Brownies are a favorite dessert of many, yet they are often misunderstood, and therefore, require some study if one is to pursue a brownie worth their while. A brownie is, above all, a means by which chocolate and sugar are delivered to the palate. A piece of cake can never satisfy in the same way a dense and crackly-topped brownie can, and because a brownie is far easier to assemble and bake, requires less equipment, and is more easily enjoyed than most cakes, one might even call a brownie more egalitarian than a piece of cake.
The single most important ingredient in a brownie is chocolate. Obvious, no? The chocolate may be present in the form of either melted high-quality chocolate, or cocoa - there are fine brownies to be had in both categories, but the brownie under the lens today is that which starts by melting chocolate and butter slowly together over gentle heat, until fully incorporated into one delicious union of fat and flavor. Beyond this crucial step, sugar is added for sweetness, eggs for their binding and lifting qualities, a small amount of flour for structure, salt for heightened flavor, and vanilla for its smooth flavor and affinity for our star ingredient.
There are some unfortunate souls out there that are confused about brownies, and are easily duped into consuming brownie-imposters. Once armed with the proper criteria by which to judge an excellent brownie, even a beginner can recognize the real thing.
The Rules of Brownie Engagement
As laid down upon this fourth day of July, 2006
1. A brownie must never originate from a box, or include in it's directions, "just add water".
2. A brownie must be fudgy, never cakey
3. A brownie should never wear a crown of frosting; to do so redefines said brownie into a new classification. Cake.
4. A brownie should have at minimum two distinct textures present; an excellent brownie displays 3 variant textures.
5. When baking brownies, always set the timer earlier than the recipe's baking time would suggest; the fastest way to ruin a brownie is to overbake it. When in doubt, pull them out! An undercooked brownie never hurt anyone, but an overcooked brownie has disappointed many a soul.
6. A brownie should always be consumed in the presence of some form of dairy product; milk and ice cream are highly recommended. To consume without dairy back-up is to diminish the palate's ability to fully experience the brownie's nuanced flavors.
In my time as a serious brownie baker, I have encountered only a handful of recipes that have made it into my recipe binder. My first encounter with outrageous brownies was Palm Beach Brownies, by Maida Heatter, and my most recent encounter was with David Lebovitz's Absolute Best Brownies with Dried Cherries. After receiving the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook a few months back, I immediately tagged the Fudgy Brownies, hoping they would be everything they promised....dense and fudgy, and not for the faint of heart. I am happy to report, this brownie scores top points in all categories, and will be permanetly added to my brownie rotation.
Fudgy Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
The recipe below differs from the published recipe in that it is doubled.
Makes 16 large or 32 regular brownies
16 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks), sliced into 1-inch pieces
16 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3 cups sugar
8 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang on two sides. Butter the foil; set aside. Place butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water; stir frequently until chocolate and butter are melted, about 10 minutes. Remove bowl from heat; let cool to room temperature, 15 - 20 minutes.
Stir the sugar vigorously into the melted chocolate with a wooden spoon until combined. Stir in the eggs one at a time, until fully incorporated. Whisk in the vanilla. Gently fold in the flour and salt.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth top. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, anywhere from 35-45 minutes. Start checking the brownies around 30 minutes to gauge how quickly they are baking; do not overbake! Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.