Convenient treats that can be enjoyed on-the-go have been quite popular in recent years. The good, old fashioned brownie falls squarely in this category. A rich, delicious brownie can make a person’s day, which is why it’s important to get it right when offering this treat at your bakery.
According to Martin Philip, a baker for King Arthur Baking Company, a good brownie is the one you like the most. Whether a traditional chocolate brownie includes nuts, frosting, cream cheese, chocolate chips or any other ingredient, each customer will have a preference, as will the baker.
“Brownies, like pizza, have their fanatics,” he says. “Some want ‘fudgy’ and some want cake-like. Some insist on additions like chocolate chips or a swirl, while others want simplicity. Find your brownie – it's out there.”
King Arthur Baking Company, which is America’s oldest flour company, is very familiar with flour’s importance to a great brownie. Flour's primary role in brownies is to bind and set the matrix of ingredients.
“Sugar sweetens; chocolate, vanilla and salt boost flavor; eggs contribute structure and mouthfeel; and flour provides the backbone,” Phillip says. “The beauty of this is that brownies can be made very well with gluten-free flours.”
Phillip recommends all-purpose flour as the go-to for most brownies. That is, unless you’re looking to set a trend. Brownies, he says, have begun to branch out into the wide world of flour options. Whether making a teff brownie (the same flour that's used for injera - a sour fermented flatbread with a slightly spongy texture) or a version with almond flour, brownies continue to evolve and endure.
Teff brownies are moist and chewy with a subtly herbaceous taste from whole grain teff. King Arthur’s recipe features pistachios to complete the unique flavor profile. Inclusions like pistachios can be a big part of your brownie success.
Hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts are commonly used as inclusions, but Guillaume Roesz, US global pastry chef for Valrhona North America, has other recommendations.
“Chocolate pieces can be added as well to get some runny touches eaten while warm,” he says. “Soft caramel candy pieces can be used too. It is essential to not use an inclusion with a lot of water contained in it. A touch of fleur de sel gently sparkled over the top of the brownie can balance the sweetness of the brownie.”
Brownies would be nothing without the right chocolate, of course. Roesz says that for every recipe, there is no good creation without good ingredient.
“Considering the amount of chocolate in a brownie recipe: chocolate is key! If you want to make a delicious brownie, you should start with great chocolate,” he says.
Valrhona offers a wide range of chocolate options, but some dark chocolates that work well in brownie recipes are P125 Coeur de Guanaja, Guanaja 70% and Caraibe 66% to name just a few. If you are looking for something to appeal more to the gourmand you can go with milk chocolate like Jivara 40% or Azelia 35% for its nutty taste, Roesz says.
An American Classic
Did you know that the brownie was invented in Chicago? That’s right, while the Windy City may be better known for its deep-dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, it’s also the birthplace of the iconic chocolate dessert.
The brownie was created in 1893 at the Palmer House Hotel. Bertha Palmer, a prominent Chicago socialite whose husband owned the hotel, asked Palmer House pastry chefs to come up with a dessert that could be easily transported to the Women’s Pavilion during the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition.
The dessert, a cake-like confection with walnuts and an apricot glaze, was a hit with those who ate it. It wouldn’t be named ‘brownie’ until it appeared in American cookbooks years later, but it certainly helped the Palmer House Hotel’s reputation. The hotel continues to serve a dessert based on the original recipe to this day.