Brownies with a chile kick

With Cinco de Mayo just over the horizon, I can’t think of a better time to celebrate the pleasures of chile paired with chocolate.

I’ve long been drawn to the mysteriously spicy undercurrents that some chiles bring to rich, dark chocolate.  The mild, fruity taste of ancho chile in particular brings out unexpected layers of flavor in even ordinary unsweetened chocolate. Here, it spices up homey brownies inspired by Mexican ingredients.

The recipe began a few years ago with a box of Mexican chocolate that had been hanging around my cupboard too long.  Even though I always plan to make hot chocolate for myself, I never seem to get around to it. So I was looking another use for this chocolate blended with sugar and cinnamon.

I chopped up the grainy disks of chocolate and stirred together a batch of brownies based on a simple, one-bowl technique.  The first samples were so good that I tinkered some more, throwing in ancho chile powder and a couple of handfuls of buttery toasted pine nuts.

After several adjustments to reduce the sugar, this version emerged.  The texture is nicely moist, hitting the sweet spot between fudgy and cakey, and the flavor is more complex and elusive than most brownie recipes.  I’m hooked.

Think of these as bi-cultural brownies.  The basic concept is quintessentially American, but the personality is definitely Latina.

Makes 16 brownies1 cup pine nuts
2 disks of Mexican chocolate (about 6 ounces), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
Pinch kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and butter liberally or butter pan lightly and line with parchment paper.

Toast pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat when they begin to turn a golden brown.

In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan filled with an inch of simmering water, melt chocolate with butter.  Stir until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is fairly smooth.  It will be slightly grainy.  Remove bowl from heat and beat in eggs one at a time until well blended.  Stir in vanilla.  Add flour, cocoa and chile powder.  Stir just until the dry ingredients are incorporated and batter is shiny.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake in center of the oven for about 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack, lift brownies out of pan, and slice into squares.  Serve.

Aleta Watson