Summer’s Best Brownies Are Baked on the Grill
Summer brings on a parade of grilled food-chicken, chops, veggies, seafood, and pizza, if you know what's good for you. But it wasn't until I picked up a copy of Marcus Bawdon's book, Food and Fire, that it ever occurred to me to bake my brownies on a grill.
Bawdon's recipe contains all the standard elements of a brownie-butter, sugar, eggs, cocoa, flour, and salt-but he also adds a touch of earthy, fruity flavor with one secret ingredient: ancho chile. "Brownies are a family favorite, but I wanted to experiment with a bit of tingle and depth of flavor that chiles can give, and found it worked great with a lick of subtle smoke," he tells me. Chiles and chocolate have been dancing together for centuries, a tradition that's part of my own heritage, so this speaks to me immediately. "I love the way the fruity, rich chile and dark chocolate work together with a hint of subtle smoke," Bawdon says. Everything about this sounds good.
And it is. Armed with Bawdon's recipe and my trusty Weber grill, I embarked on my first adventure in making dessert over an open flame (not counting s'mores, of course). Soaking the ancho chile in warm or hot water is a must-10 minutes or so is usually long enough to soften it so you can finely chop and evenly distribute it through the batter. Bawdon's recipe calls for a whole chile, which he recommends for optimum flavor, but ancho chile powder is an acceptable substitute. "You tend to lose some of the fruitiness with powder. But if that's what people have, then it's good for me. I'm all for people tweaking recipes to suit," he says. I made two batches, one with the rehydrated pepper as directed, and one with a tablespoon of ancho chile powder. The rehydrated pepper batch was indeed fruitier, with a fuller flavor, but both were better than the average brownie-chile and chocolate truly belong together.
The recipe makes a 13x9" pan of brownies; Bawdon recommends using either a steel pan or a disposable aluminum pan. I opted for the latter, too worried about my favorite brownie pan getting discolored by the open flame. The key to baking this recipe, whatever pan you use, is temperature control, ensuring the brownies come out fudgy, and not overcooked. You need to set up your grill for indirect heat-pouring your lit charcoal on one half of the grill to create a cool zone and hot zone. Alternatively, light a gas grill using only half of the burners for the same effect. If you're worried about the brownies burning on the bottom, even with indirect heat, Bawdon advises placing a second pan, inverted, below the brownie pan for additional insulation from the heat.
With my charcoal going in my chimney starter, I mixed together the batter. As Bawdon suggested, I threw a big chunk of cherry wood onto the fire before setting the pan on the cool side of the grill and replacing the grill's lid. Temptingly aromatic smoke wafted out of the vent. Twenty-five minutes later, I lifted the cover and, once the smoke cleared, a pan of glossy-topped brownies was ready to go. The smell was intoxicating, but the flavor was in a category all on its own. The brownies were rich and fudgy, that chocolate flavor mingling with fruity, mild peppers and subtle smoke.
This summer dessert recipe fits nicely into any grilling session. Once the grill is ready and set up with a hot and cool zone, it'll likely be running too hot to bake right away. Take that time to grill thin-cut proteins, kebabs, turkey burgers, or veggies directly over the coals and you should still have enough heat leftover to cover the grill and bake your brownies while you eat.
Bawdon's simple recipe is wide open to interpretation. If chile and chocolate together are not your thing, you can make these without the ancho. I even tried the same technique with just a boxed mix and the results were great-just don't sleep on the cherry wood smoke, which adds another subtle layer of floral sweetness and savory smoke to the dessert.
Knowing that you can use a grill to bake opens up a world of possibilities. "You can cook anything on the barbecue-wow your friends and family with something sweet from the grill," says Bawdon. He heartily invites grillers to riff on his recipe. "I'd love to see people coming up with their own versions of this, adding nuts, fruits, etc. Barbecuing should be fun!"