I thought I found it. The ultimate brownie recipe. It was in a special holiday baking issue of Martha Stewart Living, about five years ago. It was chocolate-y, but not overly sweet. I baked them constantly and went so far as to call them Life Changing Brownies. Friends, coworkers, and loved ones agreed: this was truly an extra special brownie. I even boasted to the owner of a chain of bakeries known in four countries for his brownies, that mine were truly enviable.
But the years passed, and I realized that the Life Changing Brownies weren’t as perfect as I’d first imagined. They’re lighter and cakier than they are fudgy and dense. And sometimes a girl needs an intensely rich choco-bomb to get through a tough client meeting.
So I started to do some research and unearthed an entire universe of heated Brownie Debate: the Fudgy vs. the Cakey. The discussions were fervent and impassioned and I found so many recipes, that they all started to look the same (mostly because they're all pretty much the same.) I stocked up on chocolate and went into the lab (well, the kitchen), where I tried recipes from Scharffen Berger chocolate, Cook’s Illustrated, and Ina Garten. I assure you, this was difficult and grueling research. But the results were worth it: the different brownies varied in minor ways, but they were moist, rich, chocolate-y and delicious, across the board.
Then, I had an epiphany.
There is no world’s best brownie. Brownies, by their very intrinsic nature, are an amalgamation of the worlds most innately divine ingredients: chocolate, butter, sugar. You can’t lose. Even brownies at their worst, tough and dry or with a slight chemical undertone like those powdered mix brownies, aren’t horrible. They’re certainly better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. But you have to admit that some brownies are better than others.
Then, I had another epiphany.
I graduated from the widely available grocery store Baker’s chocolate to the more high-end Scharffen Berger right around the time I discovered the Life Changing Brownie recipe. But today, I made a batch of rich, fudgy brownies for a friend’s daughters. Three kids under the age of 4 probably wouldn’t notice the subtle fruitiness of Scharffen Berger, wouldn’t appreciate its deeply layered chocolate flavor. So, I went back to Baker’s.
The brownies came out beautiful. Fudgy and rich looking, with that perfectly crisp brownie crust on top. But they taste strangely one dimensional. There are none of those subtle nutty, cinnamon-y, and caramel-y notes that brought all those other brownie recipes to the apex of brownie magnificence. The answer, my friends, lies not within the recipe, but within the chocolate.
Another Fantastic Brownie Recipe
adapted from Christopher Kimball's The Dessert Bible
Makes 16 brownies
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
10 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. powdered instant espresso
1 Tsp. cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Generously grease an 8"x8" pan with butter.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave on 50% power for two minutes. Whisk together the eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add the melted chocolate (mixture will thicken considerably.) Add the remaining ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula.
3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and tap the pan pretty hard on the countertop several times to get rid of air bubbles in the batter. You need to smack it down hard enough to dislodge any bubbles, but not so hard that brownie batter gets on your ceiling.
4. Bake 40 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with just a few fudgy crumbs attached. Check them at 35 minutes. It's important not to overbake them; you're better off underbaking them. Let cool in pan, then flip brownies onto a cutting board, where you can cut them and serve them to the drooling hordes.