The presidential election this past November was, one could safely say, a bit divisive. It was often hard to find a middle ground, for folks on either end of the political spectrum. So that might have been what led to a post on our local Nextdoor app, on November 3, Election Day. A gentleman posted a photo of coffee, in a mug that had a sunflower on a red background. “Who loves coffee?” he asked, sounding hopeful that his question might lead to a discussion of
something other than politics.
And that it did. More than 60 comments followed, with people recommending their favorite coffee shops in and around Waco, and others commenting on the type of coffee they like to drink. One response piqued the interest of the chef in our family: “Vietnamese coffee is the best.”
Having not previously heard of Vietnamese coffee, that sent her on a quest to learn more about it. And then that opened a rabbit hole that led to our discovery of many varieties of international coffees that we needed to try. My favorite of the coffee recipes this month is the cafe au lait, which I first encountered, as many others have, at Cafe Du Monde, on Decatur Street in New Orleans.
In a previous career, I was sports information director — the public relations person for the athletic department — at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock. Our athletic program was a member of the Sun Belt Conference, which at the time had its headquarters on Poydras Street in New Orleans, which was less than a mile from Cafe Du Monde. During my five years in Little Rock, I believe I made 15 trips to New Orleans for meetings and games, and I’m pretty sure I had beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe Du Monde at least once during each of those trips.
We needed something to serve with all the coffee we made this week, and we wrote about beignets in this space already in the July 2019 issue, so off we went on another search. This one eventually led us to a YouTube video by a fellow named Alvin Zhou (who, by the way, did not respond to an interview request for this story). Zhou had just posted a video he called “100-Hour Fudgy Brownies,” which was an intriguing title. Most brownie recipes take about an hour, with prep and cooking time. A hundred hours? For brownies?
Zhou doesn’t say anything in the video; the action, such as it is, is moved along by dialogue written at the bottom of the screen, and much of that is Zhou talking to the ingredients. The video is accompanied by the acoustical music of City Girl, a project of lovely, soothing music that’s created by an anonymous producer in Los Angeles. Zhou is the senior producer for BuzzFeed’s Tasty, creating videos for the popular food network, a job he nabbed at the ripe old age of 23 after three years as a video producer for BuzzFeed.
As of right now, in mid-December as I write this, Zhou has six videos on his personal YouTube channel, including “6-Hour Double Cheeseburger,” “48-Hour Chocolate Chip Cookies” and “100-Hour Lasagna.” (We don’t like lasagna nearly enough to devote 100 hours to making it. Six hours for a double cheeseburger, though? That might be doable.)
Obviously, most of the 100 hours required to make the brownies is inactive time when the batter is resting in the refrigerator for three days. Then they’re back in the refrigerator for another 24 hours after they’re baked.
So, are the brownies worth 100 hours of time?
“This was probably the fudgiest brownie I ever had,” wrote Falak Khaliq on a review video she published on her own YouTube channel, the Home Maker Baker, after she made the brownies. “The flavours had wonderfully developed over all those hours.”
Our verdict: We were a little wary when we first removed the brownies from the refrigerator after the final 24 hours. They wouldn’t come out of the pan easily and appeared to be pretty hard. However, we ran a knife around the edge and lifted the whole thing out by the parchment, and by the time the brownies had sat at room temperature for a while, they softened up a bit and were chewy and rich — really rich. The most chocolate-y brownies we’ve ever made. So, yes, they were worth the 100 hours. Could they be made in a shorter amount of time? Probably. They could have possibly spent just one or two days in the refrigerator. There’s a point at which the batter is going to be as good as it’s going to get, but it’ll take some experimentation to find that point. And we’ve already got a batch of really rich brownies on our hands. We’re not making any more for a while.
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons espresso powder, divided
- 1 coffee ice cube (or 1/4 cup strong brewed coffee)
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla paste
- 2 1/4 cups white sugar
- 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces dark chocolate, melted
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
- 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, melt the butter and allow it to cook until it’s fragrant and just begins to brown. (Butter can go from browned to burned very quickly, so keep a close eye on the skillet.) Add 1 tablespoon espresso powder until the powder dissolves, then add the coffee ice cube. Remove from heat, stir to melt the ice cube, and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, add the eggs, vanilla paste and sugar. Mix until the eggs have doubled in volume and have turned pale yellow.
In a small bowl, sift the cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon espresso powder and salt, then gently fold into the egg mixture.
Add the melted dark chocolate to the egg mixture and gently fold. Then sift the flour into the egg mixture, and gently fold again.
In a separate bowl, add the chopped milk chocolate and 6 ounces dark chocolate and mix together. Add half of this mixture to the batter and gently fold. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate over the top.
Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three days.
When ready to bake the brownies, remove the plastic wrap, turn the oven on to 350 F, and place the baking dish in the oven. (Do not preheat the oven.)
Baking time depends on personal brownie preference. If you like your brownies with a softer consistency, bake for 30 minutes. (The batter will still be pretty shaky after 30 minutes, but it will firm up in the next step.) For a more dense, chewier, fudge-like brownie, bake for 45 minutes.
After baking, remove the brownies from the oven and tightly cover the dish with foil. Place the dish in the freezer for 30 minutes, then move to the refrigerator. Leave the brownies in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
After 24 hours in the refrigerator, the brownies are ready to be cut and served.
Makes about 12 large brownies.
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup white or brown rice flour, or whole wheat flour (if rice or whole wheat flour isn’t available, use 2 cups total all-purpose flour)
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon finely ground dark coffee
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Line a 9-inch square baking dish or a 9-inch pie pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until well combined. Stir in the flours, orange zest, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon and salt until it’s well combined.
Place the dough into the dish or pie pan and press evenly to the edges. Prick holes all over the dough with a fork. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to bake the shortbread, heat the oven to 325 F. Remove the plastic wrap and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the shortbread is just beginning to brown.
Remove the shortbread from the oven. (It may still be soft at this point. It will continue to harden as it cools.) While the shortbread is still warm, remove from the pan and place on a cutting board, then cut into squares or wedges.
Makes about 8-10 servings.
- 2 teaspoons sweetened condensed milk (or to taste)
- 4 teaspoons ground chicory coffee, such as Cafe Du Monde
- 1 cup boiling water
Pour the condensed milk into a coffee cup.
Add the coffee to the bottom of a small French press. Add enough boiling water to just wet the coffee grounds. Stir, and let sit for 1 minute. Then add the remaining water, place lid on the French press and allow to steep for 3 more minutes. Gently press down on the plunger until it reaches the bottom of the carafe.
Pour the coffee over the condensed milk and stir. Serve immediately.
Makes 1 serving.
Cafe Au Lait
- 1/2 cup strong brewed coffee, such as Cafe Du Monde
- 1/2 cup steamed milk
Pour the coffee into a coffee cup.
To make steamed milk, pour the milk into a glass jar, such as a Mason jar. Shake the jar vigorously for about 45 seconds, or until the milk has doubled in volume. Remove the lid and place the jar in the microwave for 30 to 45 seconds. Remove from the microwave and use a spoon to move the foam to one side while pouring the steamed milk into the coffee. Then spoon the foam over the top. Serve immediately.
Makes 1 servings.
- 3 cups water
- 6 black tea bags
- 12 ounces evaporated milk
- 3 cups strong brewed coffee
- Sugar, to taste
Heat the water, add tea bags, and steep for 3 minutes. Remove tea bags. Pour into a heat-proof pitcher or carafe. Add the evaporated milk and coffee. Add sugar to taste and stir. Serve hot or over ice.
Makes 3-4 servings.