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Best Brownies Ever: Make Them Your Way!

Author:

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

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Before We Begin

I am a brownie purist.

No three-layer toppings, no mint, peanut butter, or raspberry jam swirl. Walnuts only if the brownies have been chilled. And they must be dense and fudgy. I want my brownies like my Starbucks—dark and rich. I don't want cakey brownies. If I want cake, I'll order cake.

What about you—what is your idea of the perfect brownie? And more important, how can you make your perfect brownie? To answer that, we first need to look at the history of the brownie and how they began.

Who Invented Brownies?

There are several myths about the origin of brownies. The first is that a baker accidentally added melted chocolate to biscuit dough. That hardly seems feasible when one considers the texture of biscuit dough and the amount of kneading that would be required to blend the chocolate thoroughly.

The second myth is that a baker forgot to add flour to a cake batter. Yes, there are numerous (successful) recipes for flourless chocolate cake, but the proportions of other ingredients (sugar, eggs, butter, etc.) are far different than for a cake with flour. Simply omitting flour from a chocolate cake recipe will not result in anything edible.

The third and more believable story is that a housewife in Bangor, Maine, did not have available or forgot to add baking powder. The resulting “flat” cake was the birth of the brownie. This recipe was published in 1912.

None of these stories, however, are true.

We actually need to wind back the clock a bit more.

At the Boston Cooking School, founded in 1879, Fannie Farmer instructed women in how best to run a kitchen. She and other educators in the school promoted the concept of running an efficient, business-like home; with classrooms, lecture tours, and degree programs they endorsed what would eventually come to be known as “home economics.”

Fannie Farmer published a recipe for brownies in the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cook Book, but it contained no chocolate.

Brownies

1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup Porto Rico molasses
1 egg well beaten
7/8 cup bread flour
1 cup pecan meat cut in pieces

Mix ingredients in order given. Bake in small, shallow fancy cake tins, garnishing top of each cake with one-half pecan.

Two more chocolate brownie recipes followed in prominent publications, first in Fannie Farmer’s 1906 version of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, with a recipe similar to the Bangor Brownies mentioned above. This was certainly the most widely circulated version of the chocolate brownie recipe due to the immense popularity of Farmer’s work. In 1907, Maria Willett Howard, a student of Farmer’s, wrote two brownie recipes for Lowney’s Cook Book (from the Walter M. Lowney chocolate company), with differing amounts of egg, chocolate, and sugar.

Cakey, Chewy, or Fudgy?

What is your preference? And (more importantly) how do you get what you want?

The difference between a cakey brownie, a chewy brownie, and a fudgy brownie is in the ratio of fat (and chocolate) to flour. Cakey brownies will use more flour; fudgy brownies will use less.

IngredientCakeyChewyFudgy

Unsweetened chocolate

3 oz.

4 oz.

2 oz.

Bittersweet chocolate

 

 

5 oz.

Butter, softened

1/4 cup

1/2 cup

10 tablespoons

Sugar

3/4 cup

1 1/2 cups

1 cup

Eggs

2

2

2

Egg yolks

 

 

1

Milk

1/4 cup

 

 

Light corn syrup

1 tablespoon

 

 

Vanilla

1 teaspoon

2 teaspoons

2 teaspoons

Flour

1/2 cup

1 cup

2/3 cup

Baking powder

1/2 teaspoon

 

 

Unsweetened cocoa powder

 

2 tablespoons

 

Special Equipment You Will Need

  • Double boiler
  • Medium saucepan
  • Mixing spoon
  • Mixing bowl
  • Wire whisk
  • 8-inch square pan
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Parchment paper

Instructions for All Brownies

  1. Coat the bottom only of an 8-inch square pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Next cut a piece of parchment paper 8-inches wide. Place in the prepared pan with the long ends extending over two sides (these will act as handles to help you remove the baked brownies from their pan).
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Don't overmix your brownie batter. It's OK to have a few streaks of flour. Overworking the batter will make tough brownies, and no one wants that!
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Instructions for Cakey Brownies

  1. Melt chocolate over simmering water in double boiler; set aside.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar; add eggs, milk, corn syrup, and vanilla.
  3. Beat in melted chocolate.
  4. Stir in flour and baking powder.
  5. Pour into prepared pan.
  6. Bake 23-30 minutes.
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Instructions for Chewy Brownies

  1. Melt butter and chocolate together over very low heat in medium saucepan.
  2. Remove from heat; add sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
  3. Mix well.
  4. Stir in flour and cocoa powder.
  5. Spread in prepared pan.
  6. Bake 35-40 minutes.
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Instructions for Fudgy Brownies

  1. Melt butter and chocolate together over very low heat in medium saucepan.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Mix in sugar, vanilla, and salt.
  4. Whisk in eggs and yolk until well combined.
  5. Add flour; mix well.
  6. Pour into prepared pan.
  7. Bake 35-45 minutes.

© 2014 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on August 20, 2018:

Janisa - I totally agree with you. If I want chocolate cake, I'll bake a cake. I want my brownies dense and fudge-like. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Janisa from Earth on August 20, 2018:

I love a combination of chewy and fudgy brownie. I try to avoid cakey brownies as much as possible — I've got chocolate cake for that.