The Bake Brownies

I baked my first set of brownies when I was about 10 years old and we had just moved to the US.  We did not have anything like this dense cake in Venezuela, so upon my first taste of them, I was pretty hooked and ate A LOT of them.  And of course, like any 10 year old – my first brownie batch came from none other than a box.

I just cringe writing that.  Oh, if I could only go back in time and teach my 10 year old self a few things…

Ever wonder how brownies came about? 

It’s easy to see that the brownie got its name from its dark brown color. But as with most foods, the origin of the brownie is shrouded in myth, even though it is a relatively recent entry to the food pantheon, first appearing in print in the early 20th century. The legend is told variously: a chef mistakenly added melted chocolate to a batch of biscuits…a cook was making a cake but didn’t have enough flour. The favorite, cited in Betty Crocker’s Baking Classics and John Mariani’s The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, tells of a housewife in Bangor, Maine, who was making a chocolate cake but forgot to add baking powder. When her cake didn’t rise properly, instead of tossing it out, she cut and served the flat pieces. Alas, that theory relies on a cookbook published in Bangor in 1912, six years after the first chocolate brownie recipe was published by one of America’s most famous cookbook authors, Fannie Merritt Farmer, in 1906 (and the Bangor version was almost identical to the 1906 recipe).

The actual “inventor” will most likely never be known, but here’s what we do know:

The brownie is one of America’s favorite baked treats. Although cake-like and baked in a cake pan, the brownie is classified as a bar cookie rather than a cake. There are thousands of recipes, both “cake” types and “fudge” types. Either is perfectly correct—and delicious.

I’m a huge brownie fan which unfortunately also makes me a huge brownie snob.  See I’m picky about my brownies.  I like them fudgy and chocolaty, not cake-y like and not overly sweet and filled with walnuts.

I warned you – total brownie-snob.

Ever wonder what the best brownie recipe out there is?

Well according to Oprah, the folks in America’s Test kitchen, the Today’s show and numerous food bloggers out there.  The best bake brownies are from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, authors of Baked: New Frontier in baking.

This weekend I put this to the test.

After weeks of baking fruit desserts, baked custards and soaked cakes, I was craving something chocolate and my Nutella jar was totally empty. I almost went into chocolate withdrawal mode.  So, I went on the hunt thru my “to cook” folder and voila, here they were:  The Baked Brownie.  I had the ingredients already out and it seem that I did not need to dirty the whole kitchen, so, I put my apron on and got busy.

And these are a beautiful thing.  They are dense, with the perfect balance of chocolate and the addition of espresso powder enhances all of the flavors, making the perfectly fudgy, intensely chocolaty brownie raise from the dead.

I followed the recipe to the letter except I added about a cupful of walnuts at the end - I just could not help myself.

The Baked Brownie
Yield: 24 brownies
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Before you start, be aware of several factors:

Try to use premium ingredients. Use a high quality chocolate and cocoa powder, it really makes a difference. Your eggs need to be at room temperature. Pay attention to directions: you must whisk the batter gently when the eggs and flour are added (too much whisking creates too much air). Make sure you check your brownies often while baking. Once the brownies have been over-baked slightly, they have reached the point of no return.

  • 1¼ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • 11 ounces quality dark chocolate (60-72%), chopped coarsely
  • 8 ounces butter (2 sticks), cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of roughly chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light colored metal pan 9x13x2 pan.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder.
  4. Configure a large sized double boiler. Place the chocolate, the butter, and the instant espresso powder in the bowl of the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both sugars. Whisk the sugars until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. Mixture should be room temperature.
  5. Add three eggs to the chocolate/butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not over beat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.
  6. Sprinkle the flour/cocoa/salt mix over the chocolate. Using a spatula (DO NOT USE A WHISK) fold the dry into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour/cocoa mix visible.  Add the walnuts last and give it another easy folding.
  7. Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with your spatula. Bake the brownies for 30 minutes (rotate the pan half-way through baking) and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
  8. Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.

Now, grab a glass of cold milk and join the masses in confirming that these ARE THE BEST BAKED BROWNIES.

And if you like this type of baking, check out their new book: Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented