After I finished cooking school in Paris, I lived in Switzerland for a number of years. During this time, I acquired another important form of education, which is the Swiss view of chocolate as sustenance. In Switzerland, chocolate is considered a staple and a panacea for all that is fraught in the world. It's found in every lunch box, ski-pack and kitchen pantry. It's not considered a dessert, but its own food group. Swiss chocolate transcends all nutritional categories, and is arguably a national symbol, ranking equally with banks, cows and the Matterhorn. In a manner of classic Swiss efficiency, chocolate is the multitasking equivalent of a power bar, a balanced diet, a healthy psyche and an aspirin.
I lived near Geneva, not far from France, and crossed the border regularly to shop in French supermarkets. When I returned, the Swiss border guards would regularly stop me and question my purchases, since there were strict restrictions on quantities of wine, cheese, and meat that could be acquired abroad.
One day, when I was still new to the country, I returned with some French chocolate. When I informed the Swiss guards that I had chocolate in my shopping bags, they gaped at me in disbelief. Never mind the visible case of Burgundy wine, the kilos of runny French cheese or the side of beef strapped into my backseat -- they were appalled that I had the gall and obvious lack of taste to purchase French chocolate instead of Swiss. In their minds, I had committed an act of treachery and diminished my already lowly foreign status. The next time I crossed the border, I would have to wear a paper bag over my head.
I learned my lesson: Integrating meant more than learning the local language and paying taxes. It also meant buying Swiss chocolate. Now, many years and several countries later, I continue to buy Swiss chocolate, or what I call the Swiss remedy for everything. So, when it's time to bake treats for the holidays, or when I am simply in need of a little pick-me-up or mood booster, I turn to a bar of Swiss chocolate for an uplifting and restorative pleasure.
Swiss Brownie Bites
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus 6 to 24 hours refrigerating time
Yield: makes 50 to 60 small squares
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
12 ounces high-quality dark (65 to 70 percent) chocolate (preferably Swiss), coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan; line the bottom with parchment and butter the parchment.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat.
Whisk the eggs and sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy; stir in the vanilla. Add the chocolate and stir to blend. Add the flour mixture; stir until just combined, without over-mixing. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan; transfer to the oven and bake until the top is set and the sides begin to pull away from the pan, about 25 minutes. (The brownies will be fudgy, and a wooden toothpick may not come out clean at this point.)
Cool the brownies completely on a rack. Cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or preferably overnight. Remove the brownie block from the pan and cut into 1-inch squares. Store the brownies in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.
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