Baking Brownies Just Right

Baking Brownies Just Right: Cakey, Chewy, or Fudgy

Change the proportions of ingredients to bake the style you like best
by Cindy Mitchell

Make them how you like them. Whether a brownie ends up dense and fudgy, moist and chewy, or light and cakey depends on the amounts of chocolate, butter, sugar, and flour.

Brownies come in all guises -- with nuts, without, butterscotch, swirled with cream cheese, shot through with mint or fruit filling, sprinkled with chips, spiked with espresso or booze, or just plain chocolate in a million variations. But the most important aspect of a brownie, for anyone who loves brownies, is texture. Initially, I thought there were just two camps, cakey versus fudgy, and I was firmly planted in the cakey camp. But after testing, tasting, and canvassing friends and colleagues about what they prize most in a brownie, I began to see that there's a third style to consider: chewy, which is definitely different from its cakey and fudgy siblings.

I'll say right off that I could never claim to write the Bible on brownies -- there are so many recipes, and everyone has a favorite. But as I'll show you, there are definitely guidelines to follow so that you can make the style of brownie that suits your taste, whether it's cakey, fudgy, or chewy. I've also thrown in a butterscotch blondie, as well as chocolate brownie cookies, a huge favorite at my bakery, Grace Baking, and the happy result of a measuring mistake.

Similar ingredients, different proportions

Start your brownies with melted chocolate. Whether you melt it with butter or not, use the gentle heat of a double boiler -- there's no remedy for scorched chocolate. All of these brownie recipes have enough chocolate flavor to satisfy a chocolate yearning, and they all have similar ingredients. But because of the varying amounts of chocolate, butter, sugar, and flour, the texture of each brownie is quite different. To keep things simple, I've left nuts out of the three chocolate variations, but feel free to add them, 3/4 cup or so. I especially love chopped toasted walnuts in the cakey version.

Fudgy Brownies

A fudgy brownie is dense, with a moist, intensely chocolatey interior. I think of it as somewhere between a rich truffle torte and a piece of fudge. You'll see that I've included both bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate: I love the deep, intense chocolate flavor they pack when used together. I've added an egg yolk to contribute fudgy richness without greasiness. Because the batter is quite dense, I suggest beating it vigorously with a wooden spoon to ensure a smooth, even texture.

Chewy Brownies

A chewy brownie is moist, but not quite as gooey as a fudgy one. The chewiness seems to come from a couple of different factors: more all-purpose flour, whose proteins provide "bite" (I find that cake flour, which is lower in protein, results in a light, crumbly texture that's too delicate for brownies); and whole eggs, whose whites give structure and "set."

Cakey Brownies

Cakey brownies need cake-baking technique. Cindy Mitchell uses a whisk to aerate the batter. A cakey brownie has a moist crumb and a slightly fluffy interior. The batter contains less butter than the other recipes, and I include milk and a little corn syrup for moistness (the milk and corn syrup are also great ways to extend a brownie's shelf life). I don't use much flour (even less than for most cakes), and while brownies don't usually use chemical leavens, I add some baking powder to keep this cakey brownie light.

When I mix cakey brownies, I use a bit of cake-baking technique, too: creaming the butter and sugar first (rather than melting the butter) and then whisking the batter to aerate the mixture and get a light crumb. I think this brownie improves on sitting at least one and even two days after you bake it.

Choosing The Chocolate

Killer brownies don't need expensive chocolate

With high-quality chocolate -- both domestic and imported -- more readily available these days, I've noticed that many bakers have opted to get fancy with brownies. I'm a stickler for good ingredients, but I also believe that brownies are best when you keep them simple. While I encourage you to experiment with different chocolates, I got delicious results in all these recipes with supermarket-handy unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate.

Testing For Doneness

Test for doneness before the recipe tells you to

In addition to ingredient proportions, baking time greatly affects the consistency of a brownie, so it's important to be attentive. Fudgy brownies baked three minutes too short can be unpleasantly gooey; chewy brownies baked three minutes too long become tough and dry. I encourage you to invest in an oven thermometer (about $6), a valuable help in ensuring consistent results.

Type Of Pan Affects Baking Time

Brownies will cook more quickly in metal pans than in glass, which is what accounts for the wide time windows in the recipes. If you're using metal, cooking times will be on the short side; with Pyrex, they'll be longer. For all these recipes, and regardless of the pan you're using, start testing for doneness after 20 minutes of baking. First, press your fingers gently into the center of the pan. If the brownie feels like it's just setting, insert a toothpick near the center. The pick will probably be wet, but this early testing is good for comparison's sake. Continue baking for 5 to 8 minutes and then insert the toothpick again near the center. Brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs still clinging. It's okay for the pick to look moist, but if you see wet batter, keep baking.

Making Your Squares Uniform

For uniform squares, flip the cooled, whole brownie out of the pan. You'll have a much easier time cutting neat squares, with the option of cutting off the edges if you want to. Lining the pan bottoms with parchment makes it much easier to get the brownie out of the pan. If you don't have any on hand, waxed paper works, too.

One last word: although it's awfully tempting to cut into a pan of just-baked brownies, hold off. The flavor and texture of each type of brownie will be at its best -- and definitely worth waiting for -- when completely cool.

Cindy Mitchell and her husband, Glenn, own Grace Baking in the San Francisco Bay area.

Cakey Brownies Recipe

By Cindy Mitchell

These are rich and luscious, with a cakey lightness.
ields sixteen 2-inch squares.

Ingredients

Tip: this recipe can be doubled easily; use a 13x9-inch pan and increase the baking time slightly.

How To Make

Tip: the recipe gives a range of baking times -- use the shorter time for metal pans, the longer for Pyrex pans.

Position an oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 350F. In a double boiler over simmering water, melt the chocolate. Remove the pan from the heat; cool slightly. Butter an 8-inch square pan, line the pan bottom with parchment (or waxed paper), and then butter the parchment.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter with a fork. Beat in the sugar and corn syrup; be sure there are no lumps in the mixture. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking thoroughly. Add the vanilla and milk. Whisk until incorporated, about 30 seconds. The batter may appear broken; this is okay. Whisk in the melted chocolate, beating until the batter is smooth and has thickened slightly, 30 to 60 seconds. Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt so they're well blended; stir the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture until incorporated. Scrape into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, 20 to 30 min.

Set the pan on a rack until cool enough to handle. Run a paring knife around the inside edge of the pan and then invert the pan onto a flat surface and peel off the parchment. Flip the baked brownie back onto the rack to cool completely. Cut into squares with a sharp knife.

Chewy Brownies Recipe

by Cindy Mitchell

Added flour helps to give these brownies their chewiness. It's important not to overbake these or they'll dry out. Yields sixteen 2-inch squares.

Ingredients

Tip: This recipe can be doubled easily; use a 13X9-inch pan and increase the baking time slightly.

How To Make

Tip: the recipe gives a range of baking times -- use the shorter time for metal pans, the longer for Pyrex pans.

Position an oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 350F. Butter an 8-inch square pan, line the pan bottom with parchment (or waxed paper), and then butter the parchment.

In a double boiler over simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate. Remove the pan from the heat; cool slightly. Stir in the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, stirring each time until blended. Add the flour and cocoa; beat until incorporated and the mixture is smooth, 30 to 60 seconds. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top is uniformly colored with no indentation and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out almost clean, with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, 35 to 45 min.

Set the pan on a rack until cool enough to handle. Run a paring knife around the inside edge of the pan and then invert the pan onto a flat surface and peel off the parchment. Flip the baked brownie back onto the rack to cool completely. Cut into squares with a sharp knife.

Fudgy Brownies Recipe

By Cindy Mitchell

Using both bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate gives these brownies deep, sophisticated chocolate flavor. The consistency is fudgy but not gooey or underdone. Yields sixteen 2-inch squares.

Ingredients

Tip: this recipe can be doubled easily; use a 13X9-inch pan and increase the baking time slightly.

How To Make

Tip: the recipe gives a range of baking times -- use the shorter time for metal pans, the longer for Pyrex pans.

Position an oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 350F. Butter an 8-inch square pan, line the pan bottom with parchment (or waxed paper), and then butter the parchment.

In a double boiler over simmering water, melt the butter and both chocolates. Remove the pan from the heat; cool slightly. Whisk in the sugar and then the vanilla and salt. The mixture will be somewhat grainy; this is okay. Whisk in the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, stirring each time until blended. Add the flour, beating until thickened and smooth, 30 to 60 seconds. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with moist crumbs (not wet batter) clinging to it, 35 to 45 min.

Set the pan on a rack until cool enough to handle. Run a paring knife around the inside edge of the pan and then invert the pan onto a flat surface and peel off the parchment. Flip the baked brownie back onto the rack to cool completely. Cut into squares with a sharp knife.

Blondies Recipe

by Cindy Mitchell

Dark brown sugar will give you an especially flavorful blondie. Yields sixteen 2-inch squares.

Ingredients

How To Make

Tip: this recipe can be doubled easily; use a 13X9-inch pan and increase the baking time slightly. The recipe gives a range of baking times -- use the shorter time for metal pans, the longer for Pyrex pans.

Position an oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 350F.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter and brown sugar, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved. Cook, stirring, about 1 min. longer--the mixture will bubble but should not boil. Set the pan aside to cool for about 10 min.

Meanwhile, butter an 8-inch square pan, line the pan bottom with parchment (or waxed paper), and then butter the parchment.
Stir the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla into the cooled sugar mixture. Add the flour, salt, and nuts, stirring just until blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the center is springy when touched (the top may still look doughy) and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (it's fine if there are a few moist crumbs clinging to it), 25 to 35 min.

Set the pan on a rack until it's cool enough to handle. Run a paring knife around the inside edge of the pan and then invert the pan onto a flat surface and peel off the parchment. Flip the baked brownie back onto the rack to cool completely. Cut into squares with a sharp knife.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies Recipe

by Cindy Mitchell

These cookies are really popular at our bakery, Grace Baking. A pastry bag is faster than a spoon for piping the cookie batter; use a #4 tip. It's okay to pipe the cookies close together; they won't spread much during baking. Yields about 4-1/2 dozen cookies.

Ingredients

How To Make

Position an oven rack on the center rung. Heat the oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment (or grease and flour the pan).

In a double boiler over simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate. Stir to combine; let cool. In an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium high to a ribbon consistency, 3 to 4 min. Take the bowl off the mixer. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and the vanilla; stir to combine.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Stir the flour mixture and the nuts into the batter; let the batter rest for 5 min. Spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a #4 tip (or into a heavy-duty zip-top bag with one bottom corner snipped to create a 2/3-inch diagonal opening).

For each cookie, pipe 1 Tbs. batter onto the lined baking sheet. While you pipe the second tray, bake the first until the cookies are puffed and cracked and the tops barely spring back when pressed, 8 to 10 min. The cracks should be moist but not wet. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.

Variations

Substitute 1-1/2 tsp. mint extract for the vanilla and the nuts.

Are they done yet?

Brownies are underdone when smudges of wet batter cling to the toothpick. Brownies are just right when traces of moistness and fudgy crumbs cling to the toothpick. Start testing for doneness before the recipe says to. Press gently in the center of the pan -- the brownie should feel like it has just set. Then insert a toothpick to be sure. "When in doubt," says Cindy Mitchell, "lean toward underdone rather than over done."


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Created on ... May 04, 2007