“Art is never finished, only abandoned” so the saying goes. There is a time with any creative endeavour when you have to stop what you’re doing, take a step away and just call it. Such is the case with my recipe for Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Brownies.
This recipe has gone through numerous iterations. While I can’t say that I’m completely happy with it, given the positive feedback its received during its development, I figured that it’s time to publish the recipe as it stands and let others to try it out for themselves and possibly help carry the torch of the recipe’s development.
Read on for the complete recipe as well as some thoughts and issues I have with it.
Below are some thoughts and issues I have with the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Brownies recipe in its current form broken down into its major parts. However, feel free to skip to the recipe below if you’d rather get straight into it.
While I have a fondness for dark chocolate, the dark chocolate top fulfils a role beyond personal satisfaction. Firstly, dark chocolate generally speaking isn’t as sweet as either its milk or white chocolate counterparts, which is advantageous as the peanut butter filling is rather sweet. While you could substitute the dark chocolate, it would probably end up being too sweet or you would need to modify the rest of the recipe to counteract its sweetness.
The chocolate I use when making this recipe was Callebaut Dark Chocolate which I believe is around 55%-60% cocoa, so it’s not too bitter. Any good dark couverture chocolate will do, though I’ve used the cheaper and more readily available Nestle Cooking Chocolate and that’s worked ok as well.
You’ll notice in the recipe below that it calls for tempering the chocolate. This is done for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’d always intended for these brownies to be eaten out of hand so tempering the chocolate would mean that it would take longer for the chocolate to melt when it comes in contact with your hands. Even when chilled, untempered chocolate melts quite readily to the touch and can be a mess to deal with. Another advantage of tempering is that it gives the chocolate a firm crispness to it, adding a nice textural contrast to the other, more fudgy layers. If you’d rather not bother with tempering, that’s fine but it would be better served plated as it’ll be messy to eat by hand as mentioned previously.
When working with the chocolate as per the recipe, I’d advise using a relative small bowl for the double boiler to allow for enough depth for the probe thermometer to take an accurate reading of the chocolate and not the bottom of the bowl.
Cutting tempered chocolate is quite finicky and requires some patience if you want to cut it cleanly without shattering it. The recipe calls for using a knife heated with hot water. I found using a thermos to be handy (as pictured below) though it’s not necessary. If you don’t care about cleanly cutting the chocolate and are fine with shattered bits of it, you can skip the whole hot knife thing, overturn the brownie block onto a chopping board so that the chocolate is now facing downwards and portion up the brownies that way. It won’t end up looking as nice but it’s far less effort.
Lastly, you might notice in the photos of this post that the surface of the chocolate is rather rough. This wasn’t intended and actually was a screw up as the chocolate was poured over contents that just came out of the freezer and it instantly set. The peanut butter filling should be around room temperature to allow for more time before the chocolate sets to spread it out evenly and leave a nice smooth finish.
Peanut Butter Filling
The peanut butter filling is by far the easiest and most fun part of the recipe. It’s also the part of the recipe I am least happy with. The issue that I have with it is that it’s too sweet for my personal tastes. I wanted to have an intensely peanut flavour to it but since it’s cut with a lot of sugar, it take away somewhat from its natural flavour. However, if you cut back on the sugar, then the filling won’t be solid enough and end up with a tacky texture that peanut butter naturally has. Not exactly a desirable texture to have from a dessert.
One way that I tried to deal with the sweetness was to replace some of the sugar with peanut flour. Unfortunately, even after sifting it through the finest mesh sifter I had, the end product ends up unpleasantly grainy. It may be possible to find a suitably fine enough peanut powder such that it doesn’t impart that grainy texture but I’ve given up on finding it. It’s possible to use a spice grinder to get it fine enough, given that you also have a suitably fine enough mesh sifter. Seems like more effort than its worth though.
With regards to the peanut butter itself, try to use a natural one that is made entirely of peanuts without the additives and such that you might find with some supermarket brands. While natural peanut butter has the tendency to split, this won’t be an issue as the icing sugar stabilises the mixture. Also, try to work with room temperature peanut butter. It’s possible to use peanut butter straight out of the fridge though it takes more time to cut all the sugar into it and knead it around in your hands to adequately soften it to make spreading it over the brownie easier. On the upside, using the warmth of your hands to gradually soften the peanut butter filling to give it a putty like consistency is a lot of fun. It’s like playing with Play-Doh :)
The brownie recipe is courtesy of the kitchen goddess and one of my favourite cookbook authors Stephanie Alexander, with only a slight modification. Her recipe produces a rather fudgy brownie which, including the fudgy peanut butter filling, makes for a very rich affair. However, due to the exclusion of the dark chocolate from the original recipe, while it’s rich, it’s not overly sweet. This is a good thing given the sweetness of the peanut butter filling as mentioned previously.
The recipe calls for using a 20cm by 30cm baking tray or equivalent. Don’t be too worried if you don’t have a large enough tray. The main goal is to have a brownie mixture depth in the tray to be around 1cm – 1.5cm so that it rises to 1.5cm – 2cm. Anything deeper than that and the brownie starts to become unwieldy to eat. So if you only have smaller baking trays, feel free to make multiple batches. However, be mindful that you’ll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly as they won’t need to bake for as long.
One thing I had originally planned when coming up with this recipe was to have a brownie base that was less fudgy, though not the cakey sort of brownie either. A base that was sort of half biscuit base and half brownie. Something that’s dense that wouldn’t collapse when held in the hand but not so hard that you couldn’t use a fork to eat it. Maybe a recipe for a chewy brownie might work but I’ve yet to come across one that was suitable. If you have any suggestions for a suitable recipe, I’ve love to hear about it.
Anyhow, I hope you enjoy the recipe as it stands. I may post an updated recipe if I ever get it to a stage I’m happy with. Please feel free to get into contact by leaving a comment or via email if you have any suggestions or recipes to deal with the issues raised.
180g unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup Dutch cocoa
1 1/2 cups of castor sugar
A few drops of pure vanilla
4 eggs, lightly beaten
100g plain flour, sifted
3/4 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
Oil or butter for greasing baking tray
600g natural smooth peanut butter
300g icing sugar, sifted
Additional icing sugar, as needed.
300g dark couverture chocolate, chopped into small chunks
Brownie (adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion)
- Grease a 20cm x 30cm Swiss roll tin or equivalent baking tray with a thin film of oil or butter and line with baking paper so it covers all internal surfaces.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix the melted butter, cocoa, sugar and vanilla until combined.
- Mix in the eggs until completely incorporated.
- Add the flour and baking powder and mix until just combined, making sure that there are no pockets of dry flour.
- Pour mixture into lined baking tray and bake in 160C preheated oven for 20-30 mins until firm but still moist. Test with a toothpick or skewer, which should come out moist with a few crumbs.
- Allow to cool in tray to room temperature and then place into the fridge or freezer until chilled and top surface is firm to the touch.
Peanut Butter Filling
- In a large mixing bowl combine the peanut butter and half the sifted icing sugar, using a cutting and folding motion with a silicone or plastic spatula to incorporate the mixture.
- Gradually add more icing sugar until a soft dough forms, which should pliable by hand without sticking. The amount of icing sugar required may vary depending on the peanut butter and other factors such as humidity but it should be around a 2-to-1 ratio of peanut butter to icing sugar. If the mixture starts looking like crumbs and has trouble coming together, add more peanut butter.
- Spread the peanut butter dough covering the surface of the chilled brownie with an even layer. Before applying the peanut butter filling to the brownie, flatten it out by hand first somewhat. Use a pressing down motion to shift the peanut butter filling around the tray. Avoid using a sideways rubbing/spreading motion as this can dislodge chunks of brownie from the surface and ruin the look and texture of the filling.
- Once the peanut butter filling has been spread over the surface of the brownie, use your hands, spatula or something cylindrical like a soft drink can to even out the surface.
- Place 2/3 of the chocolate into a small dry bowl and place over a double boiler on simmer. If chunks are varied in size, try and use the larger chunks for the initial melting phase.
- With a probe thermometer in one hand and a silicone spatula in the other, stir the chocolate as it melts until it reaches 46C.
- Remove from the heat and add the remaining 1/3 of chocolate and continuously and vigorously stir the mixture until it reaches 31C-32C. It should have a nice glossy sheen. If there are any solid chunks of chocolate remaining, remove it from the tempered mixture.
- Pour the tempered chocolate mixture over the peanut butter filling and work quickly to spread out the chocolate, preferably with an offset spatula.
- Place tray into the refrigerator and allow chocolate and peanut butter filing to set (approx. 1 hour).
- After the chocolate has set, remove the tray from the fridge but leave the brownie within the tray for now.
- With a long bladed knife, place it hot water to allow it to heat up, remove the knife from the water, wipe off the knife with a tea towel and gently run the blade along the surface of the chocolate using minimal downward force (so as not to shatter the brittle chocolate) to score the chocolate to portion up the brownies. Keep repeating this process until you just break through the chocolate layer for all portions but no deeper. For baking trays that don’t have straight sides, make sure to allow for some edge trimming when scoring the tempered chocolate.
- Once the chocolate layer has been cut through by portions, remove the brownie from the tray, gently peel back the baking paper from the sides and cut the brownies up into portions, trimming the edges if necessary.
Serve brownies chilled with a glass of cold milk or plate with a side of vanilla ice cream.