Brownie’s began life an a quintessential American dessert. A deliciously sinful cross between cake and cookie, best served warm with a dollop of your favourite ice cream. In recent years, ‘gourmet’ has become a _ word in gastronomy, raising the humble to the heights of the Michelin world. But I am a firm believer in tradition and simplicity. Yes, I love to experiment a little (or a lot.. often ending is disaster), but have you ever craved a coffee-cardamon-lime-chipotle brownie? I’d put money on that answer being no. The brownie’s excellence comes from quality ingredients, the right recipe and decades of baking evolution. Below I’ll share my favourite classic recipe for this chocolatey treat—I’m in the ‘fudgey’ club and this melt-in-the-mouth recipe will melt your heart—but first lets take a step back in time to discover how the brownie came to be one of our favourite desserts the world over.
It is generally agreed that the brownie was created in the great US of A towards the end of the 19th century and first became popular in the early 1900s. Many believe that a chef at the Palmer House Hilton hotel in Chicago dreamt up the culinary treat when asked to concoct a dessert fit for a lady; something more petite and easy to eat than a slice of cake. However, there are many other stories of the brownie’s creation in circulation. Others believe that, much like culinary masterpieces the tarte tatin and the UK’s Eton mess, the brownie came about as a happy accident, when cocoa was accidentally added to a batch of cookies. Or is it that a all-American housewife forgot to add baking powder to her chocolate cake and rather than throwing it out, decided to be thrifty and cut her un-risen cake into a neat little dessert? Whatever its origins, there’s no doubting its popularity.
The earliest “Brownies” recipe published for the public was in Fannie Merritt Farmer’s ‘The Boston Cooking School Cook Book’ in the 1896 edition, although nowadays, this recipe would not be considered a true brownie; rather a small molasses and nuts cake.
Brownies may look to be a simple bake, but there are many common mistakes that we have probably all made one time or another. First and foremost: ingredients. No, chocolate is not just chocolate. Chocolate is the staple of a good brownie and bad chocolate makes for a bad bake. Any old chocolate will not do, so shelling out a couple of extra pennies for quality chocolate is well worth it. Look for a high cocoa content and, for the love of baking, stay away from any ‘basics’ products. Next up is the recipe. Cakey, fudgey, soft, or firm; its all in the recipe, not in the bake. You cannot simply underbake a brownie for a fudgey result—you’ll just have yourself, well, an underbaked brownie. Different recipes have different ratios of butter to chocolate to flour, all resulting in different textures. A cardinal sin in brownie making and in any chocolate baking is overheating your chocolate. Melting chocolate requires a little love, care, attention and patience. Try to speed up the process by cranking up the heat and you’ll end up with a hard lump of burnt chocolate. A beautifully crisp and thin crust can take a brownie to the next level. To achieve perfection, you’ll need some vigorous mixing after you add the eggs to beat them into a meringue-like airy-ness. And finally, go easy on the flavourings. Like I said before, simplicity is what we all crave—a gorgeous rich and melty square of chocolate-ness, not a confusing mix of tastes and textures.
Here are a few of my favourite brownie recipes: