In 2021, Cargill fielded a proprietary survey called ChocoLogic™ to measure consumers’ preferences, motivations, and attitudes towards chocolate on its own, as well as when incorporated into applications such as bakery. Cargill gathered responses from more than 600 primary U.S. grocery shoppers. For most of these consumers, chocolate flavors are their top choice. Eight in 10 consumers choose chocolate-flavored bakery treats like brownies at least half the time.

The study also explored how various claims resonated with consumers when shopping for chocolate-flavored products. Cargill found simple, more familiar claims such as “made with real chocolate” and “no artificial ingredients” rose to the top.

“Our survey also revealed that interest in premium chocolate remains high, with cacao content and claims around provenance among the attributes that consumers use to judge quality,” says Gretchen Hadden, marketing manager, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate North America. “For brownies, bakers can leverage this insight by highlighting these attributes on pack. To further enhance the indulgent experience, bakers can romanticize how they describe the chocolate ingredients for added impact at shelf.”

The perfect brownie lies in the eye of the beholder. Some prefer light and cake-like; others enjoy a chewy, fudgy treat. For uber-indulgence, bakers can double (or triple) down on the chocolate level, pack in the inclusions, mix in caramel or add a tempting topping (or two). As bakers set out to mix up their next batch, here are a few tips from Cargill:

  • Pay attention to sugar granulation size as it can have a huge impact on the brownie’s final texture and appearance.
  • If you’re aiming for a more cake-like brownie, then regular granulated sugar is just the ticket. If you want even more volume, adding a small amount of dextrose alongside the granulated sugar will result in brownies with little more height.
  • However, if the goal is a tender, fudgy brownie, you’ll want to use sugar with a finer granulation – either a Baker’s Special sugar or opt for a combination of regular granulated sugar with powdered sugar. The finer granulation will also provide a flinty, sugary crust on top.
  • The volume of eggs included in the formula also plays an outsized role in the brownie’s final texture. Recipes with more eggs will have more volume and be more cake-like. Dial back the eggs and you’ll have a richer, fudgy brownie.
  • Leavening choices impact volume, too. For the more fudge-like brownie, you’ll want to use a small amount of baking soda. For a more cake-like finished product, use a little more baking soda, or opt for baking powder.

One of the biggest decisions is around cocoa selection. A natural cocoa will yield brownies with a lighter color, according to Cargill. To achieve the rich chocolate color consumers typically associate with decadent brownies, bakers will want to use an alkalized cocoa.

For an even richer chocolate flavor, consider incorporating Cargill’s Wilbur® Duet™ product into the formula. Wilbur Duet functions like a cocoa powder, but it includes ground chocolate liquor, for a more intense chocolate flavor experience.

However, you’ll still want to include cocoa powder in the recipe to achieve a rich, dark brownie color. I often use one-third Wilbur Duet, two-thirds cocoa powder in my recipes. This approach gives you the best of both worlds: the richer flavor from the chocolate liquor and the deep fudgy color from the alkalized cocoa.   

Beyond ingredient selection, bakers should also pay attention to mixing, according to Cargill. Here, less is more. Most brownie recipes only require a short mix – you just want to bring everything together. Too much mixing and the brownies will lose their flinty coating.

“Finally, brownie batter is a great vehicle for inclusions like chocolate pieces or nuts. It’s usually thick enough to hold inclusions and prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the batter. Just be sure to add them at the very end, so they aren’t damaged during mixing,” explains Tim Christensen, Certified Master Baker, Cargill.

The right oil

To achieve fudgy brownies requires a combination of the right oil and the right technique, explains Roger Daniels, vice president research, development, innovation and quality for Stratas Foods.

“One secret is to replace any solid fat shortening with High Oleic Soybean Oil. High Oleic Soybean Oil unlocks the fudgy in fudgy brownies,” he shares. “When the goal is to make dense, fudgy brownies, air is the enemy. At Stratas Foods, LLC, our guidance is to use a high-quality oil like Stratas’ high oleic soybean oil and to use a folding mixing process sufficient to just combine the brownie ingredients.”

High oleic soybean oil does not have the body of a solid fat type shortening. It does not contribute to building structure in a baked product. As such, it minimizes the formation of air cells in your brownies.
Using this insight coupled with care in your process to fold together the brownie ingredients without over mixing is the secret to achieving the desired brownie texture, Daniels explains.

Specifically, these two components, ingredient selection and process, prevents excessive air entrapment in the mix. Without the air expanding in the oven, the brownies won’t rise as much. This results in brownies which are dense and gooey.
Replacing a solid fat type shortening with oil has benefits beyond the texture of the final product though. Typically, an oil has less saturated fats which translates to a more neutral flavor, thus allowing your chocolate and cocoa powder flavors to take center stage.

“Additionally, using a high oleic oil, which is more stable than other oils, can extend the shelf life of the brownies by a day or two,” Daniels adds. “High oleic soybean oil also has more monounsaturated fats (the healthy kind) and less polyunsaturated, so it is the healthier option when choosing oils.”

Vegetable oil options

Vegetable oil is the best oil to use both at home and in a bakery setting if you expect the brownies to be consumed in 5 days or less, Daniels points out. Vegetable oil is derived from soybeans and as such is sometimes also referred to as soybean oil.
In the preparation of brownies, the oil is used to help fold the ingredients together and contributes a moistness to the finished brownie. The key reason that vegetable oil is recommended is because this oil has a bland or neutral flavor allowing the goodness of the other ingredients to come through.

If a bakery is preparing brownies requiring a shelf-life in excess of 5 days, an option to consider is a more robust form of vegetable oil known in the food industry as high oleic soybean oil. This oil has a bland flavor and was developed to be more stable than traditional vegetable oil affording the brownie manufacturer the confidence to meet shelf-life expectations every time, Daniels explains.