Houston, we have a problem. If there’s one thing I’ve been able to count on, almost without fail, over the past number of years, it’s BAKED‘s brownie recipe. That recipe has been my go-to again and again since, what, 2009? Deep in my heart, I know that I will never have any need in my life for another classic brownie recipe. But baking is one of those things that likes to teach us lessons and keep us on our toes. Friends, I’m sad to report that I seem to be experiencing a brownie crisis. I’m not sure what to do or who to turn to in my desperate hour of need– this is uncharted baking territory for me. Have I lost my brownie mojo??
Two weeks ago, Baked Sunday Mornings made Mini Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes, which were tasty, but were more cake-y than brownie-y. But it was a different recipe than BAKED’s usual one, and several other bakers had the same experience, so I chalked that one up as a fluke. But then I embarked on this week’s recipe, these here Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Chocolate Brownies from Baked Occasions, and now I’m living in an alternate reality. The brownies consist of a chocolate brownie layer and a pumpkin cheesecake swirl (thank you, Captain Obvious), the former being a scaled-down version very similar to the classic BAKED Brownie. Since I’ve made that original recipe countless times, I certainly didn’t anticipate any problems.
I first made the pumpkin cheesecake, which was uneventful. You simply whisk the cream cheese and sugar until it resembles frosting, then add an egg yolk, pumpkin purée, and spiced-up flour (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg– I used freshly grated, allspice).
The first step in making the chocolate batter is melting together dark chocolate and butter. I usually use 72% Guittard Coucher du Soleil chocolate couverture wafers for brownies, but I had some TCHO 66% discs to use up, so I elected to try those. I melted down the chocolate mixture, the cold butter taking longer than the chocolate. I then added both white and brown sugars, pre-mixing them ahead of time to break up the lumps of brown sugar in order to minimize batter mixing.
The mixture should have cooled to room temperature at that point, but mine was not there yet. I didn’t think much of it; I just stirred it a little more and let it sit for a few minutes. The temperature is important because eggs are the next addition, and unless you want Scrambled Egg Brownies, you’ll want a cooled chocolate mixture!
It was at this point that I noticed an “off” texture in the batter. Instead of being smooth and glossy, the batter looked gloppy and had an extra-shiny sheen. I added the flour and hoped it would come together, but sadly the finished batter was not any better– I could already see the butter separating out. Without much choice, I poured the batter into my cake pan anyway and hoped for the best.
I first poured ⅔ of the batter, then spread the pumpkin cheesecake evenly over it, then dolloped and spread the rest of the chocolate on top. Finally, I ran the tip of my spatula through the batter layers to swirl them together. The recipe says that the chocolate batter should be very thick, but this was not at all the case.
After 31 minutes, the batter had, surprisingly, baked into a brownie slab, but I could see butter bubbling on the surface during baking, which doesn’t usually happen with BAKED brownies. The chocolate surface appeared mottled, while the cheesecake portion was smooth. The brownies were also shorter than usual; while there is no chemical leavening in the recipe, the classic brownies generally puff a bit– they are not flimsy brownies.
I considered remaking the brownies with a full recipe of the original proportions to increase the chocolate factor, but upon examining the two recipes side-by-side more closely, I noticed that the pumpkin version was dialed down to about ¾, except the sugar, which was cut by half. I wasn’t sure if there was a particular reason for this (e.g. added sweetness from the cheesecake mixture), so I decided to just try the pumpkin recipe again, this time in a 9×9″ square pan for taller brownies.
In order to avoid the same problem, I tried to figure out what went wrong, and I suspect that it goes back to the chocolate and butter. Melting chocolate is delicate business, and I’m thinking that I may have overheated the chopped chocolate while the cold butter took longer to melt, although the mixture did not look suspect in any way until I added the eggs, so it’s hard to say if that was the cause. Secondly, and this is VERY important for BAKED brownies– the eggs must, must, MUST be at room temperature. And even though I’ve taken that very seriously since I ruined my first batch many years ago, it’s possible that I was a bit lax on that.
Unfortunately, my results were exactly the same on the second attempt– I was utterly baffled. I had gone back to my go-to chocolate, I’d used softened butter and very low heat under the chocolate mixture… I hate not knowing what went wrong! Again, they weren’t bad in any regard– in fact, my tasters loved them. But I know the batter was not quite right… and Baking OCD is a bitch. (Let me tell you about the Italian Apple Cake that I’ve been working on for two months; I just can’t let go…) In light of this, I went to the interwebs to see if this recipe has been blogged by other bakers. Sure enough, I found a couple of versions. I felt somewhat relieved when I saw this one because the photo looks similar to my brownies (and then I realized it was the photo from the book!), but then this one shows that the brownies can in fact look smooth on top, and now I want to cry a little.
On the bright side, the brownies were delicious and I liked them more than anticipated, especially the thicker second batch. The recipe recommends eating them chilled, and I enjoyed their fudgy texture straight from the fridge. The classic BAKED brownie remains unparalleled in the brownie world, but it’s nice to have some seasonal variations. I probably just need to let go of this one (since the brownies do closely resemble the book’s photo), but it bugs me that batter issue is a mystery.
Incidentally, BSM made this recipe in honor of Columbus Day, but I’m more in this camp, so I’m happy to think of them simply as October Brownies. If you’d like to add a tasty Fall twist to your brownies, head to Baked Sunday Mornings for the Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Chocolate Brownies recipe, and take a peek at my fellow bakers’ brownies while you’re there! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.