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There are some recipes that I know I'll be tinkering with forever, and brownies are one of them. I probably haven't made the same brownie recipe more than twice. I've tried more brownie recipes than a girl with a shoe fetish buys shoes, hoping to find the Holy Grail of brownies, but often to my dismay. As simple as brownies are—the ingredient list is typically just chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar, flour—they sure can vary a heck of a lot. The perfect balance of chocolate flavor, sweetness level, and fudginess is a tricky one. Brownies torture me.
I often mix things up with combinations of various chocolate (unsweetened, bittersweet, or cocoa, for example) but in my latest experiment I stuck with a seriously bittersweet 70% cacao. To make these brownies an easy "one bowl" recipe, I melted the chocolate and butter, then whisked in the rest of the ingredients and baked. As the brownies emerged from the oven, I was dejected. The smooth, crispy top was missing. Though they tasted every bit as chocolaty as I wanted, with a shockingly fudgey texture, these brownies looked drab.
I knew the problem. To get that nice, crunchy layer on top, the eggs and sugar need to be whipped. Dissolved sugar will help contribute to a smooth, glossy top, and the whipped air lightens up the mixture so that the sugar rises to the top, creating the crust. Being that I wanted to use just one bowl, I experimented by whisking the eggs and sugar into the batter really, really, well, in order to dissolve the sugar as much as possible, as well as to lighten the mixture. The result of this extra step was leagues above the first try—a wafer thin, smooth, and crunchy top with all fudge below. Though I appreciate the ease of the one-bowl method, I'll bet that if you did use two bowls (to whip the eggs and sugar separately), the top would turn out even crunchier. With a few pans of brownies already destined for my belly, perhaps I'll leave that to my next experiment.
About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of the new cookbook One Bowl Baking: Simple From Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts (Running Press, October 2013), and available at Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell's, The Book Depository. Watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. Follow her Chocoholic, Chicken Dinners, Singapore Stories and Let Them Eat Cake columns on Serious Eats. Follow Yvonne on Twitter as she explores Singapore.