From Angie’s Kitchen – Brownies Revisited

Welcome to round two of brownies from Angie’s kitchen. Last week we followed my grandma’s recipe to the letter as we do in round one – or as close to the letter as we possibly can given the occasional set of esoteric directions! For round two, we get to research ideas and we can alter the recipe in any way we choose.

You may recall that I ended round one by saying that the original recipe was pretty good and the flavor was nice, but they were a bit sweet and extremely chewy. I enjoy a good chewy brownie, but my hope for round two was that I could make them a little less taffy like and more like the chewy type of brownie I am used to eating. Also on my agenda was to lower the level of sweetness a bit.

I did a bit of research this time and found dozens of variations on recipes for brownies. Some used twice the butter of our original recipe, some had more flour, some had less, some used more eggs, some used cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate and some used just a touch of baking powder. At one point I even stumbled across a story about Katharine Hepburn and her brownie recipe! She is one of my wife Lori’s favorite actresses, so I had to pause a moment and share the story with her. It’s a pretty amusing tale and if you are interested in reading it, click here.

A funny coincidence happened right when I was going to share the Katharine Hepburn story with Lori – she was coming to tell me that she was watching Giada and she was making brownies. She told me how she made hers and suddenly I had one more piece of research in my brownie making arsenal. All of this information was great, but in the end it was up to me to decide how I wanted to change grandma’s recipe and what those changes would be.

My ultimate choice of changes were fairly simple. First, I decided that the sugar needed to be decreased since I wasn’t using an unsweetened chocolate which made my original attempt a bit too sweet. I thought that lowering the sugar would also help in reducing the extreme chewy quality, but I felt I needed to go a step further in trying to deal with that as well. So, I decided to add a bit more moisture to the mix in order to help better dissolve the sugar by adding an extra tablespoon of butter and an additional egg.

I briefly debated the use of baking powder, but decided that I would keep true to the original recipe in that area and skipped it. I figured that if no baking powder was good enough for my grandma Angie and Katharine Hepburn, then it was good enough for me!

One other small note I didn’t discuss last week. The original recipe included chopped nuts. I generally don’t care for them in my brownies, so I left them out when I made them. The same holds true for my round two recipe. I didn’t use them, but have included them as an optional add in if you enjoy them.

Brownies 2.0

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ounces 72% dark chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts of choice (if desired)

Cream together the sugar, butter and vanilla with a mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Beat in the eggs at a slow speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. Next, do the same with the melted chocolate – make sure the chocolate isn’t too hot, you don’t want the eggs to cook.

Mix in the flour by hand until just combined and then mix in the nuts if you are using them.

Spread the mixture evenly in a greased 7 inch square pan and bake at 325 degrees for 25 to 27 minutes. Cool thoroughly and then cut into 16 squares.

Brownies 2.0

In the end, I was really happy with the results and the taste test went over well with my family. They still had that delicious brownie flavor and the reduction in sugar made them more enjoyable and didn’t leave you feeling like you were trapped in a major sugar rush!

The only thing I am still debating is did I overstate the reduction in the chewy quality? They were no longer taffy like which was good and they were still pretty fudgy, but maybe I leaned a bit too much toward a cake like brownie in the end. Perhaps going back to one egg and sticking with the extra butter and reduced sugar would have brought me right where I wanted to be.

Time to try brownies 3.0? Possibly, but for now I’ll put that on the back burner. On that note, I’ll hand this off to Karen to share her round two experience.

It’s always fun to see how Ray and I approach the 2nd rounds of our From Angie’s Kitchen challenges. Often we come to the same conclusions, but we also diverge quite frequently in our solutions. I think this round we did a little of both.

First though, I’ll share a little of my research with you. The very first brownie is credited to Bertha Palmer and her pastry chef made as part of a boxed lunch for society ladies attending the 1893 World’s Columbian Expedition in Chicago. This brownie is still being made today and may be purchased at the Palmer House Hotel. So, if you happen to be in Chicago, and you love brownies, that’s where to sample the original.

The first known mention of a brownie in a cookbook is in the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer published in 1896, but this confection did not contain chocolate. It utilized molasses. I’m curious as to what this would taste like, but perhaps not curious enough to try baking it myself. However, by the time the 1906 edition was published, chocolate was included and the recipe is nearly identical to the one we made last week.

Before beginning my revisions for round 2, I had to break down what I thought of round 1 and what needed to change. The thing I liked most about the first brownie was the fact that it tasted like a Tootsie Roll. Was that worth pursuing? I decided that as amusing as it was, that would not be the direction I would go in. What was wrong with the first brownie? A lot. It was too sweet, too chewy and too flat. That was what I would work on.

To achieve these objectives, I did not reduce the sugar. Instead, I upped my chocolate game. This round I used a bittersweet chocolate, doubled the amount and added cocoa powder. I felt like this would bring balance to the brownies. I remembered what a minuscule amount of batter there was last week, so I increased the amount of flour and skipped the sifting. I added a second egg and bumped up the amount of butter just as Ray did, but unlike Ray, I did add a small amount of baking powder and salt. One of the observations Tom had made last week was that he felt the original brownies weren’t mixed well enough, so I incorporated the ingredients differently this time.

2nd Time Around Brownies

  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 TBSP butter
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate 70%
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9×9 square baking pan.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Melt chocolate and butter together in a double boiler or microwave and set aside to cool.

In a large separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add chocolate and butter mixture and beat until well mixed. Add 1/2 of the flour mixture to the batter and once well incorporated, add remaining flour and mix well.

Spread into prepared 9×9 pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

2nd Time Around Brownies

This brownie was much more successful than the first batch. It was certainly less chewy than the first, but I let this batch go for the full 25 minutes. I think had I taken them out a minute or two sooner, they would have had a slightly better texture. I would also consider folding the flour mixture in the next time around instead of continuing with the mixer. The taste was quite good as well. Tom pronounced it to be a good brownie, so I’ll take that considering it is one of the few sweets he likes.

Brownies 3.0 you say, Ray? Why yes, I have an idea already. I’m not sure when I’ll have it perfected, but another brownie will be coming…

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