The Ultimate Brownie Guide

The Ultimate Brownie Guide experiments with ingredients and methods to see what makes brownies cakey, chewy, or fudgy so you can make your own ultimate brownie!

The Ultimate Brownie Guide
If you’re a frequent Handle the Heat reader you probably remember my Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookie post, and part 2, and part 3. Those posts were so fun and popular that I’ve created even more Ultimate Guide posts that deconstruct the ingredients and techniques from your favorite recipes and foods so we can all learn why and how things happen in the kitchen.

Brownies come in many forms but they deservedly require their own category in the world of desserts because they aren’t quite cakes, cookies, or fudge. Yet, brownies are often described as being cakey, chewy, or fudgy. What makes for the perfect brownie is a matter of personal preference and with the thousands of brownie recipes that exist, it can be hard to find your version of the perfect brownie.

With the earliest published brownie recipes spanning back to the early 1900s, it’s no surprise that there are countless variations to this delightful treat. Whether they are made from a box or from scratch, whether they have nuts, chocolate chips, or frosting, or whether they are cakey, chewy, or fudgy, the recipe options are endless.

That is why I went on a quest to discover which brownie ingredients and techniques produce which results. In a crazy whirlwind of brownie baking, I made seven batches of brownies in a scientifically-inspired kitchen experiment. I used an adapted version of the well-known Baker’s One Bowl Brownie recipe as my control and tested the effects of cake flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, oil and cocoa powder, an extra egg yolk, and whipped eggs and sugar. I used the same ingredients, utensils, and bakeware, when applicable, and maintained a 350°F oven and a 20 minute baking time for each batch to ensure accurate testing. Take a look at the results, I hope they help you discover the tricks to making your version of the perfect brownie!

Control Recipe

The Ultimate Brownie Guide - Control

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Control Brownie Guide Recipe

Yield: 9 medium brownies

Prep Time: 10 min

Cook Time: 20 min

Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2.25 ounces or 63 grams)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8x8-inch pan with foil, leaving an overhang on all 4 sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large microwave-safe bowl, microwave the chocolate and butter on high in 30 second bursts, stirring between each burst, until the mixture is melted. Let cool slightly. Stir in the sugar. Mix in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the salt and flour until combined. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Adapted from Baker’s One Bowl Brownie Recipe

Cake Flour:

The Ultimate Brownie Guide - Cake Flour
For this test I substituted the 1/2 cup (2.25 ounces) of all-purpose flour called for in the recipe with 1/2 cup of sifted Swans Down brand cake flour, which weighs 1.75 ounces after sifting. Everything else in the recipe was left as is. The brownies were lighter and softer, as you might expect. They were also less rich and dense.

If you’re wondering what cake flour is, it is a very fine-textured flour with a low protein content, usually about 8 percent. All-purpose flour has a protein content of around 10-12 percent, depending on the brand. The lower protein content in cake flour usually gives baked goods very tender and fine textured results, which is why it’s perfect in cake recipes. In brownies, however, I found that using cake flour produced results that were too soft and cake-y and not nearly rich or fudgy enough. If you prefer a more tender and cake-y brownie, using cake flour is definitely the way to go.

Cocoa powder:

The Ultimate Brownie Guide - Cocoa Powder
There are two main families of brownie recipes; those that call for melted chocolate and those that call for cocoa powder. Sometimes a recipe will call for both, but the Baker’s One Bowl Brownie recipe calls for melted chocolate. I wanted to see how using only cocoa powder would affect the brownies. I removed the 4 ounces of melted chocolate in the recipe and replaced it with 3/4 cup of natural unsweetened cocoa powder, keeping everything else the same. The resulting brownies were nice and chewy with that distinct cocoa flavor, but they were also much more dry and crumbly. The melted chocolate certainly provides moisture and without it, the brownies were quenched. My go-to cocoa brownie recipe uses a whopping ten tablespoons of butter, as opposed to the control recipe’s six tablespoons. Cocoa brownies are quick, easy, and chewy, but they require more butter to maintain a moist, fudgy bite.

Brown Sugar:

The Ultimate Brownie Guide - Brown Sugar
Most brownie recipes call for only granulated sugar, although some call for a ratio of both granulated and brown sugars. I love brown sugar and feel that it adds a depth of sweet flavor and moisture to baked goods so I thought it would be perfect to test how brown sugar affects brownies. I replaced the 1 cup of granulated sugar with 1 cup of packed light brown sugar and the resulting brownies were soft, rich, and ultra moist. They were also slightly thicker and darker in color than the control recipe. The one thing they were lacking as compared to the control brownies (and later the whipped egg and sugar brownies) was that crinkly, tissue-thin crust that is so characteristic of brownies. The brown sugar adds too much moisture to allow the tops the dry out enough to produce that crust.

Oil and Cocoa:

The Ultimate Brownie Guide - Oil and Cocoa
The idea behind this particular brownie test was to recreate the elements behind boxed mix brownies. Many of us grew up eating brownies made from a box and there’s definitely something appealing about their chewy texture and cocoa flavor. In an attempt to replicate those boxed brownie characteristics, I replaced the 6 tablespoons of butter with a 1/3 cup of vegetable oil and replaced the 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate with 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder. The results were very similar to box mix brownies in flavor, texture, and appearance. They were soft yet chewy with a light cocoa flavor that lacked the chocolate intensity of a more rich or fudgy brownie. They were also lacking moisture and were almost crumbly. My assessment of making brownies using both cocoa and oil is that they definitely require more moisture either in the form of fat, such as adding a touch more oil or an extra egg yolk, or in the form of water.

Egg Yolk:

The Ultimate Brownie Guide - Egg Yolk
In the notes for the Baker’s One Bowl Brownie recipe it directs bakers to use an additional egg to make for more fudgy brownies. Knowing that fatty egg yolks add richness while the lean egg whites tend to produce a more cake-like texture in baking, I wanted to see just how fudgy an extra egg yolk would make these brownies. In addition to the two large eggs called for in the recipe, I added an additional egg yolk, keeping everything else the same. The egg yolk brownies were supremely dense, moist, dark, and ultra chewy. Like the brown sugar brownies, these egg yolk brownies had way too much moisture to produce that crinkly, tissue-thin crust. They were also on the thin side. If you want to add richness to your brownies and make them more fudgy and chewy, adding an extra egg yolk is definitely the way to go.

Whipped Eggs and Sugar:

The Ultimate Brownie Guide - Whipped Eggs and Sugar
Finally, for my last round of brownie testing, I decided to experiment with the more unique technique of beating the eggs and sugar for 3 to 5 minutes with an electric mixer until they were pale, thick, and fluffy. After insuring the sugar was well dissolved into the eggs, I added the cooled melted butter and chocolate mixture and vanilla then proceeded with folding in the salt and flour. The results were interesting. These brownies were rich, fudgy, and chewy, but had a lightness about them that none of the other brownies had. Plus they had a beautiful crinkly tissue-thin crust on the top that I loved. I must admit that while I enjoyed certain characteristics of all the other brownies in this kitchen experiment, these whipped egg and sugar brownies were my favorite.

Final Comparison:

what makes brownies chewy, fudgy, or cakey!

The article The Ultimate Brownie Guide was originally posted at Relish.com

Since we’re on the subject of brownies I figured I’d whet your brownie appetite by rounding up some of my favorite brownie recipes that I’ve posted over the years. Which is your favorite?

Thick & Fudgy Toffee Brownies by Handle the Heat Thick and Fudgy Toffee Brownies

Coconut Oil BrowniesCoconut Oil Brownies

classicbrowniesClassic Brownies

Crinkly BrowniesCrinkly Brownies

What’s your ultimate ideal brownie? Do you like them chewy, fudgy, cakey, or something else?

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30 Responses to “The Ultimate Brownie Guide”

  1. #
    1
    Tieghan — September 16, 2013 at 5:54 am

    Fudgy brownies are so my thing!! LOVING these guides, they are awesome!

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    2
    Ada ~ More Food, Please — September 16, 2013 at 8:55 am

    I love your guides! They’re fun and informative :D I’ll eat any kind of brownie, but fudgy ones are my favorite!

    • Tessa replied: — September 16th, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

      Thanks a lot, I’m glad you like them!

  3. #
    3
    Gaby — September 16, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Love this post! You know how much I love brownies!!

  4. #
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    Bonny@cleverhen.com — September 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    The thick and fudgy toffee brownies look amazing! but so do all of them. I don’t know what one to make first.

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    Jenny @ The Brunette Baker — September 23, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Two Words – Face. Plant.

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    Sara — September 23, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    My favourite ones are not actually on your list, they were the chocolate cinnamon ones you made (I think they were called Mexican brownies). They are actually amazing and I wish I had a big plate of them right now! They are just soooooo good!

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    Joanne T Ferguson — September 27, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    G’day Tessa! What a GREAT experiment and LOVE your photos, true!
    As a very visual food lover, your post today has me craving brownies too!
    I repost on my FB acct..
    Cheers! Joanne

  8. #
    8
    Erika — November 18, 2013 at 9:40 am

    When I click over to the relish.com page, it only loads for a few seconds before reverting to the bing.com home page. Do you know why this is happening? I really want to read your post! :(

    • Tessa replied: — November 18th, 2013 @ 11:17 am

      Hi Erika! I reported this problem to Relish and they’re working to fix it. In the meantime, you can clear your browser’s cache and cookies or simply click on this link: http://relish.com/?setvalid=1 to avoid being rerouted to Bing. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

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    Jasmine — November 29, 2013 at 6:50 am

    The link isn’t working

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    Hanna — December 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    i love slutty brownies but they are even better if you replace the oreo with a peanut butter cup

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    Paula — May 3, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    How did you decide to substitute 3/4 cup cocoa for 2 oz. unsw chocolate? According to what I’ve read, the cocoa adds a starch component that must be corrected for when adding it to the dry ingredients of a recipe (as well as, needing to supplement the total fat when making the cocoa-for-chocolate substitution). I just wondered–weight? subjective experience of the cocoa’s cacao-intensity??

    • Tessa replied: — May 3rd, 2014 @ 4:00 pm

      Hi Paula! Yes, I used 3/4 cup cocoa because it weighs about 2 ounces (can vary depending on the brand/method of measuring). I wasn’t surprised that these brownies came out dry, most cocoa powder based brownies (this one is a fave: http://www.handletheheat.com/2010/12/cocoa-brownies.html) have lots of butter and little flour. For these experiments I wanted to alter the smallest amount of ingredients/methods possible in each batch to see exactly how the variable in question affects the final product. If I change too many things it skews the results. I hope that helps!

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    Sendy — May 19, 2014 at 4:42 am

    Hi Tessa,
    Great brownies! i’ve tried the original one and it taste fantastic!! Thank you so much for sharing the tips and recipes! I wanted to try the thick and fudgy toffee brownies but I cant seem to find Toffee around the place where I live, I live in Jakarta btw. Could we make the toffee instead? Could you please also share the ingredients? Thanks a lot Tessa :)

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    Lisa — July 16, 2014 at 6:27 am

    Wow, I can’t believe it! In 2004, I learned what brownies are. Since then, I tried getting them right. 10 years later, and I finally did it! This guide is perfect, thank you! :D

  14. #
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    JORGE — August 12, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    This compilation looks awesome. Have you ever tried making Brownie Brittle? They are these crunchy brownie-like cookies…oh so good. Any ideas?

    • Tessa replied: — August 12th, 2014 @ 10:32 pm

      I just got a bag at a blogging retreat a week ago! My first time experiencing it. I’ll have to experiment with making a homemade recipe for the stuff.

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    Dulce — August 31, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks for this great guide. My favorite brownie is the fudgy, I can say I love all of them. Thanks for sharing.

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    Dulce — August 31, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Thanks for sharing this guide. The fudgy ones are my favorite.

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    Connie — September 2, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    The Whipped Eggs and Sugar one looks/sounds like my perfect preference of brownies! I love them a little chewy, fudgy and the crinkly sugar crust. I love these variations/experiments of baked goods you do (such as the chocolate chip cookie one)–saves me on a lot of batches of trying to determine the recipe for me. Thank you for sharing!

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    Nat — September 3, 2014 at 4:28 am

    I no longer use vegetable oil in my baking-it’s either butter or coconut oil.
    Have you tried this recipe substituting the fat with either of these?

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    Kate — September 25, 2014 at 7:13 am

    If I will add some Chocolate chips of any flavor or some different kinds of nuts it still affect th

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    Kate — September 25, 2014 at 7:14 am

    If I will add some Chocolate chips of any flavor or some different kinds of nuts will it still affect the texture of brownies? Thanks! :)

    • Tessa replied: — September 26th, 2014 @ 8:31 am

      Nuts will definitely affect the texture! You should be able to add any kind of mix-ins you’d like as long as they’re about the size of chocolate chips.

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    Claire — October 8, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    This is helpful, thank you! I like my brownies thick with a crinkly top, fudgy, and not dense. The oil and cocoa ones look absolutely delicious! I need to experiment with a gluten free, vegan version of those!!

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    Yael — October 27, 2014 at 10:04 am

    I am a big proponent of the cocoa/oil brownies. Everything truly goes into one bowl quick and easy – no melitng required. Not that I am an expert or anything, but it seems your substitution of cocoa for chocolate was way off. You’d need much less cocoa and a bit more fat to achieve deliciously moist cocoa/oil brownies. As the experts say and I paraphrase, an equal amount of cocoa is more intensely “cocoa-flavored” than the same amount of unsweetened chocolate, BUT lacking in fat. In your control recipe, I would have used 1/3 cup cocoa and 1/2 cup oil. Thanks for your super guide!

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    Cody — November 10, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Hey how many eggs white if use the whipping egg white method? And what about the eggs yolk?

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