In my cooking program, students typically have the freedom to explore whatever recipes they want, with a budget and a final consumer in mind of course. When students create a savoury dish, it normally goes to a catering gig or to clients of the food bank. On the other hand, sweets often end up in the stomachs of hungry teenagers. If you know teenagers like I do, it won’t come as a surprise that each year there are requests for a few common items: cookies, brownies and a molten lava cake.
A major challenge of giving students freedom with their recipe choices is consistency. If we want to be able to sell the product, and avoid wasting ingredients, we need to have some confidence in the results. One goal of mine is to come up with a reliable set of recipes for some of these favourites. First up: the brownie.
Making a good brownie is harder than I thought it would be. It’s not something I’d given a lot of thought to before, but you know it when you have a good one (or a bad one, for that matter). Some of the recipes that students have come across have been too cakey, too greasy, or too dense.
A good brownie has to have the right texture – not too fudgey or too cakey. Cakey brownies tend to dry out easily, but fudgey brownies often feel soggy or under-baked. The perfect brownie is a sweet spot (hah!) between the two extremes.
Personally, I am also a fan of add-ins. I love chocolate but it can be more interesting (and delicious) to incorporate other flavours and textures too.
Flour, Leavener, Sugar
In some of recipe testing stages, we found that we preferred using cake flour. Cake flour has less protein, so the end result will be more tender with a delicate chew.
Using more eggs provides structure, but I found that too many eggs made the brownie too fudge-y. I thought about adding chemical leavening agents to lighten the crumb, but that makes the brownies too cakey, the preferred approach was to leaven the brownie by aerating the eggs.
Although adding a lot of sugar keeps the brownie moist, in my opinion the result is way too sweet. Most of the classic American recipes that I’ve come across have more than double the sugar that this recipe calls for. I opt to use a combination of brown and white sugar as brown sugar helps to achieve a moister crumb.
Adding More Chocolate Flavour
We tried recipes with only couverture and we tried recipes with only cocoa powder, from our findings, you need both for the right amount of flavour, texture and mouthfeel.
The result? These brownies have the right texture – not too fudgey, not too cakey, just right!
Ingredients (Recipe adapted from Helen Goh and Ruth Tam)
125g dark chocolate (99%)
60g neutral oil
180g white sugar
60g brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
90g cake flour
30g cacao powder
1/2 tsp salt
200g halva, cut into 1/2″ pieces (optional, but recommended!)
70g tahini (optional)
100g nuts (optional, walnuts are usually my go-to)
- Preheat oven to 400°C.
- Combine chocolate and butter in a bowl. Melt the mixture either in the microwave or over the double boiler, then allow to cool slightly.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add eggs, sugars, and vanilla extract. Mix on high speed for 6-8 minutes.
- Fold cooled chocolate mixture into egg mixture.
- Fold sifted flour and salt into the egg mixture. Then, gently incorporate inclusions.
- Pour mixture into a parchment-lined 8″ x 8″ brownie pan.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the center appears set.
- Let cool completely before slicing or eating.
Note 1: This recipe will work fine without the inclusions, but the idea of adding halva and tahini seemed very interesting to me. This isn’t my idea, it’s Helen’s. Helen Goh is a pastry chef and part of the Ottolenghi team. She just released a book dedicated to desserts called Sweet (a highly recommended addition to your cookbook library!) that includes a recipe with this combination.
Note 2: This recipe will keep for several days. Megan swears it is best on the second day when the crust has had some time to dry a crisp up a little more.