Two New World ingredients, chile peppers and chocolate, were combined in the native food and drinks in pre-Columbian Guatemala, where they originated. The pairing was later used by the Aztecs. Some dishes added honey and vanilla, but were without sugar, which was only introduced by Spaniards after Columbus. The addition of ground red chiles, especially anchos or guajillos, to sweet chocolate desserts turns what could have been a cloying sweetness into a mellow richness. Try it.
2 dried ancho or guajillo peppers (see Tip)
1/3 cup pecans
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1/2 cup boiling water
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)
Tip: Be sure to select pliable ancho or guajillo peppers. Wipe with a dry cloth, but do not wash. If you don’t have a microwave, you can toast the peppers in a heavy skillet, such as cast-iron, on the stovetop. Heat the skillet over medium heat. Add peppers and toast until fragrant, 20 to 30 seconds per side.
Preheat oven to 350Â°F. Coat an 8-by-11 1/2-inch (or similar) baking dish with cooking spray.
With scissors, stem peppers, cut in half lengthwise and seed. Place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for 2 minutes; stir. Continue cooking, stirring at 1-minute intervals, until peppers are crisp, about 5 minutes. Crumble peppers into a spice grinder or blender and grind to a fine powder. Measure out 1 tablespoon. (If you have any left over, store it in a tightly closed jar in the refrigerator and use in stews, salads and salsas.)
Spread pecans in a small baking dish and toast in the oven until fragrant, 4 to 6 minutes. Let cool.
Combine cocoa, dates and coffee in a medium bowl. Add boiling water and stir until cocoa has dissolved. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until completely cooled, about 20 minutes.
Combine pecans, flour, baking powder and salt in a food processor; process until nuts are ground. Transfer to a large bowl.
Scrape the cooled cocoa mixture into the food processor. (There is no need to wash the workbowl first.) Add 1 tablespoon ground ancho (or guajillo), egg, egg white, 1 cup sugar, oil and vanilla; process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides once or twice.
Add the cocoa mixture to the flour mixture; mix with a rubber spatula just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in chocolate chips. (The batter will seem quite thin.) Scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish, spreading evenly. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar evenly over the top.
Bake the brownies until firm around the edges and just set in the center, 22 to 26 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. Cut into 16 bars.
Tip: Spray the knife with cooking spray before cutting the brownies into bars so they won’t stick to the knife.
Makes 16 servings.
Per serving: 151 calories; 5 g total fat (1 g sat, 3 g mono); 13 mg cholesterol; 26 g carbohydrate; 2 g protein; 2 g fiber; 53 mg sodium.