Everyone loves Brownies. Here the Dello Mano ultimate brownie guide. One stop to learn all things brownie.
Whether your preference is fudgy, cakey or a chewy brownie we discuss all the factors at play.
If you’re a brownie aficionado you’ll enjoy our look at Brownie history, brownie ingredients, brownie methodology and a little brownie chemistry.
We also provide answers to some commonly asked brownie questions.
The History of Brownies
Its maybe not such a long shot to think that if you’re reading this article you’re probably a brownie aficionado or at least on your way to being one.
Understanding the history of brownies or any food for that matter is always interesting.
During the 1893 World Exhibition in Chicago, Bertha Palmer, the wife and co-owner of the Palmer Hotel, asked the Hotel chef to develop a cake that could fit inside a women’s lunch box. The mission was achieved with the invention of the chocolate brownie !
Our visit to the hotel was amazing. We’d planned to go for years as we felt it connected a circle with our own provenance. Small business being small business it was actually many years before we could leave our family business and make the trip.
In 2019 we finally boarded the plane to Chicago. Walking into the hotel after dreaming about it for so long was awesome! Everything you’d expect from a hotel so grand that it’s a beloved member of the National Trust of Historic Preservation in the USA.
During our hotel visit we had the most amazing experience. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with the current Palmer Hotel Chef. We actually in the kitchen where the first brownie was invented! After a lovely chat we tasted the Hotels Original brownie. The Hotel still makes and celebrates the original brownie to this day. We can tell you the brownie was delicious!
To be honest there’s so much history in this hotel, the brownie invention is only part of it. The making of the hotel is a true love story. The role the Hotel played in art history and the growth and movement of French Impressionism is another whole story. And that is not all, the Hotel has the most amazing history of movie stars, famous singers, Broadway stars and Celebrities that just continues to awe during a stay at the hotel.
Bake Your Best Brownies Ever!
So you’re looking to bake brownies. Bake your best brownies ever with this comprehensive guide.
Dello Mano has been baking Luxury Brownies for over 15 years and here we share our tips and tricks to ensure you put your best brownie baking foot forward every time.
Which brownie recipe should you use?
Your choice of brownie recipe depends on a number of factors. If you’re looking at several brownie recipes and not sure which one to pick perhaps the first thing to do is look at the image of the brownie on the recipe. Does the image look like you will bake your best brownies ever? Is it a cakey brownie look, fudgy brownie look, high, low or wet looking ( which quite a few brownie recipes online appear to be)? From the image determine your brownie baking goal.
Next look at the ingredients on the brownie recipe. Most brownies ( traditional not gluten free brownie or vegan brownie) use some or all of the brownie base ingredients. The recipe may omit an ingredient and most definitely the different recipes will vary the ratios of the ingredients. Both the ingredients and the ratio of ingredients impact the final look, texture and taste of your brownie.
Finally of course your choice of brownie recipe will get down to whether you have the appropriate ingredients in your pantry.
Ingredients for Brownie Success
What are brownies made of?
Brownie recipes vary and there are many that will put you on your way to bake your best brownies ever. As mentioned above there are some common and frequent ingredients. The ingredients, their ratios and preparation/cooking methods can all influence the final brownie outcome. There are several main ingredients that constitute a brownie:
The flour binds the brownie ingredients and provides structure to the final baked product. We give a great in depth review of the role and basic chemistry of flour in this article. Just to be clear on this, we don’t recommend cake flour for brownies. Standard plain ( all purpose) flour we believe is sufficient for brownies.
In baking, eggs play a significant role in texture, flavor, and even colour. They are though often surrounded by myths . Most myths are however untrue.
Here we celebrate the magic chemistry of eggs in baking!
An egg contains water, protein, and a small amount of fat. The protein however is what helps bind a brownie mix together. Egg protein is made up of long chains of amino acids. The amino acids are tightly coiled. Weak bonds hold the coils together. As air is beaten into a batter or the batter is heated these bonds break down and the chains partly unwind. The protein is now not the shape it was before ( tightly coiled) but rather it is opened out. By way of the opening process, the protein is considered “denatured” and is now ready to play in the batter quite differently.
As the protein opens out it exposes its’ chain ends. Some of the ends are hydrophilic ( water-loving) and the others are hydrophobic ( water-hating). The chains rearrange themselves and the hydrophobic ends attach to the air bubbles while the hydrophilic, water-loving ends attach to the available water in the batter. A matrix is the results and this holds the air in the batter in place.
As these proteins are hearted coagulate they bind together and with the flour form structure for the brownie.
Eggs assist in tenderising baked goods as they surround the gluten they prevent it from over developing and thus a softer bake.
Eggs also act as an emulsifier in most batters including brownie batter. They contain a fat called lecithin which acts to efficiently bring the fat and water together.
Brownies have a relatively simple set of ingredients. If you optimise each component you can really bake your best brownies ever!
Known in recipe technical terms as a fat, butter plays a significant role in all baking. The term fats also includes, types of butter and oils. Different butters have different compositions and can impact your brownie or any baking recipe for that matter. Oils of course will totally change your brownie bake.
The role butter plays in brownies is two fold. Firstly the butter itself adds flavour to your brownie – I mean to be honest butter adds great flavour to just about anything in our books!
Flavour aside, butter also plays a significant role in the final texture of your brownie. From a food science point of view there are a couple of major factors impacting how the butter impacts your final brownie texture.
The fat plays some role in the baking process by trapping the carbon dioxide gases formed during the baking process. These are the open air pockets you see in say a final cake or cakey brownie texture. Now stay with me here, the amount of air incorporated into the brownie ( or cake) batter depends on your recipe methodology.
If you brownie recipe methodology calls for the creaming of butter and sugar then this process incorporates a great deal of air into the batter. The mixer blades swirling around is picking up air and pushing pockets of air into your batter. The matrix of starch, protein and to some extent butter trap carbon dioxide as it forms. With the bubbles trapped the brownie therefore rises. If you use the creaming method then in your brownie recipe you will naturally incorporate air that will results in a cakey open texture. This open cakey texture yields a more tender and lighter brownie.
Now on the other hand if your brownie recipe calls for the mixing of butter and chocolate ( not creaming of sugar and butter) then the result is quite different. By simply melting your butter and chocolate together you’re relying on the butter to trap some air during the process and stabilise your brownie structure however it will not yield a light open brownie but rather a dense texture.
Understanding basics of the food science of brownies and the role of butter will help you decide which brownie recipe you should use. Thinking about those choices will help you to bake your best brownies ever!
Who doesn’t love chocolate? So much history and chocolate fun facts. It’s great in brownies. Here at Dello Mano it our preference to use Dark Belgian Chocolate in our brownie recipe. Many brownie bakers prefer cocoa however our preference is dark chocolate.
We’ve said before but just to reiterate. Using great chocolate in brownies will make a difference. It doesn’t need to be the most expensive chocolate you can buy but it needs to be great. Choosing the right chocolate gets down to your preferences however different chocolates will required a different recipe. Its a great idea to spend a moment and learn how to taste chocolate before you use it in a brownie recipe.
The choice to use cocoa or chocolate is one of personal preference. Usually it is a choice of cocoa or chocolate although there may be recipes using both.
Important to note is that cocoa powder comes in different forms. Many people wonder about whether to use dutch cocoa powder or natural cocoa powder. These different forms can impact the recipe so if you’re looking to bake your best brownies ever it’s important to know about cocoa powder.
Your choice to use cocoa powder, a combination of cocoa powder and the type of cocoa powder will impact the final baked brownie result.
Apart from adding sweetness sugar plays an integral role in your baking. Sugar and the type of sugar impact flavour, colour and texture.
Sugar helps develop the colour of your baked goods. During the baking process the sugar molecules begin to break down. With continued heat the sugar molecules break down further becoming smaller and smaller. With every transition to successively smaller molecules the colour darkens from brown to very dark brown.
In a similar reaction sugar contributes to tenderness of the baked good. Again as sugar takes up the water, it makes the water less available to the gluten and starch in the batter. The gluten and starch do most of the structure building in the brownie batter. The sugar takes up water and makes it less available to the gluten and starch. Water is critical to the starch and gluten for their own structure building. By taking water away the sugar inhibits the gluten/starch structure building. The result is a more tender brownie or cake.
Sugar also extends shelf life. The sugar and moisture react and lock in the water. By becoming trapped the water prevents the bake good from drying out.
There are many different ways to reduce sugar in brownies. Recipes abound on google for brownies. Many offer substitutions for sugar in the brownie recipe. It is a case of trial and error to find a sugar free brownie recipe that will help you bake your best brownie ever!
Here at Dello Mano we use pure vanilla bean in our brownie recipe. It’s always in our opinion a compromise to use vanilla extract in baking. Try as much as you can to stick with pure vanilla as it in combination with a great chocolate or cocoa powder makes for the best brownies.
When your determining your brownie ingredients, you can opt to buy whole vanilla bean ( as shown above) or pure vanilla paste. The later usually in a jar or tube has the vanilla paste ready to go.
There’s no denying pure vanilla is expensive. It usually requires an investment to have some in your home pantry but you really dont need a lot so it will last a while. Pure vanilla adds beautiful soft aromatics and flavour to brownies. You can’t beat it!
It seems everyone the world over has a preferred brownie texture. Here at Dello Mano we’re not “judgy” about which brownie texture is better. We do though have a preference ourselves for a fudgy brownie over a cakey or chewy brownie. Our preference really has a lot to do with our love of chocolate. Fudgy brownies contain lots more chocolate and this is where our brownie heart resides.
There are lots of factors at play when it comes to creating the final brownie texture. Baking brownies seems like it should be relatively straight forward however there’s a fair amount of art and science in brownies. The brownie recipe, cooking time and temperature can all impact your final brownie texture.
So, you have a preference for a fudgy brownie or a cakey brownie? Here are some things to consider when choosing your brownie recipe.
What makes brownies fudgy?
A very common question is what makes a brownie fudgy? A fudgy brownie is usually the result of a brownie recipe that asks for more butter and chocolate than flour. In food chemistry terms a higher ratio of fat to flour in the brownie recipe. Brownie recipes that are fudgy tend to have less flour and usually never incorporate a leavening agent like baking powder.
Also up for consideration when your ultimate brownie is fudgy is the baking process.
Fudgy Brownies avoid over aeration by minimising the mixing process in the recipes. This includes reducing or minimising any beating or mixing that would normally incorporate air to the brownie batter. Fudgy brownie recipes usually mix the butter with the chocolate and do not use what is typical of a cake recipe and that is creaming of the butter and sugar together.
The time your brownies are baking will also impact your final brownie texture.
What makes brownies cakey?
Conversely to a fudgy brownie recipe, a cakey brownie recipe uses more flour to fat in the formulation. Cakey brwonie recipes also often incorporate a creaming process to facilitate the incorporation of air. A leavening agent may also be uses in the cakey brownie recipe.
FAQ’s about baking your best brownie ever
How do I know when my brownie is cooked?
It’s difficult to know a fudgy brownie is cooked.
Remove Brownies and cookies from the oven undercooked. Develop the confidence to remove the brownie just before it is fully bakes. By removing just ahead of the timer, this way the brownie can continue the last “mile” of baking on the bench top.
Learn how to know when your brownies are cooked. With this knowledge and you’ll be on your way to bake your best brownies ever
How do you get a crust on the top of your brownies?
For those who like a crunchy top brownie then sugar in the recipe is your friend. As the brownie cooks moisture rises to the surface of the brownie. At the surface the free moisture reacts with the sugar. The result of this meeting is that the sugar recrystallizes. This sugar crystallization is what forms the crunchy brownie top.
How to you cut even brownie squares or slices?
When we launched Dello Mano in 2006 there were very few brownies around. We scoured Australia looking for the best brownie…. and then decided to launch our own. Since then of course, we have inspired a whole mini industry of brownie bakers. We call ourselves the Brownie Pioneers because back in 2006 we were on a new frontier and mission to make brownies great. It wasn’t easy because cupcakes and macarons were all the rage. We spent countless hours sampling our brownies from Melbourne to Brisbane and beyond.
Because we innovated the market and created the brownie gift we set out to make brownies with a difference. Brownies were usually bar shapes. They were usually handmade by the owner of the café. We liked squares. We liked the idea of Luxury Brownies and we wanted a square chocolate gift box. So we launched our Dello Mano brownies cut into small squares.
Back then I used our daughters school ruler and chose our brownie square to be the exact width of the ruler. A mother has to do what a mother has to do! Back then I used a ruler to mark out each cut and I suggest if you want perfect cut brownies then you do the same.
If you like brownie bar shapes then that is also fine. You can just be sure to use the ruler not only for size but also to guide your straight line.
Using a ruler and marking your cut marks will help you to present a beautiful plate of evenly cut brownies.
How do you cut perfect brownie slices?
First things first. As tempted as you may be to cut a brownie soon after it appears from the oven – resist! Brownies need to be cool in order to cut well. Once just cooled ( about 30 minutes) remove it from the tray. Always completely cool your brownie on the bench top or refrigerate the brownie prior to cutting.
Remember you have put so much work into creating your perfect brownies. You want to present your brownie gift looking its’ best so clean brownie edges are essential. Depending on your brownie recipe they can be tricky to square up and achieve perfect edges. We personally hand cut every Dello Mano Brownie in the early days of our business so we think we have a little experience on this matter!
For us a long warm Cooks knife is the best way to achieve those perfect brownie edges. Learn how to cut the perfect brownie slice in this blog post.
What happens if you add an extra egg to a brownie?
A common question is what happens if you add extra egg to a brownie recipe? Generally speaking adding and extra egg to the mix will result in a tougher, chewy and drier brownie. It does though depend on the recipe.
How to keep Brownies?
Brownie shelf life and storage conditions are very much dependent on your recipe. At Dello Mano we refrigerate our brownies. Our brownies are high in butter and chocolate. They keep in the refrigerator for many weeks.
Store cakey brownies on the benchtop. Though a decision to do so is very much dependent on the brownie recipe. Follow your brownie recipe instructions to determine whether to refrigerate or not.
In either case refrigerated or room temperature brownie storage you should always tightly cover your brownies with a wrap. Covering your brownies will prevent them from drying out. Refrigerated brownies can pick up fridge odours easily. Seal you pan in the fridge.
Should brownies be gooey in the middle?
t Dello Mano we have a preference for a fudgy brownie. Having said that the internet abounds with recipes of brownies that are gooey in the middle. Gooeyness is personal preference. Most gooey brownies appear to be undercooked.
Removing your brownie a little undercooked from the oven will assist you to bake your best brownie ever. Leaving batter uncooked or a raw centre is not ideal though it is a personal prefernce.
Gooey uncooked brownie centre will have quite a short shelf life. Excess moisture available from the gooey batter will facilitate microorganism growth so we’d suggest refrigerating this type of brownie.
The Dello Mano tip for a gooey brownie centre is to microwave our fudgy Luxury Brownie . As the microwave heats from the inside out, a quick zap in the microwave will leave your Dello Mano brownie beautifully gooey in the centre. Our tip is to enjoy this with cold ice cream – delicious!
What is the difference between a brownie and a cake?
The difference between brownie and cake are in some ways subtle. Both a brownie and cake share many similar ingredients; flour, butter, sugar, eggs and chocolate or cocoa. A cake will always have some type of leavening agent like baking powder.
Cakes date back to Ancient Egypt. Brownies however were invented in the US late 19th century.
The one thing that sets cake and brownie apart is the ratio of the ingredients. A cake is generally soft and fluffy whereas a brownie is more dense ( even a cakey brownie) and chewier.
Should brownies be baked on the top or bottom rack of the oven?
Your brownie batter is ready. You’re set to bake your best brownies ever. Now the decision as to which rack to bake the brownies on.
It does depend on your oven however generally the middle rack is actually the makes for the best brownies. The middle oven rack provides for an even temperature across the brownie as it is baking.
How do I choose the right brownie pan?
Choosing the right brownie pan is important if you are looking to bake your best brownies ever. The size and brownie pan material will impact your final brownie.
Follow the instructions for brownie pan size given in your recipe. Any deviation will most probably impact your final brownie. Deviations with brownie pan size or type will require experimentation or some mathematics. A great article on how to adapt cake pan sizes for different baking recipes demonstrates that using a different brownie pan is possible – though you need to do some math.
Always prepare you brownie pan well. Line it with parchment/baking paper or grease it thoroughly before you pour in your brownie batter.
Common brownie ingredient substitution questions
If your goal is to bake your best brownies ever, it’s important to understand all of the ingredients. As we’ve discussed, how the ingredients work and how they work in combination with each other impacts the final brownie texture, taste and appearance.
Having said that thee are times when you will be looking to your best brownie ever and you don’t have all of the ingredients. Some brownie ingredient substitutions are fine. Some recipe deviations though will result is a brownie that is different to the traditional brownie. Serious consequences result from some ingredient substitutions.
We’ve been baking Dello Mano Luxury brownies now for over 15 years. Here is a brief Brownie FAQ.
Can I substitute cocoa powder for chocolate in my recipe?
The answer is in essence no if you want the same result. A direct substitution of cocoa powder for chocolate in a brownie recipe is not a great idea. You can of course do so with the intent of experimentation. By substituting cocoa powder for chocolate as a direct substitution will definitely not bake your best brownies ever!
If you don’t have chocolate to bake your brownie s the easiest thing to do is search for a brownie recipe that uses cocoa powder.
Can I substitute drinking chocolate for chocolate in my brownie recipe
Generally no, if you want the same result. Drinking chocolate contains cocoa powder, sugar, milk powders, flavours, food colours and additives. The additives include preservatives and anti-caking agents. people often have drinking chocolate in their pantry. Many people will have drinking chocolate in their pantry. We advise not to use drinking chocolate in brownies.
Can I substitute ingredients to make brownies healthier?
Yes, you can substitute ingredients to make brownies healthier. As we’ve discussed the balance of flour, butter and sugar in a brownie recipe are very important. It is experimentation to substitute brownie ingredients in a traditional recipe. The alternative is to find a brownie recipe with the types of ingredients that you’re looking to include.
Brownie recipes online abound with brownie ingredient substitutions. Suggestions include:
- substitute half flour for wholemeal flour
- use black beans as partial fat replacer
- reduce the sugar in your recipe
- an egg may be replaced flax seeds or yoghurt
- replace half your butter with Greek yoghurt
- substitute butter for coconut oil
Using substitutions will result in different brownies. They will not be traditional in texture, flavour or appearance. Some people enjoy the substitutions and are prepared for the changes
Can I substitute Salted Butter for Unsalted Butter?
Many recipes call for the use of unsalted butter. Unless you are baking regularly you most porbably have salted butter in your fridge. A direct substitution of salted butter for unsalted butter is fine. Be aware though that in using salted butter you will want to reduce any additional salt in the brownie recipe. A rule of thumb is to reduce any additional salt in the recipe by 1/4 teaspoon for every hundred grams of salted butter used.
Always taste the brownie batter before baking to check salt levels.
Can I substitute Bicarbonate of Soda with Baking Powder?
When baking brownies all of us at some point have reached for bicarbonate of soda or baking powder to find that the pantry is dry! Fortunately this is easy. It is possible with a quick recipe to substitute bicarbonate of soda with baking powder. Follow the recipe and you’ll be back on your way to bake the best brownies ever.
Can I substitute milk chocolate for dake chocolate in a brownie recipe?
The answer is No. You cant substitute in milk chocolate for dark as its fat level is different. It also has more sugar and offers more milk solids than dark chocolate. The brownie result will be extreme.
Can I swap White chocolate for Dark Chocolate in a brownie recipe?
It is probably appropriate to also say that you can never substitute white chocolate for dark chocolate in a brownie recipe. White chocolate isn’t technically chocolate and brings a completely different fat matrix into play. Blondies were developed so as to satisfy the white chocolate urge. I mean white chocolate is great and totally worth giving a go in the kitchen but never as a substitute for dark chocolate in a brownie recipe.
Can I substitute cocoa powder for dark chocolate in a brownie recipe?
This is possible. Though, take caution and be prepared to experiment. Swapping cocoa powder for dark chocolate may result in an entirely different brownie. Having said that there are rules of thumb for substitution of chocolate for cocoa powder.
If this article has helped you then please leave us a comment to tell us how and why. If you have a further question then please drop it in the comment section and we’ll get back to you. Have any comments or amendments to the article then please we welcome your input.
About the author:
Deborah Peralta is a Food Scientist with Post Graduate Marketing qualifications. In 2006 together with her husband and two young girls she launched Dello Mano Brownies. Since then the family business has expanded to include Luxury Cakes and Hampers. The business is based Brisbane Australia and today still operates on the same founding raison d’etre or business ethos.