I’m one of those people who needs to eat dessert after every meal. At lunch time, I try to make it either a piece of fruit or a healthy granola bar, something that’s not packed with calories but that’ll take the edge off after a salty meal. I work hard to be healthy during the day, but when I get home at night, I often let myself indulge in a real dessert after dinner. Usually I’ve got something lying around that I recently baked, and I’ve always got stuff stocked in the freezer if I’m in a pinch. But there are often nights when I just want a big, fat, chewy chocolate brownie. They are one of the only desserts that I get specific cravings for – something about the heft of a good brownie, the tender chewiness and the overwhelming chocolate flavor – it just makes them the perfect dessert to me. When I came across this recipe, I knew immediately I had to make it, because chocolate brownies covered in chocolate ganache, studded with tawny port-soaked cherries just sounded like the best way I could imagine to indulge a craving.
I made these brownies on an evening when we had friends over who aren’t huge dessert eaters. People like that constantly baffle me because honestly, a day (in my life at least) isn’t complete without sweets. Fortunately for the non-believers, I’ve taken it on as my duty in life to convert those less interested in sugar by baking up sweets that they can’t resist. These brownies fell into that category – they even made the dessert haters come back for more!
Their flavor is rich and intense, just a small brownie feels like a real indulgence. If you love chocolate, you will love these brownies. The port adds a certain richness to the brownies, and isn’t a distinct flavor so much as an overall flavor enhancer. I loved the addition of the chewy port-soaked cherries, they were sweet and tart and married so well with the dense brownie batter.
Sadly these brownies didn’t last long – we devoured most of the pan in one evening, and the rest within the next day or two. I always say I never repeat recipes, but I can see these in my future for sure. I bet you could make them without the ganache if you’re pressed for time, or don’t want a chocolate overload, because the brownies themselves bake up beautifully and they’re very moist on their own. I bet they’d also be good with some chocolate chunks, or toasted walnuts, if you’re looking for a way to mix things up. If you cut them small they’d be great bite-sized desserts for a party, or anytime really. Who needs an excuse to make great brownies?! This recipe is a serious winner.
For the port-soaked dried cherries:
1/2 cup dried cherries, very coarsely chopped (or whole dried cranberries)
1/3 cup tawny port
For the brownies:
8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter; more softened butter for the pan
3 oz. (2/3 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pan
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2-1/2 oz. (3/4 cup) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. table salt
For the port-ganache topping:
1/2 cup tawny port
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
Soak the cherries:
In a small saucepan, bring the cherries and port to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 2 minutes. The cherries will plump up and the port will reduce. Take the pan off the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Make the brownies:
1) Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour a 9-inch-square metal baking pan, tapping out the excess flour.
2) Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat. Whisk or stir in the sugar, followed by all four of the eggs and the vanilla. Stir in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt, starting slowly to keep the ingredients from flyin gout of the pan and stirring more vigorously as you go. Stir until the batter is smooth and uniform, about 1 minute.
3) If you’re using the port-soaked cherries, stir them in at this time, along with any remaining liquid from the saucepan. Spread the batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing it so it fills the pan evenly. Bake until a toothpick or a skewer inserted 3/4 inch into the center of the brownies comes out with just a few moist clumps clinging to it, about 40 minutes. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan on a rack.
Make the topping:
1) In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the port to a boil. Boil until the port is reduced to 2 Tbs., 3 to 6 minutes. Pour it into a small cup or bowl. Thoroughly rinse the pan.
2) Bring the heavy cream to a boil in the pan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Take the pan off the heat. Stir in the chopped chocolate and reduced port until the mixture is smooth and the chocolate is melted. Pour the ganache into a bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.
3) Put the bowl in a cool part of the kitchen and let the ganache cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. When it’s cool, spread it evenly over the cooled brownies and give the ganache about an hour to set (it will still be quite soft and gooey). Cut into 16 squares. Keep the brownies at room temperature, well wrapped. They freeze well too.