The Mob and I
Brownies. The sole word provokes smiles and jiggles on me. One of the simplest chocolate confections that hardly needs reinvention. Actually, it’s one of those things that when its simple essence is altered, rarely it’s for good. All you need is a chewy, fudgy center and a cracking top. If it ain’t cracked it’s no fun!
Probably most of the people that I know, including myself, started in the kitchen making the traditional store bought brownie box. It is simple and one of the few things that actually turns out delicious even if store bought. Suddenly you become the brownie person and everyone is ravening your delicious chocolate squares in every get together or even kids’ birthday parties you are (in a disinterested way, of course!) invited to. The fact is that brownies are loved by everybody. But now we know better, and we know that store bought boxed food does no good to our bodies, therefore it’s better to be aware of what’s in the things you are going to eat.
A couple of days ago I had the pleasant visit of Rafi and Juliana, the founder and one of the photographers of La Mafia, Puerto Rico. On their blog, La Mafia (translation: The Mob) portrays the Puerto Rican food scene like no one, using the sense of the streets, trendings on social networks and, most importantly, the real experience with the subject they are about to portray. Needless to say, they have developed a great fan base, basically for the simple detail of telling the truth as they live it and giving opportunity to all people within the food world, no matter how small or not famous that subject could be. Quality and passion for the journey is what they most appreciate. We had the opportunity to meet at the launching of their smartphone app, and since then we have been following and supporting each other through this virtual world. So you can imagine how excited I was when they were about to come and take a peek at my work. The first thing that went through my mind was that brownies were in order!
I made my turkey sliders with recao pesto mayo and sweet plantains chips. I think they liked it because, even if they were not served right away from the skillet, second trips to the counter happened that afternoon. Note to self: these sliders are a true hit when you have good company that loves good food. For dessert I wanted to bake my brownies, but making them appropriate for the holiday season. My brownie recipe makes some decadent fudgy brownies with a cool crack on top. It has been a serious but delicious process of trial and error to achieve the texture and flavor I wanted. My secret ingredient, almond butter, ultimately did the trick. But I decided then to risk my simple is better when it comes to brownies and go for a holiday spin making these pumpkin pie brownies.
I know the pumpkin purée will get lost within the brownie batter and I am always hesitant to put things on top of the batter, sacrificing the candy crack top of brownies. What I did was to prepare the pumpkin purée as in pumpkin pie, then swirl it over the top. Let me tell you, it translated beautifully! And the touch of caramelizing the pecans added another dimension of flavor that turned out really amazing.
We had a wonderful time that day! I even took some photography tips from Juliana, who as you could see on their website, is an amazing photographer. We talked about trends, new projects and learning experiences. The kind of conversation you have with your mob over burgers, beers and brownies.
You have to take a peek at La Mafia, Puerto Rico’s page to read the article and also to see gorgeous pictures of the new generation in the Puerto Rican food scene.
1. This recipe works as well as a basic recipe for brownies, just leave the pumpkin and pecans out.
2. These are really fudgy brownies. If you prefer them less fudgy reduce the total of chips added at the end to ¾ cup.
3. Read the recipe carefully. I include some steps that are good tips to follow when making any brownies
4. Make sure you have milk when you are going to make them. It is really sad to have warm brownies and have no milk in the fridge.
Pumpkin Pie Brownies
Total time – 50 minutes Active time – 20 minutes
Equipment – 8’ x 8’ x 2’ square baking pan, large skillet and a medium to large glass bowl to create a double boiler, parchment paper (optional) for the brownies and the pecans
Semi-sweet chocolate chips – 12 oz
Unsalted butter – 4 TBSP, plus more for greasing the pan
Raw sugar – ¾ cup
Almond butter – 2 TBSP
Hot water (heated in the microwave) – 4 TBSP
Eggs – 2 at room temperature
Egg yolk – 1 at room temperature
Unbleached flour – ½ cup
Fine sea salt – ¼ Tsp
Mix of semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate chips – ½ cup each to make 1 cup total (see recipe notes)
Pumpkin purée – ¼ cup
Raw sugar – 1 Tsp
Ground cinnamon, pressed – ½ Tsp
Ground nutmeg, pressed – ¼ Tsp
Ground allspice, pressed – ¼ Tsp
Fine sea salt – ⅛ Tsp
Chopped pecans - ⅓ cup
Unsalted or regular butter – I TBSP
Honey – 1 TBPS
Raw sugar – ½ Tsp
Fine sea salt (just if using unsalted butter) – a pinch
Brownies: In a glass bowl combine the 12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips, the butter, and the sugar. Place over the skillet and fill the skillet with some water to cover about ¼ of the outside of the bowl. Heat in moderate heat so the water barely boils. Using a wooden spoon mix everything a couple of times while the chocolate melts and the sugar dissolves. When the chocolate is almost melted add the almond butter and mix well. When everything is melted and well combined retire from the heat, add the salt and combine a bit, then add the hot water, tablespoon by tablespoon and mixing everything a bit between each addition. Let it cool completely.
Place an oven rack on the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 350°. Grease the baking pan. Place it in the fridge until ready to use.
Pumpkin purée: In the meantime, in a small saucepan combine the pumpkin purée, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, sugar and salt with a tablespoon of water. Cook in medium heat for 5 minutes, until everything is well combined. Set aside.
Caramelized pecans: In a medium or large skillet melt the butter with the sugar in moderate heat. Add the pecans and the honey and combine everything, until the pecans are well coated and start to turn a little dark in color. Cook no more than 5 minutes, tossing constantly to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Retire from heat, let them cool for a minute, then transfer to a parchment paper or plate, trying to separate them as much as possible. They are about to become very sticky.
Making sure the chocolate mix has mostly cooled down, add the eggs and the egg yolk, one by one, mixing between each addition. Add the flour and gently mix everything, just about 30 strokes, making sure the flour has mixed up well with the other ingredients. Fold in the chips. Pour the batter in the greased baking pan. Put some tablespoons of the pumpkin purée on top of the batter, creating a zig zag pattern, until you have covered different areas of the batter and probably have used all the purée. With a cake tester stick, wooden thick stick or the point of a small knife make lines through the spots of the pumpkin, sort of marbleizing it, but trying not to mix it too much with the batter. Spread the pecans through the top of the batter, then press everything gently with your fingers.
Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. When it finishes take them out of the oven and place them in the refrigerator for a while. Take out of the fridge and serve cold or let them come down to room temperature before cutting and enjoying.