Photo by Parker Feierbach
If you’re the type of person who never follows a recipe, I commend you. Playing around with ingredients and technique is a bold move, particularly when it comes to baked goods. Like it or not, it’s true what everyone says: Baking is a science. Change one little variable and you can get drastically different results.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun and experiment. We’re of the mindset that in the kitchen, rules are meant to be broken. But when you’re in the mood for something classic, like chocolate chips or brownies, it’s best to have a basic understanding of all the players at hand first.
For this experiment, we baked a very traditional brownie to see exactly how temperature, baking pans, and ingredients affect your finished dessert. Here's what we found out...
Photo by Emily Hlavac Green
- Melted butter
- Granulated sugar
- Natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- Kosher salt
- Whole eggs
- Vanilla extract
- Combine sugar, butter, cocoa powder, and salt.
- Add eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Fold in flour.
- Bake at 350° in a metal pan.
After baking our control, we then set out and changed a single variable to make seven different batches. Here’s what we learned:
Most recipes call for baking brownies at 350°. If a fudgy inside and crackly top is your goal, stick with that temperature. Brownies baked at 325° will take longer to bake and will become chewier in texture.
2. Brown Sugar Vs. Granulated Sugar
Brown sugar gives brownies notes of caramel and molasses, which, depending on the taste tester, could be a good or a bad thing. (Most of us in the test kitchen are into it.) It also boosts a brownie's chewiness.
3. Glass* vs. Metal Pan
In general, metal bakeware, ideally aluminum, conducts heat nicely. This also means it’ll cool more quickly once removed from the oven. Glass tends to burn the outsides of baked goods faster. And once a glass pan heats up, it stays HOT for a long time. Which means your brownies will take longer to cool.
*For our variable tests, we made smaller batches. The increased surface area led to a faster baking time for our glass pan test.
Ahh, the perpetual question when it comes to baking: melted or softened butter? In brownies, the latter leads to cakier results because you’re beating more air and lift into the batter. In doing this, you're also diffusing the chocolate flavor. Brownies made with melted butter tend to be fudgier and have a stronger cocoa flavor.
5. Type of Fat
If it’s a chewy texture you’re after, oil is better than butter. But after tasting what seemed like a million brownies, our test kitchen much preferred the taste of brownies made with butter. Chewy lovers, do not despair. Lena is a genius and figured out the perfect ratio of butter to oil so you can win in both flavor and texture.
6. Type of Cocoa Powder
Dutch cocoa brownies are generally denser, darker, and much richer. Everyone in the kitchen team prefers them. But if the steep price point upsets you, know that you can use natural unsweetened cocoa and Dutch cocoa interchangeably in most brownie recipes. At least all of ours!
7. Melted Chocolate Vs. Cocoa Powder
For fudgy brownies, melted chocolate is the way to go. We find it's best to melt the chocolate in a double boiler with butter. (You risk burning the chocolate if you melt it directly in a saucepan.) Using melted chocolate also results in a smoother tasting brownie. But, it won't taste as chocolatey as it would if you used cocoa powder. Of course, Makinze accounted for this in her perfect fudgy brownies and added some espresso powder to compliment and enhance the overall chocolatey-ness.