I grew up in the island of Guam, which is a territory of the United States. My parents are Filipino, but decided to become US citizens and raise their children on Guam; that way we could still be close enough to the Philippines to visit our extended family once in a while (It’s a 3-hour plane ride from Guam to the PI), yet still be US citizens.
Chamorro is the name of the indigenous people, language, and culture of Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands. Although there have been major influences of other cultures and people due to migration and colonization, there remains a distinct and rich culture on Guam that is unique to the island.
Guam is currently in celebration of Chamorro Month! Every year during the month of March, school children K through 12th grade celebrate Chamorro culture through having festivals, and learning about the history, music, and food of the indigenous peoples. And so to celebrate, I wanted to use an ingredient commonly found on Guam and use it in a new way, and so I chose to make brownies with ground up achiote seeds in the batter.
Achiote seeds are derived from achiote trees and commonly found in Asian and Latin American countries. Guam has a popular side dish called red rice that utilizes the color and flavor of achiote seeds by soaking the seeds in water, and then using the water in cooking. Some Asian and Latin American countries also use this technique to make delicious dishes unique to their countries, but Guam is the only one to make red rice.
Achiote seeds lend a slightly bitter, earthy, pungent flavor to foods. It is very distinct, and used mainly in savory foods. The inspiration for this was that ancho chili powder is often used in chocolate cakes and brownies, so it’s not a great leap to try using achiote. I was a little worried that it either would not taste good, or else I’d add too little that it would not be noticeable. I was relieved to find that 4 teaspoons is actually the right amount to be noticeable without being overpowering.
Achiote Brownies (based on Dorie Greenspan’s classic brownie recipe)
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into squares
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
2 ounces dark chocolate 60 % cacao, chopped into small pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 brown sugar
4 teaspoons ground up achiote seeds (You can find achiote in asian and latin grocery stores; use a coffee or spice grinder if you are using whole seeds; otherwise, you can also buy achiote powder which is essentially already ground achiote seeds)
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules or instant espresso powder
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1/2 t kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts, optional
Line an 8-inch by 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil that overhangs on two sides. Grease it with butter or non-stick cooking or baking spray.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Chop up chocolate and butter and heat in a small saucepan on low heat, being careful not to cook it. You simply want to melt it, and barely so. Remove from heat and transfer to a medium bowl.
Add the sugars, and achiote and instant coffee granules and mix with a rubber spatula. Add eggs and continue to mix with a rubber spatula, stirring until combined. Add vanilla, salt, flour, and nuts. Do not over mix.
Transfer to the lined, greased pan, and bake on 325 degrees F, until toothpick test comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. I like my brownies more fudgey, so I took mine out at 25 minutes. Ovens vary so you may want to start watching it at the 22 minute mark. You definitely don’t want to over bake it, because it will be dry.
Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Let cool completely before lifting out of pan by lifting the foil. Cut into squares or rectangles. Serve with milk.
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