Test kitchen baking tips: Midnight chocolate brownie bites
Every once in a while we run a recipe that garners a wide variety of reader response. Former test kitchen director Donna Deane's Midnight chocolate brownie bites, which originally ran July 2, 2008, and was selected as one of our Top 10 recipes of 2008, is a prime example.
While we received a lot of positive feedback from readers who really enjoyed the brownies, we also received a lot of comments and queries from people who, in re-creating the recipe, did not end up with the results pictured above.
Given the volume of e-mails we've received, I wanted to throw out some tips to address some of the more common problems readers encountered. Some of the tips are specific to this recipe and some are general tips that hopefully will come in handy when tackling any baking recipe.
Most of the problems readers encountered with this recipe centered on the consistency of the batter and the final texture of the brownies. For many, the batter did not set up to the thickness described at the end of steps 3 and 4, and several attempts resulted in brownies that baked to a dry, crumbly mess.
When making the recipe, follow these steps to make sure you have the right consistency before the batter goes into the oven:
- In Step 2, melt the butter and chocolate completely in a bowl set over a hot water bath. Over heat, stir in and melt the brown sugar. At this point, the mixture is very, very warm. The mixture is then taken off the heat when the vanilla and orange flavorings are incorporated.
- In Step 3, whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until blended. With this step, the mixture should still be very warm -- it's only just come off heat. The eggs, when whisked in, will thicken the mixture to an almost custard-like consistency. Some readers waited for the mixture to cool before adding the eggs -- this will prevent the eggs from thickening and will adversely affect the consistency of the batter and final texture of the cake.
- In Step 4, fold in the sifted dry ingredients and chocolate chips until blended. With the incorporation of the dry ingredients, the batter should be thick enough that it needs to be spooned into the pan, the surface flattened before baking.
- The brownies bake just until puffed and almost set, 30 to 40 minutes; overbaking could dry them out. Cooled completely, they will have a rich, moist consistency.
In addition to the tips listed above, there are some general tips that are helpful -- or rather, necessary -- when following any baking recipe to ensure success. Baking, being the exact science it is, is generally not as forgiving as savory recipes.
- Use proper measures. Measure all liquid ingredients using a liquid measuring cup (glass or plastic) and dry ingredients with a dry measure (metal or plastic). Liquid and dry measures vary slightly in terms of volume, and using the wrong measure can easily ruin a baking recipe.
- Use all the ingredients listed, and be sure to measure the amount given for each ingredient. Nothing will throw off a baking recipe like substituting, adding or cutting out ingredients. If you're on a diet or have dietary restrictions, do not try to adapt a recipe on your own.
- Measure ingredients first. With any recipe (baking or not), it's helpful to have all your ingredients measured before you proceed with the method. There's nothing worse than being held up in the middle of a time-sensitive recipe, looking for that one ingredient you desperately need and just can't seem to find.
- Always pack brown sugar when measuring, and never pack flour. Level off your dry measures with a flat level (a ruler, the flat end of a knife). This isn't the Food Network -- don't use your hands to level or measure.
- Check your oven. Make sure your oven is calibrated at least twice a year. Settings can be sensitive, and bumping the oven or slamming the door can easily throw off the calibration. If in doubt, test you oven's stated temperature with an oven thermometer (they're cheap and widely available). Need to recalibrate? Consult your owner's manual (many newer models are very user-friendly) or contact a professional.
- Whenever you bake, bake in the center of the oven on the center rack. Not all ovens heat evenly (some heat primarily from the bottom, some from the top, and temperature will vary by walls and the oven door). The oven's heat is most consistent in the center.
Hope this helps! If you have any questions or comments regarding our recipes, please do not hesitate to contact us. We can generally be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, I can be reached directly at email@example.com.
-- Noelle Carter
Photo: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times