Brownies for Bing Season

Alright, so maybe it isn’t quite cherry season in Oregon yet. But last week I couldn’t resist dropping a bag of California Bings in the shopping cart. I should have tried harder to resist, though, because although they had beautiful deep coloring, they were under-ripe and severely lacking in that juicy sweet-tart cherry flavor. We had better luck with some Rainiers this week, but I know I’m still pushing the envelope on cherry season.

There was still a partial bag of Bing cherries in the bursting fridge, though, and I couldn’t make myself eat any more of them, so I had to figure out something else. I halved and pitted them, and macerated them overnight in a little sugar, hoping to draw out a bit of juice and flavor. It worked, sort of, and I used some up in a cherry smoothie for breakfast on Tuesday morning.

Black Forest Brownies

I still needed to use up the rest of them, however, so I started casting around for other ideas. The first thought to pop up was the candied cherries recipe in David Lebovitz’s new book The Perfect Scoop, to use as a topping for what remains of our cheesecake ice cream. But even candied, those cherries wouldn’t deserve to be paired with the sublimity that is cheesecake ice cream. I considered a fresh cherry tart or some cherry-almond coffee cake, but I didn’t have enough cherries left, and those will be better served by waiting until cherry season actually arrives anyhow.

Somehow I hit on the idea of doing a Black Forest brownie. I am not typically a fan of fruits in my brownies (or cakes or cookies, for that matter). I only want fruit in my dessert if it’s a fruit dessert, and then the texture has to be considered: pureed is a good option (as in sorbet), as is curd (as in lemon bars and Key lime pie) and on some occasions jam (as in date pinwheels or cherry crumb bars); otherwise it should be restricted to baking in some sort of pie or crisp, preferably streuseled. So I’m still not sure why filling a brownie with cherries sounded like a good idea to me, but I’m glad it did. Not only did I use up the rest of those cherries, I also took care of a tub of mascarpone that I picked up on a whim and jammed into the already overfull cheese drawer. I found a good base recipe in Food and Wine, made some adjustments, candied those cherries, and this is what I ended up with:

Black Forest Brownie

These brownies came out beautifully. They are gooey and fudgy, and the mascarpone swirl gave them an almost mousse-like texture when warm (I tried so very hard to wait until they cooled, but only managed for 10 minutes or so). I mostly sandwiched the mascarpone between layers of brownie batter, but I think it would look prettier to save some back to dollop on top for a better marbling effect, so I’ve noted that in the recipe below. The cherries worked nicely with everything else, and their texture didn’t detract from the creaminess of the brownies, which was my biggest concern. However, despite the telltale drizzle of cherry syrup I put on the plates, Jeremy didn’t realize they were Black Forest brownies, and the look of confusion on his face when he first bit into a cherry was awfully cute. He felt much better after I let him in on the secret, and seemed to like them as much as I did.

Pan of Black Forest brownies

A final note about the candied cherries: I had less than a cup of cherries to use up, and that was just enough for me, but if you are a fruit-in-brownies sort of person, you may want to consider increasing the amount to a cup or more. David’s book has a version of this recipe that calls for 1 pound of cherries, and I’m sure you could come up with dozens of uses for the leftovers, so go for it! And while you’ve got the book open, how about a batch of homemade ice cream to go with the brownies?

This post is my entry for Browniebabe of the Month #2, my new excuse for making brownies at least once a month (as if I really needed a reason!).

Ready for the close-up

Mascarpone-Swirled Black Forest Brownies

Candied cherries:
5-6 oz Bing cherries, halves and pitted
1/2 C water
1/4 C sugar
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 drop almond extract

2/3 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6-7 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used a mix of Scharffenberger 70% and Trader Joe’s Belgian 72%)
7 T unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1 C sugar
1 T pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs

Mascarpone swirl:
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1/4 C sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

For the candied cherries: In a non-reactive saucepan, combine the cherries, water, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and keep at a low steady simmer for about 20 minutes, until the liquid reaches the consistency of maple syrup. Remove from heat, add the almond extract, cover and allow to cool while making the brownie batter.

For the brownies: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a 9×9 baking pan with heavy aluminum foil overhanging all sides, and grease the foil. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Put the chocolate and butter in a larger, preferably glass, bowl, and microwave for 90 seconds on 50% power. Your mileage may vary, and the time and power may need adjusting for your particular machine, but the goal is to get the chocolate to a state of near-melt; this means the chocolate should be glistening and melted only around the edges, melting entirely when removed from the microwave and given a good stir. If you are concerned about burnt chocolate, you could also do it the old fashioned way, over a double boiler or in a saucepan over very low heat. At any rate, when you have melted chocolate, make sure it’s not on a heat source and whisk in 1 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of vanilla, followed by the whole eggs, one at a time. Whisk the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture until the brownie batter is smooth. Try to restrain yourself from eating the thick, luscious batter straight out of the bowl.

For the mascarpone swirl: In another small bowl, whisk together the mascarpone with the egg yolk, 1/4 cup sugar and extracts. Meanwhile, use a strainer to drain the cherries of their syrup, reserving the latter for drizzling on the finished brownies or in another application, like cherry-lemonade. Gently mix the cherries into the mascarpone mixture.

Pour half of the brownie batter into the baking pan. Spread half of the mascarpone mixture on top and cover with the remaining batter. Dollop on the remaining mascarpone mixture and swirl the batter a few times with a knife to create a marbled effect. Bake the brownies for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached. Let the brownies cool before cutting; use the foil to remove the entire block of brownies from the pan to facilitate easier cutting. Drizzle the brownies or the plate with some reserved cherry syrup if desired. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days, as if they’ll last that long.

Source: Adapted from Food and Wine, March 2007; and The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz.

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