Oct 12, 2009

(How Not to Make) Barcelona Brownie Bars

Every recipe from Heavenly Cakes that requires you to do something ahead of time has a note at the beginning of the recipe called Plan Ahead. After I got the book I went through it and underlined all the "Plan Aheads" so I would be sure not to miss them because I know I'm prone to do just that. And yet, inexplicably, I ignored my clearly underlined "Plan Ahead" that told me to make the ganache at least an hour ahead of time. Dear readers, I hope that none of you do the same thing, because, as you will see, the result is a big chocolate mess in the kitchen and brownies that are less than photo-worthy. Have you ever heard of Dark Restaurants where all the food is served in pitch-black surroundings? No lights, no candles? This is how I plan to serve my brownies. If you want to see what they're supposed to look like, you must look at the picture in the book.

Before you start mixing the batter, you toast some pecans for about seven minutes. One advantage of using pecans over walnuts is that you don't have to try to take the skins off of pecans. I love avoiding that step. I also love pecans.
Next you melt some bittersweet chocolate with butter.

Mixing up the rest of the batter couldn't be easier. It's just add and mix--sugar, eggs, vanilla, cream cheese, cocoa, flour. Then the pecans, and it's ready to spoon into the financier pans.
Here's where everything started falling apart. Jim said, "Are you making the brownies or the ganache?" I said, "The brownies, of course." He said, "What about the instruction to make the ganache plugs one hour ahead if you're using them?" I was dumbstruck. Damn! What could I say? So I claimed to have planned it this way. I believe he was unconvinced.
I also ignored the instruction to use a pastry bag when filling the financier pans, even though I remembered using it last time I made financiers and it was easier. Nevertheless, I decided it was a pain to get my metal pastry bag out of hiding and read the instructions. So I filled the financier pans--quite messily--with a spoon.

I smoothed them out and put them in the oven to bake. Then I turned to the ganache, which was supposed to have been made an hour before I even started.
Again, an easy ganache, but I couldn't buy enough time. I melted some chocolate, heated some cream, and mixed them together.

After a few minutes, the chocolate melted into the cream, but it was still very liquid. I put it in the refrigerator, hoping that it would turn into a spreadable consistency by the time I needed it.
By this time, the brownies were ready to come out of the oven, and to have three small holes punched in each one. I used a wooden chopstick, as recommended. That was fun. I've never poked chopsticks into brownies before.

But the ganache was not spreadable yet. I decided to use it anyway and hope for the best. Then I couldn't remember how to put the pastry bag piping attachment and when I turned the bag upside down, half of the ganache dripped out onto the counter. I shrieked. Then I decided I might as well taste it, so I swooped some up on my finger. Ummm. Very delicious. The deliciousness gave me some hope, even though it was now apparent that the looks of these brownies were going to be decidedly amateurish.

Can you see that I have chocolate all over my hands? You can't see that it's also on my arms and my sweater. The ganache kind of melted into the holes instead of filling them up niciely. I managed to get some more from the bowl and use the bulb baster to fill up some of the holes, but the end result wasn't pretty.

Despite their general lack of attractiveness, they served very well as Jim's birthday cake.

And I didn't make good on my promise to serve the little cakelets without any lighting. After all, you have to have a candle on a birthday cake.
I've cooked enough of Rose's recipes to know that you have to work to screw it up so much that it's inedible. It may not be pretty, but it's probably going to taste okay. In the case of these brownies, the taste was better than okay. I wish that I'd read the recipe ahead of time, and that I'd actually planned ahead on the "Plan ahead" part. But I'm willing to forgive and forget because the brownies are so good--moist and chocolatey, with the unexpected crunch and flavor of pecans and the smoothness of the ganache. Just about a perfect brownie. My guess is that some of you will actually read ahead and do what you're supposed to do. Then you'll have a perfect brownie that also looks perfect.


Sarah: "This texture is perfect, and the ganache totally makes it. The nuts add a lot of flavor and texture."

Jim: "They have a great chocolate flavor. The mixture of textures is wonderful--the crust, the nuts, and the softness of the ganache. I'm glad I took two."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We've added another baker: Rebecca Khair, from www.sugarmother.blogspot.com. She's from Australia, and her cookbook hasn't crossed the Pacific yet, but she'll start baking as soon as she gets her copy.


Sugar Chef said...

Wonderful post Marie. Love all your pictures and even your chocolatey hand. It is good to show everyone just what we go through to make all the goodness.

Hanaâ said...

I think you're being too hard on yourself. They look delicious! Very chocolaty. I'll definitely have to put these on my todo-list for later since I wasn't able to bake this week (kitchen remodeling project is still going on). When I make these, I'm planning on using almonds. Can't wait!

Vicki said...

Oh Marie! What a lovely laugh you've given me tonight. These things sound incredibly delicious, melted ganache and all.

Melinda said...

I think they are just fine. I make this recipe all the time. I use my the Madelaine pan. When you have put the ganache in it is on the underside of the little shells. I dust with some powdered sugar and they look so sweet and posh! The little messy part is hidden on the backside. I love these brownies.
(Happy Birthday, Jim!)

Jim said...

Thanks, Melinda. The brownies with the single symbolic candle were perfect - I don't want to think about how many batches it would have taken to make enough for all the candles that should have been there.

Jenn said...

Great post Marie - the section about the dark restaurants is funny :). I also like the title of the post. I agree with Hanaa that you are being too hard on yourself (but I know I'm like that too b/c I want the result to be perfect). I didn't make the brownies this weekend. Will probably catch up again next weekend for the Apple Upside-Down Cake.
PS: Thank you for posting the Woody's Lemon Luxury for November! Can't wait for that one..

breadbasketcase said...

Sugar Chef,
Yes, it's a trial sometimes, isn't it? And we're not always appreciated, are we?

Well, being hard on myself is something I do well. In fact, I'm better at that than at baking, but who wants to read a blog called "The Wretched Perfectionist"? But I did have a mental idea of how these were going to turn out, and they had a mind of their own.

Oh, I hope someone makes them in madeleine pans! That sounds lovely, especially sprinkled with powdered sugar. And especially with the messy part face down. Very clever!

I hope that you give these brownies a try, eventually--especially now that you know you should make the ganache first!

Nancy B said...

The Brownie Puddle recipe has you make the ganache while the tart is baking--OK, the tart bakes longer than the bars do, but I think the main difference is that the cream is added at room temperature so the ganache cools to a usable consistency faster.

The ganache is supposed to melt into the holes while the brownies are really hot--maybe it does melt faster if your ganache is still pretty warm (mine certainly looked like I was piping ganache down little bottomless pits), but still, that's what should happen. When I started getting a little low on ganache, I paused and let the brownies cool more, then did a final 'topping off' to have pretty little ganache plugs showing instead of letting it all melt into the brownie structure.

Jenn said...

Marie - I will give these brownies a try at some point. I've made ganache before but it turned out grainy - the culprit might be that the milk is too hot or the chocolate quality that I bought is not very good. It wasn't Rose's recipe. Next try will be better I'm sure as I will use Rose's recipe and will get Valrhona.

Anonymous said...

These look very moreish in spite of being a little messy to make! I'm sure they taste as good as all Rose's recipes usually do, thanks for the warning to make the ganache ahead of time, Marie!

Doughadear said...

You are way too hard on yourself. The process may have been a little messy and I understand your frustration, I've been there, but in the end they look great and have received rave reviews.

Jim: It would not take that many batches to make 39 brownies. Happy Birthday!

Dawn said...

Such a relief to know I'm not the only one who does silly things...(just finished turning a lovely smooth custard into scrambled eggs...) but these look delicious! I'm definitely going to save up for this cook book - I already have 2 of Rose's books, and this one looks even better!

breadbasketcase said...

Nancy B.,
The "topping off" idea is a good one--I think that would have worked, if my ganache hadn't been puddled on the counter.

The ganache turned out great--I used some bulk chocolate that I bought and keep in the freezer. It's good quality, but not Valrhona.

Yes, now I want to try these again, making the ganache first. They're so good--I took them to work and everyone is crazy about them.

Well, you know it's more fun for me to write a post where I've screwed something up!

I hate the scrambled egg effect! Do try some of the recipes that are available on the net--this one is, and it's got such variety!

Rachelino said...

Good job on this recipe. It's a tough one! :)

anitsirK said...

Marie, yours are much prettier than mine! I just made mine in a square pan, so they were rather a mess by the time they were cut into portions. My post is up here. These were absolutely delicious!

faithy, the amateur baker said...

Yes, i agree with the rest that you are too hard on yourself! Your brownies look great imo and most importantly it taste great too! :))

Hanaâ said...

I would like to pick the Tres Leches Cake. I have made Tres Leches cake many times (from ATK's Family Baking Book) and would love to try Rose's version.

evil cake lady said...

I also thought your post title was funny! But like you said, it would take a lot of messing up to make one of Rose's recipes inedible.

Happy Birthday Jim!

Joy said...

Hi Marie,

I just left you a comment message on your other blog, Bread Basketcase, but I thought I'd write one here as well, just in case you check this more regularly. If you already got the other comment, please feel free to disregard this one.

Here's what I wrote over there:
"I've actually been trying to get in touch with you for over a month now- leaving blog comments, etc., but I can't seem to locate your email address, so I don't have a way to contact you directly. I tried to get more information and sign up for Rose's Heavenly Bakers many, many weeks ago, but unfortunately I never heard back from you. To be honest, I was really disappointed, disheartened, and frustrated- especially when the first 10 people to sign up received an autographed copy of the book, which I was waiting to purchase (and I had attempted to do this WAY before other people left comments). I just went back to the group's site and found my name on the blogroll... I was a bit confused because I was awaiting an email from you (I had left my address a number of times) so I could have a few questions answered before I was accepted as a member. If there is ANY way you could shoot me a message so I have a way to talk with you, I would GREATLY appreciate it. Here's my email address again: joy.d.saunders@gmail.com. Thanks for your time and consideration, and I truly hope to hear from you soon."

Very truly yours,

breadbasketcase said...

Thanks--not so tough if you follow the directions. :-)

I liked the way that yours looked--although there's no doubt that baking them in individual pans makes them easier to dole out without getting crumbly. Also (and I speak from experience) it makes it less likely that people will complain that you cut them too small a piece.

Yes, the tasting part is definitely the most important, but it doesn't hurt when you make something that's pretty, too. The photos in the cookbook are so beautiful that they always give you something to strive for.

It would take a lot of messing up, although I may one day be able to show that it's not impossible to make even one of Rose's recipes inedible. Not that that's a goal--just a possibility. When are you coming home?

How odd. We must have incompatible emails. I got only one previous email from you saying that you wanted to be a baker, which I responded to, and then signed you up. I'll try sending you another email.

Hanaâ said...

Although I didn’t have a chance to bake the brownie bars this week, I did update my blog with a post to the HCB baking group, and the rules for joining. I also posted a picture of my very first cake baked from The Cake Bible (~4 years ago). You can find the post HERE.

Slowish Food said...

They look great, and kudos to you for attempting the ganache AND for giving us all a reminder about the plan aheads!

ButterYum said...

Hi Marie - forgive me for not posting on time, I was preoccupied with making and delivering my sister's wedding cake (out-of-state) for the past 4 days. I'm headed into the kitchen to make them now. Btw, I loved your post - what's a little spilled ganache among friends?

breadbasketcase said...

I'd love it if you'd like to be the host some week for the Tres Leches cake. It's one of the ones I've already made, but it would be great if you could be "host" one week. Just name the day.
If your "Happy Birthday Hanaa" cake that you posted about four years ago is any example of your baking and decorating skills, you would turn out a beautiful-looking cake.

Slowish Foods,
Yes--too bad I didn't remember my own reminder!

I will forgive anyone anything if their excuse is that they've just made--and delivered--a homemade wedding cake! These brownie bars will seem like a piece of cake (pun intended) in comparison.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this tasty recipe!

Expert Advice

jini said...

jim......i think you need to protest. you could still be eating those brownies if marie had made enough for each candle. think on that!
they do look yummy marie....you can't always have beauty...it's the taste that counts. really!

Bungalow Barbara said...

Marie, I like the idea of doing some of the recipes you've already done, rather than waiting until the end of the bakethrough. Plus, it gives you a week off every now and then, and that might be a good thing!

My birthday is Monday, November 30 -- could I be the hostess for a re-do of the German Chocolate Cake? If that doesn't work for you, that's fine -- but I am still lobbying for a chocolate recipe that week.

Can't wait for the next cake!

ButterYum said...

Finally, my entry is posted


evil cake lady said...

BBC, I'll be heading home in a couple of weeks. I'll be ready to start Heavenly Cake Baking!!! And Lazy Baking!! (I still am kicking myself for forgetting to pack Heavenly Cakes.)

breadbasketcase said...

Good point--although one brownie for every year would have required me to make a triple batch, or maybe even a quadruple batch.

I'm so sad to turn down your birthday cake! I already promised that week to Hanaa, but I think maybe you should go ahead and bake that cake for your birthday, and then blog about it later. I'd hate for you not to get your dream birthday cake! (But shouldn't someone else be baking it for you?)

Love them! I also love the idea of using the ketchup-mustard plastic squeeze bottles for the ganache. Very clever!

Hope you're still having a good time, but I wish you could have been in on the brownies. And next week's apple upside-down cake, too.

Bungalow Barbara said...

That's OK, Marie! I will do as you suggest. I'm looking forward to Hanaa's selection, too.

My husband is an excellent bread baker but not a good cake baker. And all the other bakers in my family live a long way away. So, if I want a really good chocolate cake for my birthday I have to make it myself!

I'm still dithering about which one to make, though. One moment one sounds best, the next moment it's another one --- let's face it, I know all of them would be fabulous...

Hanaâ said...


Since I arbitrarily picked November 30th while Barbara will be celebrating her birthday that day, I’d be more than happy to give the November 30th hosting date to Barbara. It’s my husband’s birthday in January. Could I pick Monday January 18th as my hosting date instead? I’ll make him the Tres Leches Cake for his birthday :o)

breadbasketcase said...

That's so nice of you! But of course the Heavenly Cake Bakers have angelic dispositions. Yes, you are now on for Jan. 18. Barbara, is Nov. 30 still okay with you?

Jenn said...

Marie - I love that you offer hostings and featuring bloggers. That is so nice! That being said, :) - can I host for November 16th Woody's Lemon Luxury Layer Cake? If this is taken or you'd rather host yourself, can I have January 4th instead? I'm perfectly fine either way. Thank you!

breadbasketcase said...

I haven't made Woody's Lemon Luxury cake yet, so I do want to blog about it, but we could share. I could feature your blog that day, or we could co-host (I'm not sure of the logistics of that but I think we could work it out). Or you can have January 4--whatever option you want.

Shirley said...

Messy? The finished plating photo looks delicious! I'd eat one right now. :)

breadbasketcase said...

So would I! Too bad they're all gone.

Jenn said...

Marie, when I thought about hosting I meant what you did with Kristina. I guess that means you were featuring her? That's what I meant when I sent my request. I suppose I misunderstood what "hosting" means - being a blogger-newbie. Honestly, I love your writing style and reading your blog, so I definitely want you to write about the Lemon Cake. I've read all of them so far (since the beginning of you baking from HCB). So I would not mind at all. Thanks!

breadbasketcase said...

That would be great--I've got you on my list for Nov. 16.

doughmesstic said...

I NEED this recipe! Need it. Did any of your bake alongers post it? If you have it and wouldn't mind sharing it with me, I think it might be just the thing I need for my Hub's Birthday cake!

breadbasketcase said...


You're in luck. Rose has the recipe on her web site--this link should get you there.

hector said...

jumping late in the wagon, here is my take of the Barcelona Brownies, more pictures and video coming soon. just wanted to say hello, and enjoying all your wonderful versions from the many RHC bakers. http://myyellowkitchen.wordpress.com/category/4-baby-cakes/barcelona-brownies-page-367/