When we first learned that brownies are a Chicago invention, our minds were a little blown. Those fudgy rich bricks seemed so ubiquitous and ingrained in picnic culture, we never thought to question their origin. Danny immediately stated, as if fact, “Mole brownies.”
Our first attempt at creating a brownie that captured the depth and spice of mole was an inedible mess. Our second and third attempts were not much better. Others have succeeded at this, causing us to question our efforts at reinvention. We were frustrated. We learned an important lesson from our failures—go back to the source and start again.
Bertha Honoré Palmer, philanthropist and businesswoman, tasked her chef with developing a new dessert in relation to the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition, held in 1893 in Chicago. The exquisite result, now known as the brownie, originally involved a tangy-sweet glaze made of apricot preserves and gelatin, poured hot over baked brownies, and then cooled before serving. The Palmer House Hotel still prepares their brownies this way.
We decided to create a mole-spice glaze inspired by the final step of original recipe that still makes it unique to Chicago. Ours is spicy and slightly bitter, topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and a pinch of salt. Try it on your favorite brownies, whether store-bought, from a box, or from scratch. It’s the perfect complement.
Here’s our recipe:
Mole-Spice Chocolate Glaze
1 guajillo pepper
1 ancho pepper
2 anise stars
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
½ teaspoon plus a pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon light corn syrup
¾ cup dark baking chocolate
¼ cup raw cane sugar
handful of pumpkin seeds
In a pan over medium-low heat, toast the peppers, anise, and sesame seeds until fragrant. Grind them together (we used a blender), and combine with cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of salt.
In a double boiler, combine chocolate, butter, and corn syrup, stirring until smooth. Add spice mix and vanilla. Adjust sweetness to your liking with sugar (but we recommend you retain some of the bitterness). You may need to add a little more butter to retain the silky texture.
Toast the pumpkin seeds separately, over medium-low heat. After you have poured the glaze, sprinkle with toasted seeds and a pinch of salt.Our taste-testers called it “rich,” “smoky,” and “ethnic-tasting somehow.” They continued, “The roasted flavor complements the bitterness of chocolate,” and “this becomes more than just the sum of its parts.”
Thanks so much to our fearless taste-testers, we couldn’t do this without you.