A Brownie Double Dog Dare

Last week, I received an email from King Arthur Flour with the subject line, "The best brownie recipe ever -- we guarantee it!" When I opened the email, I saw a close up photo of two stacked brownies topped with fudge sauce, a bit of whipped cream and some chocolate curls, accompanied by the caption, "the absolute fudgiest, tastiest, best brownies in the world" (emphasis in original).

Now, I've made a lot of brownies in my time. I might even consider myself something of a brownie recipe expert. And maybe it's the fact that my job requires me to evaluate advertising claims, but I am generally a skeptic at heart. So when I read this email claiming to present the best brownie recipe in the world -- even though I knew it was mere puffery -- the claim struck me as completely outrageous and I knew that I would have to try the recipe as soon as possible to disprove it. To me, this email was no less than a direct brownie double dog dare. (I admit, my skepticism might have been heightened from my recent experience with the King Arthur Flour guaranteed recipe for gingerbread, which was an unmitigated disaster: you can read about it here.)

So on Wednesday night, I gave the recipe (available online here) a try. I did not consult the King Arthur Flour Bakers' Banter Blog (which has extended commentary and photos of their recipes) in advance, although in retrospect I wish that I had. The recipe is pretty quick. The first step is to melt butter. Then you add sugar and reheat the mixture to dissolve some of the sugar. According to the recipe and the Baker's Banter Blog, reheating the butter-sugar mixture dissolves some of the sugar, creating a shiny-crackly crust on the finished bars. (I am not a huge fan of the super shiny brownie crust myself; I have noticed that this is a consistent feature of brownies made with store-bought brownie mix and oil, so I generally associate a shiny brownie crust with a lack of taste.)

Tom and I don't own a microwave, so I melted my butter on the stove. The recipe directs you heat the sugar-butter mixture "briefly,"to 110 or 120 degrees, when it should be "shiny looking as you stir it." I was feeling a little lazy and didn't actually get out my digital instant read thermometer to check the temperature, but I did heat the mixture until it looked shiny and I could tell that a significant amount of sugar had been dissolved. (In contrast, if you check the photo on the Baker's Banter Blog, they heat the heck out the butter-sugar mixture in the microwave.)

While this mixture is heating, you mix together 4 eggs, cocoa powder, espresso power, salt, baking powder, and vanilla. My mixture was unbelievably stiff, almost like modeling clay. (I measured the cocoa powder by weight, so I'm sure I didn't add too much.) I'm at a little bit of a loss as to why the photo on the Baker's Banter Blog shows a very fluid mixture instead. Because my cocoa powder mixture was so dry, it had a lot of clumps, and it took quite a bit of effort to work these out, even after I added the hot butter-sugar mixture.

According to the recipe, these brownies should finish baking in 30 minutes. I checked at 30 minutes, and while the top was set, the inside of the brownie was completely uncooked. In the end, it took 40 minutes for the brownies to finish baking (and again, I find this discrepancy from the recipe puzzling, since I use an oven thermometer, and I know that my oven was in fact precisely at 350 degrees).

As for the finished product, I give the texture of this brownie an A. It is very difficult to achieve a brownie that is rich, moist and chewy without being too fudgy, and this recipe did accomplish that perfectly. The top was attractively shiny and crinkly and did not crumble when the bars were cut. However, the flavor of these brownies was completely ordinary and flat, even with the inclusion of the espresso powder. I would probably give these a B minus on taste. (A related observation as to the lack of flavor in these bars: they gave off very little aroma as they were baking, which is a little unusual for a brownie.)

While this brownie is not bad, and perhaps even better than average, I can confidently assert that it is not, unfortunately, the world's best. In the category of lightly fudgy brownies, I would have to say that that Baked Brownie beats these hands down. In the superfudgy category, I think that the Recchiuti Brownie recipe (published in the Los Angeles Times Culinary SOS Column on September 29, 2004, available online here) is my favorite.

The quest for the world's best brownie continues!

Recipe: "Fudge Brownies" from King Arthur Flour (discussion on the Bakers' Banter Blog here).

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Tyler Hewitt said…
Any time you need a brownie judge, let me know!
PJH said…
Hey, sorry your experience didn't match my pictures and instructions; as you know, it's so hard to diagnose what's happening from afar... Anyway, thanks for trying the brownies. They're my personal favorite, but that's the nice thing about baking - each to his own. No right, no wrong, everyone wins. Good luck on your continuing brownie quest - PJ Hamel, King Arthur Flour baker/blogger