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.
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A Brownie Recipe for Every Brownie Lover
Similar ingredients, different proportions
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Are they done yet?
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 overdone.”
Brownie Recipes with the Works
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.
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