Brownie Quest: Recipe Roundup
Last summer, Shelby and I inadvertently began a quest. A quest for the perfect brownie recipe. This quest all started with our first recipe of the summer: Toffee Bottomed Brownies.
The toffee cookie part of these bars wasn’t amazing, but the brownie top was wonderful. At the time we thought nothing of it, but later, when the quest began in earnest, it came to mind. Our goal was to replicate the delicious, fudgy, chewy, chocolate-y goodness of Ghirardelli brownies from the boxed mix. I know, I know, a boxed mix? But when you think about it, after decades of testing and selling their mix, Ghirardelli has really got it right. Their brownie is chewy, fudgy, gooey, and rich, and has an intense chocolate flavor. In other words, perfection. Clearly, we had a challenge on our hands. As I take you through our quest, I apologize in advance for some rather horrible pictures, as this was before became more invested in documenting my recipes, and I had yet to understand the merits of good lighting.
Our first official brownie recipe attempt was The Baked Brownie by Brown Eyed Baker. These, while delicious, were not worth the work. They were fudgy, gooey, and chocolate-y, but missing the crucial element that is the Ghirardelli trademark: chewiness. This would prove to be the main roadblock in our search for the perfect brownie recipe, the ever-elusive chewiness factor.
Our next attempt was the Fudge Brownie recipe from King Arthur Flour. These called for Dutch processed cocoa, and at the time we didn’t know the difference between Dutch processed and natural cocoa, so we used natural. These brownies were almost perfect, but missing that last bit of chewiness, which I now know was probably due to the use of natural vs. Dutch processed cocoa. We have concluded that these would probably have been the winners if we’d used the right cocoa powder.
We then moved on and tried these Super Fudgy Brownies from Espresso and Cream. These were extremely fudgy, as you can see in the picture, and definitely did not have any chewiness. The recipe for these was recycled.
Our next attempt was these Fudge Brownies from Dulce Dough. These, while certainly more attractive than the Super Fudgy Brownies, were once again, not chewy. Notice a trend?
At the end of the summer, the last recipe we tried were these Chunky Chocolate
Brownies from MyRecipes. For the summer, these were the winners of the brownie quest. But we weren’t done yet. These may have been the best of the summer, but we were not about to settle for less than perfect. No no, the quest continued during our Thanksgiving break!
The morning after I got home for Thanksgiving, I set to work in the kitchen. I had two batches done by noon. The first batch were the Fudgy, Chewy, Cakey Brownies from My Baking Addiction. My Baking Addiction won my heart with its Chocolate Chip Cookie, which is the winner of my Chocolate Chip Cookie Quest (post on this quest to come later), but unfortunately these brownies didn’t meet my standards. These were indeed very fudgy and had a great flavor, but they were still lacking in the chewy department. I think the use of 3 eggs instead of 2 gives the brownies a more cake-like texture, rather than the dense, chewy texture I was going for. My second batch of the morning were Perfect Brownies from How to Cook Like Your Grandmother. Since both my grandmothers are from China, I doubt they ever made brownies, and if they did, they probably would have cut out half the sugar. However, I was disappointed in this recipe. By this point, I should have realized that 3 eggs in an 8×8 or 9×9 pan is simply too many to yield dense, chewy brownies, but cut me some slack here, I wasn’t such a knowledgeable baker at the time. Learn by doing, right? Let the learning continue!
Later during our Thanksgiving break, my good group of friends from high school swim team, including Shelby, got together and made four different recipes, one of which was Ina’s Outrageous Brownies from Brown Eyed Baker. These tasted amazing, but the texture was all wrong. They didn’t hold together at all, and disintegrated into a crumbly mess after cutting, until refrigerated overnight. After overnight refrigeration they became better, they held together at least, but they were quite stiff to bite into. Anyway, that was my last recipe of Thanksgiving break, then I went back to UCLA and commenced the most stressful finals week of my college career to date.
The quarter system is the worst when it comes to finals. I had a Friday final, but I had a plane to catch Friday afternoon, since we get kicked out of the dorms Friday night anyway. Throughout the entire week, however, I had my head buried in the books, hardcore studying. Needless to say, packing didn’t really cross my mind until after that Friday final when I realized, oh shoot, I have about ten minutes before I need to leave to catch the bus to the airport, PACK PACK PACK! So instead of being relieved after finals were over, the stress continued, until I walked in the door at home and put down my stuff. After unpacking my hastily stuffed suitcase, I needed a bit of a relaxing time in the kitchen. Time for more brownie recipes! Within three hours of being home on winter break, I had two batches of brownies cooling on the counter, one of which was a breakthrough: the Supernatural Brownie http://www.splendidtable.org/recipes/supernatural-brownies from Splendid Table. These are made with brown sugar instead of white sugar, which gave them a deep, almost caramel-like sweetness, as
well as a decent amount of chewiness. These were so rich, gooey, and decadent that I immediately dubbed them the current leaders in the brownie quest. The second recipe I tried
that day were Brownies, as They Should Be from Rainy Day Gal. Well, unfortunately, this is not how brownies should be. They simply paled in comparison to the Supernatural Brownies. They were too cakey, not very fudgy, and completely lacking in the chewy department.
Alright, we’ve gone through ten recipes so far. Let’s recap the key things Shelby and I learned during this quest. One key difference between brownie recipes is the source of the chocolate flavor, either melted chocolate or cocoa powder. We found that brownies made with melted chocolate were denser, gooier, and much richer, while cocoa powder yields slightly drier, cakier brownies with a finer crumb. These types of brownies are great for topping with frosting or glaze, but if you’re just looking for more fudgy, dense, rich chocolate brownies, definitely go with melted chocolate. Another thing we realized is that the perfect brownies would have to have chocolate chips in them, regardless of the recipe. Chocolate chips just add a little bit of gooey chocolate goodness in each bite, and gives any recipe another star. Last, do not overmix brownies! Mix brownies just until the last few streaks of flour disappear, then stop! It’s even ok to leave those last few streaks. This ensures that the brownies are gooey and dense. Now, for the long awaited moment, on to the winners of the brownie quest!
Then one day, I went over for dessert with my good friend Jo and her family, and she gave me a recipe to try. I brought it over to Shelby’s house one night and we decided to give it a go. Lo and behold, it was the one. It was the brownie recipe we had been searching for, most importantly the coveted chewiness, and it even had something we hadn’t even thought about, a beautiful crackly top! To achieve this, you beat the eggs vigorously, then set them aside while you mix together the other ingredients, which traps air inside and causes the crackly top. There is one caveat. The recipe calls for Ghirardelli Ground Chocolate, which may be slightly cheating. However, I have concluded that Ghirardelli Ground Chocolate is just Dutch processed cocoa, so this recipe would work with another brand of Dutch processed cocoa. However, Dutch process cocoa has proven elusive in grocery stores, so I would just go with the Ghirardelli. The recipe is as follows:
Brownie Quest Winners
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup butter (melted)
3/4 ground chocolate (Ghirardelli)
2/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips
Beat eggs till frothy, then set aside. Combine sugar, vanilla, and melted butter, then add the eggs.
Sift together flour, ground chocolate, salt, baking powder. Add to wet ingredients, fold until not quite combined, fold in chocolate chips.
Bake at 350˚ for 20-30 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with some moist crumbs clinging to it. Do not overbake!
I have repeated this recipe a couple times since that glorious day of discovery: once, in Oreo stuffed, Cookies ‘n Cream frosted form, and once in Peppermint Buttercream frosted form. Both were delicious, but these brownies are most divine when eaten plain, with a cold glass of milk.
Since being graced with this brownie recipe, I do have to admit, I have strayed from it. Dutch processed cocoa is not easy to find, and it is also not cheap. While at UCLA during the school year, I did not have Dutch processed cocoa powder, but I wanted to make brownies. One thing I was in charge of as a second year on the ultimate team was our annual fundraiser tournament. The other second years and I collaborated to pull it off, and I decided to make brownies as the prizes for the winners of the tournament. I had some Reeses cups, so I decided to make one batch of brownies with Reeses cups, and one batch of plain brownies. For the Reeses brownies, I used the Fudge Brownies recipe from Taste of Home, and just plopped some mini Reeses cups on top. The Reeses cups sank in quite nicely during the baking process, but they took longer than expected to bake, and when I pulled them out they ended up being a little too gooey. After popping them in the fridge for a bit, they firmed up enough to cut, but it was touch and go for a while. However, baking time issues aside, these brownies were delicious. I would probably have made them again, and baked them for longer so
they bake all the way through, had I not found another, better recipe later in the year. The other recipe I used was the Speedy Brownies recipe also from Taste of Home. These were not as good as the fudge brownies. I had a hunch, due to the 5 eggs used, that these would be too cakey, but I think at that point I was just trying to use up the dozen eggs I had bought, since I had no use for them in my dorm room. As predicted, they were a bit on the cakey side, but I was just happy to use up the eggs.
During my last winter quarter baking extravaganza at UCLA, and the last night of fun I allowed myself before going into study lockdown for finals, I discovered another, dare I say it, perfect brownie. This one, named The Best Brownie, from Dine and Dish, surprisingly, is made with regular cocoa powder and canola oil, not butter. This recipe calls for a 9×9 pan, not an 8×8, which is rather rare among brownie recipes, I have found, and the friend whose apartment I was baking at only had a 9×9 pan, so I chose this recipe. Boy, was I glad I did. These brownies are dense and gooey, with a rich chocolate flavor, and most importantly, chewy! It even had a crackly top! I have actually repeated this recipe, something I rarely do, which means it is truly a winner. Even more surprising, the first time I made it, I had no chocolate chips, so I didn’t add them to the recipe, and I still thought they were worthy of a repeat. Here’s the recipe, with the addition of chocolate chips of course:
The Best Brownies
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking powder
1/3 cup cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup flour
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350˚ and grease a 9×9 pan.
Beat the eggs until frothy and set aside. Combine the baking powder, cocoa powder, salt, and flour in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, combine the oil and vanilla, then stir in the eggs. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix until some streaks of flour are still visible. Add the chocolate chips, and stir until no more flour is visible and the chocolate chips are evenly distributed.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
I also repeated this recipe as the base of these Oreo Truffle Brownies from Crazy for Crust when I baked with Shelby at the start of this summer. We added the chocolate chips, this time, and these brownies were a hit!
There you have it, this is the entirety of the Brownie Quest. Enjoy the brownies!