I grew up with the notion that homemade is bettermade (which is sort of ironic since my mom has never been a “from-scratch” kind of cook; Kraft macaroni & cheese with hot dogs 4 lyf). In living the cliché lifestyle of Poor College Student, however, I am surrounded by boxed items, especially baked ones. Even cookies…from a box! Eh.
One boxed baked good that I have to praise, though, is Ghiradelli Fudge Brownies. Oh man. They straddle the lines of food and sex. So chewy, so chocolatey, so moist! Yes, moist. And I am just one member of the huge fan club. A brilliant magazine called Cook’s Illustrated took notice of this popularity and investigated the decadent situation. What did they uncover? Genius science, of course, and how to remaster it into a homemade recipe. Who jumped at this greatness? Well, my mom, actually, but me too! Now I’m here to extend the invitation to you folks: perfect brownies, RSVP immediately.
There are so many brilliant strategies to these brownies. Cook’s covers the different outcomes of white and brown sugar (have you ever debated over their superiority?) as well as the varieties of espresso powder. But, for our purposes, their most groundbreaking discovery is the rather simple (yet significant) role of fat. Yes, fat! The word that gets hearts pounding and feet running in a way much like ex’s do.
Before you start to worry, though, consider this: there are so many, many components to fat. Similar to sugar, there are different kinds with varying effects. Many of us are familiar with the terms saturated and unsaturated. Do you visualize the strong, fortified bonds that make up saturated fats? Can you picture the more lucid unsaturated bonds? Now, this is Krisla territory (and I am far from a scientist), but with the help of rudimentary biology classes and Cook’s Illustrated, I can enlighten you with some handy (albeit commonplace) information!
What it all comes down to is hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats (i.e. shortening, butter, lard) have maximum hydrogen atoms attached to their carbon atoms, which creates tight building blocks that form highly compacted carbon chains. Unsaturated fats have fewer hydrogen atoms, and therefore produce “holed” structures that are liquid at room temperature. The balance of these two is what beautifully blends liquid and solid into the right chew of a brownie. And who but the wonderfuls at Cook’s achieved just this, sans “the aid of high-tech fats used by brownie mix manufacturers”.
Typical homemade brownies have more saturated than unsaturated fat, with a ratio of 64% sat to 36% unsat (so generally more butter or shortening than oil). Ghiradelli’s is 28% sat to 72% unsat, and Cook’s Illustrated is a slightly altered 29% sat to 71% unsat fat (with no highly processed powdered shortening but just butter and vegetable oil). An increase in oil promotes moisture, which is why oil-based cakes are more moist than those of butter or shortening.
Boxed brownies, besides offering seemingly exclusive chewiness, also have an appealing, broken-up sheen to their surface. The breakage is accomplished through the molecules of white granulated sugar, which hold less moisture than their brown counterpart, and dry out to form a crisp crust. Plus, the pure sucrose of white sugar creates a glass-like sugar top (vs. brown’s mussed up, corn syrup-infused sucrose that forms crystals; these crystals reflect light differently and result in a matte-like texture).
As far as espresso powder in brownies and all baked-goods chocolate, its flavor-enhancing powers are stronger than instant coffee’s. But many powders out there are a fair combination of the two. Some brands that Cook’s offers include: Caffe D’Vita Imported Premium Instant Espresso, $1.40 per oz (for a shot of flavor that brings “dark, deep, fruit-y, roast-y” tastes to brownies); Cafe Bustelo Espresso Instant Coffee, $1.37 per oz (“rich fruitiness”); Medaglia D’Oro Instant Espresso Coffee, $1.68 per oz (for a kick and “good complexity”).
Whether your homemade brownie recipe needs tweaking or not, I definitely think this one deserves a shot. Maybe you’ll make some changes, maybe you won’t! This certainly is a complex way to go…but, shoot, is it worth it!
Also, there are multiple types of chocolate involved…!
Yum yum yum yum.
total time involved: 45 minutes to 1 hour
makes about twenty-four 2-inch brownies
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1 1/2 tsp instant espresso
1/2 cup plus 2 tbl boiling water
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped (Cook’s prefers Scharffen Berger unsweetened chocolate)
4 tbl (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup plus 2 tl vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, ”
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups granulated (white) sugar
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp table salt
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (Ghiradelli the recommended bittersweet)
1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and set the oven to 350 degrees. The recipe suggests creating a foil sling (one sheet of foil cut at 18 inches, folded lengthwise to 8 inch width, and fit into 9 x 13 inch pan, allowing for excess to overhang pan edges; cut another sheet 14 inches and fit into pan in the same manner as before, then put in perpendicular to the first sheet; finally, spray with nonstick cooking spray). But! I did not do such things. Go for it, though, if you have the patience!
2. Whisk cocoa, espresso and boiling water together in a large bowl until smooth.
3. Add chopped unsweetened chocolate and whisk until it is melted.
4. Stir in melted butter and oil (it may look curdled).
5. Get those eggs, yolks and vanilla in therr until smooth and homogenous.
6. Whisk in sugar until fully combined.
7. Add flour, salt and mix with rubber spatula until thoroughly incorporated.
8. Fold in bittersweet chocolate pieces – they make for deliciously chocolatey centers!
9. Scrape into pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs, roughly 30-35 minutes.
10. Using the flaps of the foil hang (once completely cooled, 1-1/2 hours) lift the brownie rectangle onto a wire rack.
11. Cut, serve, share and savor the chewy excellence!
Geary, Andrea. “Cracking the Code to Chewy Brownies.”Cook’s Illustrated. Mar 2010: 21-23. Print.