Thursday, August 18, 2011

Spicy Chocolate Relief from an Italian Heat Wave

Chipotle Spiced Brownies

One of the techniques I've recently been employing to buy some relief from the summer heat of 2011 is to time travel back to our Italian Grand Tour of 2006.   Remembered best by the Italians as the summer they won the World Cup in soccer.  Remembered by all tourists as the most diabolical summer heat torture since the martyred Saint Lawrence requested to be turned over on the grate so he could be cooked on the other side.  Ooohhhh Big Mary will pay for that one...

But it was crazy hot in Italy that July.  We arrived in Rome, greeted by the Handsome Venezuelan's expat niece, already apologizing for the heat.  Hmmm not the exact welcome we were hoping for.  By the time we had arrived at the Hotel Santa Presede and rejected two rooms for the lack of functioning air conditioning, we began to understand that it was more a matter of cultural translation than engineering.  Clearly air conditioning to Italians was a relative term not so clearly experienced by pampered Americans like ourselves.  We experienced a similar discordance trying to locate some ice cubes for "en suite" cocktails later that night, when handed a tiny tray of pellet sized cubes more typical of a summer hail storm in my neck of the woods.

But what the hell....  We were on vacation, in the heart of Rome, so we just leaned out the windows like all the other nonnas, watched the pigeons drift over the 15th century church across the street and sipped delicious cheap red wine until sleep became an option.

Italy made it into the World Cup finals just in time for us to head to Florence.  There we found the same lack luster air conditioning as well as a few degrees tick up to 98* Fahrenheit... BUT we were somehow booked into the hotel's handicapped suite.  Complete with a marble tiled bathroom as large as our bedroom, completely open for wheelchair accessibility.  It took the Handsome V'man less than 5 minutes to block the door's threshold with towels and create his own marble lined wading pool to cool his fevered brow and more....

We were moved to another room the following day.  There was no explanation, but since the new room was on the top floor terraced with a Duomo view... I asked no questions.  It was still hot as one of the lower rings described by Dante, but with that view.... you weren't going to catch me arguing with my fate.
And it proved the "punto perfetto" to watch a long evening of celebration as the city celebrated their team winning the World Cup.

But that energy just added fuel to the fire apparently, as we melted off the train in Bologna and faced an undetermined hike from the termini to our hotel.  Luckily the early hour and new surroundings distracted us as we trudged the many blocks to our destination.  Happily arrived, we registered and were handed a map to where our actual lodgings were.   Really?  Another 6 blocks?  It's kind of amazing what vacation energy can help you accomplish...

20 minutes later we arrived, sheltered most of the way by the gorgeous and oh so smartly engineered porticos of Bologna which harness both shade and breezes to make Life seem like not an altogether ill-conceived notion after all.  And that brings us dear readers to Gelato Cioccolato Azteca and the inspiration for this blog post.

To the right side of the gates that welcomed us to our brief residence in Bologna was a gelato stand that proved to be renowned among the cutting edge gourmands in a very "gourmand-town".  It took less than a sidelong glance from me to confirm gelato was just what was needed to comfort these two about to be "Ugly Americans".  We are both about 99% sure it was called Gelato Stefino, but at that moment in time we were both 100% sure that Cioccolato Azteca was what we wanted.  Sitting back on the bench under the portico, sweat dripping from several "orrifi", we started giggling from travel fever as we dug greedily into the gelato we clutched in our hands.  I think it was the Handsome Venezuelan that said it first... "It's so spicy it hurts, but I can't stop myself!"   And that's the memory I hope to honor here.

Fair warning... these brownies don't come close to the "It's so spicy it hurts..." moment.  But they do deliver a great punch not only of heat but rounded spice.  If you experience anywhere near the reception they got at a recent backyard smoked food fest... you'll be doing good.
Side Note:  The air conditioning in Bologna, could have powered a meat locker!  That didn't phase our enjoyment of Cioccolato Azteca!  If jaded memory serves, we were there 4 times in 2 days! 

When I started to head into the kitchen to develop my idea for Spicy Chipotle Brownies, I googled the idea to look for a base recipe to fiddle with.  The tiniest amount of research delivered a recipe on one of my favortie blogs (The Smitten that was everything I had in mind and more.  And so I pass on her delicious recipe, based on one from Baked, a recipe here in Brooklyn.  I have made only the slightest of changes, never being content to leave well enough alone.  In her blog Chef Deb mentions that a spice free version can be made by eliminating the chipotle, cinnamon or cardamom.

Chipotle Spiced Brownies

Yield: 24 - 48 brownies Depending on size

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheight. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13 glass or light-colored metal baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, cocoa powder and chipotle, cinnamon and cardamom together.

Put the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder in the top of a double boiler ( or in a 3 -4 qt heat proof or metal bowl) and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally,
Heat until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn
off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the white and brown sugars.
Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The
mixture should be room temperature.
Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture, one at a time and whisk until combined. Add the remaining 2 eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter.

Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula, fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible. Repeat twice until all the flour is incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies
comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Let the brownies cool completely, then cut them into squares and serve.

I find they cut better after being refrigerated, but definitely let them come back to room temperature to serve
Store tightly covered with plastic wrap. These brownies also freeze well.

Copyright (C) Big Mary's Kitchen 2011
Copy by Edward Magel
Photoes by Edward Magel & Yder Laya


Siciliana In Training said...

you are dangerous. so dangerous.
I have not had a chance to try them, yet, but wanted to post anyway. I love the cardamom and look forward to tasting what happens when it all melts into my mouth! Thank you for the Italian Memory and the spicy brownies! Can you make them round and then be one spicy brownie ball? (that was on spicey meatball.... remember?_)

Marge said...

These brownies were the hit of the party-- and the leftovers (yeah, I squirreled some away)were my undoing. These are truly my new favorite brownies...and this from a woman who has more than her share.
Even better than your brownies, admittedly, was your company. But the brownies were a damn close second.