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Brownies are quite possibly the most popular baked good on Earth, and for good reason: they’re easy to make, and pretty much everyone loves them.
What with the popularity of brownies, any baking enthusiast worth their salt should know where brownies came from, how to make and store them in the best way possible, and other fun facts about brownies.
This post will cover all that plus more brownie FAQ topics!
What is a brownie?
A brownie is a dense chocolate-flavored baked good traditionally served in small squares. Brownies often contain ingredients like nuts or extracts to give them a distinct flavor other than pure chocolate. Either way, they are ideally crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside.
Where did brownies come from?
The first brownies were made by the chefs at Chicago’s Palmer Hotel in 1893. The World Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago that year, and the people running it asked the chefs to create an all-new baked good recipe to include in the boxed lunches sold at the fair’s Women’s Pavillion. More specifically, they asked the hotel chefs to come up with something small that could be picked up and eaten without a fork… but, of course, would still pack a lot of flavor. The first brownie was made with walnuts inside and an apricot glaze on top.
Why is a brownie called a brownie?
Those first brownies made for the 1893 exposition were not actually called brownies at the time. The name originated shortly after, though, from an unknown source. Obviously, brownies are brown. And there was a trend at the time of adding “ie” to the end of a word to refer to a small, cute version of that word. Hence, brown-ie.
What can be added to brownies?
You can add almost anything to brownies to give them a distinct flavor! Nuts, dried fruit, even candies like M&Ms… the possibilities really are endless. Many of my favorite additions are detailed in the recipes section later in this post. You can also go freeform, though, by preparing a classic chocolate brownie recipe and mixing an ingredient you want to try in your brownies into the batter right before baking.
What makes a brownie cakey vs. fudgy and vice versa?
There are two main factors that make the difference:
- Ingredients. Adding airy ingredients like flour or baking soda will cause the brownies to become cakey. Using ingredients like butter and chocolate instead will make the brownies denser and gooier.
- Amount of whisking. If you whisk the batter a lot, it creates more air pockets in the brownies that will expand during baking and give the brownies a cake-like texture. Just a bit of whisking makes the brownies fudgier.
How to make brownies more fudgy
Don’t use much leavening agent like baking soda or flour. Also, don’t whisk the batter too much as it creates air pockets that give the brownies a cakey texture. Of course, some whisking is required to thoroughly mix the ingredients.
How to make brownies more chewy
I have four tips for making ultra-chewy brownies:
- Use the correct pan size – Using a pan that’s too big means the brownie mix will fill only the bottom of the pan and will get burnt because it is spread too thin, resulting in a crumbly cookie-like texture that’s not chewy.
- Use only egg yolks – Separate the egg yolks from the whites, and throw out the whites.
- Add melted butter – When cooled, melted butter is super-sticky.
- Chill the brownies after baking – After taking them out of the oven, chill the brownies in the fridge for an hour to let them congeal. This is especially effective when combined with tip #3 about the melted butter.
How to turn cake mix into brownies
Stir the cake mix into a bowl with oil and egg. Then add plenty of chocolate chips to give the batter that chocolatey goodness that brownies are known for! Feel free to add other ingredients too to give the batter the desired flavor. Bake the batter at 350 degrees for 20 minutes in an appropriately-sized pan. Then let the pan cool before serving. Remember, cake agent usually contains leavening agents, so brownies made with cake mix will definitely be more cakey than fudgy.
How to know when brownies are done
To make sure your brownies are neither too wet or too dry, stick a toothpick into them every few minutes while they’re baking. When the toothpick comes out clean (no batter clinging to it when you slide it out), you know the brownies are done.
How long to let brownies cool
Let brownies cool for at least 30 minutes after baking. Remember that the more the brownies cool, though, the stickier they will be. I like my brownies sticky, so I like to put them in the fridge and let them chill for an hour.
Serving and Storing Brownies
How should you serve brownies?
ALWAYS SERVE BROWNIES WARM. Not only is it just nicer to eat warm baked goods, but warming them up also makes them gooier and fudgier. Brownies still warm from the oven are the absolute best, but microwaving them for 30 seconds before serving them works too.
How long are brownies good for?
Brownies are good for about a week when stored in the fridge. I prefer to store them at room temperature, though. They only stay good for half as long that way, but I find they keep their gooey consistency better.
How to store brownies
Whether you’re storing them in the fridge or at room temperature, make sure the brownies are not exposed to the air to prolong their shelf life. You can keep them in Tupperware or another airtight container, or you can cover them with aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
How to cut brownies cleanly
After letting the brownies cool, use a sharp knife to cut them into squares. Make sure to press down on the knife firmly and pass it through the brownies slowly to avoid jagged cuts.
When to cut brownies
How to freeze brownies
Before freezing brownies, you need to remove the brownie slab from the pan and cut it into squares. You can then store the brownies in the freezer in a Ziploc bag. You’ll need to make sure the brownies don’t touch each other in the bag to keep them from sticking, so you should wrap each brownie square in parchment paper, plastic wrap, or tin foil before putting them in the bag. Freezing brownies extends their shelf life to three months, but remember that you’ll need to return them to room temperature (and preferably even warm them a little) before serving them.
Cake contains leavening agents, which means it has a lighter and airier consistency. Brownie mixes and recipes do not, which is why brownies are usually more fudgy.
Brownies are brown because they contain chocolate. Blondies do not contain chocolate and usually have vanilla extract instead, which gives them a golden or creamy color.
4 Brownie Fun Facts
Did you know?
- Brownies have two of their own holidays. National Brownie Day is on December 8 and National Have a Brownie Day is on February 10. I’m not clear on the difference, but I guess one is for making your own brownies and the other is more about getting them from someone else?
- A brownie is a mythical creature in Scottish folklore. Brownies supposedly come out at night and perform various household chores. Who needs Roomba when you’ve got Brownies?
- Walnuts are the most popular brownie mix-in. Adding walnuts gives brownies a pleasing crunch that other popular mix-ins like chocolate chips just don’t. Walnuts are also healthy.
- Brownies first appeared in printed cookbooks in 1904. Although they were invented over a decade earlier and were a big hit at 1893’s World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, it took some time for them to make it to kitchens across the country.
5 Brownie Recipes To Try Next
As I said, my favorite thing about brownies is how you can drop an endless amount of candies, nuts, extracts, or other ingredients in there to drastically change the taste without complicating the recipe. Here are some of my favorite brownie recipes that illustrate that concept beautifully.
When most people hear the phrase “baked goods,” brownies will likely be the first image that pops into their head. It’s no wonder that they are the most commonly-made baked good in America!
They’re a good introduction into the hobby for beginners and an equally good idea for a seasoned baker looking to whip up something easy and fun. They’re beloved by people of all ages, and they’re popular everywhere.
Brownies really are a big part of American culture, and you’re sure to encounter them a lot. Knowing about their origins and why they’re so good will hopefully make them taste even sweeter.