Death by Chocolate with Sugar on Top
I know you don’t want to admit it, but you’re not impressing anyone with that tray of brownies. Your average brownie consumer can’t tell the difference between from the box and made-from-scratch, so let’s just drop the pretext and admit to ourselves that we’ve got to step up our brownie game and re-educate our consumer. In order to do this we’ve got to start thinking creatively.
First off, there are a few simple things everyone should keep in mind when it comes to making the best brownies possible:
1) If a brownie mix or recipe includes in its name any derivation of “fudge,” it means that the finished product is expected to have under-baked batter inside it. More often than not, this results in people over-baking brownie mixes because they think the brownies need more time cooking when, in fact, they were ready to come out of the oven three minutes ago. But that’s okay, since people don’t like goopy brownies, anyway. If you really want that “fudgy” taste and texture, you’re going to have to add real fudge.
2) Despite what you think, adding semi-sweet chocolate chips will not “infuse more chocolate flavor” into your brownies; it just makes them messier. And if you add too much, you’re left with a chocolate bar with bits of cookie interspersed. Keep the doses of extra chocolate small, and make them count!
3) Speaking of adding chocolate to brownies: seriously, there are SEVERAL flavors that complement chocolate, and limiting yourself to adding only semi-sweet chocolate to brownies is doing your taste buds a huge disservice. Look for opportunities to add some pizazz.
4) Baked-from-scratch brownies are rarely as light and tender as boxed mixes. The secrets to the boxed mixes are the chlorine-treated flour (which can handle a lot more punishment than your standard bleached all-purpose flour) and fat emulsifiers (which help neutralize the tendency of fats to clump into larger and fewer drops, keeping them spread throughout and resulting in thicker, softer batters). Science! (ok, Silly Simple here– just have to jump in and say EEWWW!)
There are a myriad of things that can be done to brownies… some of these things even taste good. Here are a few inspirational ideas we threw in to our last batch of brownies we made for a friend’s housewarming party:
1) Build a foundation. If you’re planning on making tender, flaky brownies, you’re going to have to ask yourself a very important question: how many fingers do you want people to use to hold on to the brownie? A chocolate graham cracker crust will help add some much-needed support, and allow people bite in without having to try to catch a deluge of crumbs.
* 1 ½ C chocolate graham cracker crumbs
* ¼ C butter, melted
* 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
* Line a 9”x9” baking pan with parchment paper, with 3” extra parchment paper going up two opposite sides (these will act as handles so you can remove all of the brownies intact).
* Stir together graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and sugar. Firmly press mixture into bottom of pan using the bottom of a 1C measuring cup to create a smooth, packed crust.
* Pour brownie mixture into pan on top of crust, and bake according to brownies’ directions.
* Pass a butter knife around the edges of the pan and allow to cool completely. Using the parchment paper handles, remove the mega-brownie from the pan.
2) More chocolate than chocolate. If you really want to kick up that chocolate flavor, add some coffee to your batter. A tablespoon of instant coffee/espresso powder will enhance the rich, dark chocolate flavors of your brownies without introducing additional moisture. (Pro tip: Coffee powder is also a Godsend on camping trips when you want something hot, fast, and almost reminiscent of real coffee on a brisk morning in the woods.)
3) When in doubt, add chocolate. Sometimes you’ve just got to add some extra chocolate to the batter. I recommend a 50-50 mix of ½ C semisweet chips/chunks and ½ C milk chocolate for every 9”x9” square pan of brownies. Mix together 2 Tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder with 1 Tbsp Amaretto (it adds moisture, flavor and sweetness) if you want an extra dose of chocolaty goodness.
4) Sweeten up the deal. Honestly, adding frosting to a bunch of brownies isn’t anything new, but it definitely adds something to the equation. Chocolate frosting is too obvious, and vanilla frosting is too blase. Trust me, cream cheese frosting is the way to go.
* 1 (3oz) package cream cheese, softened
* ¼ C butter, softened
* 2 C confectioner’s sugar
* 1 tsp vanilla extract
* ~1 Tbsp cocoa powder
* Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth.
* Put about ½ C of the frosting onto your brownies and spread evenly. This is your crumb layer, and will help keep your frosting crumb-free.
* Spread remaining frosting evenly over brownies.
* Put cocoa powder into a fine mesh sieve, and dust the frosting by lightly tapping the side of the sieve.
5) Presentation is everything. If you’re a perfectionist (like me), or simply like to sample
the goods to “check for quality” (like my wife), cut off the outer ¼” of all the edges with a sharp knife pressed firmly downward (think “guillotine”). Put all the edge pieces into a
bowl and wallow in the necessity of disposing of the waste.