, and the moisture content obviously varied throughout the jaggery.  My kitchen was no warmer than 65F, so I don't feel like that should have been an issue regarding the consistency.
I decided to treat it more like a really moist brown sugar, and rather than attempt to grate it or use it in a 1:1 ratio of replacement for the cup of white sugar that the original recipe called for, that I would loosely pack it into a measuring cup and cut the amount down to 3/4 of a cup.
Here's my little lump of jaggery.  Sugar puck.

The jaggery is very sweet and also extremely rich, so I didn't want it to overpower the chocolate.  I just decided to go with my intuition, which was somehow at odds with my inner baking voice (IT NEEDS TO BE EXACT!  DON'T MESS WITH THE INGREDIENT RATIOS!).  I was now the Christopher Columbus of brownies; charting unknown waters of dessert baking that had actually been charted by thousands of people before me.

Now that that ordeal was over, I preheated to oven to 325 and started baking.  First thing first was to butter and then flour a 8x8" baking dish.  I wanted it to be ready when I needed it, and not the other way around.
rubbed with plenty of butter, and whatever flour sticks

The next two ingredients are something that I know a thing or six about.  I shaved two ounces of chocolate and combined them with a full stick of pastured butter.
Oh yes.
 These I melted in a saucepan over very low heat, taking care not to actually cook them.  Once melted I removed the saucepan from the heat.

 I then combined the jaggery and two pastured chicken eggs in a glass bowl and whisked them together as best as I could.  The jaggery resisted the eggs, but ultimately its resistance was futile (sorry, I had to).
still a little bit chunky, but mostly combined
  To the sugar and eggs I added some vanilla.  Real vanilla, please.  A little bit goes a long way, so there's really no need to go for an artificially vanilla-flavored product.  You'll be letting yourself down, you'll be letting me down, and you should probably feel bad about both of those things.
the good stuff
I tempered the egg/sugar/vanilla mixture by adding a little bit of the hot butter/chocolate and stirring thoroughly.  This step will prevent the formation of chocolaty scrambled eggs.

I then poured the tempered mixture into the saucepan with the remaining chocolate and butter.
To this, I added 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 teaspoon of fine dry sea salt.
Whisk the hell out of that to combine until everything is really smooth....
...and then pour the batter into the baking dish.
Place the dish into the hot oven for 40 minutes, and then let cool completely.  The bubbles are indicative of the fact that it is indeed cooked.  You won't be able to use a toothpick test on these as they are very fudgy (as opposed to cake-like brownies, which I really don't like as a function of not liking cake).  
One they are cool, all you have to do is slice them, stack them, and then take unrealistically presented photographs of brownies stacked on your kitchen table.  So fancy!

  Oh, wait, actually there's the big blob of sticky jaggery that you must figure out how to contain (I put it into a ziploc freezer bag and stuck it on the shelf until next time) and a sink that is now filled with dirty dishes because you made brownies from scratch instead of opening a packet.
It's cool, I got this.
The verdict?  They seem to be pretty good.  I tried a couple of them, and Trish gave her seal of approval in the gym today.  The jaggery increases the depth of flavor, and the amount that I used definitely produced a sweet brownie but it was not cloyingly so.  The real test will be when Christa tries them out this week, as she has been very busy this weekend away obtaining her AASI instructor certification.  I'm very proud of her for that, so I want to have something baked for her when she returns...and not a meat pie.

Jaggery Brownies

  • 3/4 cup jaggery
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 ounces of butter
  • 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt (fine dry)
  1. Melt chocolate and butter in saucepan that is large enough for all ingredients.  Remove from heat.
  2. Combine eggs, jaggery, and vanilla.  Temper and then incorporate into the chocolate and butter pan.  Whisk in the flour and salt.  Stir thoroughly to combine all ingredients.
  3. Pour into a buttered and floured 8" x 8" baking dish and bake at 325F for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving.
  4. Wash all of those dishes.  

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