Brownies are easy to make: Simply stir together a few ingredients—flour, butter and/or oil, eggs, sugar, chocolate, vanilla, and salt—transfer the batter to a pan, and bake. But that doesn’t mean that a little know-how can’t help you make them even better and produce exactly the kind of texture you’re looking for.
What You'll Learn
- How to Get a Shiny, Crackly Top on Brownies
- How to Make Chewy Brownies
- How to Make Ultra Chocolatey Brownies
- The Best Pans for Baking Brownies
- How to Know When Brownies Are Done
- How to Use Up Leftover Brownies
- The Best Brownie Recipes
- The Best Boxed Brownie Mix
How to Get a Shiny, Crackly Top on Brownies
A glossy, crackly top is one of the hallmarks of a great brownie, but achieving it can be elusive. The type of sweetener is what makes the difference.
To demonstrate this, we baked three batches of brownies, one sweetened with granulated sugar, one sweetened with brown sugar, and a third with brown sugar and corn syrup. Only the brownies made with granulated sugar took on an attractive sheen and a crackly crust.
Why? It’s all due to what might be deemed “special effects.” Whether on its own or in combination with corn syrup, brown sugar forms crystals on the surface of the cooling brownie. Crystals reflect light in a diffuse way, creating a matte effect. The pure sucrose in granulated sugar, on the other hand, forms a smooth, glasslike, noncrystalline surface as it cools that reflects light in a focused way, for a shiny effect. As for the crackly crust, its formation depends on sugar molecules rising to the surface of the batter and drying out during baking. Since both brown sugar and corn syrup contain more moisture than granulated sugar, the surface of brownies made with either of these sweetener never dries out enough for a crisp crust to form.
The brownie on the left was made with granulated sugar; the one on the right was made with brown sugar.
How to Make Chewy Brownies
The secret to a brownie's chewy texture boils down to one thing: fat—specifically the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fat. By using both butter (a predominantly saturated fat) and vegetable oil (an unsaturated fat) in approximately a 1:3 ratio, we are able to produce a satisfying chew in our brownies.
How to Make Ultra Chocolatey Brownies
When we want to pack a brownie with the most chocolate punch, we turn to cocoa powder: Ounce for ounce, cocoa powder has more cocoa solids—and thus more chocolate flavor—than any other type of chocolate. In fact, in order to equal the amount of chocolate solids in 1 ounce of cocoa powder, we had to use 1.63 ounces of unsweetened bar chocolate, or 3.8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate. That said, we never use cocoa powder alone in brownies; it's loaded with starch so it can make brownies too dry. But a combination of cocoa powder and bar chocolate adds up to a brownie with big chocolate flavor. (You’ll see that we often keep cocoa powder out of the equation in brownie recipes that have rich swirls or additions. Its potent chocolate flavor could overshadow the cream cheese or caramel that make these brownies distinct.)
Brownie Tips and Tricks
The Best Pans for Baking Brownies
Glass versus Metal
Our brownie recipes typically call for an 8-inch square or 9 by 13-inch metal baking pan rather than a glass baking dish. Can the two be used interchangeably? Yes and no. Yes, you can bake brownies in a glass baking dish, but we’ve found that the results are noticeably drier once cooled.
Why? Glass retains heat well—almost too well. Brownies baked in glass dishes continue to cook from residual heat held by the pan after it has been removed from the oven. In addition, glass baking dishes have rounded edges and corners, and we like the clean lines provided by a straight-sided metal baking pan for our brownies.
How to Know When Brownies Are Done
Overbaked brownies are dry and chalky and their chocolate flavor is diminished, so it’s important to know exactly when to take the pan out of the oven. Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell when chocolate baked goods are done: Since they're already dark brown the usual visual cues won't work. To determine doneness, insert a toothpick in the center of the brownies. If the brownies are perfectly baked, the toothpick should emerge with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. (If it comes out clean, the brownies are overbaked.)
How to Use Up Leftover Brownies
Don’t let stale or dry brownies go to waste. Instead, save them to use as a quick dessert topping. Place slightly stale brownies in food processor and pulse until they form coarse crumbs. Store in zipper-lock bag in freezer. Sprinkle frozen crumbs onto ice cream or other desserts.
The Best Brownie Recipes
The Best Boxed Brownie Mix
There are times, like a last-minute bake sale or Cub Scout meeting, when the convenience of a boxed brownie mix is appealing. We baked seven national brands of brownie mix according to the package instructions and weren’t surprised when the majority of the brownies featured “chemical” flavors, cloying sweetness, and a distinct lack of chocolate flavor. There were, however, two bright spots. A pair of brownie mixes from chocolate manufacturers were actually pretty good—not as good as homemade, but close. To find out which won our tasting, click here.