It’s Kentucky Derby week!
This week we think of fast horses, fancy hats, and cool Mint Juleps. Me, I think of food and drink (naturally) – fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, Derby Pie (or Pecan Bars)…and, of course, bourbon. It was fortuitous then that I acquired two bottles of whiskey from Ken Gordon of Gordons DTX…he was doing a “spring cleaning” at Whisky Wednesday last week and I offered to take a couple of nearly-empties off his hands. As thanks for letting me have them, I promised to bring in bourbon brownies to share with the group. When I saw that the two bottles were completely different styles, I decided that the Great Bourbon Brownie Bake-Off Battle was about to begin.
Ironically enough, neither of these two bottles are from Kentucky…Clyde May’s Alabama-style whiskey is the official Alabama state whiskey, aged in oak and finished with a hint of apple. Meanwhile, Berkshire Bourbon Smoke & Peat (from my adopted state of Massachusetts) is straight bourbon whisky aged in oak and finished in Laphroiag and Ardbeg casks, adding an ashy quality to the taste. So even though these samples weren’t Kentucky bourbon, I wasn’t going to split hairs…I think we can be flexible for the Derby, and besides, who is going to argue the technicalities when there are brownies to be had?
Searching for a battle-ready recipe
Before the Bake-Off Battle could begin, I needed a great brownie recipe. I knew I wanted to use dark chocolate (for both the baking chocolate and cocoa powder) because I wanted a rich base that would set off the flavors in each bottle. I decided to adapt two recipes for bourbon brownies that I found on Pinterest, Kentucky Bourbon Brownies and Bourbon Brown Sugar Brownies. Why? There were elements of both recipes that I liked…the Kentucky Bourbon Brownies used cocoa powder in the batter (which I wanted) but had a very large amount of baking chocolate (too much, I thought). The Bourbon Brown Sugar Brownies included vanilla, salt, a reasonable amount of baking chocolate, and brown sugar (for an underlying caramel note that I thought would complement the bourbons), but it didn’t have cocoa powder or enough bourbon in the batter (2 Tbsp vs. 3 Tbsp). My version of Dark Chocolate Bourbon Brownies yielded a rich and fudgy bite, and the difference in flavor for the two samples was…well, let’s wait for the results until after the recipe, shall we?
Dark Chocolate Bourbon Brownies
Yield: 32 1”x2” pieces
- 1/2 cup (60g) all-purpose flour
- 3 Tbsp (16g) King Arthur Flour dark chocolate cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 oz (113g) dark chocolate, chopped
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
- 1 cup (213g) dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3 Tbsp bourbon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line an 8-inch or 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
- Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt together.
- Combine semisweet chocolate and butter in a heavy saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove pan from heat and whisk in dark brown sugar; whisk in eggs one at a time. Whisk in bourbon and vanilla. Fold in flour mixture just until combined (do not overmix).
- Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for 22-24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
- Just before cutting, chill in the freezer for 10 minutes. Carefully lift parchment to remove bars from pan and place on a cutting board; cut into 1”x2” pieces with a sharp knife.
My tasting panel consisted of myself, my husband, my older daughter, and her fiancé. First we sampled the bourbons, then the brownies. I’ll publish the bourbon tasting notes next week as an encore to this post (Side note: I had actually tried both these expressions last summer but never had a chance to write up my tasting notes, so next week I’ll include those notes plus some others pours from that day).
The brownies were dark, rich, and fudgy, and I was so pleased (and relieved) that my adaptation worked! We all agreed that, while understated, there was something different about each one. The Clyde May’s brownie was almost sweeter with a presence of baking spices, while the Berkshire Bourbon brownie had more body and support for the dark chocolate. If you didn’t know that two different whiskies had been used, you might have missed the subtlety and just proclaimed these as “really good brownies,” as my daughter put it. So even though the Great Bourbon Brownie Bake-Off Battle didn’t have a definitive favorite, the winners were us for having wonderful family time with drinks and dessert to share. No horse race can beat that!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!