The perfect chocolaty square isn't as foolproof as you might think. But once you know the tricks, yours will go from so-so to spectacular.
You can't talk about brownies
without talking about whether you fall into the cakey or the fudgy camp. Whichever side you pick, though, you must choose wisely. Meaning, if you're following a cakey recipe and want a fudgy result, you're going to be disappointed. Rosie Daykin, author of Butter Baked Goods: Nostalgic Recipes from a Little Neighborhood Bakery
, sees this happen all the time. To avoid a bust, she says, know what to look for in a recipe. If there's a large amount of butter and a high chocolate-to-flour ratio, you'll have a fudgier finished product; less butter and chocolate will give you a cakier treat.
We know: A bar of chocolate, even in the supermarket, can go for as much as a whole chicken. But it's the one brownie ingredient that's worth shelling out for. You don't even have to use the most expensive stuff in the store, says Patricia Helding, whose new book is called Fat Witch Bake Sale: 67 Recipes From the Beloved Fat Witch Bakery for Your Next Bake Sale or Party
; the important thing is to adhere to the recipe, so if it says bittersweet, don't use semisweet or milk chocolate. With varying percentages of cacao and sugar, making substitutions will result in a brownie with an off texture and/or taste.
Fritz Knipschildt, author of Chocopologie: Confections & Baked Treats from the Acclaimed Chocolatier
, is understandably picky about his chocolate. But even though his palate may not be yours, he stresses the importance of sampling a few different chocolate bars before choosing one to bake with. If something just tastes OK, it's definitely not worth building a brownie around.
You may not think an inch could make that much of a difference in a baking pan, but Helding says it's more critical than many of us realize. If the recipe says to use an 8-inch square pan and you use a 9-inch, the batter will cover a bigger area. Thinner brownies cook faster, so if you don't adjust the baking time (i.e., pull them out a few minutes early), they could burn. There's no need to go out and buy a new pan though, Helding says, just know that smaller pans make thicker brownies, so bake longer when using one; while larger pans make thinner brownies, so bake for less time when using one of those.
When it comes to baking brownies, timing isn't everything, but it's pretty major, says Daykin, who often sees people get the bake time wrong. Home cooks tend to underbake their brownies, which results in an overly goopy texture, while overbaking isn't great either, since you end up with a dry finished product (although fudgy brownies are more forgiving than cakey ones if you leave them in the oven too long). Start testing with a wooden toothpick a minute before you think they're done, advises Helding. You want some crumbs on the pick, but you don't want it dripping batter. Crumbs mean it's almost ready, so pull the pan out; the brownies will continue to cook as they cool.
Every chef we talked to agreed that as delicious as a hot brownie smells, it will actually taste better once it's been out of the oven for a few hours -- and it'll be at its peak tastiness -- with the richest, most developed flavor -- after a day. If you're building a sundae, Knipschildt says definitely don't microwave the brownie before scooping ice cream on top (room temperature is best). If you do, the base will taste good for the first minute or two, but as soon as it cools, it'll turn dry and crumbly, since the appliance tends to suck the moisture out of baked goods.