The Great Brownie Chase…

Back in 1999 I tried a bunch of brownie recipes on my teenagers and their friends. Over 6 months the winning brownie came out of a box. And it did not matter much which brand.

Well, I want to change that outcome so I am trying out brownie recipes on my coworkers. The biggest drawback is that brownies generally get rave reviews just for showing up and just for being chocolate.

For a two week trial so far, here is what I have done. I chose a Quick & Easy Fudge Brownies recipe from the back of a King Arthur flour bag. I clipped this and stuck it on my kitchen counter. I am not sure if I made this one before or a different KAF recipe. I have written about brownies twice before, here and here. But my endeavor here is to find a go-to recipe that gets high ratings from a variety of people. And because I am a social scientist I have a three point Likert scale for tasters to rate each brownie.

I virtually made the same recipe for both weeks. There are technical differences but I think this makes a big difference. Here is the basic recipe:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/ teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

KAF’s instructions are to put the ingredients in a large bowl in the order listed and beat until the mixture is smooth. Bake in a 913-inch pan for 25-30 minutes at 375 F.

Being the baker that I am I did not exactly follow the above, but almost. I accidentally used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa in the first batch. Also in the first batch, I used 4 egg whites (because I had these in need of use) and one whole egg. I used Whole Wheat Pastry Flour both weeks. The second week I used regular cocoa powder and three whole eggs. I melted the butter in the bowl, sifted the dry ingredients together, then added all the ingredients and mixed until smooth.

I had my coworkers rate these on three aspects: appearance, texture, and taste. I am sure there is some skewing of the results based on the time between samples. But, too bad!

The first was the Special Dark cocoa brownies. The sample size was n=12. The second week sample size was n=8. And the winner is…

I think these results show that Special Dark Cocoa should not be used in brownies. It is most likely best suited for dark and rich chocolate cakes. The medical student at work with a discerning palette picked up on the difference in moistness between the two which is the result of the egg whites vs. whole eggs. There was another coworker who verbally gave me her results so the second week is really a sample of 9. Three people who compared the two weeks all said the second week was better.

So don’t mess with the cocoa or the eggs! Whole wheat pastry flour works just as well as the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. So we could say this is a healthy brownie, LOL! This is a simple enough recipe and makes a 9 x 13 pan so it could easily be a go-to recipe. Maybe I’ll try out recipes using baking chocolate next.

 

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Easter Brownie Bites

easter brownie bites and mac and cheese pot 005

Hah! I finally have an excuse to make something chocolate! This is totally inspired by Sofiabakes: http://sofiabakes.com/2016/03/23/brownie-creme-scotch-eggs/

A while back I made brownies but the recipe was seriously too fussy for regular use: https://mykitchenmythoughts.com/2016/02/14/brownies/. But now I want to make some so I can put Cadbury mini-eggs in them. And then smother them with chocolate ganache! I can take these up to daughter’s family for the Easter weekend and not eat them all myself; oh okay, I would share a few with Hubby.

easter brownie bites and mac and cheese pot 002

I bake the essential recipe’s Brownies from the Bittman How to Cook Everything Cookbook on page 881. My step-daughter swears by these brownies, well, not really swears by them, but you know what I mean! It is super simple and makes a chewy brownie.

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter and chocolate. Stir until smooth. Stir in the sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Gently stir in the rest of the ingredients. Pour into prepared 8×8 pan and bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes. Do not overbake.

However I am going to bake them in mini muffin pans so will guess at the baking time. I found that they were done at 20 minutes and even though I coated the pans with cooking spray they wanted to stick to the pan a bit.

easter brownie bites and mac and cheese pot 005I put a mini-egg in each brownie bite as soon as it comes out of the oven. I had considered baking the candy inside but was not sure how that would work; so I didn’t. I am now thinking that the Cadbury mini-eggs are not creme eggs so the effect may not be what I am expecting based on the inspiration! I melt about 1/2 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips for the frosting. I added about 1/2 teaspoon oil so it would pour. This may be the downfall of getting the chocolate glaze to “crisp up”. I’ll give it a little time. I sprinkled the brownie bites with a spring sprinkle mix. They look a bit messy but a bit fancy too.

Let’s see what Hubby thinks of these. Maybe not the fairest test since he doesn’t really have a sweet tooth. I’ll just have to taste them myself!! Ummm, they’re good! Hubby says they are a rich chocolate with a burst of gooey richness. Success!

I do put them in the fridge to harden the glaze. The next day (yes, there are some left!) they are a nice bite of brownie with a piece of candy inside, not creamy. But they are a really rich chocolate; a bit too rich for Hubby. More for me!!

 

Brownies!

brownie 001I was sitting in my kitchen reading blogs on brownies. Some of you make wonderful sounding brownies and other chocolate goodies! So I began to contemplate brownies. I got out all the chocolate in my baking pantry to see what is there. I have semi-sweet chips, Special Dark Chips, German’s chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, Hershey’s Natural cocoa, and Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa. These are out on the counter when son walks in and asks what I am making. When I mention I was thinking of brownies, he says he likes chewy, not cakey, and no add-ins such as chocolate chips or nuts. He also likes the shiny crust on top. Me, too.

Recipes abound! I bring out a few recipes and am undecided. He refers me to look at Shirley Corriher’s book Bakewise. After all, he says, he made the cheesecake with a gingersnap crust and it was great. So I start reading the section on brownies. Very interesting. I had just been reading the King Arthur Flour blog on brownies and the shiny crust. http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2015/05/31/make-brownies-shiny-crust/ . There is no real agreement on what makes cakey, shiny crusts, etc. I know that my favorite brownies were very chewy and came from a recipe on the back of Nestle Toll House chocolate chips way back in the 1980s. I have lost that little clipping and have been searching for the best brownie recipe ever since. For about 10 months in 1999 I made a batch of brownies weekly and tested them on my teenagers and their friends. I did not have a standard rating scale but only listed where the recipe came from. After these many trials the best brownies were determined…to be from a mix! It did not even matter which brand. The box brownies were chewy and always had the shiny crust!!

That was then, this is now. I have honed my baking skills and knowledge and much less frequently make brownies from a box. That elusive perfect brownie is still out there. Brownie recipes that I have used make up well and do not go uneaten. I just have not determined a “go-to” standard recipe. Brownies are basically butter, chocolate, eggs, sugar and flour.

We decide to go with the Shirley’s Fudgy Brownies from Bakewise, page 411-412. This recipe calls for 1 ½ cups of butter and four different sugars. It also uses 4 whole eggs and an additional 3 egg yolks. Wow! We run to the grocery to get the light corn syrup as the fourth sugar. There is also powdered sugar, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. For the chocolate the recipe calls for 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped, and 1 ounce German’s chocolate.  There are a lot of ingredients in these brownies! We left out the pecans.

  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 ounce German’s Sweet Chocolate
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 ½ cups dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups spooned and leveled bleached all=purpose flour

(In reading this now I realize that I only used ¾ cups of packed brown sugar but also used ¾ cups granulated. The page must have flipped over to the Shirley’s Cakey Brownies recipe! No worries!)

Her instructions are to melt the butter with the chocolate. In a separate bowl beat the eggs to blend the whites and yolks and then add the other ingredients, except for the flour. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture. Then stir in the flour without over beating.

We get all this put together. In beating the egg mixture I beat them in the stand mixer for a few minutes more because this will give the shiny crust. Apparently it is a “meringue” from the egg whites and sugar that rises to the top of the bake.

brownies 003

 

The oven has been preheated to just 300 degrees F. All ready to go in but son has the idea it should sit in the pan a bit to even itself out. While I wait for that to happen I reread the recipe. OOPS!!! I only used half the amount of butter. I used 1 ½ sticks instead of 1 ½ cups! What to do?

 

brownies 004
adding the missing butter

I scrape the batter back into the mixing bowl. I melt another 1 ½ sticks of butter and add that to the batter and blend. This is a necessary step because the fat to flour ratio makes the difference between fudgy and cakey.

 

I then pour this back into a re-prepared 13 x 9 inch baking pan and pop it into the oven. This time I don’t bother with the foil just sprayed the pan. It has taken 45 minutes of prep time at this point. Well, 5 of those minutes were adding in the butter that I had forgotten to add in the first place by my miscalculations!

brownies 005
shiny crackling crust

52 minutes later a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Take this out of the oven right now so as to avoid overbaking. We want fudgy and chewy. There is definitely a shiny crackling crust! That was a success.

Do you know of anyone, ANYONE, who waits until the brownies completely cool before cutting? I don’t think it is a natural thing to do. I would be concerned if there were a chocolate brownie lover out there who actually follows that step of these recipes. Granted, cool brownies cut more cleanly. But why is that important? Son pokes and prods at the side and takes a nibble. The only thing left to do is to actually cut a square and taste it. Very rich and sweet. It is fudgy and has its shiny crust.

brownies 008
definitely fudgy

These are successful but the recipe is a bit too fussy to become a “go-to” for me. It is a “keeper” though because it is in a book. The book is worth reading as she explains the science of baking and some history of recipes and is just plain interesting.

Some of these will need to be individually wrapped and frozen for later enjoyment.