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What are Brownies?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Brownies are an American chocolate dessert made very much like cake, although with slightly different ingredients. They appear to have originated in the late 1880s, either through a happy baking mistake or through calculated work. Unlike cakes, they are not leavened with baking powder, so they are denser and heavier. They are also served in cut squares or bars and are often presented without icing, although they may be served with whipped cream or ice cream.

There are three basic types of brownies. The first has a cakey texture, with a more flaky crumb. Fudgy ones are incredibly dense, much closer to chocolate fudge than cake, while chewy varieties have a rich, chewy texture that falls somewhere in the middle. The texture is determined by the ratio of chocolate, butter, sugar, and flour in the recipe.

Typically, ingredients like nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate chunks are added to the dessert to provide extra flavor and texture. Brownies can also be made without chocolate, in a version known as blondies, or they can be marbled with a chocolate and vanilla batter. For an extra rich treat, bakers add things like cream cheese. Most people have a favorite version, ranging from lightweight cakey ones to intensely dark fudge versions.

The following recipe will yield a batch of dense, chewy brownies. Like other, similar recipes, these can dry out if they are not carefully monitored through the baking process. Cooks should be aware that desserts baked in metal pans will cook more quickly than those in glass.

Bakers can start by melting 5 ounces (142 grams) of chocolate in a double boiler on medium heat along with 8 tablespoons (113.4 grams) of butter. The ingredients should be stirred with a heat-resistant spatula to prevent burning, and removed from the heat when completely melted. After it's cooled slightly, the baker can stir in 2 cups (450 g) of sugar and set the mixture aside. Next, the baker should whisk two large eggs together with 2 teaspoons (9.8 ml) of vanilla and 0.25 teaspoon (1.5 g) salt. The chocolate mixture can be added to the eggs when it has cooled, followed by 1 cup (125 g) of flour. If the baker wants to add things like fruit and nuts, they should be chopped finely and no more than 1 cup (around 125 g, depending on the actual items) added.

The mixture can be added to a greased 9 by 13 inch (23 by 33 centimeters) baking pan, and with the top smoothed out. The cooks should put it in an oven preheated to 350°F (180°C), and bake it for 35 - 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with a few small, moist crumbs. The brownies should be taken out of the oven and placed onto a rack to cool. When they have cooled enough to handle, the sides can be loosened with a thin knife and the pan flipped onto a metal rack to cool all the way before the bars are cut, packaged in an airtight container, or simply eaten.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By amypollick — On May 28, 2013

@wesley91: You can also melt chocolate squares in the microwave, *if* you're careful and *if* you're watching the process. You have to keep an eye on the chocolate, though. Cocoa brownies are still easier, though.

Brownies have to be one of the great innovations in American cookery in the past 100 years. They are so versatile, and unlike cakes, so forgiving. In general, as long as the ingredient measurements are correct, you can do nearly anything to a brownie recipe and the results will be tasty. I'm a fan.

By John57 — On Aug 30, 2012

@honeybees-- Have you ever tried the blondie brownies? I have found these are not quite as rich as the regular brownies. I have noticed they don't go over as well at a party though.

If you have a plate of chocolate brownies and a plate of blondies sitting right next to them, the chocolate brownies always disappear faster.

When I am making blondies I like to add walnuts and sprinkle some chocolate chips on top before putting them in the oven. This gives a little bit of chocolate flavor that many people love.

By honeybees — On Aug 30, 2012

I love chocolate but have tasted some brownies that are too chocolaty for me. If they have a chocolate icing on them, I find they are too rich.

I like to sprinkle a light dusting of powdered sugar on top of my brownies when they are done baking. This is visually appealing yet doesn't add too much sweetness or many extra calories.

No matter what kind of brownies I make, a pan doesn't last long at my house. Even as they are baking in the oven, the wonderful aroma fills the entire house and I have kids waiting to eat them before they are even cool.

By myharley — On Aug 29, 2012

I don't think you can go wrong with any kind of chocolate brownies. I have tried them all and can't say that I really have a favorite. I think it is the taste of chocolate that is more appealing than anything else.

However this happy baking mistake happened, I am sure glad that it did. I always keep a box of brownie mix on hand. If I have company stop by unexpectedly it only takes a few minutes to whip up a batch of brownies and they can bake in the oven while we are visiting.

I can't think of anything better to serve my guests than warm brownies from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

By alex94 — On Nov 09, 2010

@wesley91: I just thought I would let you know that you don't necessarily have to use a double boiler. I don't have one either. I take a big pot and fill it with water and let it boil. Then, use a smaller pot to cook with and place it in the big pot of water. Works just as well.

By cmsmith10 — On Nov 09, 2010

@wesley91: This recipe is a little easier as it uses cocoa powder instead of the melting chocolate. You need the following ingredients:

½ cup cocoa powder, ¾ cup all-purpose flour, ¾ cup butter, 1 ½ cup sugar, 2 tsp. vanilla, 3 eggs, 1 tsp. baking powder, a pinch of salt, and 3 oz. chopped walnuts (optional).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 in. pan. Melt your butter. Beat the eggs with the sugar and then add the vanilla, flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and melted butter. Add the chopped nuts.

Bake at 350 until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, usually around 25 minutes. Let the brownies cool and dust with powdered sugar.

By wesley91 — On Nov 09, 2010

The article's recipe sounds great but does anyone have a simpler recipe? Also, I don't have a double boiler. Thanks.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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