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Brownie 101

Here are the secrets to making brownies the way you love them.

by: Food24 | 01 Mar 2012

Every family probably has a secret brownie recipe they're unwilling to share. Some say the best brownies are those made with nothing other than the basic ingredients, butter, chocolate, sugar, eggs, flour and a pinch of salt. Others say adding vanilla is an absolute no-no. Flavourings such as coffee or almond essence or using white chocolate are sacrilege. And while some bakers say adding chopped nuts such as walnuts or pecans is a sin, others insist a crunchy contrast is just the thing. Which chocolate to use has surely also caused many a long-standing friendship to break up.

Many cooks add dried cherries or apricots, coconut, chocolate chips, peanut butter, toasted and chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnut or almonds) and espresso or coffee flavouring to their brownie mix. And even though some like their brownies high and light, and others like them gooey on the inside, crunchy on the outside and a little bit flatter, the most important thing is that you make your brownies just the way you like them.

Cake-like brownies are really more like little moist cakes. They're made with less butter and more flour and normally have baking powder added to make them softer and lighter. Often the softened butter is creamed with the sugar rather than melted with the chocolate. Creaming incorporates air into the mixture, which causes the brownies to rise higher. Many cake-like brownie recipes also call for milk to create a softer brownie.

Chewy or fudgy brownies are the result of an extra egg (or two) and a combination of different types of chocolate, no baking powder and only a little flour. Unsweetened chocolate has the highest proportion of starches, which create a stiffer-textured brownie, while semisweet chocolate produces a creamier texture. For a rich and chewy end result, use a combination of unsweetened and semisweet chocolate and a few tablespoons of cocoa powder to thicken the texture and for better flavour. Fudge brownies, like chewy brownies, are made by first melting butter and chocolate in a saucepan, then adding all the other ingredients. Normally, the bars in the pan dip in the middle and are raised along the sides of the pan. Sometimes the top crust separates from the body of the brownies due to their high sugar content.

Turtle brownies have a caramel topping, or caramel sauce is placed between layers of brownie batter, then baked. For a turtle brownie with caramel topping, bring 3/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 3 tablespoons water and a pinch of salt to the boil until it turns a golden caramel. Remove from heat and stir in 1/3 cup heavy cream and a teaspoon vanilla essence. Stir in about 1 cup chopped and lightly roasted walnuts, cashews or pecans and pour over brownie layer. Allow to cool, then refrigerate until the caramel is firm. You could finish off the brownie by melting chocolate in a double boiler and drizzling over the set caramel and chilling again until firm.

The chocolate in brownies

Milk chocolate may be world's best-selling eating chocolate, but it's no good for really yummy brownies. Rather opt for dark chocolate, of which there are different types that give a different result. Choose unsweetened chocolate for intense flavour, or semisweet for a mellow touch. Bitter or bittersweet chocolate will make your brownies less sweet, with a hint of bitterness. For even more depth of taste, combine two types of chocolate. Some brownie recipes call for cocoa powder (either Dutch-processed or natural cocoa), with or without chocolate. Brownies made with cocoa but no chocolate tend to be dry and lack an intense chocolate flavour.

How to tell if the brownies are done just right

Brownies are cooked when the edges look hard, the top has cracked slightly, and the surface has a glassy appearance. The centre should not jiggle when you shake the pan. For fudge-style brownies, remove the pan when the sides have shrunk slightly away from the edges of the pan. Cake-style brownies are done when a toothpick inserted into the centre has a few moist crumbs attached to it. The centre will still be slightly soft, but will firm up during cooling. If you insert a toothpick and it comes out with batter clinging to it, your batter is underbaked and the texture of the brownies will be dense and sticky. If the toothpick comes out completely clean it's overbaked and the brownies will be dry and cake-like.

4 things to do with brownies:

Brownies with nuts

Sambuca brownies

Chocolate brownies

Chocolate and almond fudge brownies


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