So, that hot fudge sundae I made on the weekend? It started out with this outrageously fudgy brownie as a base. This is no chocolate cake masquerading as a brownie – this is the real deal. Dark, dense and rich, these are my ULTIMATE brownies.
The history of this favourite treat isn’t clear. The recipe first appeared in print in the early 20th century; the first mention was in Fannie Farmer’s 1906 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (egad, that hyphen and odd word separation looks simply wrong to my modern editor’s eyes). The next year Farmer’s protegée Maria Howard modified the recipe for Lowney’s Cookbook, adding an extra egg and more chocolate, taking the recipe a step closer to the richer, chocolatier brownie we love today.
Where Farmer originally got the recipe, no one knows. The story variously goes that someone was making a chocolate cake but didn’t have enough flour, that a cook added melted chocolate to a batch of cookies, that a housewife was making a cake but didn’t have any baking powder so just left it out… Who knows! Who cares!
For me, there are a couple of elements which determine a perfect brownie.
Cakey vs fudgy. There is a time and place for cakey brownies. Mrs. A’s Brownies are just that. But when I’m going all out, I don’t want my brownie to resemble a cake. I want fudgy decadence. For a fudgy brownie, look for a recipe with chocolate in it, not just cocoa. Because the cocoa solids in chocolate are firm when cold, your brownie will be firmer. You can increase the firm fudginess to almost candy-like proportions by storing them in the fridge.
Crust vs no crust. I once learned from Martha Stewart (okay, she didn’t tell me personally but it felt personal) that the key to that gorgeous, shiny, crackling brownie crust is to beat the eggs and sugar for several minutes, until pale, pale, pale and fluffy. Basically, you’re creating a meringue, and the more you beat, the crustier your brownies will be. If you prefer no crust at all, just reduce your beating time to a minimum.
I would highly recommend this article by Shirley Corriher for more fascinating facts about the science of brownies and tips on how to achieve your perfect version. But really, if you like your brownies fudgy and decadent, there’s no need to venture further afield. Try these!
Really, REALLY Fudgy Brownies
Adapted from a recipe in In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley
70z / 200g unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3oz / 85g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, diced
4 large eggs
2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups plain / all purpose flour
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350F / 176C. Grease a 9×13, 9×9 or 8×8 inch pan. Line the bottom and up two sides with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of a couple of inches.
Fill a large pot with an inch or two of water and place over low heat, bringing the water to a simmer. Combine the chocolates and butter in a stainless steel or glass bowl and set over the pot. Stir until mostly melted, then turn off the heat and stir until the mixture is completely melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs and sugar, and beat until the mixture is thick and very pale – at least 2 minutes if beating by hand or 1 minute if using electric beaters or a mixer. Stir in the vanilla.
In a small bowl sift together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.
When the chocolate is no longer hot (warm is OK), pour it into the egg-sugar mixture and stir to blend. Add the flour mixture to the batter in three additions, folding gently after each addition.
Scrape the batter into the pan and bake in the centre of the oven, around 35 minutes for a 9×13 pan, 40-45 minutes for a 9×9 pan, and 45-50 minutes for an 8×8 pan. Check the brownies several minutes before the minimum baking time is reached – you do not want to overbake these!!! A knife inserted in the centre should come out with moist crumbs still clinging to it and the surface will be shiny and may be cracking slightly.
Cool completely before cutting into bars. You can easily lift the whole cake out of the pan for cutting, using the sides of parchment paper as handles. Store for up to 5 days, wrapped in plastic wrap. Keep at room temperature for gooey brownies or in the fridge for dense, fudgy ones.