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.
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