- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

People have strong feelings about brownies.

Some want fudge brownies, others want cake brownies.

Some want brownies with a crust, some want no crust.

Some want softer brownies, some want firmer brownies.

How do you get the brownie you want?

LIKE CAKE OR FUDGE?

One of the earliest (possibly the original) brownie recipes with chocolate appeared to be Fannie Merritt Farmer’s 1896 chocolate cookie recipe with a greatly reduced amount of flour in “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” (Dover Publications).

So the ratio of flour to the other ingredients is a big deal with brownies.

The difference between fudge and cake brownies is the difference in the ratio of fat and chocolate to flour.

The 75th Anniversary Edition of “The Joy of Cooking” (Scribner) estimates that the fat and chocolate content in brownie recipes ranges from 1½ cups of butter and 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate to 2 tablespoons butter and 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate for 1 cup of flour.

For fudge brownies, use less flour; for cake brownies, more flour.

FIRM OR SOFTER?

In her book “Bittersweet” (Artisan), Alice Medrich points out that brownies with chocolate are firmer than brownies with cocoa because the cocoa butter in chocolate sets up firmer than butter, the primary fat in cocoa brownies.

BROWN SUGAR?

Another great chocolate expert, Marcel Desaulniers, taught me years ago that in addition to different chocolates for different flavors, brown sugar (a touch of molasses) gives chocolate dishes a fudgier taste.

CRUST OR NO CRUST?

Whether brownies or even some cakes and pound cakes have a crust on top depends on whether you hand-stir or beat with a mixer after the eggs are added. The more you beat, the more crust you get. Depending on how much you beat, this crust can be barely noticeable, or it can be a crisp crust that is totally puffed and separated above the cake or brownie. It also is usually lighter in color. The color and crunchiness are especially noticeable on brownies.

SHINE

Anytime you want a soft shine, such as with a ganache icing, think corn syrup. As my friend Harold McGee puts it, “Corn syrup is a liquid that attracts water and fills in spaces between fine sugar particles to produce a glass-smooth surface.” I add corn syrup to my hand-stirred brownies (recipe follows) for a deep shine to the dark surface.

OTHER TECHNIQUES

Miss Medrich, our queen of chocolate, has explored many techniques in her search for magnificent brownies. Here are 2 of them:

• Allowing the batter to mellow before baking. Miss Medrich will sometimes prepare the brownies, place them in the pan, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld.

• High-temperature baking. Most brownies are baked at 325 degrees to 350 degrees. Miss Medrich wants a crisp outside and gooey inside, so she bakes for about half the normal baking time at a higher temperature, 400 degrees, and then instantly cools the brownies by placing the brownie pan in a larger pan of ice water.

CUTTING BROWNIES

Many brownie experts prefer to wrap completely cooled brownies and refrigerate them or leave them at room temperature overnight and then cut into individual pieces. Most think they cut easier this way. Because my brownies in the recipe below are soft and not crusty, they cut just fine when cooled without the overnight stand. Brownies keep best individually wrapped.

THE RECIPE

Now that you know the changes you need to make to get the brownies you want, what about a basic starting recipe? Brownies today include everything from brandy-soaked dried fruit to chocolate-covered coffee beans, but I was startled to realize that the basic recipe for brownies has changed very little through the years.

Maria Willett Howard, who had been trained by Fannie Farmer, added an egg to the Fannie Farmer recipe to create the Lowney Chocolate Co. brownies, one of the most widespread early brownies.

A popular modern recipe, Nick Malgieri’s famous “supernatural brownies,” and a recipe from a 1960s cookbook by my friend Sara Risch are very similar to that early Lowney Chocolate Co. brownie recipe. All three recipes contain 4 ounces of butter (1 stick), 2 eggs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 cup sugar and about ½ cup flour.

There are minor differences in the recipes. Mr. Malgieri uses a total of 1 cup sugar, but he uses ½ cup regular sugar and ½ cup dark brown sugar. Also, instead of 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, Mr. Malgieri uses 4 ounces of semisweet chocolate. Miss Risch’s recipe differs from the Lowney brownie only in that it uses a little more flour.

Here is the basic Lowney Chocolate Co. brownie with my favorite changes. Shiny, dark, slightly soft, luscious, rich brownies — these are neither low-fat nor low-cal.

They are an indulgence. When you create your personal favorite brownie, it’s yours. You don’t have to be politically correct.

Shirley’s shiny, soft, fudge brownies

I used the original Lowney’s Brownies recipe as a guide. I wanted cocoa and butter for dark softness. According to Miss Medrich’s substitution guide, 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate is equivalent to 2 tablespoons plus 2½ teaspoons cocoa and 1 tablespoon butter. For 2 ounces unsweetened, this would be 5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cocoa and 2 tablespoons butter.

I wanted my brownies really rich, but not bitterly chocolate, so I used a little less cocoa and more butter — 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) cocoa and an extra 2 tablespoons butter. I substituted dark brown sugar for half the sugar, added a little corn syrup for shine, and substituted 2 yolks for 1 egg to get more emulsifiers for a velvet texture.

6 ounces unsalted butter

2 tablespoons corn syrup

1/3 cup good cocoa (either natural or Dutch-process cocoa work in this recipe)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ cup sugar

½ cup dark brown sugar, packed

2 large egg yolks

1 large egg

½ cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup roasted walnuts and/or pecans (optional)

Arrange a shelf in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 8-by-8-by-2-inch pan with parchment and grease with butter or spray with nonstick cooking spray, or line with foil.

In a heavy medium saucepan, melt butter and heat until bubbles come up around the edge of the pan. Stir in the corn syrup. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cocoa. Stir in salt and vanilla and both sugars. Stir in the egg yolks and the whole egg just to blend well (see note).

Finally, stir in the flour just to blend well. Add the nuts if desired. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth with a spatula. Place on the arranged shelf and bake until brownies just start to pull away from the sides, about 25 minutes. Err on the side of undercooking rather than risk drying out.

Cool in the pan on a cooling rack. When completely cool, invert onto a flat baking sheet, peel off the parchment or foil, and then re-invert onto a cutting board.

Cut into 2-inch squares. Serve or wrap brownies individually. Makes 16 (2-by-2-inch) brownies.

Note: If you want a crust on the brownies, beat on medium to medium high with a mixer for about 40 seconds.

Food scientist Shirley O. Corriher is the author of “CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking” (William Morrow).

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