Chef Michael Smith’s Triple Chocolate Brownies: The Second Best Brownies Ever

Let’s get one thing out of the way: the best brownies ever are the Outrageous Brownies from Purebread (which started in Whistler but now has a few Vancouver locations, too). It doesn’t matter if you get the banana ones or the raspberry ones or the regular ones, they’re the best – plain and simple.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the recipe for them. However, I do have the recipe for the second best brownies: Michael Smith’s Triple Chocolate Brownies.

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I first tasted these brownies as at book club meeting back in the late winter or early spring. There is another member of my book club who is very passionate about baking – in addition to talking book plots and characters, we like to swap recipes and drool-worthy baking photos and tips. She brought these triple chocolate brownies and they were amazing. She said the Michael Smith recipe was her go-to, so I decided to look them up and give them a go myself.

They were just as good when I made them, so I dubbed them my favourite recipe, too. (Until I can get a hold of the Purebread recipe…)

As the name suggests, this recipe uses three different sources of chocolate: regular chocolate (like a bar), cocoa powder, and chocolate chips. The result: a tasty triple threat that is moist, fudgey, and overall fantastic.

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First, the chocolate. I discovered they sell Callebaut chocolate in blocks at Save on Foods in Squamish – hallelujah! Although Nesters has the best fancy baking stuff, Save on Foods has a better assortment (and a bulk section to die for) – they will be my new go to for baking goods. The recipe calls for 8 ounces of chocolate, which gets melted along with a cup of butter over a double boiler. Once everything is melted and mixed, the recipe says to whisk the whole thing to make it extra smooth. I’m not sure if this is really necessary, but better safe than sorry, right?

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Next up: the cocoa powder. The cocoa powder gets mixed with some flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Simple, right? Those are your dry ingredients.

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The chocolate chips come a little later – first, you have to mix 4 eggs with some brown sugar and a whopping tablespoon of vanilla. These wet ingredients then get combined with the melted butter/chocolate combo, which has had a chance to cool down. Then, the dry ingredients get incorporated, along with the chocolate chips (at last!)

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Hot tip: the Squamish Save on Foods also offers a few different types of chocolate chips in the bulk section, so you don’t have to buy a whole bag when you only need a cup, as is the case in this recipe.

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You’re supposed to bake the brownies in a 9 x 13 pan, but I opted to do two 8 x 8 pans instead. The directions say to oil the pans and dust them with flour, but I once learned a hot tip that involves using cocoa powder instead of flour for dusting pans used for brownies, chocolate cakes, and other chocolatey things, so that’s what I did.

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Though the recipe calls for 25 minutes or so in the oven, mine were for about 32 until I thought they looked sufficiently cooked through (without getting dried out – it’s a fine line).

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Here’s what I like about this recipe:

  • The ingredients are simple. Yes, it calls for 3 types of chocolate, but the rest of the ingredients are  things you probably already have in your kitchen.
  • You don’t need an electric mixer (yup, mine is still busted).
  • It’s a pretty straightforward recipe – then again, most brownie recipes are.
  • The brownies taste exquisite – I have to say, these brownies surpass the ones I’ve made from my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook and from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook.
  • Chef Michael Smith – I mean, how CAN’T you love the soft-spoken east coaster?!?!

Dorie’s Cookies’ Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies: Good – But Not the Best

I am sad to report that my KitchenAid stand mixer is still broken.

[Update: I am happy to report that I got a new one for Christmas 2018!!! However, I am sad to report that this post has no photos. I’m publishing it anyway.]

Depending on when I actually come around to publishing this post (which, let’s be honest, could be half a year after I write it at the pace I’m going) […yep], that means I have been several months without my trusty mixer. Considering how much I love to bake, that is a big deal.

But the good stand mixers aren’t cheap (I need the high quality ones to handle my bread baking needs!), and between general life expenses and preparing for a baby (who, weird to think, might be born by the time I post this) [… yep], a new mixer isn’t in the cards for the time being.

While that may have slowed my meringue and macaron production, it hasn’t stopped my baking altogether. I’ve just started looking for recipes that require little to no mixing – anything I can do by hand is fair game. After all, isn’t that what our grandmas did?

The Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies recipe from my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook didn’t seem to require too much mixing, and best yet, it reminded me of another recipe that I LOVE: the No-Bake Almond Butter Cup Bars from Minimalist Baker.

I can’t remember how I found that recipe but it is definitely is not my usual way of doing things. I almost NEVER use online recipes for baking (there is too much junk out there), and this is one of those “healthier” recipes that uses crunchier ingredients (think dates and maple syrup instead of regular white sugar, and a ganache made with coconut milk and coconut oil). However, it is super easy to make (hence the no bake) and easily accommodates the gluten-free folks in my life, so I have made it quite a few times and I LOVE it. It packs SUCH a punch. (Note that I use peanut butter instead of almond butter – and I make my own).

I figured that the Dorie’s Cookies recipe would be at least as good as the Minimalist Baker one – if not better, because it uses more decadent ingredients. As it turns out – I actually didn’t like it quite as much. It seemed a little less flavourful than the Minimalist Baker one – each layer was a little more subdued. But it was still a very delicious recipe (I mean, peanut butter + chocolate = how can you go wrong), so it’s worth discussing anyways.

This recipe has three components:

  1. The brownies
  2. The peanut butter frosting
  3. The chocolate glaze

The Brownies

First up, the brownie base. It all starts with a little saucepan action, where you mix butter and melted chocolate over a low heat til it slowly becomes melty and delicious. Off the heat, you whisk in white sugar, vanilla, and salt by hand – no stand mixer needed (woohoo!).

Next, four eggs get added to the mix one at a time. Again, whisking by hand is the way to do it. This recipe advises to use cold eggs, which is noteworthy because I feel like room temperature eggs is the usual baking norm – cold is fine by me because half the time I forget to take the eggs out of the fridge anyways.

Once the eggs are mixed in, you gently fold in some flour with a spatula. You know what you can’t use to gently fold in flour? That’s right – a stand mixer! The final step – and, in my opinion, a very important one – is to fold in some chopped peanuts. I know not everyone loves nuts in their brownies, but I think the texture it adds is well worth it. Plus, the peanuts tie in nicely with the peanut butter frosting. Don’t skip this step.

So making the brownies is pretty easy and straightforward. The batter gets baked for about half an hour at 325 degrees. Don’t even think about adding the frosting before the brownies cool, or else it’ll turn into a melty, soaked up mess – delicious, surely, but not as pretty.

The Peanut Butter Frosting

The peanut butter frosting is what elevates this dessert from regular old brownies to something a little more special. Now, this section of the recipe begins with, “Working in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment” – discouraging! – BUT it then says “or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer” – better!

You know what’s even better than a hand mixer? A HAND! I used my brute strength and a mix of a whisk and a flexible spatula to “beat” a mixture of peanut butter (homemade) and room temperature butter, When it looked incorporated and smooth (probably not as pro as a stand mixer, but hey – I got a bicep workout), I mixed in icing sugar, a wee bit of sea salt, some nutmeg (which I’m not sure I would add in again – I didn’t love this flavour in the frosting), some milk, and some vanilla. Boom – icing complete.

If your brownies are fully cooled (no cheating!), it is now time to spread the peanut buttery frosting over the brownies.

I think that the frosting layer is the “weak” point of this recipe compared to the Minimalist Baker one. This layer of the MB recipe almond butter (peanut, in my case), a bit of maple syrup, and a bit of sea salt. It is ultra flavourful and nutty and delicious, whereas this frosting almost gets diluted by the icing sugar and butter.

The Chocolate Glaze

Because we can all agree that all baked goods are made better when coated in a layer of glossy chocolate, the final step to this recipe is adding a delicious layer of decadent chocolatey goodness.

The glaze is easy to prepare: butter + chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, similar to the first step in making the brownies. The whole thing gets poured and spread over the frosted brownies, then you have to let it sit in the fridge for a tantalizing hour and half before you can dig in.

The Verdict

I pretty much made these brownies for no real good reason – it wasn’t anyone’s birthday or anything, I just wanted to have something on hand for when I needed to satisfy my sweet tooth. I cut them into small squares and wrapped most of them in tin foil, then put them in a plastic bag and froze them. This made it easy to pop them into lunches or the like.

I actually enjoyed them more out of the freezer (and thawed) than fresh out of the oven – I think it gave the flavours a chance to settle in more or something.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed overall at these brownies because I couldn’t help but compare them to my beloved Minimalist Baker recipe. However, those who tried them who HADN’T had the MB recipe seemed to really enjoy them. They certainly weren’t a bust or anything, I just don’t know that I will be quick to make them again.

Dorie’s Cookies’ Chocolate and Walnuts Bars – the Not Brownies

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A little while ago, I made a brownie-with-walnuts recipe from the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook, which was very delicious. However, here’s something intriguing I noticed: another recipe in the same chapter was for something called “chocolate and walnut bars”.

Chocolate brownies with walnuts. Chocolate and walnut bars. How different could they be?!

The only way to resolve this kind of riddle, of course, is to bake both and experience each recipe firsthand. So, with the brownies already ticked off my list, it was time to tackle the rather un-inspiringly named Chocolate and Walnuts Bars.

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There are three things to know about this recipe. One: it calls for a lot of chocolate – 12 ounces total, between the cake and the glaze. Two: it calls for a lot of eggs – 8 total. For one recipe. Three: it calls for a lot of dishes.

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Not discussed: the many dishes used in the mise en place.

First dish: the heatproof bowl in which you melt some of the chocolate.

Second dish: a small bowl in which you place some chopped (but not melted chocolate) and some chopped (… but not melted…) walnuts. These two ingredients get mixed together. Chocolate and walnuts for the Chocolate and Walnut bars – makes sense, right?

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Third dish: the food processor bowl (a.k.a. my least favourite dish for cleaning purposes) in which you process some of the walnuts alongside some flour. Then, after dumping out the walnut-flour (fourth dish), the butter gets pulsed with some sugar, salt, and eight whopping egg yolks (one by one).

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Third dish continued: the food processor bowl in which you combine all the components (so far): the melted chocolate, the walnut-flour, and the eggy butter sugar (already in third dish – are you keeping track here?).

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Fifth dish: a stand mixer bowl in which you whip up egg whites – eight of them (you guess it!) – into a foamy opaque cloud of goodness, which turns into a stiff, glossy mixture after adding some sugar. [Note: okay, busted – this post is from FEBRUARY, back when my mixer worked. #rip]

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The whites are then added to the rest of the ingredients (see: third dish) in two ways. First, you plain old mix a quarter of the whites into the chocolate and stuff – then the rest of the whites get folded in properly. We’re chasing after a light and fluffy texture here, folks.

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Now, it’s baking time: the cake gets baked for 25 to 28 minutes (I think mine was more like 30 – I used the toothpick test to make sure it was fully cooked). Then, it’s time for…

Sixth dish: You didn’t think we were done with dishes, did you? Dish number six is a saucepan, in which cream, sugar, and water comes to a boil to make the base of a delicious topping.

Seventh dish: Almost there now, folks. Dish number seven is another heatproof bowl in which chocolate is placed, then the boiled cream-sugar-water is added while it is still hot. The heat melts the chocolate into a glorious, shiny, decadent glaze. Pouring this over the cakey part is incredibly satisfying.

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And that’s how you make Chocolate and Walnut Bars. Now, it’s time to discuss how Chocolate and Walnuts Bars differ from walnut brownies:

  1. Colour: the C&W bars are much lighter in colour than the rich, fudgy brownies.
  2. Texture: while the brownies are very dense, the C&W bars benefit from the folding of the eggs whites. Dense is the opposite of what these are: think fluffy and airy like a delicious cake.
  3. Chocolately bits: The addition of the un-melted chocolate chunks (see second dish) is DELIGHTFUL. It’s like bonus chocolate chips in an already wonderfully chocolatey dessert.
  4. The glaze: Oh, the glaze! While the brownies were a quick-and-easy icingless recipe, the C&W bars get a gorgeous glaze (at the expense of extra dishes). The glaze takes it to the next level – do not skip under any circumstances.

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Here are my final thoughts about the Chocolate and Walnut bars: these are not meant to be bars. This recipe is really meant to be a torte of sorts. It should be baked in a round dish, then served topped with delicious raspberries. I feel like Dorie had this amazing recipe and was like, “Hmm, how can I fit this into my latest book? I know – bake ’em in a square pan, cut ’em up, and call ’em a cookie.” Don’t get me wrong – it’s delicious – but it definitely feels like a cake in disguise.

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Dorie’s Cookies Classic Brownies – Far Better than a Convenience Store Treat

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I thought the brownie looked very small and lonely on a plate, so I put it on a coaster.

We live dangerously close to a convenience store. When the craving for something sweet hits, it can be awfully tempting to run over and get a candy or a chocolate bar.

When this happens, I often feel myself underwhelmed with the same old mediocre-tasting options – sometimes I just go back home because nothing is calling to me. When I do find something I like, most of the time the enjoyment is merely fleeting. Blaaaaah.

Here’s an alternative I prefer: something easy to whip up – preferably something deliciously decadent – that involves little to no grocery shopping and that takes long enough to make to build anticipation, but is fast enough to enjoy within the hour.

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The Classic Brownies recipe from the Dorie’s Cookies cookbook that I’ve been dipping into is the perfect recipe for this. While I wouldn’t say this is the best brownie I’ve ever had (that honour goes to any brownie from Purebread – all hail Purebread!), it certainly hits all the criteria I listed above.

You probably already have butter, sugar, eggs, salt, flour, and vanilla on hand in your pantry. If you do, you’re most of the way there. The only other two ingredients needed are chocolate (bittersweet or semi-sweet) and optional walnuts. We opted for the walnuts, and I’m glad we did. I don’t trust people who don’t enjoy nuts in their brownies. (Unless, of course, those nuts would kill them or something.)

I always like it when a recipe starts by telling me to preheat the oven – that means there won’t be much waiting around. So far, this recipe is off to a solid start, right?

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With the oven doing its thing, the next step is to melt the butter and chocolate over a double boiler, then once it’s just about finished, you take it off the heat and stir in the sugar. Then the eggs go in, followed by the salt and vanilla.

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The last step is the flour: unlike the previous ingredients, which get mixed in with no abandon, the flour needs to be gently folded in. The last items to get added to the batter are the delicious (and optional) walnuts.

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If you’re reading between the lines here, folks, you’ll realize that this recipe does NOT require a stand mixer (or an electric mixer of any sort). THIS is what a call the perfect quick recipe – minimal waiting, minimal dishes.

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Pre-baked…

Finally, the brownies get baked for 27 to 29 minutes – I put mine in for 29 and they were perfect. These brownies are dense and squat – they’re not the prettiest, to be frank, but I like that they’re firmly in the brownie category, not in the cake category.

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Post baked (droooooool)

Of course, the brownies are delicious while warm, but we managed not to devour the entire pan straight out of the oven. I can attest that they are indeed good after a few days if you take care to store them in a tupperware.

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While I appreciate these no-nonsense brownies for what they are, I am a little intrigued with some of the variations proposed for them:

  • Rum raisin (not so much)
  • Chopped-chocolate brownies (with chunks of chocolate inside – yes, yes, yes)
  • Ginger brownies (sounds weird but probably delicious)
  • Orange brownies (as an avid Terry’s Chocolate Orange fan, sign me up)
  • Cinnamon-mocha brownies (could be interesting)
  • Peppermint brownies (saving this for Christmas)

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Bobbette & Belle Brownies

Today in non-Squamish news: brownies.

Specifically, brownies from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook. (Bobbette & Belle is a pastry shop in Toronto. I’ve never been.)

I received the B&B cookbook from my parents this Christmas and for the past few weeks, I’ve been scoping out the recipes and trying to decide where to begin. The layer cakes look glorious, but I tend to shy away from making cakes because a) they’re hard to share (unless you’re serving to a crowd) and b) stacking cake layers is my baking weakness. One of them, anyways.

I’ve been on a bit of a cinnamon bun kick lately, so the Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread recipe has had a ribbon bookmark wedged in it since, oh, Christmas morning. There’s a flourless chocolate torte recipe that looks aces, as do the Fleur de Sel Caramels on page 192… but where to start?

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Brownies, that’s where. For no particular rhyme or reason other than brownies are delicious and this particular recipe is called “Death by Chocolate Brownies”. I can think of worse ways to go.

The story behind these brownies is that a customer inquired as to whether the bakery could make brownies that she could use as a wedding favour and this is the recipe they came up with. This sounds like a wedding I would have liked to attend.

On to the baking. First, the brownies:

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The brownies, pre-oven.

Health food, they are not (as evidenced by the three cups of packed brown sugar), but they’re relatively easy to bring together, with only 7 ingredients – most of which you probably already have on hand. The directions are straightforward, except for one: the baking time. The book calls for 45 minutes in the oven. I checked at 40 and the top was extremely wiggly, which is bake-speak for “nowhere close to being done”. Granted, the directions call for a 10 inch square baking pan, and I only have a 9 inch one, so I expected they’d take a little longer than anticipated. They ended up taking a lot longer than anticipated. I checked every 5 minutes or so and stopped counting after half an hour past the original 45 minutes. I ended up pulling them out still slightly underdone because I had things to do and didn’t want to be tied to the oven any longer.

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The brownies, post-oven

Now, the chocolate glaze:

The recipe calls for a chocolate glaze, which I believe is the difference between these being regular brownies and Death by Chocolate brownies.

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The glaze pre-cooling

The glaze isn’t too tricky to make (although I did have to buy some chocolate for it and really dig around in the back of my cupboards for some corn syrup), but my timing was a little off because I expected the brownies to be done way earlier than they were. As a result, the glaze got thick like icing. I put the metal bowl over a stove element on high and gave it a few quick mixes, and it softened up quickly.

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The glaze, post-cooling and reheating

Removing the brownies from the pan went relatively well, but the combination of slightly undercooking them and having poked them a dozen or so times to test for doneness resulted in a rather homely look. Not to worry; chocolate glaze hides all sins.

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Blue ribbon prize winner?

The brownies were cooled-ish, not completely cooled as directed. What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment – I even skipped the “put in the fridge for 20 minutes after glazing” step. As such, the glaze got even softer as I spread it on the brownies. This may have been a problem if I was competing in a bake-off or something, but aesthetics weren’t my priority today.

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NOW WE’RE TALKING

Now for the best part: the taste test. The brownies were rich and moist, and the edges were just the right amount of chewy. They certainly don’t need the glaze, but it does elevate them to the next level of deliciousness.

Best paired with a glass of milk.

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La fin

(You can find the recipe here if you scroll down, but it doesn’t include the chocolate glaze – I guess you have to buy the book for that. I feel like if I post it here, I will get sued or something. Plus it would take eons to type up.)