I love brownies. Chewy, chocolatey goodness, often spiked with nuts or chocolate chips. Some years ago, I decided that I needed my own brownie recipe. I set about to study various brownie recipes, hoping to gain a basic understanding of the concept of the brownie and create my own recipe from scratch. This didn't quite happen the way I thought it would, because the first recipe I stumbled upon and tested ended up being a perfect representation of what a brownie truly is. Those of you interested in the perfect basic brownie recipe, click here.
However, perfect though that recipe may be on a generic basis, it's not my perfect recipe. I like things a little chewier, a little more moist, and with no nuts. I believe my changes to that recipe might be enough to call it my own. Those of you who have not yet read my posts on chocolate chip cookies may want to do so first. My ingredient list for brownies is:
6 oz unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 whole chicken eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup almond flour
2/3 cup bread flour
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chocolate cips for garnish
You will probably notice that my measurements aren't all that different from the original recipe, and yet there are still a few changes. First of all, I swapped half the granulated sugar out for dark brown sugar. Brown sugar is basically white sugar plus molasses, which is hygroscopic (meaning it attracts and retains moisture). Dark brown sugar has a higher ratio of molasses, which makes it a little more hygroscopic and gives it a little deeper flavor. This ability to literally grab moisture from the air will help keep your brownies from drying out.
I also switched from all-purpose flour to bread flour. Because bread flour contains a higher amount of protein, it tends to get stronger and chewier the more it gets worked. This is good for brownies. But I've found that just using wheat flour tends to make the flavor just a little flat. So I swapped out some of the wheat flour for almond flour. Unfortunately, almond flour contains no gluten, but the bread flour does help make up for that. In fact, I have been known to use the full amount of bread flour, in addition to the almond flour. Keep in mind though that this will throw off your wet to dry ration a little, so you may want to think about adding an additional egg yolk, or maybe a teaspoon of almond extract to up the flavor ante, or maybe even both! The world is your burrito. Or brownie.
Of course, I add no nuts to my brownies. Well, not anything that can actually be identified as nuts, at least. Almond flour is okay. Chunks of walnuts (like you see in so many brownie recipes) are not. That's just gross. But that doesn't mean you can't have chunkies. I opted for chocolate chips instead. In fact, I went with half white and half dark. This adds texture, little bursts of flavor, and even contrast. But be weary, any exposed white chocolate chips will pick up a bit of a tan in the oven. And speaking of a tan, don't forget to sprinkle an additional half a cup of chocolate chips on top. Yes, they will get melty in the oven. But oddly enough, I've found that melted chocolate manages to retain its form until acted upon by an ourside force, such as a spatula or fingers or something. So long as you let your brownies cool before messing with them, your chocolate chips will still look like chocolate chips when you're ready to serve.
Before we start putting everything together, go ahead and preheat your oven to 325F if you haven't done so already. First things first, get your pan prepared. These two steps should almost always be your first two steps, in any baking: preheat the oven, and get your pan ready. You'll need a well-greased 13x9 baking pan. I like to use a tempered glass baking pan, who's name rhymes with glamor rocker extrordinaire, T-Rex. I also like to line my pan with a sheet of parchment paper, with the sides sticking up a few inches. That's right, don't even bother trimming it. I'll tell you why later. But even if you do the parchment, make sure to spray the pan underneath it, so that the parchment has something to stick to.
With all that ready, we need that butter and chocolate melted. The original recipe has you do this in a microwave. I've never thought that to be that great of an idea, so I like to use a double boiler instead. Just put an inch or two of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Put a metal bowl over it (making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water) and drop the tempurature back to medium low. Don't bother to wait for it to cool, just go ahead and add your chocolate and butter. The smaller the pieces, the faster it will melt. Give it the occassional stir, until it's completely melted.
When it's all melted, go ahead and remove the bowl from the heat. Add the sugar and stir it all in. In fact, I just use a hand mixer to stir it in. The nice thing about this is that stirring or mixing will help cool the chocolate a little bit. If you've melted it properly, it won't be anywhere near hot enough to curdle the eggs, but it doesn't hurt to cool it either. Speaking of the eggs, it's time to mix those in, one at a time, along with any extracts or flavorings. It's kind of like the creaming method, except for the melted butter and chocolate.
When all the wet stuff is in there, go ahead and add your flours. Unlike the cookie dough, there's a lot more wet stuff than dry stuff, so it should incorporate quickly and easily. But don't stop there. I like to kick my mixer into high gear and keep working the batter until it actually starts to pull away from the side of the bowl, like bread does. That's how you know you've worked in a lot of gluten. This is important, because all that melted butter is working against you to keep that gluten from developling, and no gluten means less chewey brownies.
Go ahead and fold in your chocolate chips (or nuts if you're so inclined, or whatever else you feel like folding in). Is your pan ready? No? Didn't I tell you to do that first? See, now you have to go back and do that while who knows what happens to your brownie batter. Actually, it's almost a dough by this point, isn't it? Go ahead and spread that batter into your prepared pan. I find an offset spatula to be the easiest way to do this. Try to make sure it's all even, because the gluten will make it spread less in the pan than you'd think.
Into the oven with it! Your cooking time may vary, but I wouldn't start checking on it until at least 30 minutes in, if not a little longer. In fact, my last batch was pulled at about 40 minutes, and in retrospect, I thought that 45 might have been perfect. How do you know it's done? The toothpick test. Shove a toothpick in the center and if it's the least bit wet, it still has time to go. If a few crumbs stick to it, but it's still mostly clean, then it's about done. If it's completely dry, hurry and pull your brownies and hope that they're not overbaked. Just a quick note: if you have to do the toothpick test multiple times, make sure not to stick the toothpick in the same hole. Just try to stick the toothpick into some other place that won't be noticed.
When you pull your brownies, they won't actually be set up yet. They need time to cool and set up their structure. This doesn't mean that they're underbaked! The same principle applies to anything from baked custards to cake to some types of bread. But that doesn't mean you want to leave them in there to steam themselves to mushiness. Let them cool for about 10 minutes, and then use the parchment as a sling to pull them out and move them to a cooling rack. In another 10 - 20 minutes, they will likely be set up enough to cut, but still warm enough to experience that fresh oven-baked joy.
You might want to try baking my version first, or maybe even just the original. It will give you a good idea of what you're working with, so that you know what you can do with it. If you want to use nuts, go for it. If you want to sprinkle the top with toffee pieces, you won't be the first. I've done that many times myself. But I've also found that folding in toffee pieces makes for a drier brownie. I have no idea why. But at the same time, I've also had brownies where the baker froze Milky Way bars, smashed them into pieces, and then folded those in. Those were awesome. Whatever you do, just make sure you do it your own way. With luck, your great grandkids will be making your recipe with their great grandkids, and that's a nice thought.