Chocolate Hazelnut Brownies

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownies

Brownies. What defines them? In recent years they’ve become ubiquitous here in the UK and to be honest, most of what you see is ersatz. The brownies you see this side of the Atlantic tend to be either slabs of barely cooked, oozing, molten, chocolate fudge bordering on the grotesque, or a thin-ish, cake-ish slice of dark chocolate-ish cake with an identity crisis. Iced brownies are a complete travesty so let’s not even go there.

The brownies I recall from summers spent in New England were neither gooey nor cakey. That’s just a false dichotomy folks. They were also nowhere near 5 cm tall, as seems to be the current vogue here, nor did they contain 500 g of sugar – I’m looking at you Nigella – in one single traybake. A fast-track to diabetes if there ever was one…

While I love the sour cherry (and cherry booze) tang of the Valhalla brownies in my own cookbook, I prefer to eat the Valhallas as dessert, with a hefty scoop or two of sour cherry ice cream.

Brownies should be a treat anytime of the day so I’ve recently been pondering the deeply existential question of what exactly is a brownie? And without coming across all Linnean on you, classification means something. Felicity Cloake wrote a great piece in the Guardian researching the methodology of brownie baking which you can read here, and although I found her research comprehensive and useful for deconstructing the basic technique of good brownie baking, I wanted to know more.

Turning to Mama Johansen’s annotated and much-loved 1965 edition of the classic American cookbook The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, I discovered that Ms Farmer listed brownies under the quaintly spelled Cooky Bars section. Farmer herself has actually been credited with inventing the brownie as far back as 1896 simply by drastically reducing the amount of flour in a chocolate cake recipe. It created a dense bar, akin to a cookie - see where I’m going with this?

Cooky Bar Brownies

These chocolate hazelnut brownies are the result of the first part of my research and to my mind, perfectly rich, chewy and not too sweet, much like really good chocolate chip cookies (see my post earlier this year on the Quest For The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie). Brownies should have a light flaky crust and you should be able to slice them without getting chocolate goo all over your décolletage. The secret I discovered is using icing sugar for a smooth, chewy interior and baking at a lower temperature. I use cocoa powder but for the next batch of research on pure chocolate brownies I’m going to give unsweetened cacao a go.

What do you think? Am I barking up the wrong tree here – do you have a perfect brownie recipe that’s foolproof? Would love to know.

Makes 12 brownies

  • 125g butter
  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 175g chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 2 whole medium eggs
  • 1 medium egg yolk
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 50g flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • optional for a deeper flavour: 1 shot espresso (purists will scoff at this though)
  • 50g halved or chopped toasted hazelnuts, also optional

Preheat the oven to 150 C. Line a 15 cm x 30 cm brownie tin or a 20 cm x 20 cm square baking tin with two sheets of baking parchment, lined perpendicularly. This makes it easier to remove the brownies from the tin after they’ve been baked.

Melt the butter and add the cocoa powder along with the chocolate hazelnut spread. Stir to mix together and set aside while you assemble the rest. In a medium bowl place the eggs and icing sugar, lightly whisk with a fork or whisk to break up the eggs and mix the sugar in but don’t whisk until fluffy. Add the chocolate-hazelnut butter mixture, stirring so that this incorporates with the egg and sugar mixture. Add the flour, vanilla extract and salt (and coffee and/or hazelnuts if using) and stir a few more times. It should look like a very dark, treacle-y mixture.

Pour this into the prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 20-22 minutes. If you bake the brownies in a 20 x 20 cm tin they will be a fraction thicker than in the longer rectangular tin so they may need 2-3 minutes longer to bake through. The brownies will be quite thin, only 1 inch or so thick so they don’t need much baking time but keep checking after 18 minutes. It’s always better to slightly underbake brownies as they cool in the tin after you remove them from the oven and this extends the baking process. Also the chocolate flavour is more intense if you don’t bake the brownies all the way through.

Allow to cool completely before slicing.

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16 Responses to Chocolate Hazelnut Brownies

  1. Elaie says:

    Any chance you have this already translated into American measurements?
    If not, I’ll look for a measurement website. Thanks, these look great!

  2. These look absolutely wonderful, and looks like you’ve achieved the perfect crust on top. I make brownies all the time and am always trying to perfect my recipe – my standard issue version contains a little more butter than yours, normal sugar, no chocolate spread. I have to admit I sometimes like to make those gooey fudge confections you berate so much, but they’re not proper brownies – a brownie needs a good chewy crispness to it. I’d probably bake mine a little thicker than yours, but that’s just a personal taste thing. The recipe sounds divine and I’m going to have a go at it this weekend, thank you!

    • Signe says:

      Thanks A Little Loaf, nothing personal but everyone’s tastes are different. Am just a grump when it comes to overly dense or cakey brownies! Do let me know how you get on baking these. Will post a pure brownie recipe in the coming weeks… Sig x

  3. Jamie says:

    I so agree with you on your definition of the perfect brownie. I have been struggling – and testing for a while trying to get that perfect brownie and I think maybe you and Fanny have hit it on the head. I am definitely trying this one! And I never knew she invented the Cooky Bar :-) Cute! Maybe this is the one my son the brownie freak will love. He keeps asking for me to make “You know! The NORMAL brownies!” (but personally, I wouldn’t mind trying your sour cherry-spiked brownies!)

    • Signe says:

      Thanks Jamie! I was intrigued that Fanny Farmer’s the original brownie baker, her book is such a blessing when it comes to classic American recipes. I hope you and your son will like these brownies, will post a pure chocolate brownie recipe in the coming weeks – August is turning into chocolate month! Sig x

  4. Louise M says:

    The shiny crust on the surface of these looks amazing! I had read that this was associated with using granulated instead of caster sugar – but if you’re using icing sugar, that can’t be true.
    Hazelnut is one of my favourite brownie flavours. I like to use whole toasted hazelnuts, so when you slice them you get to see them, like a fruit & nut bar. I also use chocolate hazelnut spread in my recipe – but not that much! The other ingredient I like is Frangelico liqueur, which gives the whole thing a lovely nutty flavour.

    • Signe says:

      Hi Louise, there are different theories on what produces the flaky crust -some say it’s the sugar, others the cocoa powder, and still others claim it’s the way you mix the brownies before baking. I suspect it’s a combination of all the above ! Do try the choc-hazelnut spread recipe if you like hazelnuts (I’m with you on this…loooove hazelnuts!) and Frangelico is a great idea. Shall give that a go next time! Sig x

  5. Pingback: Weekly Gluten-Free Roundup – August 7, 2011 « Celiac Kitchen Witch

  6. Claire says:

    Oh these brownies look absolutely yummy. The first time I made brownies they were gooey, intense in flavour with a crispy top. I ate them on the train to Ramsgate all this happened when I was 15! I have never been able to replicate them exactly however the recipe that you have posted sounds rather good and definitely worth a try. Thanks. My first visit here has been lovely.

  7. Patricia says:

    This recipe is really simple,healthy and fun to make.Even perfect when you are in a hurry to make dessert to put on the table for guests.I`m sure browni lover loves this idea 

  8. Pingback: Chewy chocolate brownies | thelittleloaf

  9. Tamsin says:

    Hi just to say I love the look of these and the description. My brownies are always too thick and these look perfect. Am going to try this weekend for a birthday party. x

  10. Karen Xavier says:

    Came here through the little loaf… and these are absolutely divine! Man, I wish I had some now… they look irresistible.

  11. Mavis says:

    Hi! I just found this site while scouring the internet for yummy looking food tag bushels (as I call them on my blog. Don’t mind me.) and saw these brownies. And now I’m never leaving. I’ve never, ever been able to get that chewy, flaky, crispy crust on brownies, no matter what recipe I follow. I only get them with box mixes…was beginning to think the plastic and cardboard they come in must have some kinetic, chemical effect on the sugar!

  12. Lisa says:

    Hi, I too have just found you :)

    As a transplanted Bostonian (here for 20 years) I was pleased to see that you noted most brownies here are ersatz–it was so disappointing to be served one when I first arrived here–dry chocolate cake, bleh!

    I am still searching for the perfect brownie recipe–it is both the most difficult and the easiest baked item. My most consistently good one made so far is the On the Fence Brownies (i.e not too cakey, not too fudgey) from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion book (and website). This recipe has you return the butter and sugar mixture to heat –the extra heating “dissolves more of the sugar” which gives the shiny crust. Not sure, but it works…

    Although I did find a recipe from Clement Faugier for brownies with a swirl of sweetened chestnut paste that were really great (husband’s fav). And Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s beetroot brownies were a big hit with the guys at work (I had a LOT of beetroot in the garden!)

    So brownie purist or brownies as canvas for experimentation–I guess it depends on my mood. Sometimes only the Real Deal will do, sometimes I want to go a bit wild.

    As for brownies with chocolate hazelnut paste–well, I had an addictive chocolate hazelnut muffin at Jika-Jika in Bath that made me crazy trying to find a way to make them, so YES these are at the top of my list.

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