Backwards engineer my brownies!
January 28, 2009 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out exactly how I screwed up these brownies so I can recreate this delicious mistake.

I made some brownies the other night. The end result was decidedly not-brownie, but it was really good. On the top, bottom, and sides, for about two millimeters it had crusted into this firm, crunchy chocolate cookie/cracker type thing, but didn't burn. The insides didn't cook, but weren't the consistency of undercooked brownies, more like a firm pudding or something. It was really, really delicious.

I was kind of in a rush while I was making them, so several things were different from my normal brownie-making experience. What follows is the actual recipe and (to the best of my knowledge) what I did:

Melt 4oz unsweetened chocolate and 1 stick of butter, cool to room temp.
-I have no idea if I got four ounces or not. 7 squares easily broke off of one of those Trader Joe's Pound Plus bars, so that's what I used. Also, I used bittersweet chocolate. Also, I didn't wait for it to cool down.

Beat 4 eggs and 1/2 tsp salt until fluffy.
-I did this.

Beat in 2 cups of sugar (or 1.5 cups if you used bittersweet chocolate) and 1 tsp vanilla.
- I didn't read ahead and used 2 cups of sugar. I also put in closer to 2 tsp vanilla. And then here's where I really messed up.

Fold in Chocolate. Add flour until just mixed.
-I didn't wait to beat in the sugar and vanilla and then lovingly add the chocolate and flour. I just dumped all four things in at once and went to town (using a hand mixer). The mix tasted too sweet, so I added roughly a tablespoon of cocoa powder (I just sort of shook some in, didn't actually measure it).

I pam-sprayed my 8x8 pyrex thing and poured in the batter, but knew I wasn't going to have time to bake them at my house so put a lid on it, spent another 15 minutes getting ready to leave, and then left my house. The batter then rode for another 15 or 20 minutes in my car in 11 degree weather to my friends' house, where they sat for another 30 or so in their kitchen before finally going in to bake.

The recipe is supposed to be in for 25 minutes at 350 degrees (and the several times I've made these before that's been almost exactly perfect). I was using an unfamiliar oven, but as far as we know, it remains pretty true to temp. They ended up being in the oven for closer to 35 minutes because I lost track of time, at which point I just pulled them out because I figured they had to have been done by then. We go to eat them about a half hour later, and I notice that they've cooked all funny. I popped them back in the oven (at 350) for probably about 10 minutes, but they didn't change.

But it was an entirely new and delicious brownie experience for me, and I'd like to know exactly which of the above missteps led to my outcome so I can make them again. Any ideas?
posted by phunniemee to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
IANAChef - and I offer no other explanation other than crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside sounds like they were cooked at too high of a temperature. The heat didn't have time to penetrate deep into the batter, but was able to cook the outer edges thoroughly.

That's my guess for the day.
posted by Brettus at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2009

It sounds to me like you used too little flour. The crunchy on the outside, goey on the inside texture is characteristic of flourless baked goods.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2009

Seconding cooked at too high a temperature. I used to consistently get that in an oven that ran hot.

Is your friend's oven gas where yours is electric, or his perhaps fan assisted where yours is not?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:03 PM on January 28, 2009

Oops, my bad, left out the amount of flour. It's add 1 cup of flour until just mixed.
posted by phunniemee at 2:04 PM on January 28, 2009

Lots of good brownie recipes call for very little flour, I doubt the flour is the culprit.

I say it's the heat as well, I've gotten similar results when baking bread at too high a temperature. The second bake doesn't change much, you only baked them for ten minutes after they'd cool for a half and hour. That's really just time to warm them through. Air is a really poor conductor of heat.
posted by Science! at 2:15 PM on January 28, 2009

And I'm assuming your car was warmer than 11 degrees, but even if it wasn't the batter wouldn't do much more than cool a bit and then warm up in the kitchen.
posted by Science! at 2:17 PM on January 28, 2009

Mrs. Charlemagne suggests that this might be an issue involving the distribution of the butter or egg in the final product, maybe as a result of things sitting before baking (or if you might have added too much butter to begin with).

Being from St. Louis I'll suggest this as an analog.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:19 PM on January 28, 2009

Ok, yum! Your end result reminds me of chocolate lava cake. If you can't figure out how to duplicate what happened to your brownies by accident, you might want to try some lava cake recipes and do it on purpose. You might also be able to compare your recipe to see if there are any stand out similarities.
posted by Kimberly at 2:51 PM on January 28, 2009

Maybe the sugar.

If you just dumped it without mixing it with the beaten eggs first, it didn't really dissolve The sugar crystals exposed to the air and or highest temps--top and parts touching the pan-- may have carmelised, like in a creme brulee.

Some recipes call for mixing the sugar in with the butter ["first cream sugar and butter"] others call for mixing sugar with beaten eggs. In either case the sugar is in a sort of solution or uniform mixture with the wet before the dry ingredients are added.
posted by subatomiczoo at 3:13 PM on January 28, 2009

My first thought was that 2 cups of sugar was "too much," or in this case probably the right amount. I recently read a cake recipe by a Shirley Corriher, a food scientist. She intentionally used an excessive amount of sugar so that the center of the cake wouldn't set; instead, it stayed soft and fudgy.

I see on Baking911 that a crisp crust on brownies come from high sugar content, or from whipping in lot of air. (Scroll down to TYPICAL BROWNIE TYPES, Fudge Brownies.)

So, whatever else you do -- don't use less sugar!
posted by wryly at 3:43 PM on January 28, 2009

2nding looking into Lava Cakes. Trader Joe's makes a great one and it's in the freezer section. They rock!
posted by 6:1 at 4:24 PM on January 28, 2009

The oven was too high; you used older eggs that lost their mojo--and denatured even more in the car? If you have any left, do the wobble test to see how stale they were.

If you want more edges, you could always get a multi-edged brownie pan.
posted by aquafortis at 4:37 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I always get these same results when I don't wait for the oven to preheat before baking..then no matter how long I leave them in there or turn up the heat, the middle just won't turn into brownie!
posted by messylissa at 4:48 PM on January 28, 2009

I think the sugar thing might be it, not only because of the amount of sugar you put in, but you also used bittersweet chocolate which still has some sugar in it, when the recipe called for unsweetened.
posted by piratebowling at 6:32 PM on January 28, 2009

You also mixed out most of the the air by just shoving it in together and beating, then probably lost more air by leaving it to sit before cooking it. So you've lost a fair bit of your raising power. I don't see any raising agent in the recipe so the air beaten into the egg (then maintained by the loving folding) is the main thing leavening your batter. Removing that will have a noticeable effect on the consistency of the end product.

The over-beating could also affect the sugar dissolving, as subatomiczoo mentioned, and/or the distribution of ingredients as Mrs. Charlemagne suggested.

I don't think it's the only thing. The stuff everyone else has mentioned about extra sugar / not enough heat etc likely contributed. But gooey in the middle and overly hard crust can definitely be brought on by incorrect mixing.
posted by shelleycat at 9:00 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Honestly...sounds like Swedish kladdkaka, which translates roughly to "sticky cake." Good kladdkaka looks like a normal brownie from the outside (pic), but inside it has the pudding-ish stuff. It's also a lot easier than brownies once you get the hang of it, so since I've moved to Sweden I've stopped making normal brownies. There are lots of recipes out there and they are all pretty simple, but you need a good spring form cake pan and the ability to know exactly when to take the kladdkaka out of the oven.

Most kladdkaka is cooked in a round spring form cake pan. Accordingly to Swedish women I know, the secret is to knowing when is to jiggle the pan and to take it out right when the middle of the cake ceases jigggling...yeah, not very scientific. How thick you pour the batter in the pan also makes a difference, but in Sweden they pour thin and sometimes barely cook it...bur hey, we have salmonella free eggs here.

Some prefer firmer kladdkaka, but they are dumb and I like the gooey middle. Louie Louie, a cafe in Stockholm, serves the perfect kladdkaka. In the pic above you can see the wonderful gooey chocolate spilling out.

My recipe uses some Swedish ingredients like vanilla sugar, which can be found at IKEA, but really just use regular sugar + some vanilla extract.

2 eggs
1.5 dl flour
3 dl sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
1 dl melted salted butter, cooled a little
4 tablespoons cacao
50-100 g crushed milk chocolate

Blend all the ingredients, cook roughly 10 mins (maybe much less!!) at 200 C, monitoring carefully.
posted by melissam at 1:09 AM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks! I'm going to make them again sometime next week--I'll be back with my results. (For what it's worth, the recipe I used (when followed correctly) makes really, really awesome brownies--they're the brownies Ben and Jerry's uses in their ice cream.)
posted by phunniemee at 1:47 PM on January 29, 2009

So about being back with results "next week"...obviously I totally lied.

However, I now have an answer (featuring: SCIENCE!) so I thought I would share it so that any interested future parties would know.

The "cookie" crust is formed from beating the eggs a lot, and is actually forming a meringue of sorts on top of the brownie.

The Kitchn had a piece on it a while back, and I only just today remembered that I had asked basically the exact question it answers less than a year ago.

If you want a lot of crust, you need to really, really beat the hell out of the eggs. Turns out none of the other factors mattered.
posted by phunniemee at 7:11 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

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