Your Quest for the Perfect Brownie Ends Here.

Or, at least, mine did.

I am currently resisting the urge to make myself an americano and chomp into (another) one of these saucy little numbers.

Here’s what I think is weird: the whole “cakey vs. fudgy” brownie debate. Is there really a debate here? I mean, if you want cake, have cake! So many times I have been disappointed with a crazy looking brownie that in the end is wan, bland, and cakey. Not even really chocolatey. Dry. Crumbly. Sad.

I’ll tell you where the debate is: ChocolatEY or chocolatY? My spell check seems to think the latter, but this makes me think of fake chocolate.

Cook’s Illustrated was a fave magazine of mine till I recently got a little sick of their epic stories of heroic kitchen feats. It does make a pretty interesting read, but I had a subscription and was finding it somewhat repetitive. I learned a lot about cooking during my 2-year subscription, and I am glad there is a whole team of people striving to make the BEST recipe for whatever they decide to cook. Often, however, their recipes end up with a lot of special steps – these are the steps that result in the recipe defying all odds, but they take forever, and I’m too lazy. When I saw that America’s Test Kitchen had perfected the brownie, my first thought was, “Come on you guys, you mean this is the first time you’ve tackled brownies?” – but their description of their quest and also of the science behind the final recipe finally sucked me in. It turns out, this particular kitchen feat IS heroic – it took them ages to figure it out, and they baked hundreds of imperfect brownies on their journey. They finally came up with a brownie recipe that any ol’ joe can master, and it’s INCREDIBLE, to boot. It is fudgy. It is crackly on top. It has chunks of chocolate in it. The edges are chewy and the middle is almost – but not – uncooked. It makes a big pan. It is intensely chocolatey.

AH! Ok. I caved. Espresso and brownie please.

Oh how I wish you were here to savour this with me.

So the other day I made a batch, cause the lovely father of my lovely children gave me a stand mixer for my birthday and I wanted to test it out, and I was looking for an excuse to make these again. By no means do you need a mixer for this, by the way. And by no means do you need an excuse, either. The thing is, I’m not one of those people who bakes and then doesn’t eat what she baked. I know people like that. They like to bake cause it’s relaxing, or something, and then they bring everything to the office or to their dad’s house. No, I actually hold myself back from baking cause I have so little willpower when it comes to baked goods that I have to quickly hide everything in the freezer so that I don’t eat it all. I bake cause I like the smell, and the taste, and the look of what I’ve done. Usually (This morning’s bran muffins were the first baked good I’ve actually thrown out. One at a time, pitched over the deck and into the ravine. AWFUL). So if I baked these all the time, well, there’d be trouble. As it is, I guess I didn’t hide them well enough in the freezer cause they are really easy to find.

Here are things I like about this recipe:

1. It uses melted butter, so you don’t have to plan ahead by taking the butter out of the fridge.

2. You can use spelt flour if that’s all you have, or if that’s what you like. They come out a little fudgier and denser but they are still great.

3. The original recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, but that is so un-versatile. Like, if you are craving chocolate, and all you have is unsweetened, well honey, you are S.O.L.*. But I made it with bittersweet chocolate and reduced the sugar a little and it turns out jess’ fine.

4. The espresso in the recipe boosts up the intensity in such an incredible way.

5. These freeze well, in case it is dangerous for you to have brownies on the counter, and they unfreeze fast, just in case you really need one.

No-Debate Brownies

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, March & April 2010


Some problems have arisen with the baking of these brownies, mainly in the middle-not-getting-cooked category. I made them again (ah, the sacrifice) to make sure and they turned out great – they are gone, again….

So: make sure your pan is large enough! A typical square brownie pan will result in too-thick brownies that don’t cook through.

Testing your oven temperature is also a good idea. Mine runs 50 degrees too hot, so I have to adjust my dial down by 50 degrees, and I always check the temp before I bake. Get an oven thermometer!

A glass or ceramic pan will keep your brownies from burning on the outside while they cook on the inside. And when I say “cook”, I am speaking loosely – they are gooey in the middle, for sure. But once cooled, they hold together nicely. If you are grossed out by almost-uncooked batter, these brownies might not be for you.
and – it’s very important to wait till they are completely cool before cutting them.

You need: a 9 x 13″ baking pan (preferably glass or ceramic), and parchment paper, and zero inhibition regarding chocolate consumption.

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso*

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp boiling water

2 ounces 72-80 % chocolate, finely chopped (a little more than 1/3 cup once chopped, or 2 squares baker’s chocolate)

1/2 stick (4 tbsp) (1/4 cup) (2 oz) unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups white sugar

1 3/4 cups spelt flour (can use all-purpose)

3/4 teaspoon salt

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks (for chips, this is about a cup)

* if you don’t have instant espresso powder, you can use brewed coffee instead of the boiling water, or leave it out, but it really boosts the intensity of the chocolate.

1. With the oven rack on the lowest position, pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 13″ pan and line it with parchment paper, leaving some paper overhanging the edges so you can lift the brownies out when they are cool.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, espresso powder, and boiling water (or coffee) until smooth. Add the 2 oz of chocolate and whisk until melted. Whisk in melted butter and oil. It looks a bit lumpy, but that’s OK. Add the eggs, yolks, and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the sugar until fully incorporated, then add the flour and salt, and mix gently with a rubber spatula until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips or chunks.

3. Scrape batter into pan and bake 30-35 minutes. Start testing at 30 minutes by inserting the tester halfway between the edge and the center; it should come out with a few moist crumbs attached. The center will still be quite wet. Cool on a wire rack for 1 1/2 hours before you even THINK of cutting them into squares. After that, remove the brownies from the pan using the paper sling and cut them only once they are completely cool.

These would probably be good with good-quality vanilla ice cream, but are AMAZING with strong coffee and a friend.



10 thoughts on “Your Quest for the Perfect Brownie Ends Here.

  1. Annie

    Oil AND butter?!?! That caught me off-guard, but loving brownies (fudgey – so agree!), I will give these a try and see if I can get past the oil…

    1. Yeah, that’s one of the things that they figured out – I think in aiming for a fudgey texture, they figured out that the oil adds the moisture required… I threw out the explanation, unfortunately, but that’s one thing, and the white sugar is the other – it absolutely won’t have that shiny, crackly crust if you use brown sugar.
      Let us know how they turn out!! Mine are almost gone – time for another batch!

  2. P

    Haha! I just saw this part —

    “They like to bake cause it’s relaxing, or something, and then they bring everything to the office or to their dad’s house.”

    It’s also because it turns otherwise unappealing ingredients into amazing things that people are really disproportionately impressed by.

  3. some problems have arisen with the baking of these brownies. Please make sure your pan is large enough! Also, if it’s a thin, dark, kinda flimsy cheapo pan (no offense), maybe use the 2nd lowest rack in the oven instead, cause the heat will be too intense right there on the bottom. I will be making them again to make sure my instructions are correct!
    Meanwhile, make sure also you are using the right amount of chocolate – 2 oz is 2 squares of baking chocolate, and turns into 1/3 cup plus a couple tablespoons once chopped.
    and – it’s very important to wait till they are completely cool before cutting them.

  4. Annie

    So, I never got around to making these when you first posted them. Though they are currently in the oven, making my house smell FANTASTIC (poor gluten/dairy/soy-free Rodney… He can’t have this batch… Though I think the recipe could be easily altered with goat butter, a gluten-free flour mix, and soy-lecithin-free chocolate… If I ever get so ambitious, I shall offer you all a review and altered recipe!). I think that my potluck participants will be happy with what I am bringing tonight…

  5. Marilou

    Voila! c’est dans le four 🙂

    Le mélange était déjà BON à même le bol… (j’espère bien avec 2 tonnes de sucre et une demi de chocolat! haha sans parler des corps gras qui sont eux aussi musclés) MMmm plein de Glucides dans ma bouche, la fille est contente!

    Après en avoir bien profité, je pourrai apporter la pan quelque part et laisser les autres terminer 😛

    Thanks for the recipe!

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