If you are lucky enough to live in a place close to your work then no way on earth you would understand the situation I am in. My house is located in Asian side of Istanbul while my job is on the European side and even though the distance between two is not so long in terms of kilometers, it is not the same case in terms of time it takes to commute. Particularly in winter the traffic is so damned congested that sometimes I spent two hours to reach home. You might consider this time as an opportunity to read a book, to reply emails or at least to sleep if you are not the one to drive but unfortunately I am suffering from motion sickness when I try to focus on anything than the stationary cars outside the window.
After such an exhausting trip there is only one thing to sober me up; a piece of quality bittersweet chocolate that releases the chemicals in my brain to clean up the negative residues of last two hours. Indulging these little bars provides us the “good feeling” besides a couple of hundreds calories we would be better off not to take in. So if you frequently seek happiness through chocolate bars or let me use the right word for that; if you are an irrepressible chocoholic, then you’d better get ready to pay its price by putting on some extra pounds preventing you to fit in your favorite jeans.
Recently I and my office mate sitting next to me lost ourselves in a chocolate crave. I had a large box full of chocolate covered almonds, hazelnuts, raisins, delights and lots of small chocolate bars on my table that I forgot to take home. Once I opened to taste one, lid of the box stayed opened for good like the box of Pandora. We promised not to let each other eat anymore of them and to keep the box in my drawer so that we would not see these little shiny black gems. Now either of us secretly devours few pieces and it is killingly funny to see her silently open my drawer to snatch up one when I am concentrated on something else. Thanks god the box will be emptied soon by our mutual efforts.
I tried to figure out the reason behind the pleasurable effects of chocolate afterwards and why we crave chocolate more than other sweet stuff like candies or caramel so it looks like a passion beyond loving sweet things. To my surprise there are extensive academic researches on the matter to disclose the secrets of choco-chemistry.
According to academic research conducted, there are more than three hundred known chemicals within a small piece of chocolate. The most controversial finding was from neuroscience researcher Daniel Piomelli and his coworkers stating that chocolate contains substances that mimic the impacts of marijuana (not at the same level for sure otherwise we would have been buying our daily chocolate dose from choco-dealers operating at the back streets).
According to their research there is a chemical neurotransmitter naturally produced in the brain called anandamide which is also found in chocolate. The interesting part is that this substance activates the same cellular receptors as THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) that causes a person to feel “high”. You may say “if our brain can produce anandamide naturally than what makes the difference with chocolate?” but the thing is that anandamide is produced in the brain and then breakdowns so quickly that you might not have a chance to catch the good mood (if it breakdowns too quickly in your body then you end up with depression). Here comes the difference; there are other two different chemicals in chocolate delaying the natural breakdown of this substance and makes you feel good for some time after gobbling up a few bars.
Mentioning all about the chocolate reminds me of a chewy dense brownie made out of a quality bittersweet chocolate. Till I reach the perfection I tried and retested different recipes with more butter, less butter, more chocolate, less flour and so on. But the one I am going to share is the ultimate one to beat the others. This time I also made a change and combined the bittersweet chocolate with its probably the best accompany; orange. The result was so good that the flavors blended in a perfect harmony without overwhelming each other like the notes of an elegant French perfume. If you did not try any of my recipes up to now, you have to give this one a go since it is literally superb.
For the majority, brownie is something like a cake with too much cocoa and walnuts inside however a really good brownie does not contain cocoa powder but chocolate. By following my recipe do not expect to end up with a well baked sponge textured cake in the end. This is more like a dense dessert you would savor after dinner besides a cup of coffee. The only difficult part is to help yourself not devouring all pieces in one day like my better half who craves for these brownies even by looking at the pictures. So here comes the recipe of feeling good with perfectly legal ingredients. Enjoy.
Ingredients (makes around 20 small pieces)
- 160 g (5,6 oz) butter
- 160 g (5,6 oz) bittersweet chocolate (55-60% cocoa percentage is preferred)
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- 1 tablespoon orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier depending on your choice)
- 0,5 ml (1/10 teaspoon) pure orange extract
- 1 cup roasted walnuts (or pecans)
- A pinch of salt
|1.||Preheat the oven to 170°C (338 °F).|
|2.||Roast the walnuts in the oven for around 10-12 minutes on a baking sheet.|
|3.||Divide butter and chocolate bars into small cubes and combine altogether in a heat resistant metal or glass bowl set over a larger bowl full of hot water (bainmarie technique)|
|4.||Stir the mixture frequently until all the chocolate and butter is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl out of the hot water and set aside.|
|5.||Beat the eggs and sugar in a stand mixer till the combination gains a creamy texture.|
|6.||Add melted chocolate-butter mixture (make sure that it is not hot) to egg-sugar combination and start mixing at medium speed.|
|7.||Pour in the liqueur and pure orange extract along with the orange zest.|
|8.||Gradually add the flour and a pinch of salt, mix for an additional 4-5 minutes to make sure that everything is blended.|
|9.||Stop mixing and add the roasted walnuts into the batter, fold with a rubber spatula till the walnut pieces are combined.|
|10.||Cover a 23 cm x 23 cm (9 inch x 9 inch) square baking pan with two overlapping aluminum foils larger than the bottom of the pan from each side (this will help you remove the brownie easily by pulling through these excess parts of foils).|
|11.||Pour the batter into baking pan and bake it at 170°C (338 °F) for 25 minutes. The looks of the baked brownie might be deceiving. You might think that it is not set even after 25 minutes of baking and if you test with a toothpick you will see that it does not come out too clean. This is quite normal, and in the way that it should be. Do not overbake.|
|12.||Set aside the brownie to cool down and once they come to the room temperature cut into rectangular bars or square slices depending on your preference.|