Tag Archives: brownie face off

Real Simple is one of my very favorite magazines. While thumbing through this month’s issue, I was delighted to see a recipe for brownies. The picture looked delicious (what picture of brownies doesn’t?), and I have made recipes from Real Simple before, so I was pretty excited to give it a go.

The recipe is called “Espresso Brownies” simply because it calls for 2 tablespoons brewed espresso (you can substitute 1 rounded teaspoon espresso powder and 2 tablespoons water like I did, though), but as we all know, espresso is a key ingredient in many great brownie recipes. Espresso doesn’t necessarily make baked goods taste like coffee, it just brings out and intensifies the chocolatey flavor. So I sort of think the name of the recipe is misleading, but whatever.

brownies

Real Simple’s Espresso Brownies

 

Real Simple’s Espresso Brownies adapted from Lindsay Hunt’s recipe

Makes 16 brownies

3/4 cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan (I used Earth Balance)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon fine salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons brewed espresso, at room temperature (or use the mix I mentioned above)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used semisweet because that’s what I had on hand)

 

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line with 2 criss-crossed pieces of parchment, buttering in between the pieces to help them stick and leaving an overhand on all sides. Butter the top of the parchment.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside.

Combine the butter and unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler until melted. Let cool slightly. Whisk in the sugars, eggs, espresso, and vanilla until smooth. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the bittersweet chocolate.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 35 – 40 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan.

Holding the paper overhand, lift the brownies out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.

 

These brownies were really good. Before I had a chance to say anything to him, M announced how delicious they were and said they might be as good as the Baked brownies. That’s pretty impressive! I liked them quite a bit, too, but they didn’t melt in your mouth quite the way the Baked ones did. They were pretty moist (6/7), definitely chocolatey (10/10), and didn’t require much in terms of messiness preparing (3/3). This leaves a total score of 19/20, tying with the Supernatural Brownies. Nicely done, Real Simple!

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I haven’t been making brownies much lately – I’ve been spending more time honing my chocolate chip cookie recipe and M has been a-okay with that. He isn’t a big fan of me trying new recipes for brownies because he already likes the Baked Brownie so much. M feels all other brownies pale in comparison and doesn’t like having lesser brownies around the house. I understand his plight, but I’m doing this for brownie science. He just doesn’t understand.

Anyway, last month I made Cook’s Illustrated’s Chewy Brownies with a few tweaks: less oil – I didn’t want the brownies slipping out of my hands, and I used Earth Balance instead of butter, though that’s never been an issue for me taste- or texture-wise. The amount and type of chocolate (the most important part!) remained the same, though.

Don't let me down, Cook's Illustrated!

Don’t let me down, Cook’s Illustrated!

 

Chewy Brownies adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Makes about 12 – 16 brownies

1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa

1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used Earth Balance), melted

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

 

Adjust your oven rack to the lowest positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9×13-inch pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.

Whisk cocoa, espresso powder, 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. The mixture might look clumpy, that’s okay. Add eggs, yolks, and vanilla and continue whisking until smooth.

Whisk in sugar until fully mixed. Add flour and salt and mix with a rubber spatula until combined. Fold in bittersweet chocolate pieces.

Scrape batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted halfway between the edge and the center comes out clean with a few moist crumbs – about 30 – 35 minutes. Let cool completely.

When cooled, lift the brownies from the pan and cut into 2-inch squares.

Meh brownies brought to you by Cook's Illustrated.

Meh brownies brought to you by Cook’s Illustrated.

 

Well, these brownies certainly lived up to their name – they were delightfully chewy. But that’s about it. They weren’t all that chocolatey and just didn’t do it for me. They were sort of moist (5/7), but not at all chocolatey enough (4/10). They also were easy enough to make, but required lots of different bowls (2/3). This leaves a total score of 11 out of 20 – not excellent. I expect more from you, Cook’s Illustrated!


I have been an admirer of Mark Bittman for awhile now. I love this How To Cook Everything series and his latest book, VB6 is intriguing to me. I’d totally be on board if it weren’t for my love of cheese and yogurt. I trust his opinion and advice of food-related matters and as such, was delighted when I found his recipe for brownies!

They certainly look delicious...

They certainly look delicious…

This recipe comes from Mark’s book How To Cook Everything: The Basics. If Mark Bittman created the recipe and attaches him name to the finished product they have to be good, right? Plus the recipe is so simple and easy – I whipped these bad boys up in under 10 minutes.

how to cook everything the basics

How to Cook Everything: The Basics. Image via MarkBittman.com

Mark Bittman’s Brownies via SeriousEats.com

makes about 9 – 12 brownies

 

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a square baking pan (I was used a 9″x9″ one) with butter or line with parchment.

Combine the butter and the chocolate in a double boiler over very low heat, stirring occasionally. When the chocolate is just melted, remove from heat and continue stirring until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the sugar. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gently stir in the flour, salt, and vanilla.

Pour and scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until just barely set in the middle. Cool on a rack until set. If you used parchment, lift it out to remove the brownies. If not, cut them in squares right in the pan. Store, covered, at room temperature, for no more than a day.

So, how were they, you ask? I gotta say, Mark Bittman, I’m pretty disappointed.

mark bittman

Never trust someone who likes veggies this much to make the best brownies ever. Image via MarkBittman.com

They weren’t bad, but they certainly weren’t the best. They weren’t very chocolatey, and the chocolate flavor that the brownies did have were pretty one-dimensional – generically mildly sweet and like they were bought from a grocery store. They didn’t have any of the slight deepness of chocolate flavor that I’ve come to expect from a wonderfully delicious brownie.

They were pretty moist (6/7), not chocolatey enough (4/10), but they were easy to make (3/3), giving them a total score of 13/20*. Not great, Bittman!

Subpar brownies.

Subpar brownies.

 

If you were refer to my original Brownie Face-Off post, I stated that one of my requirements was a lack of espresso powder. After seeing the light, I have revised my requirements to:

  1. Moistness – I don’t like cakey brownies. The denser, the better! – 7 points
  2. Chocolatiness – Must be ultra chocolatey to win my seal of approval. – 10 points
  3. Ease – I’d prefer something that’s not ridiculously hard to prepare. – 3 points

Chocolatiness has the most weight, followed closely by moistness because, in my opinion, these are the most important factors in a brownie. I’d prefer brownies not be super difficult to make, but if they are delicious enough, then I say they’re worth a little extra hassle.


February has been a very busy month for yours truly. I’ve had lots of job interviews, birthdays (mine is in three days – yay!), family gatherings, social calls, etc. I’ve also written a few papers for school and done my regular classwork on top of that. Then there was Valentine’s Day, in which I made M a big pile of delicious heart-shaped cinnamon chips cookies. He loved them, but has put me on a cookie-baking hiatus for the time being, as he doesn’t want to explode. I agreed.

Brownies, however, are not cookies. Therefore, they’re fair game!

In this installment of The Brownie Face-Off, I baked some classic chocolate brownies from the Mast Brother’s cookbook. I received it as a gift this past Christmas and have been enjoying it quite a bit. It’s filled with some amazing recipes and beautiful photography.

mast brothers cookbook, mast brothers chocolate

Image via Little, Brown and Company.

Classic Chocolate Brownies adapted from Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook

12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.

Melt chocolate, buter, and brown sugar in a saucepan over low heat.

Add vanilla to mixture.

Add eggs and combine until smooth.

Add flour, baking powder, and salt.

Mix until batter is well blended.

Pour into baking pan.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool, and cut into square.

brownies, mast brothers

Two of my greatest loves: Brownies and matryoshkas!

These brownies were delicious – extremely moist and very chocolatey. The recipe is extremely simple to make, too. But, they are not quite as delicious as The Baked.

I’m beginning to wonder if there even is a brownie better than The Baked. It seems almost impossible for a brownie to be more chocolatey, more moist, and more amazing… But I will continue in my endeavor. For scientific reasons, not chocolate ones.


Breaking out a cookbook again for this edition of the Brownie Face-Off! This time around I’m working from Saveur: The New Comfort FoodIn it is a recipe from the amazing Katharine Hepburn, whose work I greatly admire and enjoy. Hopefully she’s as good a brownie baker as she is an actress!

saveur the new comfort food

Image via Saveur.

According to my cookbook, “A version of this recipe accompanied an interview with the actress Katharine Hepburn in the August 1975 issues of The Ladies’ Home Journal. This brownie recipe, which calls for a smaller than average amount of flour, produces incredibly chewy bars with a full but mellow chocolate flavor.”

We’ll see, cookbook, we’ll see….

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies adapted from Saveur: The New Comfort Food by James Oseland

Makes 9 brownies

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 2 ounces. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup roughly chopped walnuts (I omitted this, because nuts in brownies is gross and for gross people. No offense, gross people).
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
brownies, katharine hepburns brownies

BROWNIE TIME.

  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8×8-inch pan with butter. Line pan with parchment paper; grease the paper. Set the pan aside.
  2. Melt the butter and the chocolate together in a 2-quarter saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (Note: I did this in a double-boiler and it turned out fine).
  3. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir to make a smooth batter.
  4. Add the flour, salt, and – if you’re using them – the walnuts. Stir until incorporated.
  5. Pour the batter into the baking pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 – 45 minutes.
  6. Let cool on a rack. Cut and serve.

The end result was… okay. Katharine Hepburn was a fabulous actress, but she wasn’t so great with the brownies. It is only mildly chocolatey (a meager 2 ounces of chocolate will do that) and pretty bland. Definitely not a contender in the Brownie Face-Off. They were easy to make and pretty chewy and moist, seeing as how there isn’t much flour in them, but in the end, the flavor really ruined it for me. 10/20.


Chocolatey, crumbly goodness. Unf.

Chocolatey, crumbly goodness. Unf.

Has a brownie ever been more famous than the Baked one? Baked NYC is a bakery in New York City (duh) that sells, among other things, what are supposed to be the most righteous brownies ever. Both Oprah and Martha Stewart are crazy about them. And some of my favorite foodies/bloggers/treat aficionados out there (America’s Test Kitchen, David Liebovitz, and the Food Network to name a few) also love the brownies. Needless to say, in my search for the perfect brownie, I had to taste one.

But I’m not in New York. So what’s a brownie-loving girl to do?

Well! It just so happened that Baked has their very own cookbook. So I ordered it online, waited patiently for Amazon to get it to me (thanks, M’s Prime Account! I only had to be patient a day or two), and made those bad boys as soon as that book was in my hot little hands.

Let me tell you: these suckers are OUTSTANDING. They are rich, gooey, and chocolate-y. M thought they were too soft and fell apart a bit too easily, and while I agree, I didn’t care too much as the brownie was already stuffed into my face and wasn’t going anywhere but in my belly.

For those of you who’ve forgotten, this is part of my quest for the ultimate brownie, or what I like to call The Brownie Face-Off. There are a few rules on which I judge brownies:

  1. Moistness – I don’t like cakey brownies. The denser, the better!
  2. Chocolatiness – Must be ultra chocolatey to win my seal of approval.
  3. Lack of coffee – SO MANY recipes call for espresso powder in their brownies. I don’t like this.
  4. Ease – I don’t want anything ridiculously hard to prepare.

I omitted number this time because I wanted to know what the supposed “best brownie ever” really tasted like. I tried it with espresso powder and it was amazing. I don’t like coffee one bit, but the powder doesn’t make the brownies taste like espresso, it just brings out the chocolate’s flavor. I was very, very wrong about espresso powder. I’m sorry, espresso powder. Forgive me?

Anyway, I rate these brownies a solid 18/20. They are definitely moist, chocolate-y, and fairly easy, but they did fall apart a bit too easily and were missing something that The Supernatural Brownies were not. Those babies were good. I should make some more….

But these are good, too! So make them if you like chocolate and are down with Oprah.

Baked Brownies

Makes 24 brownies

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces dark chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9×13-inch glass pan.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together.

I include a photo like this every time, and it always is about the same. I just think it looks neat.

I include a photo like this every time, and it always is about the same. I just think it looks neat.

3. Melt the chocolate, butter, and instant espresso powder over a double boiler, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the double boiler on the stovetop. Add the sugars. Whisky until completely combined, then pour the mixture into a large bowl.

photo 1

You’re okay in my book, espresso powder.

4. Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey (THE HORROR!).

I was a rebel and added all the eggs at once.

I was a rebel and added all the eggs at once.

5. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

Swirly.

Swirly.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it.

Ready to get hot in the oven.

Ready to get hot in the oven.

7. Let the brownies cool completely. Cut into squares and serve.

Brownies!

Brownies!