Poll: How Do You Take Your Brownies?


What’s in a name? And would a brownie by any other name (or definition) taste as sweet?

Here’s how Merriam Webster defines it:

3: a small square or rectangle of rich usually chocolate cake often containing nuts

But, according to The Oxford Encylopedia of Food and Drink in America, brownies are “bar cookies, usually chocolate, baked in square or rectangular cake pans.”

So which is it – cake or cookie?

“The Food Lover’s Companion” further mucks up the works with this definition: “A dense, chewy, cakelike cookie that is generally chocolate-flavored…”

Less than satisfied with these conflicting book-ish reports, I sought first-hand counsel and epicurean wisdom from a handful or two of trusted gluttonous comrades, and asked them to honor me with their definition of “brownie.” The responses, I’m sorry to report, are as wildly all over the map as the authoritative sources.

To wit, a sampler:

Jim: There are two kinds of brownies: Dense, chewy, rich and delicious fudge-y ones or insipid, crumbly, shoulda used a mix cake-y ones. Cakey is for gingerbread.

Erin “prefers cakey, with ice cream.” And no edges, please.

Karl swears by “the recipe on the package of Hershey's unsweetened chocolate. No baking powder. Fudgy.”

Susan: Cakey, never. Fudgey with a crisp top and a slightly undercooked center, ALWAYS. Overbaked might just be the worst sin.

Mister McG: Cakey, with chunks of chocolate in it, big enough to chew on individually. If I want fudge, I'll eat fudge.

Even Mister MA couldn’t give me a straight answer. He had good things to say about both cakey and fudge-y but made “chewy” references, too.

Seems I’ve got company in my quest for what defines this American treat that came on the scene just before the turn of the 20th century, originally flavored with molasses (Thanks, Fannie Farmer!).

Pam Anderson, a cooking colunist for USA Weekend and author of five cookbooks, went on a brownie quest several years ago while writing “The Perfect Recipe.” She shares her experiences engineering a brownie recipe that could effectively satisfy brownie lovers from three different camps – the Cakeys, the Fudgeys and the Chewies. From her essay:

“Cakey brownies offered structure and crumb but lacked the intense chocolate hit of the other two styles. Fudgy brownies packed a lot of chocolate flavor, but their heavy, dense, candylike structure needed a lift. Chewy brownies exhibited an irresistible gooey quality but needed a little crumb definition.”

The result, “Fudgy, Chewy, Cakey Brownies,” does have a little bit of baking powder (sorry Karl) to “lift” the batter, as Anderson explains, yet there’s plenty of mood-altering chocolate and plenty of butter fat to yield a chewy edge, which in my opinion, is one of the best parts.

Anderson’s recipe is a brilliant compromise without feeling like one, and I reckon everyone can now get along. Below is her peace offering. And yes, we're all blissed out at Casa Appetite.

Fudgy, Chewy, Cakey Brownies

from "The Perfect Recipe" by Pamela Anderson

Note: If you wait until toothpick inserted comes out clean, they're overcooked. You want fudgy crumbs.

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
veg cooking spray
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
optional: 3/4 cup toasted walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, peanuts

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Whisk flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl; set aside. Spray an 8-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Fit a sheet of foil in pan and up two sides, so you can use it as a handle to pull cooked brownies from pan (I used parchment paper). Spray sheet with cooking spray.

Melt chocolates and butter in a medium bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat; whisk in sugar and vanilla. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each one before adding the next. Continue to whisk until mixture is completely smooth and glossy. Add dry ingredients, whisk until just incorporated. Stir in nuts, if using.

Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in center comes out with wet crumbs, 35-45 minutes.

Cool brownies in pan on a wire rack for five minutes. Use handles to pull brownies from pan. Completely cool brownies on rack, at least three hours. Cut into squares and serve. If not serving immediately, do not cut brownies. Whole brownie cake can be wrapped in plastic wrap, then foil, and refrigerated for up to five days.

Makes 16 brownies.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 29, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Baking
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

KOD: Seriously, you posted this at 7 a.m. ET? Isnt' that like 4 a.m. PST? Dear me, you need to be sleeping in a little bit more.

I am a chewy brownie fan; my grandmother, bless her heart, was a cakey brownie person, and she always foisted icky cakies on us. When we made chewy brownies, she insisted they weren't done baking.

I do love the edges. My brother got me one of those Bakers Edge pans for Christmas -- it's kind of cool. It has walls across the pan so you make sort of like 2 inch channels of brownie so you get plenty of edge. There are places in the pan where there are corners and you get 3 edges out of the brownie. Mmmmm.

They just previewed these in Cook's Illustrated and also the America's Test Kitchen (same difference) program and it got a thumbs up from them. If you are not into edges, though, this is not your pan. It's heavy gauge aluminum and has some sort of non-stick finish, but it's not like teflon. Not sure what. I like the pan so far.

Kim from Nebraska

Posted by: khachiya1 | January 29, 2009 9:56 AM

Kim in Nebraska: Fortunately, I have an editor who takes a look at things the day or night before and schedules the posts to be published while I am sleeping, but thanks for looking out for me! I've heard about these pans and am intrigued, as I too dig the edges.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | January 29, 2009 10:44 AM

my go to brownie recipe is from Marjorie Standish's "Cooking Down East". It's clean, simple (about as easy as opening a mix) and creates a delicious and dense brownie that can stand alone or with add ins.

The recipe is so easy: 4 eggs, 2 c sugar, 1 c oil, 1 c flour, 1 ts vanilla, pinch of salt and 4 unsweetened baking squares (nuts, choc chips or marshmallows optional). Sometimes I've cut the oil with milled flax seeds, and I now bake it with white whole wheat flour.

I also line the pan with parchment paper so there's only 2 bowls to clean up!

Posted by: Parasauro | January 29, 2009 11:42 AM

1) any brownie recipe that uses cocoa powder is automatically superior as it doesn't require melting chocolate

2) nuts are required, chocolate chips are strongly encouraged

Posted by: mee3c | January 29, 2009 1:22 PM

I definitely like cakier brownies, more on the moist side, and not stick-to-your-teeth fudgey. In fact, brownies were a good litmus test for a boyfriend who ate my home-made treats but raved about his sister's brownies. Next time that I saw her, I asked for her recipe and discovered that it was a box mix. Call me a snob, but it definitely spelled "doom" for our relationship. :)

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | January 29, 2009 1:39 PM

A contrarian view: For the amount of fat in brownies, I'd rather have a nice piece of cake or a piece of good fudge - or both!

For an 8" square cake, I use the recipe on the back of the Hersey's cocoa box and halve it. It uses olive oil in the cake and butter in the frosting. It's probably in the WaPo recipe finder since the food section did a slight variation on it.

Posted by: fran426 | January 29, 2009 1:49 PM

Fudgy and/or chewy is the only way to make a brownie! A cakey brownie is a misnomer. It is simply chocolate cake baked in a square pan. And, a brownie NEVER has frosting! I may be a snob when it comes to many types of food, but I will admit that the best brownies come from a box.

Posted by: SweetieJ | January 29, 2009 1:55 PM

Geez, why don't you pick an easier discussion topic like how do we effect world peace or how do we fix the recession? Brownies are way too complicated a subject.

I've found this to be a finicky subject. My personal fav is homemade in-between brownies from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. Fudgy/gooey but still w/ a bit of crumbly lightness. But I don't turn away from Betty Crocker or Ghiridelli Ultimate boxes either. They both make a fantastic brownie. And love the chunks of chocolate from chips or kisses or oreos or thin mints or...

Posted by: Shanbanan19 | January 29, 2009 3:02 PM

I'm kinda amazed people have preferences here. You put a brownie in front of me - cakey or fudgey, nutty or not, with edges or a center peice, served alone or with ice cream - and I am one happy woman. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, peanut butter, turtle, chocolate chunk, "blondie", walnut..... I will thank you profusely and pick up every crumb. The only line I draw is with frosting, and then only if it is ordinary way-too-sweet frosting. That's just too much.

Posted by: DCCubefarm | January 29, 2009 4:12 PM

DCCubefarm, you must be a joy to cook for (I say with all seriousness and not even a hint of sarcasm). Keep up the happy eating.

Posted by: esleigh | January 29, 2009 7:17 PM

My "go-to" brownie recipe is below, from epicurious with a few adaptations. Increase the flour by 1/4 for high altitude use.

Triple chocolate brownies
6 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the bittersweet chocolate and the unsweetened chocolate with the butter, stirring until the mixture is smooth, remove the bowl from the heat, and let the mixture cool until it is lukewarm. Stir in the sugar and the vanilla and add the eggs, 1 at a time, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the salt and the flour, stirring until the mixture is just combined, and stir in the chocolate chips. Pour the batter into a well-buttered and floured 13- by 9-inch baking pan, smooth the top, and bake the mixture in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a tester comes out with crumbs adhering to it. Let the mixture cool completely in the pan on a rack and cut it into 24 bars.
The most popular variation I have made used Reeces Pieces and Milk Duds instead of the chips. It is absolutely worth buying good chocolate for these as well. Callebaut works very well, and Ghirdelli works in a pinch.

Posted by: evergreencolorado | January 30, 2009 3:14 PM

can you sub in whole wheat flour in a brownie recipe or is that craziness?

Posted by: skgans | January 30, 2009 3:59 PM

Skgans: Craziness? No. But there's little to substitute, just 2/3 cup. Never hurts to try....

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | January 30, 2009 4:03 PM

In college I made brownies with whole wheat flour and put raspberry granola on top and called them Breakfast Brownies. Works with most recipes.

Posted by: esleigh | January 30, 2009 5:14 PM

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