I hope the title caught your attention, and I suppose it did if you're reading this right now. Wise decision, friend. In all my years of baking, there is one item that I have never quite been able to conquer, and it's left a gaping hole in my
heart stomach. The homemade version just can't compete with the box variety. (I bet you're nodding your head right now in agreement. In fact, I have never heard anyone say he or she preferred a homemade version to a box version.) So, what is this mythical treat that seems to befuddle even the most experienced of cooks?
Yes, brownies. The go-to classic dessert that kids and adults alike can never turn down. According to Wikipedia, "The brownie's first public appearance was during the 1893 Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago, Illinois. A chef at the city's Palmer House Hotel created the confection after Bertha Palmer requested a dessert for ladies attending the fair; it should be, she said, smaller than a piece of cake and easily eaten from boxed lunches." Oh Bertha, what a wise woman you were. You deserve your own holiday.
I've tried at least ten brownie recipes since I first started experimenting with from the homemade variety. Many of my trusted sources have let me down. Brownie tarts, cakey brownies, fudgey brownies, s'more brownies, "healthier" brownies (it was as bad as it sounds)... even testing a recipe that I calculated out that should've worked like science (note: it didn't). Each recipe called for specific kinds of chocolate, baking vessels, methods, cooking times, but none really impressed me. Some were waaaaay too undercooked (I like chewy, but not running), and others had a quarter inch-thick crust on top after following instructions carefully. One recipe was too bitter and chocolatey, if that's possible, and tasted almost like coffee. Gross. I was so disappointed with another recipe that I threw it out entirely, ran to the store to buy a box brownie mix, and took the finished product to a party to pass off as my own. For this, I hang my head in shame... but only a little. Those puppies disappeared faster than it takes Ben Roethlisberger to reach his lawyer (who, by now, is probably on speed dial).
These brownies are quick to throw together (I had them in the oven within 10 minutes) and incredibly rewarding when you decide to sneak a bite around 10:30 on a weeknight. They are chocolatey and sweet, chewy and light, and... AND! The thin little crackly crust that forms on top will make you think you'd really just whipped up a batch of your favorite box brownie mix. Oh and the chocolate chip pockets you'll find within the brownies? Be still my heart!
Note: I halved this recipe and used an 8x8-inch square pan and increased the baking time to 40 minutes with great results. I also omitted 1 teaspoon of instant espresso powder because it was optional. To this day, I have never been able to find it in the grocery store, and I'm not a fan of buying something that I'll rarely use. If you have it, by all means, add it for a deeper chocolate flavor.
(from Cook's Illustrated)
-makes 24 brownies
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (2 1-ounce squares), finely chopped
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
Whisk cocoa and boiling water together in a large bowl until smooth. Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted. Whisk in melted butter and oil. (Mixture may look curdled, don't worry.) Add eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla and continue to whisk until smooth. Whisk in sugar until fully incorporated. Add flour and salt and mix together with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips/chunks.
Scrape batter into the baking pan and bake until toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 30-35 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool NO LESS THAN 1 1/2 hours. (Sorry for yelling, but this part is essential.)
Using parchment overhang, lift brownies from pan. Return brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares (or larger) and serve. Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
Go ahead and let people think you made these from a box until they've tasted them. Then, proudly proclaim that these chewy chocolately gems are homemade and watch eyes widen and jaws drop. Told you so :)