Reader Henry writes in with some interesting questions:
Thanks for your great posts on brownies. I’ve got a few questions:
1. Most fudgy brownies call for very little flour with the instructions that you should stop beating the batter as soon as no or very little flour is visible. I’ve tried this sort of recipes many times, resulting in brownies that are impossible to hold even at room temperature. Alice Medrich wrote that it’s essential that one beats the batter long enough so that enough gluten forms. What do you think on this dilemma? Would beating the flour into the batter for too long produce a less than fudgy results?
2. Some recipes call for beating the eggs. What does this do exactly? Aerating the batter? Can this mechanical aeration be substituted for chemical aeration?
3. Since I like very un-sweet brownies, I’ve had difficulties creating a nice crisp crack on the top. I’ve read conflicting arguments regarding whether beating the eggs before adding them to the batter helps or interfers with that cherish crack. What’s the truth?
1. My feeling on mixing is that it should be administered in inverse proportion to the amount of flour the recipe calls for. Which is to say, if it’s a fudgy brownie recipe and there’s very little flour, like a 1/4 of 1/3 cup, mix it a good deal. The gluten will help give the brownie integrity. If the recipe is more cake-like, calling for a cup or more of flour, mix the batter only a little so it doesn’t get too tough. Make sense?
2. Beaten eggs are simply a form of leavening. If you compare the photos of the French brownie and the classic brownie batter, you’ll see what a difference an egg froth makes. The French brownie batter is the consistency of cake batter. What results is a lighter crumb, like you’d expect leavening to produce. But yes, you can substitute chemical leavening, and many recipes do, about half a teaspoon of baking powder should do the trick.
3. As far as a top crust, that tends to come with sweeter brownies, since the sugar essentially caramelizes against the hot air in the oven, giving you a thin layer of “candy” on the top. I don’t think beating eggs has much to do with it, but I’d suggest trying the French recipe with less sugar to see what you get.
Thanks for the great questions!