THE ULTIMATE BROWNIE RECIPE STEALS A SECRET FROM BOX MIXES
There’s a reason why box-mix brownies are so popular. You might think it’s because they are convenient. While that’s certainly the marketing pitch, in truth, mixes aren’t all that much faster than homemade since you still need to add water, eggs, and oil. Homemade brownies take 10 minutes of hands-on work so let’s not kid ourselves that using a mix is saving much time.
We think the real reason why box-mix brownies dominate bake sales and potlucks is because people really like them. Most of us overlook their prefab, slightly “manufactured” flavor. (Yes, you can almost taste the chemicals.) What keeps box mix brownies in business is their uniquely chewy texture and shiny, crackly top.
Depending on the amounts of chocolate and flour in the recipe, homemade brownies are either fudgy or cakey. But they are rarely chewy. Food manufacturers have developed something called the “shortening system” (a very specific ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats) that gives their brownies an irresistible chewy texture. The powdered mix contains the saturated fat (in the form of partially hydrogenated oils) and the liquid vegetable oil (added by the cook) supplies the unsaturated fat.
Manufacturers prioritize shelf life over flavor, which is why butter is not part of the mix. However, could we supplement the butter in homemade brownies with just the right amount of vegetable oil to create our own version of the shortening system? We got out our calculators and began a two-month testing odyssey in search of the ultimate brownie that combined excellent flavor with real chew. Talk about good chemistry!
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Adjusting Fat Ratios
Homemade brownies are generally made with butter so they contain a lot of saturated fat. But box mixes contain just 1 part saturated fat for 3 parts unsaturated fat. For truly chewy brownies, mix a small amount of butter (for flavor) with a hefty amount of oil.
Chocolate Times Three Plus Espresso
Using unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder provides a jolt of pure chocolate flavor, and because cocoa powder contains very little fat it doesn’t interfere with the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats. Ounce for ounce, cocoa powder has more cocoa solids—and thus more chocolate flavor—than any other type of chocolate. Blooming the cocoa in boiling water brings out its flavor and adding espresso powder reinforces that chocolate flavor. Melting a small amount of finely chopped unsweetened chocolate in this boiling water adds another layer of chocolate oomph. And for a final punch of chocolate flavor, we stir bittersweet chocolate chunks into the batter. During baking, the chocolate melts into gooey, bittersweet pockets throughout the chewy bars.
Extra Egg Yolks
Emulsifiers can help prevent fats from separating and leaking out during baking. Lecithin, a substance that occurs naturally in egg yolks, is just such an emulsifier. The simple addition of two extra egg yolks, along with two whole eggs, holds our brownie batter together and prevents the brownies from being greasy.
Granulated sugar, which contains less moisture than either brown sugar or corn syrup, is key to brownies with a crackly top. And because white sugar is pure sucrose, it forms a smooth, glass-like surface that reflects light and creates a shiny crust. In contrast, brownies made with other sweeteners have a dull, matte finish.
Boiling water blooms flavor in cocoa and forms the base of our brownie batter.
MAKES 24 BROWNIES
- 20 minutes to assemble brownies
- 30 minutes to bake brownies
- 1½ hours to cool brownies in pan
- 1 hour to cool brownies out of pan
- 13 by 9-inch baking pan (If using a glass dish, let the brownies cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them promptly; otherwise, the superior heat retention of glass can cause brownies left in the pan to overbake.)
- Aluminum foil to make sling
- Toothpick or wooden skewer to test brownies for doneness (Once you overbake brownies, there is no going back.)
Substitutions & Variations
- Use high-quality chocolate in this recipe. Hershey’s is our top-rated unsweetened chocolate and Ghirardelli is our top-rated bittersweet chocolate.
- If you like nuts, toast them until fragrant before stirring them into the batter. This step not only improves their flavor but also ensures that they won’t become soggy. One cup of toasted (and chopped) pecans or walnuts is the right amount for this recipe.
For an accurate measurement of boiling water, bring a full kettle of water to a boil, then measure out the desired amount. For the chewiest texture, it is important to let the brownies cool thoroughly before cutting.
- ⅓ cup (1 ounce) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1½ teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional)
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2½ cups (17½ ounces) sugar
- 1¾ cups (8¾ ounces) all-purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into ½-inch pieces
- Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Make foil sling for 13 by 9-inch baking pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil; first sheet should be 13 inches wide and second sheet should be 9 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to one another, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan. Grease foil and set pan aside.
- Whisk cocoa, espresso powder, if using, and boiling water together in large bowl until smooth. Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted. Whisk in oil and melted butter. (Mixture may look curdled.) Add eggs and yolks and vanilla and continue to whisk until smooth and homogeneous. Whisk in sugar until fully incorporated. Whisk together flour and salt in small bowl and then mix into batter with rubber spatula until combined. Fold in bittersweet chocolate pieces.
- Transfer batter to prepared pan; spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 1½ hours.
- Remove brownies from pan using foil. Return brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. (Brownies can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)
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