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The Amazing Collapsing Brownie

Reader Kiran has a brownie problem:

Almost every time I bake brownies I end up with some version of fudge no matter whose recipe it is. I’m sure it’s something I do. I tried Dori Greenspan, Alice Medrich and David Lebovitz’s recipes without any success. I can bake an impressive cake and very nice cookies but not brownies. They always end up as fudge. More importantly, I notice that the butter floats on the top excessively as if the fudge is drowned in them. Please help.

Kiran, the most likely culprit is over-whisking or over-beating your batter. Thorough whisking and beating is a virtue most of the time, but not where brownies are concerned. Brownies are the spineless wonders of the baking world, loaded with fats, sugars, and non-glutenous solids of various kinds. They have practically zero structure, almost complete invertebrates. Which means that when you whisk them a little too much, you’re setting them up for a fall. Whisking introduces air bubbles, which are a form of leavening. When they heat up they fill with steam and expand, causing the whole mass to rise. 

That rise is only temporary, however. Eventually the steam bubbles — which are very unstable, lacking any reliable starch-and-egg structure around them — blow up and pop. This creates a sort of cascade effect where the weight of the collapsed batter above falls on the wobbly bubble below, popping it. That pops the bubble beneath that one and so on and so on until all that’s left is a puddle of fudge with the melted, pooled butter on top. Which, let’s face it, is a decent consolation prize, but not a brownie. 

So just stir until you see a few streaks left in the batter, Kiran. You should be good to go after that! Thanks for the question!

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