Monday, September 9, 2013

Joey's Vanilla Bean Brownies


 Let me just start by saying that this is one of the best desserts I've made in quite a long time! It all started when I was in the mood for a fabulous vanilla something. My only requirement was that I wanted it to have a serious PUNCH of vanilla flavor. Well, it has taken a few tries, but I've finally landed on the correct recipe! Here's how it happened..
  I figured I'd look for a really rich vanilla brownie and I happened upon a recipe. So I gave it a try. They were AMAZING, but there were several things I didn't like about them. The biggest problem was the amount of fat. They were absolutely LADEN with butter and heavy cream (which is probably why they tasted so good) but there was so much that they barely held their shape when you cut them into squares. The other thing I didn't like was that they had no vanilla in them! How can you make a vanilla brownie with no vanilla? So I tried adding a couple ingredients, and also changed some of the amounts. After a few tries, I decided that THIS was the right recipe. I made them for Ginna and Charlie's yearly White Elephant party, and everyone loved them! There was barely a crumb left! They're SO delicious and they're quite literally the BEST vanilla something I've ever made. So there ya have it. I KNOW I'll be making these again soon! Who wants some?


Frosting:
2 vanilla beans*
1 stick butter 
3 c powdered sugar
2 tbs half and half (or milk)
1 tbs pure vanilla extract

Brownie:
2 c flour
2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c half and half
1 stick (1/2 c) butter
1/2 c sour cream
2 large eggs (lightly beaten)
1 tbs pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven 350┬║ F.

Make the frosting first:
Using a sharp knife, split open the vanilla beans longways and use the back of the knife to scrape out the "caviar" from inside. Save the empty vanilla bean pods. Add the "caviar" to the rest of the frosting ingredients and whip until well combined. Set aside.
 In large bowl combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder; set aside. In a small sauce pan, combine butter and half and half. Add the reserved empty bean pods. Bring it to a gentle simmer.  Let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure to get any remaining "caviar" out of the beans. Remove from heat. Remove the vanilla bean pods and discard. Add the flour mixture, whisking to combine. Stir in sour cream, egg, and vanilla extract. Pour onto greased and floured half sheet pan, spreading evenly. Bake 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Don't over bake! Let it cool for about 10 minutes until it's no longer piping hot, but still warm. Spread warm cake with frosting. Let it cool completely or chill before cutting into bars.


Tips:
 *I used 2 vanilla beans, but you can do it with just one. Actually, I suppose if you don't have a vanilla bean, you could just leave it out and add a little more vanilla extract.
 If you want to cut the fat even further, you can just use milk instead of half and half, but you'll get more of a cake like texture instead of a rich brownie texture.
 As you can see in the photo, I placed a piece of parchment paper between each layer of brownies when I placed them on the plate. Because they have such a fudgy texture, I was worried that they might stick together. As it turns out, this was a really good idea!
 You probably don't really have to grease the baking sheet, but I always grease and flour everything. Why take chances?
 I found that you get prettier cuts when you chill the whole pan after frosting it. Using a big sharp knife also helps you to that end. One should always consider presentation!
 Be sure to use PURE vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla flavoring. There's really no comparison, and since vanilla is the main flavor, you really want it to be pure.
 I tried playing around with the amounts to see if I could bake it in a 9x13 pan, just because the half sheet pan makes quite a bit, but I haven't quite figured it out yet. I decided to just leave the quantities as they were because half the time I wind up making two batches anyway. So instead of 24 small brownies, I made 32 large ones. More is more!


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