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.
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.
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.”
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.
- Filed under brownie.