02/24/2014 03:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The 'Mistake' That Leads to Better Brownies

by Kemp Minifie


I'm just like a lot of Epicurious readers. I rarely follow a recipe -- even my own -- without tinkering with it. One of my current favorites to play with is my Best Friends Forever Brownies, which I developed in 2011 for the re-imagined frozen dinner of my dreams. Those brownies were thick for food photography reasons. Since then I've been making slimmer, sleeker brownies by doubling the batter, skipping the nuts, sprinkling it with a little flaky Maldon sea salt, and baking it in a large (18- by 13-inch) rimmed baking sheet -- known in the trade as a half-sheet pan -- much to the delight of friends and colleagues.

Recently I was baking a batch and took it out a bit early to test for doneness; I wanted to be sure I didn't over-bake the batter. The brownies weren't anywhere near done, but instead of sliding the pan back in the oven, I absentmindedly left the pan out and raced from the room to deal with something else. When I discovered my mistake about 15 minutes later, I simply popped the pan back in the oven and finished cooking them.

The reaction I got to the brownies the next day was better than ever. One young woman asked for the recipe, so I explained how I'd adapted the BFF brownies, leaving out what I assumed was my dumb mistake. The next day she reported back that hers weren't as moist and fudgy as she'd remembered mine to be from my recent batch.

SEE MORE: Fudgy Brownie Thins With Sea Salt

Curious as to whether I'd stumbled upon a happy accident, I made another batch, repeating the earlier mistake and leaving the half-baked batter out on the counter for 15 minutes before finishing it off in the oven. Bingo! The brownies really were fudgier, a fact confirmed by my colleagues, who by this time were seriously into -- and thoroughly enjoying -- their role as guinea pigs.

Intrigued by the why behind my positive results to a most unorthodox baking method, I emailed Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, for his take on the topic:

"The 15-minute respite is allowing both brownies and pan to cool down, so when you put them back in the oven, it takes some minutes for them to get back up to temperature before they can continue to cook and become more done. And the outer portions will end up less hot than they would with continuous cooking, and so will provide less carryover heat to the insides after you take them out of the oven the second time. So I think you probably end up cooking them less thoroughly in the same in-oven time, and that's why they end up moister."

I panicked when I read, "cooking them less thoroughly" and quickly emailed McGee again. He replied, "I'm pretty sure that you're still reaching microbe-killing temperatures inside the brownies, though if that's a major concern I would just make sure with an instant-read thermometer." I did and the finished brownies went way beyond the food-safe temperature of 160 degrees F, getting up to over 190 degrees F.

And McGee's right about the "outer portions." Most get overcooked and crusty, but these brownies are as fudgy along the edges as they are in the center. Don't believe me? You'll just have to try them for yourself!

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