Brownies today contain everything imaginable, from Chambord-soaked dried cherries to candied coffee beans and everything in between. Prices of some “gourmet” brownies start at $50.00 a dozen.
The plain, wonderful chocolate brownie, as we know and love it, probably came from the creativity of Fannie Merritt Farmer when she drastically reduced the flour in one of her chocolate cookie recipes.
History of Brownies
There was a recipe called, “Brownies” in the 1896, Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, but Fannie Merritt Farmer’s recipe contained molasses and nuts--no chocolate. In the 1906 revision of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, Fannie Farmer did have a chocolate brownie, which was very close to her 1896 chocolate cookie recipe with a greatly reduced amount of flour.
Maria Willett Howard, who had been trained by Fannie Farmer, added an egg to the Fannie Farmer recipe to create The Lowney Chocolate Company brownies. According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith says that the two-egg Lowney’s Brownies was the recipe most often reprinted in New England community cookbooks before 1912.
The other popular early (by 1912) recipe was the "Bangor Brownies," with 1/4 cup butter, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 3 squares unsweetened chocolate, 1/2 to 3/4 cup flour, 1 cup nut meats, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Hang Onto a Good Thing
It was startling to me how little this great all-American recipe has changed through the years. Two of our modern recipes (Nick Malgieri’s famous Supernatural Brownies, a current recipe and Sara Risch’s recipe out of the Sixties) are similar to that early Lowney’s brownie recipe. It may appear that Nick’s has twice as much chocolate; however unsweetened chocolate has about twice as much chocolate as semisweet/ bittersweet so the recipes are close. For sugar, Nick uses half dark brown sugar for that wonderful fudgy taste.
|Modern Popular Recipe||One of Early Recipe||Sara Risch’s Brownies|
|Nick’s Supernatural Brownies||Lowney’s Brownies||1968 A World of Baking|
|4 oz butter||4 oz butter|
4 oz butter
|4 oz bittersweet/semi-sweet chocolate||2 oz unsweetened chocolate||2 oz unsweetened chocolate|
|2 eggs||2 eggs||2 eggs|
|1/4 teaspoon salt||1/4 teaspoon salt||1/4 teaspoon salt|
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
|1 cup sugar||1 cup sugar|
|1 teaspoon vanilla||1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla|
|1/2 cup all-purpose flour||1/2 cup all-purpose flour||3/4 cup all-purpose flour|
|1/2 cup nuts, chopped|
1 cup nuts, chopped
Bake all at 350° for about 25 minutes
Your Perfect Brownie
Some want a cake-like brownie, while others love a fudge-like brownie. Some like a firm brownie; others want a softer brownie. Some like a crust on a brownie, others do not want a crust. Brownies can have a fudgy taste or a plain chocolate taste. Again some like them one way and some the other.
Cake-Like or Fudge-Like
Remember that the brownie was literally created by drastically reducing the amount of flour in a chocolate cookie. So, the ratio of flour to the other ingredients is a big deal with brownies.
The difference between fudgy and cakey brownies is the difference in the ratio of fat and chocolate to flour.
The 75th Anniversary Edition of Joy of Cooking estimates a range of fat and chocolate from 1 1/2 cups of butter and 5 oz unsweetened chocolate to 2 tablespoons butter and 2 oz unsweetened chocolate for 1 cup of flour.
For fudgy brownies use less flour, for cakey brownies, more flour.
Much Depends on the Chocolate
There are many chocolate choices, more now than ever: unsweetened, semisweet/ bittersweet, sweet chocolate (like German’s), high-percentage chocolates, and natural and Dutch process cocoa. We will see below that cocoa is a necessity for a softer brownie whose primary fat is butter.
My daughter, Terry Infantino, who helps me test recipes, adores Robert Steinberg’s “Fudgy Brownies” in The Essence of Chocolate. They are made with a large amount of his 70% Schaffen Berger bittersweet chocolate. His recipe contains the usual 1/2 cup flour, and 2 eggs. His amount of sugar (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) is only 2 tablespoons less than the basic recipe. It is the chocolate that makes a difference in his brownies.
A chocolate that I love to use even though I don’t like flavored chocolate is Green & Black’s Maya Gold.
My husband’s absolute favorite brownies were made by Dena Daugherty, a friend who owned an Atlanta bakery that specialized in brownies, and made hundreds of pounds of brownies a week for restaurants and restaurant chains. Dena used quality commercial brands of both semisweet and sweet chocolate in her outstanding brownies.
Firm Brownie or Softer Brownie
If a brownie contains chocolate, it will have cocoa butter, which is firm when cold. If the brownie contains cocoa, it will have much less cocoa butter than chocolate and will contain butter as its primary fat. Since firm butter is softer when cool than firm cocoa butter, cocoa brownies will be softer than chocolate brownies.
Alice Medrich also points out that cocoa brownies have more granular sugar since they don’t have super finely-ground sugar like the sugar in chocolate. And, she feels this granular sugar gives them a crunchier crust.
In addition to different chocolates for different flavors, many years ago Marcel Desaulniers, another chocolate expert, taught me that brown sugar (a touch of molasses) gave chocolate dishes a fudgy taste.
Crust or No Crust
Whether brownies, or even some cakes and pound cakes, have a crust on top depends on how much you beat the batter after the eggs are added. The more you beat, the more crust you get. If you beat vigorously with a mixer, you can get a dramatic crust. Depending on how much you beat, this crust can be barely noticeable or a crisp, shiny crust that is totally puffed, and separated above the cake or brownie. It is also usually lighter in color. The color and shine are especially noticeable on brownies.
This is a meringue-like crust and is actually caused by a “meringue.” Your beating of the batter after the eggs are added creates it. This seems not to be widely known even among chocolate experts.
Alice Medrich, our Queen of Chocolate, has explored many techniques in her search for magnificent brownies:
Allowing the Batter to Mellow Before Baking
Alice will sometimes prepare the brownies, place them in the pan, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight or for 2 or 3 days to allow the flavors to meld.
Most brownies are baked at 325°F/163°C to 350°F/177°C. Alice wants a crisp outside and gooey inside, so she bakes for about half the normal baking time at a higher temperature 400°F/204°C and, then, instantly cools the brownies by placing the brownie pan on ice in a larger pan.
Many brownie experts prefer to wrap complete cooled brownies well and refrigerate or leave at room temperature overnight and, then, place them on a cutting board and cut into individual pieces. Most think that they cut easier this way. Brownies keep best individually wrapped.
© Copyright 2007, Shirley O. Corriher