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Practicing the basics: brownies

Like pies, many families treasure their brownie recipe and blood has been spilled over whose recipe is better. There is a certain amount of pride that comes with achieving the perfect shiny, crackly top, but the real debate is whether a brownie should be “gooey” or “cakey” (or somewhere on the spectrum in between).

This recipe is more on the gooey side, but if you like your more cakey, you can adjust it by adding 1/8 cup more flour (5/8 cup total).

Suggested reading:

Makes 16 two-inch-square brownies. Time required: about 40 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnut pieces (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease an 8×8 baking pan with butter, vegetable oil, or cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder, flour and salt. Mix the dry ingredients together first; a classic recipe step and always a good practice to make sure they are evenly distributed. Of note: in many cases, sugar acts more like a wet ingredient than a dry one — especially when we use a lot of it — and we often treat it that way when baking.

Slice up the butter into 1-tablespoon chunks or smaller and place in a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, covered, for 30 seconds at a time until the butter is melted. Whisk in the sugar until they form a thick, slightly grainy liquid. Allow to cool for 3-4 minutes. Cutting up the butter helps it all melt at the same rate; if you put a stick of butter in the microwave, the inner part melts much more slowly than the outer part. Also, make sure you cover the bowl! Butter has a tendency to pop and spatter the inside of your microwave oven.

Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract. Stir in the cocoa/flour/salt mixture until well combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and/or walnuts.

Pour the batter into a baking pan; use a spatula to spread it into an even layer. Bake until it’s barely set in the middle, about 20-25 minutes. To test whether it’s set: stick a knife into the center and pull it back out; it won’t come out perfectly clean, but it won’t pull the batter with it when it comes out. Brownie dough stiffens when it cools, so even if it seems too gooey when it’s done baking, it will be more solid soon.

Remove from oven, and allow to cool on a rack before cutting them up. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tips and suggestions:

  • As mentioned above, this recipe, as written above, is more on the “gooey” side. Adding a bit more flour will make it more “cakey.” But don’t overdo it; start with a small amount (1/8 cup) and iterate with successive batches until you get the result you’re looking for. Remember to test it when it has cooled, not when it’s still hot.
  • Store in an airtight container. They will be hard as a rock if refrigerated, especially if you included the chocolate chips. But you can reheat them in the microwave for 30 seconds to loosen them back up again.
  • You can vary the amount of chocolate chips and walnuts to add. Adding more chocolate chips will make it even more gooey when hot and more solid when cooled (chocolate is solid at room temperature, and liquid at body temperature).
  • You can add other flavors as well. A dash of peppermint extract is fun, since chocolate and mint go together well, but go easy on the mint extract because it’s strong stuff.

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