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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!

4 thoughts on “The Amazing Collapsing Brownie”

  1. I noticed whenever my kids made my “never-fail” brownies, they turned out…just not quite as good. They were flatter and oilier, and the texture was wrong. We Finally figured out they were mixing in a different order. I always do oil/butter and sugar first, then eggs and the cocoa, flour, and baking powder. They were adding sugar later on with the dry ingredients. I thought maybe it was the same principle as cookies, where you’re supposed to cream fats and sugars together first (except with brownies, you just…stir them together first.)
    Anyway, I wrote the mixing order clearly on the recipe, and we’ve had no more problems! They turn our great no matter who makes them now! Could this be related to Kiran’s question?

    1. Hey Marilyn!

      That could be the case, though I’m hard pressed to explain why at this point. But if your method works, then definitely go with it. They may be mixing too much, but then maybe not. It could be that the sugar added in at the end is weighing the batter down. I’ll have to think about that!


      – Joe

  2. This is the newest of your post somehow related to chocolate. So I decided to ask here.

    What happens when you bloom cocoa by boiling it in water/milk or fat, or by scalding it with boiling water/milk? When is it important and when is it desirable?

    By experimenting myself I found that with right proportions I can make pretty nice cocoa glaze with just cocoa, water, sugar (and I don’t add that much sugar) and salt. Especially when I allow it to cool completely. However, I didn’t find any concrete information on IF and HOW blooming cocoa improves the flavor in baked goods.

    I am asking because in Poland there is a very popular cake called “murzynek” (which is kinda inappropriate name, unfortunately). It is prepared by boiling cocoa, sugar and butter, and then mixing it with the rest of the ingredients which include flour, baking powder and eggs (whites whipped separately). Usually part of the cocoa mixture is reserved as a glaze for the finished cake. This preparation seems kind of unique. Have you heard of any similar chocolate cakes?

    1. Hey Konrad!

      Yes I have heard of murzynek. And yes, the name of it is politically incorrect, as we say over here!

      The only reasons I’m aware of it is because I come from Chicago, which as you know, has more Poles in it than Krakow. I don’t know of any American cakes that use this technique, however. I should give it a try sometime soon, and call it, er…something else.


      – Joe

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