If you search the internet for certain types of recipes, you'll find that a lot of them are duds even though there are reviews which say they're the bee's knees. Even good recipes for certain foods can disappoint. Homemade brownies are one type of food where the recipes often aren't quite up to snuff, particularly if you're a fan of the kind of fudge brownies with a nice crackly top and a fudgy interior that come from commercial mixes.
Fortunately for me, I don't often make brownies because it's quite a bit more sugar than I'd like to be eating. Unfortunately, on the rare occasions when I want them, I have no access to commercial mixes. Quite some time ago, I came across this recipe which includes an unusual step where you add boiling water. I haven't worked out what the chemistry is behind this step but I do know this is the homemade brownie recipe that comes closest to having the attributes of the venerable Betty Crocker mixes.
The nifty thing about this recipe is that it doesn't require you to deal with baking chocolate or other esoteric ingredients that are rarely on hand. It uses cocoa powder so, if you get a chocolate craving, you have a good chance of finding everything you need in the pantry and you won't have to run off to a grocery store. I use Van Houten cocoa because it's available in most Japanese supermarkets but I've had great results with Hershey's baking cocoa, too. I believe any cocoa will do fine (including the much cheaper Meiji brand in Japan) but there will be flavor variation depending on what kind you use. Hershey's makes a darker brownie with a slightly more bitter undertone. Van Houten makes a smoother-tasting brownie.
With the holidays coming up, you might want to give this a try as a special treat.
Fudge Brownies recipe:
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 3/4 cup cocoa (unsweetened baking cocoa)
- 2/3 cup butter (melted)
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 small or medium eggs
- 1 1/3 cups flour
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp. salt
In a large bowl, mix the cocoa and baking soda. Blend 1/3 cup of melted butter with the cocoa mixture. (It should look as above.) Note that this is half of the melted butter.
Add the boiling water and stir until well-blended. This will make a fudgey paste (as above). Be careful as it can be very hot (steam is still rising from it in the picture above). Stir the sugar into the paste. Make sure it has cooled enough not to cook the eggs when they're added then add the eggs and remaining melted butter. Mix well. Add the flour, vanilla and salt and mix well. Pour into a well-greased baking pan (13"x9"x2" or 9"x9x3") and bake for 35-40 minutes. Do not overbake. Allow them to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting.
The best way to test for doneness is to see how liquid-like the center is. If it is very "viscous" in a 3-4 inch radius from the center when you gently rock the dish from side to side, it probably needs more time. A tester or toothpick test (inserting it in the center) will not work as it will come out with moisture on it when it is done. If it comes out clean, you've probably overbaked. The center should be soft to the touch but feel "set" like a soft set custard or pudding. If it feels liquid-like under the surface, it isn't done.
Please note that my friend tried this with Hershey's cocoa and his batter looked rather different than my pictures (in fact, he said his looked the opposite of mine at the two stages above). I'm guessing the fact that Van Houten is more water soluble has an impact on the batter. He also reminded me that the brownies are better the next day and actually get fudgier overnight.