Mastiha is a unique spice in the Greek pantry, a natural resin from the pistacia lentiscus tree (var. Chia) that is harvested only on the Eastern Aegean island of Chios. It is traditionally used in holiday breads and sweets, but in recent years mastiha has inspired chefs to create new dishes year-round—both savory and sweet. Its mysterious aroma is intensely herbal, evergreen. The depth of flavor and exotic nature of the spice make it a perfect pairing for chocolate. Once I made these brownies using mastiha, I realized I'd never make them any other way, and despite the generally "adult" appeal of this unusual ingredient, this sophisticated recipe is now the only brownie my little boy wants to eat.
Notes: You can purchase mastiha tears, powder, essence, or prepared foods featuring this ingredient online from: MastihaShop at http://www.mastihashopny.com/ (or at their retail store on Orchard Street, if you are in New York City). If you have purchased the raw crystals known as “tears,” you can make your own powder. Simply measure a teaspoon of the tears (they should be small or medium-size) into a mortar and add a bit of granulated sugar (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) from the recipe before pulverizing with a pestle. The sugar will prevent the resin from becoming too sticky. It also helps to freeze the tears ahead of time; the more frozen the tears, the more easily you’ll turn them to powder. —Allison Cay Parker
24 bite-size brownies
brandy (preferably Greek Metaxa)
packed dark brown sugar
(1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Preheat oven to 350. If desired, insert paper liners into 24 (1 and 3/4-inch) mini-muffin wells. Whether using liners or not, greasing the muffin pans should not be necessary.
Combine cherries and brandy together in a small bowl. Set aside for about an hour, allowing the fruit to get nice and plump.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and granulated sugar (I use a fork for this), until well blended, light, and slightly foamy. Whisk in the brown sugar, using the back of the fork to press out any hardened “rocks.” The mixture should look slightly thick, smooth, and caramel-colored. Add the vanilla and mastiha powder; incorporate well. Add the melted butter, whisking vigorously with the fork. The mixture will remain separated for some time; keep working it until it comes together and is completely blended.
Into a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add the flour to the egg-and-sugar mixture, using a wooden spoon now to stir in a figure-eight motion, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. The batter will become quite thick and will look almost dough-like at times. Keep stirring until all the flour is absorbed.
Fill prepared muffin wells with brownie batter. Be generous. Drain the cherries and place one in the center of each brownie.
Bake for 10-13 minutes, or until the brownies are puffed, the tops have a thin glossy crust, and the edges are beginning to pull away from the pan (if using paper liners, you may not see this). The brownies should still be quite soft to the touch; they will appear barely set, but they will firm up upon cooling.
Remove to cooling racks. Try to eat just one—I dare you!