Musical Brownies

Is this some sort of strange version of musical chairs, where everyone runs around in a circle and when the music stops you must eat a brownie or else you’re out – except there are fewer brownies than people, and each time new brownies are added in smaller and smaller numbers, so the goal is to stay in the longest and therefore get to eat the most brownies?

music note brownies

No, it’s not. I’m really sorry.

white chocolate brownies

But if that is ever made into a game, I promise you: I will win.

Particularly if they are these brownies.

treble clef brownies

Remember the “omg drool just-like-box-mix” cocoa brownies I told you about earlier? Well, this time they’re getting an upgrade. Same amazing brownies, but topped with buttercream frosting and chocolate musical note garnishes. Although you really should be thinking “Brilliant!! I must make these immediately!”, if you are instead wondering why I would ever do this, then 1) stop questioning my genius ideas, and 2) my reason is that I needed to bake something for a blues dance. Blues → blue frosting, dance → music → music note garnishes. Compris?

music note dessert

I might just encourage (*ahem* force…) my future children to join band PURELY so I can sell these at band bake-sale fundraisers. Because, let’s be honest with ourselves here: who could avoid these temptress brownies?! That’s right. No one. You’re welcome, future child’s band, for all the money I will raise for you. You’re welcome.

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MUSICAL BROWNIES

Cocoa brownies:

Recipe (barely adapted) from Smitten Kitchen, which Deb adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet

10 tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup + 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs, cold

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Buttercream frosting: 

Adapted from: Gale Gand, on the Food Network

6+ cups powdered sugar (add until you’re satisfied with the consistency)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. half-and-half (vary based on how much powdered sugar you have and what consistency you like)

Gel food coloring (blue for these; any color would work)

Chocolate garnishes:

6 oz semisweet chocolate (or milk or dark)

6 oz white chocolate

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1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Push a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) into an 8×8-inch square baking pan; it won’t stay very well, but that’s fine – just make sure the edges and bottom are all covered. When you add the batter later, it’ll push the parchment paper into place.

2. Combine the butter, sugars, cocoa, and salt in a medium bowl (heat-safe) and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir together gently until as well-mixed as you can get it, then microwave an additional 15 seconds. Stir together until thick and completely mixed. The batter should be warm to the touch; additional, short bursts of microwave time (don’t burn it!) may be necessary to get the batter warm.

3. Stir in vanilla extract then add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously. When the batter is shiny and well-mixed, add the flour. Stir until it’s all mixed in, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes (incorporating air gives your brownies some “lift” and ensures they aren’t too flat/dense).

4. Pour into the parchment paper-lined pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out just slightly moist with batter.

5. While the brownies are cooking, make the chocolate garnishes. Lay wax paper down on a moveable flat surface (cookie sheets, cutting boards, etc.). Place chocolate in a microwave-safe plastic bowl (not glass). Microwave in 10-second bursts, stirring after every burst. Between 3-5 rounds, you should be able to stir until smooth; you can microwave for additional 5-second bursts once it’s smooth, but do not over-heat! You want the chocolate to stay “in temper” as much as possible. This video by How To Cook That provides a fantastic tutorial for this process (note that I used chocolate chips instead of chocolate shavings; it still worked). Put the chocolate in a plastic bag and snip off just the tip (don’t cut off too much). Pipe different music notes, treble clefs, etc. onto the wax paper, making sure to add a thick “stem” to the bottom (at least 2 cm) that will stick in the brownie and hold the design up. Put chocolate garnishes in the refrigerator to harden up.

6. When the brownies are done cooking, cool them completely (I put mine in the freezer for about 30 minutes) and then lift the paper + brownies out and set aside.

7. Once the brownies are completely cooled, make the frosting. Beat together half of the sugar and all of the butter. Start on low speed until well-blended and then gradually add in more sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream or powdered sugar as necessary to reach spreading consistency. Gel food coloring should be beat or stirred in as desired to reach the color you’re looking for. Put the frosting into a piping bag with any decorating tip you like.

8. Cut the brownies into ~25 small squares and then pipe frosting onto each brownie. Gently inset a music note into every brownie, holding the garnish by its base so you don’t snap the top off while you’re pushing it down.

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white chocolate musical brownie

I was so smitten with the way these turned out, I took them up to our balcony for a mini photo shoot. Here you can see our incredible view (and more brownies, of course):

musical brownies balcony

sunset and brownies

 

In case you’re curious, these were a huge hit and did not last long before every last one was snatched up by a happy dancer. Not bad for something that’s super easy to make in under two hours! You could easily top them with any other garnish (stars, hearts, simple logos, etc.). Get creative!

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B^3 Cake (Brown Sugar, Browned Butter, and Brownies)

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side cut

In general, I’ll try to refrain from bragging on this blog because no one likes a bragger.

But can we make just one tiny exception for this cake? Because you guys. This cake. I DID IT. I turned Tosci’s best ice cream flavor into a cake. Do you understand what this means?? Toscanini’s is one of the greatest ice cream places in the world. It’s true – numerous national sources have touted the awesomeness of their frozen treats. And at Tosci’s (which is a dangerously short walk from my apartment…), you can get the greatest ice cream flavor known to humankind: B^3. AKA B cubed. AKA brown sugar, browned butter, and brownies. AKA taste bud bliss.

I had this ice cream during grad school visits and it just about sealed the deal. Forget the interesting research, fancy lab equipment, awesome department, the chance to try out the east coast… It’s really about Tosci’s and B^3. That is how good this ice cream is. And now you can have this trifecta of glorious flavor in your own home even if you can’t visit Tosci’s whenever you please, and all because I love you and am sharing this magical recipe with you. Try not to make this cake every week, okay? It’ll be hard, I know. But do your best. With great power comes great responsibility and all that jazz.

tosci ice cream

Because I am such a dedicated baker, I sacrificed my waistline for the greater good and bought a pint of Tosci’s B^3. Quality assurance taste testing and all that, right? I had to make sure I captured the flavors properly! Side-by-side, eating the cake batter and ice cream, the only discernible difference is the temperature. Oh my, what a success!

Ever since the idea popped into my head to turn B^3 into some form of baked good, I have been fixated on the thought for weeks. How to go about properly displaying all three glorious flavors of Tosci’s genius ice cream? Finally, inspired by Robin’s birthday today, I decided a cake would be the perfect medium. I developed the recipe by searching “brown sugar cake recipe” and combining multiple sites with my own ideas (notably: Adventures in the Kitchen, babycakes, and Plays With Food). The brownies I told you about in the previous post (didn’t I tell you I had something spectacular in store for them?). The frosting is from no attributable source; many folks have made browned butter frosting before, and this is my own take on the delicious frosting to tone down the “browned” flavor and bring it to just the right flavor strength. The result is a dessert bursting with all three fantastically paired flavors: the cake is a crumbly, tastes-just-like-a-cookie base, the brownies are deliciously unexpected surprises in each bite, and the frosting is a creamy, buttery finish. It took major will power not to eat all the batter raw because it tasted just like the ice cream

Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of my phenomenal pen pals, who generously sent me a gift card to Williams-Sonoma (fancy pants, right?!). I used it to get an offset spatula (among other to-be-shared goodies) and let me put it this way: if you don’t have an offset spatula and you plan on making more than one cake in the future, get yourself to any home goods store and buy one right now. It is magic. Seriously. I always figured it was just an extra tool to use but I could exist just fine with a normal knife/spatula… I can’t believe it took me this long to realize what I’ve been missing! Thanks a million, Lauren!! I was singing your praises the entire time I frosted (which was longer than usual because I was having so much fun), and it’ll make me think of you every time I make a cake from now on!

AND on top of that, I came into lab today only to discover that the amazing people in my department banded together to get me a super snazzy, just-what-I-needed cake and cupcake carrier so I no longer have to bring my treats to lab in questionable homemade covers. Plus they got me a gift card to the grocery store to keep buying supplies, since I’ve been essentially keeping the local baking supplies economy afloat lately. So in case you were wondering, the answer is yes, I do have the best lab/department-mates EVER!!! Goodness, all this generosity is overwhelming. How did I get so darn lucky?!

Okay, brag time over. Thanks for letting me get away with that. For your patience, I have the perfect reward for you: B^3 Cake. Il est fantastique!

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BETTER-THAN-BOX-MIX-BROWNIES

Use ingredients from my previous post or substitute any 8×8-inch brownie recipe.

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B^3 CAKE

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, browned

2 ½ cups brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 carton (8 oz) sour cream

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

3 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

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BROWNED BUTTER FROSTING

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup  (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, browned

1/2 tsp. vanilla

5 tbsp. milk

6 cups powdered sugar

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Make the brownies:

1. Make according to my previously posted instructions, or use any brownie recipe you like (about 8×8-inch size).

2. Cut off the edges (hang onto these and eat with the leftover frosting), and crumble the middle into small pieces about the size of jelly beans. Set aside.

Make the cake: 

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans well (bottom and sides) with baking spray. Cut parchment or wax paper in a circle to fit the bottom of the cake pan, place on top of the greased bottom, and grease the paper.

2. Brown the butter, and put in fridge for about 20-30 minutes. (Instructions located in the Spiced Orange Cupcakes recipe if you need them.)

3. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

4. Using a hand mixer, cream the browned butter and granulated sugar together in a large bowl, then slowly add brown sugar. (Note: by the end, this mix will be dominantly sugar instead of the usual fluffy sugar-butter mix.)

5. Beat in eggs in pairs, until well-mixed. Add oil, sour cream, and vanilla and beat until smooth and well-mixed.

6. Add dry ingredients in thirds, beating just until each addition is incorporated.

7. Divide the batter between the three prepared pans. Reserve 1/2 cup of brownie crumbles and divide the remaining crumbles between the three pans and sprinkle over the top. Press the brownies down into the batter; try to cover them as best you can with batter.

8. Bake in the oven at 350 F for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean (they will get pretty brown on top). *Note: I did 30 minutes and thought it was a bit too dry for my liking, so I recommend removing them sooner. Alternately, follow the syrup suggestion in this article to add moisture back to your cake before you frost it.

9. Cool the cakes in their pans on wire racks for about half an hour then remove cakes (and paper circles) and place them in the fridge.

Make the frosting:

1. Place 1/2 cup unsalted butter (non-browned) in the bowl of a stand mixer.

2. Brown 3/4 cup unsalted butter. Let it settle for a few minutes, then pour the top (clear-ish) butter over top of the non-browned butter. Discard the last bit of butter that has all the brown flecks.

3. Stir the butters together until the non-browned sticks melt almost entirely. If you have time, let this mixture sit and harden for a little bit (the fridge can help).

4. Attach the bowl to your stand mixer. Alternate adding tablespoons of milk and cups of powdered sugar. Add the vanilla extract near the end. Cream the frosting until it’s soft, fluffy, and well-mixed.

Assemble:

1. Frost according to the instructions in my Cinnamon-Swirled Banana Cake. Make sure you do the crumb coat!

2. Decorate with the reserved brownie crumbles.

3. Keep refrigerated until ready to eat; remove at least 1 hour prior to serving. Cut small slices; this cake is rich, sugary, and decadent!

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Better-Than-Box-Mix Cocoa Brownies

1 brownies stacked

I have grand plans for these brownies. In fact, I wasn’t even going to share them as-is because they are just a stop along the way to potential greatness. But then I tried one and, well, let’s just say you need these in your life. It would be cruel of me to not share these immediately. This is just the beginning for these babies, but while you wait for what’s coming, make a batch of these delicious (and oh-so-easy) brownies. They’re just like box-mix brownies but better. Which I didn’t think was possible, because I am total box-mix brownie lover. But I think this could convert even the biggest box-mix brownie fan: they have that perfect moist, dense texture with an incredible rich cocoa flavor. And best of all, start to finish takes less than an hour. What are you waiting for? Get baking!

Recipe (barely adapted) from Smitten Kitchen, which Deb adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet.

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BETTER-THAN-BOX-MIX COCOA BROWNIES

10 tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs, cold

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

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1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Push a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) into an 8×8-inch square baking pan; it won’t stay very well, but that’s fine – just make sure the edges and bottom are all covered. When you add the batter later, it’ll push the parchment paper into place.

2. Combine the butter, sugars, cocoa, and salt in a medium bowl (heat-safe) and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir together gently until as well-mixed as you can get it, then microwave an additional 15 seconds. Stir together until thick and completely mixed. The batter should be warm to the touch; additional, short bursts of microwave time (don’t burn it!) may be necessary to get the batter warm.

3. Stir in vanilla extract then add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously. When the batter is shiny and well-mixed, add the flour. Stir until it’s all mixed in, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes (incorporating air gives your brownies some “lift” and ensures they aren’t too flat/dense).

4. Pour into the parchment paper-lined pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out just slightly moist with batter.

5. Cool completely, then lift the paper + brownies out and cut into squares. Easy, right?! Enjoy!

If you leave extra parchment paper hanging off the sides, it'll be a cinch to remove the brownies from the pan later - simply lift out!

If you leave extra parchment paper hanging off the sides, it’ll be a cinch to remove the brownies from the pan later – simply lift out!