Are you a fudgy or cakey brownie person? I’m squarely in the former camp, although I think we can agree that no matter your preference, now is a good time for brownies: We need the pleasure of eating them, the comfort of knowing there’s a stash in the freezer, the joy of sharing a batch, the stress relief of baking and, if you’re like me, the distraction of thinking about what exactly makes for the best fudgy brownie recipe.
In recent days, I’ve experimented with formula after formula to find the one that feels right for these groundhog days at home. Obviously, fudgy brownies are not cakey. Less obvious is the fact that they also shouldn’t be too chewy or gooey. Instead of the dense creaminess of truffles, they should have the melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of fudge but with a buttery baked chocolate flavor that stops short of candy-level sugariness.
This six-ingredient batter gives you all that in under an hour. These brownies ask little of you in the making — just stir! — and in the eating. There are no cutting-edge additions to contemplate with each bite. In fact, I skip high-end chocolate and cocoa for Toll House chips and Hershey’s powder not only for nostalgia but also because brownies taste better with these brands or generic store ones.
To nail brownie fudginess, I played with ingredient proportions and techniques. Trick No. 1: Leave out flour altogether — I tried half a dozen batches with flour and the one without came out best. Turns out that’s a good thing because some shoppers still can’t find any.
In this mix, cocoa powder helps bind the batter while also giving it a richer chocolate taste. Generally, more flour and less butter (plus baking powder or soda) yield cakey brownies. And even a small amount of flour in a more buttery batter will result in some chewiness.
Once I got the right ingredient ratios, I tinkered to settle on the right technique. Cakey methods include creaming the butter or whipping the eggs; some fudgy processes start with melting chocolate and butter together, then beating sugar, eggs and flour into that warm duo. For the fudgy ones here, you mix the dry ingredients separately, then stir in the eggs and add the slightly cooled melted mix last.
The formula is foolproof, but there are a few tricks to ensure perfection:
● Line the bottom and sides of the pan with foil. It’s much easier to cut the brownies later when you can slide them out of the pan onto a cutting board. (Plus, less dish scrubbing.)
● I melt my butter and chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, but I hang around to watch it. If you’re the type of baker who may walk away from the saucepan or forget about it, you should combine the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water. Chocolate scorches easily, but it won’t burn that way.
● Cocoa powder clumps easily, especially if the container’s not new. If yours looks pebbly, sift it through a fine-mesh sieve. It’s sort of a pain, but less annoying than trying to smash teeny dry lumps in the batter or eating them later.
● Beat the eggs until smooth without streaks, but don’t whip them hard. Over-beaten eggs will cause the batter to poof up and then collapse, leaving a crackly shell that domes over a super dense base. Clearly not the worst thing, but not what we’re going for.
● To cut these into neat squares, freeze them after cooling completely until very firm. Run a sharp knife under hot water and dry it well, then slice, wiping the blade clean after each cut.
Or, you can go at the brownies while they’re still warm, pulling pieces off with your bare (well-washed!) hands and stuffing raggedy-edged hunks into your face. I can say from experience that they’re sometimes the best that way.