There’s no escaping controversy. Can a soda tax reduce obesity? Which mayoral candidate holds out the best hope for New York City? Will a military strike in Syria reduce or increase the horrific violence against that beleaguered country’s citizens? I’ll keep my opinion on these vexing questions to myself. At issue here is something of undeniably lighter yet widespread concern: fudgy vs. cakey. I’m talking about brownies, and as with politics, you likely have a position in this great debate.
I fall squarely on the side of chew. Cakey brownies are inevitably dry. Most times they are what could be good brownies—that is to say moist, chewy ones—that have been ruined by baking them too long. If you want chocolate cake squares, why not just bake a chocolate sheet cake?
And what’s with the all-edges brownie pan? Brownie edges were meant to be trimmed off as a baker’s snack, revealing the moist interior. They’re an inevitable byproduct, to be kept to a minimum. Crust is great on bread but it has no place on brownies. When they come up with the “all middles” pan I may take a closer look.
Then there’s the question of finish: should brownies be iced, dusted with powdered sugar, or left au naturel? I go for Door #3 on this one. There are tricks to make the unfinished tops appealing. One is to partially dissolve the sugar in hot, melted butter for a shiny, wrinkled surface. A second is to sprinkle the tops with chocolate chunks just before baking, giving the brownies a rustic, craggy look. I toss chips into the mixture for an extra burst of chocolate; leave back about a third of the chips to scatter on top for the best of both worlds. Here, I used Guittard dark chocolate chips within and semi-sweet mini-chips for scattering, but I think rough-cut dark chocolate chunks on top would be even prettier.
Where do you fall on the brownie spectrum? Chewy? Fudgy? Cakey? Do you prefer them iced? Topped with powdered sugar? Or rustic? Do you favor cocoa brownies or those made with chocolate? If the latter, do you tend toward unsweetened, bittersweet, semisweet, or milk? How about white chocolate? Or the butterscotch brownies known as blondies?
Let the chips fall where they may, these are my new favorite fudgy brownies. Not only are they laden with anti-oxidant-rich dark chocolate, but they also are lower in fat than most. I’ve had brownies with as much as two and a half sticks of butter in a single pan, and while they are indeed rich and moist, I find them greasy and heavy.
I’ve used just half a stick of butter along with a puree of fresh figs. It’s a brilliant combination, keeping the brownies moist and echoing the fruity-earthy flavors in chocolate. You could substitute prune puree (try prune baby food, or make your own) or pureed dates for the figs, or a puree of dried figs plumped in warm water (or cognac!). Applesauce will work; I recommend heating it first (stove top or microwave) until it is about half of its original volume to evaporate excess moisture. Each type of fruit adds its own distinctive flavor, as well as fiber and nutrients.
Did I mention I used whole wheat flour and nobody noticed? The whole-milled flour from Community Grains gave me the result I wanted. If it’s not available in your area, next best is another local, whole-milled flour, or if that’s not an option, white whole wheat.
The health benefits are along for the ride: I was after the most fabulously fudgy brownies ever, and that’s what I got. An extra bonus: these stay moist when refrigerated for a few days after baking—if they last that long.
Thus fortified, may you develop a well-informed and carefully considered position on the weightier matters of the day.
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick | 56 grams) unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup (66 grams) granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup (50 grams) light brown sugar
- ½ cup (46 grams) natural (not Dutched) unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup (135 grams) fig puree (see headnote)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- ½ cup (66 grams) whole wheat flour
- ½ cup (90 grams) dark chocolate chips or chunks
- Preheat the oven to 325F with a rack in the center. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper running in two directions, going a bit beyond the top of the pan to form a sling for easy removal. Lightly coat the parchment with butter, oil, or pan spray.
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the granulated and brown sugars and stir over low heat for 1 minute to partially melt the sugar.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cocoa, salt, espresso powder if using, and the soda. Stir in the fig puree and vanilla until well mixed.
- Add the eggs one at a time, whisking each in well. Scrape down the sides of the pan with a spatula, then fold in the flour and about two-thirds of the chips (60 grams) in a few swift strokes until only a few streaks of flour remain.
- Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Scatter the remaining chips over the top.
- Bake until the top feels nearly firm when you press it lightly near the center, about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. A toothpick tested near the center should emerge with just a few moist bits stuck to it. (If you get melted chocolate you may have tested a chip; try again.)
- Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely, then refrigerate in the pan for at least 30 minutes before cutting.
- To cut, remove the brownie from the pan using the parchment sling. Cut with a sharp knife in thirds in each direction for 9 large brownies, or into quarters in each direction for 16 smaller brownies, dipping the knife into hot water and shaking or wiping it dry between cuts.
- Refrigerate leftover brownies in an airtight container, layering parchment paper between them, for up to 4 days.