Brownies are one of the easiest and most pantry-friendly baking recipes around, but there are a lot of ways to make them: chewy, cakey, fudgy. And to get what you want, you need to know how specific ingredients behave in baking. Hence, this guide to perfect brownies, whatever that means to you.
Brownies are like perfect vacations; they mean different things to different people—and, as with destinations, there are countless variations on the brownie theme.
Brownie adherents have their favorites: fudgy, gooey, dense, cakey, all edge, with nuts, never in the same room as nuts, made with cocoa, made with couverture chocolate, frosted, crisp, chewy. To get what you want, you have to know how to get there. See? Just like vacations.
Texture’s a great starting point. Fitting their name, fudgy brownies are moist, with full-frontal chocolate and a texture somewhere between fudge and cake. Gooey ones all but melt away, leaving a fabulously fatty chocolate memory in the mouth. Dense and chocolatey, chewy brownies bring resistance to the conversation. Cakey brownies are fluffy, and they sometimes come with frosting—a horror to some brownie aficionados, and a source of sweet delight to others.
An asset to frosting: Because it isn’t baked, you can add booze to it, turning your batch of brownies into an adults-only affair.
You know what you want. How do you get there?
First, Chill Out
Chill your batter. This isn’t only summertime advice. In “Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate,” Alice Medrich advocates setting your batter-filled pan in the refrigerator for a few days. This will improve the texture–the same way it does when you chill dough for scones–and give flavors time to blend (as with stews, so with brownies).
Chocolate vs Cocoa Powder + Flour and Eggs
Uskokovic likes his brownies crisp on the outside and gooey in the middle. For him, “less flour is better. Use a cake flour, because that gives you a denser, gooier middle.” His final tip: “slightly underbake it.” If you bake it fully, then that gooiness in the middle will go away.
Kansas City pastry chef Nick Wesemann is another one for playing with textures. “A cakey brownie has a higher portion of eggs,” Wesemann says, “which extends the protein network.”
To hone your skills at changing recipes, Wesemann suggests finding a recipe you like and changing the mixing method. “For a fudgy brownie, melt your butter and chocolate together and add that to the whipped eggs and sugar. For a cakey brownie, cream the butter and sugar with a paddle for five to ten minutes, slowly add the eggs, and then finally add melted sugar and cooled chocolate.”
KitchenAid Artisan Tilt-Head 5-Quart Stand Mixer, $429.95 from Sur La Table
A classic in any kitchen.
Either way, you’ll add the flour and other remaining ingredients at the end–but these changes in method, Wesemann says, “will allow you to create two types of brownie without the stress of wondering whether a newly created formula is going to fail.” In short, it’s a recipe for success—two ways.
Make It Fudgier
To build a fudgier brownie, Wesemann suggests increasing the sugar. Both Wesemann and Uskokovic say that you can get a gooier brownie by changing from white sugar to brown. Remember, you don’t need to change everything. A shift in ratio—subbing brown sugar for some of the white—may deliver the results you crave.
Another easy way to bump up fudginess is to add an egg yolk. That will make the brownie richer, without adding oil. Don’t go overboard. Brownies should have some give. Keep it to one added yolk, and you’ll get a more substantial bite without making brownies as hard as overtime.
Related Reading: 5 Tips for Perfectly Fudgy Brownies Every Time
Make It Cakier
If you like your brownies on the dry side, then you can move that way and elevate your cocoa game with one ingredient change: black cocoa. Very low in fat, it has none of mass-market cocoa’s bitterness. Because it’s acid-free, it won’t react to baking soda. Look for recipes with baking powder instead–or sub just a little bit of black cocoa in a recipe. Your brownies will be darker and richer, with a warm, vanilla-like note.
The Cocoa Trader Black Cocoa Powder, $14.99 from Amazon
Replace some of the Dutch-process cocoa in any recipe with this decadent black cocoa for true chocolate lovers.
Brownies are great for mix-ins. Uskokovic is a fan of chocolate chips. Ashley Dickson, pastry chef at Pondicheri in New York City, likes nuts. Dickson also adds cinnamon to her brownies—not enough to turn them into cinnamon brownies, but enough to brighten the flavors and make that next bite harder to resist.
Related Reading: 11 Ingredients to Make Your Baking Better
Start testing for done-ness well before the recipe’s end time. Check again every five minutes. When you push the brownie with the flats of your fingers, it should feel set, and not wobbly. To make sure, test the batter. If you always have toothpicks around, you have the tool you need. If not, then buy a cake-tester. OXO makes one that won’t slip from your hand and land on the hot oven door—not that that’s ever happened to a baker. It’s under $10 at Amazon, which is a bargain for something that will help you to achieve brownie perfection. You don’t want to see damp batter, but it doesn’t need to be bone-dry. When the pick comes out with a few moist crumbs, your brownies are done.
OXO Good Grips Non-Slip Cake Tester, $5 from Sur La Table
Upgrade from your old wooden toothpicks.
Use the Right Pan
Pan size matters. This may look obvious, but it’s a rookie mistake plenty of experienced home bakers make. If a recipe calls for an eight-inch pan, and you reach for a pan that’s thirteen-by-nine, then you’re going to have thinner, crisper brownies. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you love the ingredients in a recipe, but want a different texture, then changing the size of the pan may bring exactly the results you desire. Flatten your brownies, add edges, maximize thickness…Just know that you’re changing the recipe, and how.
On the subject of pans, don’t bake your brownies in glass. The heat-absorbing properties of glass increase the likelihood that your brownies will burn. That’s never good news.
Related Reading: Glass vs Metal Baking Pans
Fact of life: Baked goods get sticky, especially when and where you don’t want them to–and chocolate chips seem to delight in adhering to pans. Make brownie removal smoother with parchment paper. It’s in every pastry kitchen. One try, and you’ll understand exactly why that’s so.
For Chewy Edge Fanatics
For those who like eating on the edge, Amazon offers not one, but two, edgy brownie pans. The Baker’s Edge turns back and forth like a Friday night queue for a trendy nightclub. For easy carrying to parties, you can get it with a silicone lid (that also comes with wedges, for making smaller recipes. But who’d want to make a smaller batch? Freeze the extras, share them with family members, or use them to make new friends.)
Baker's Edge Nonstick Edge Brownie Pan, $36.95 from Amazon
No need to snatch your edges—they're everywhere with this pan.
Your other option is the Bakelicious:
Bakelicious Crispy Corner Non-Stick Brownie Pan, $24.99 from Amazon
With holes and bends galore, this turns out brownies with edges everywhere.
But if you’re a fan of chewier edges and gooier middles, just use a regular square pan. Now, get baking.
Brownie Recipes for Everyone
Besides our own fantastic brownie recipes, here are some more to try (you can never have too many!):
Alice Medrich’s chewy, crisp-topped brownies make the most of cocoa powder. Smitten Kitchen’s adaptation is made with seven ingredients you’re likely to have in your kitchen (there go the excuses), with walnuts and pecans as options. Get the Best Cocoa Brownies recipe.
Not all brownies are square. These vegan rounds have crusty edges, gooey tops. and tender, almost melt-away centers. To up that ante, eat the brownies while they’re warm. Flax stands in for eggs—no weird, unpronounceable ingredients required. But there is a surprising secret ingredient: black beans. Get the Fudgy Vegan Turtle Brownies recipe.
If you prefer the traditional square shape, black bean brownies work in that format too. These are dense and fudgy vegan brownies that are also gluten-free. And they get a little kick from cayenne and cinnamon too. Get our Vegan, Gluten-Free Mexican Chocolate Black Bean Brownie recipe.
More brownies baked in a muffin pan—and topped with ooey-gooey extras. The key to the deep chocolate flavor is to use Dutch process cocoa powder, but the chocolate ganache topping doesn’t hurt. Get Kir Jensen’s Ultimate Brownie recipe.
These fudgy buttermilk brownies have a hint of tartness in the batter and frosting. They pack enough richness to induce a very happy chocolate coma. Get the Buttermilk Brownies recipe.
David Lebovitz’s deep chocolate brownies get their density from black cocoa and dark brown sugar, and sophistication from espresso and flaky sea salt. These are brownies you could bring to the most elegant dinner party—or cheerfully keep to yourself for an offline weekend at home. Get the Salty Deep-Dark Chocolate Brownies recipe.
Move from gooey to oozy, and add a complementary flavor. These brownies have a horizontal layer of creamy caramel. You’ll get crisp, rich, and delightfully messy in every bite. Get the Caramel-Filled Brownies recipe.
Going grain-free doesn’t mean missing out. Drizzled with dark chocolate, these tahini-based brownies taste like decadence. Your biggest problem will be keeping the grain-eating omnivores from stealing all of your brownies. Get the Grain-Free Tahini Brownies recipe.
These brownies bring crackle on top and chew in the middle, with a smattering of chocolate chunks to keep things darkly interesting. Get the Best Ever Chewy Brownies recipe.
Header image by Chowhound.