The Perfect Brownie

Posted by in Features on June 26 2013 | Leave A Comment

A Paul A Young Simnel Brownie

What makes the perfect brownie?

It’s a serious question, and almost provoked a stand-up row around my judging table at a session of the Great Taste Awards the other week. Taking part in the awards judging is great fun, but not always easy: especially when there’s a major disagreement. Like those brownies: to me, they were absolutely perfect: dark, rich, and so gooey you almost had to eat them with a spoon.

Oh, and did I mention – there was a ripple of salted caramel running through the centre, with that almost-bitter edge from the scorched sugar providing just the right balance for all that oozing chocolate. I think you might be able to tell that I rather liked them: indeed, I was ready to nominate them for a two-star gold award, maybe even higher.

To my utter surprise, the other judges started muttering about a rather ‘undercooked’ taste. One even said they were ‘too gooey’. But that’s the whole point of a brownie, I insisted. There’s no such thing as too gooey! I’m not normally an argumentative sort, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s brownies. I even remember my first – back in nineties New York, at Eli Zabar’s EAT up on Madison, with its eye-watering Upper East Side price tag, but my god, the sheer luxury of it. Unbelievable.

Sugargrain 'Winter' Brownies

In the end, I called in the Kofi Annan of the judging session, a man who just happened to have won the Supreme Champion honour four years ago for his incredible brownies, Patrick Moore, from More? The Artisan Bakery in Cumbria.

He took a bite, chewed thoughtfully, and nodded. “Yes. These are very good indeed.” I felt vindicated.

But what about some of the country’s leading brownie makers? Paul Young, for example, uses golden syrup in his mix, along with serious amounts of Valrhona to produce a brownie that is incredible, but seriously too much to eat in one sitting, even for me. I’ve tried. Believe me.

Blue Basil Brownie

I asked Kate Jenkins from the award winning Gower Cottage Brownies for her secret. “It’s all about the cooking”, she said. “I always tell people – if it doesn’t look cooked, then it is cooked.” She favours the Belgian Callebaut chocolate for her baking: the Gower Cottage style is soft, fudgy, almost light, but deceptively intense.

For literary inspiration, I turned to the author Stella Newman, whose first novel Pear Shaped contains a crucial passage about this very subject. “As with many things in life, the perfect brownie is all about timing”, she told me. “Just one or two minutes too long in the oven can send a perfectly fudgy, squidgy brownie into the realms of cake-ishness, from which there is no return.”

More? Muddees

I had to give the last word to Patrick Moore, since his Muddees have been officially declared as near-perfect as it’s humanly possible to get. His recipe uses a unique mix of buckwheat and other gluten free flours, along with some 70% Callebaut chocolate, a good salted butter, and differently sized chunks of chocolate scattered through the batter. “You need those pieces so that it melts in the mouth at different times, and gives the brownie another texture”, he explained. “And you need the salt to improve the robust flavour of the chocolate.”

So – his definition of perfection? An eggshell crisp crust, rich and gooey inside, and very slightly underdone in the middle. That’s official then: gooey it is. And never, ever, mention the word cake.

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Comments On This Post

  1. Dom (Chocablog Staff)

    I’m with you on this one! But I wonder if it actually matters how you define ‘brownie’? Some might argue that a wonderfully gooey Paul A Young brownie isn’t “technically” a brownie, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious.

  2. Margaret

    I’ve done a lot of baking and i’m quite good at it……. but brownies are the one thing that i just can not do. I’ve tried various recipes and i’ve never managed to make a good brownie. Don’t know what i’m doing wrong but it just turns out with a hard shell on the top that cracks and collapses into what is just uncooked mixture. The day i make edible brownies…. i’ll be dancing around me kitchen with pride ;)

  3. Brownies are so subjective. Your preference is almost always the taste of whatever your mother made you. So… I am so jealous of your job!

  4. Ben

    Paul A Young are the BEST brownies ever. Whenever I make them using his recipe, people say they are the best brownies they’ve ever had..I take no credit for it- he’s a genius.

  5. Scott

    Ben where can I find the recipe? I had a few of Paul brownies for Father’s Day and it was an emotional experience.

  6. Ben

    It’s online… Search Paul A Young simnel brownie recipe…or there’s a coconut and cherry version I n his book Adventures in Chocolate.. I now adapt the basic recipe of his and add other things, like peanut butter….or dried raspberries and rose water, it’s a fabulous recipe to slightly adapt with new flavours.

    • Dom (Chocablog Staff)

      It’s worth noting though that the book recipe isn’t exactly the same as the recipe he uses for his own brownies, which Paul likes to keep secret!

  7. Ben

    It tastes pretty identical to me! Not that I wish to do him out of any sales.. I bake them frequently and still go in and buy them occasionally too.

    • Scott

      We found the recipe and my wife made some on he weekend, and if they’re not exactly the same as Paul’s then they are damn close! They are absolutely fantastic :) thank you!!