Friday, November 21, 2008

On Brownies

As I mentioned before, I thought I should attempt to make some home made brownies as the first step to approximating my favorite of brownies, Duncan Hines. I did so yesterday. But before I get to that, as an aside, if you didn't know, there really was a Duncan Hines. Before WWII, Mr. Hines would travel around eating at different restaurants and developed a rating system and a guidebook. His ratings were very coveted by restaurant owners. I believe this predates the more well known Michelin system or Zagat rating. It was later on in the 50s when he decided to get into the packaged food products for the busy American housewife. Anyway...

I followed a recipe from my The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. This book rocks. I highly recommend owning it. I got rave reviews from Dinah and Dinah's coworkers for these brownies but I did not like them.

What do I love about Duncan Hines brownies? They are:
  1. Flaky on top.
  2. Moist.
  3. Chewy.
  4. Fudge-like (I think the same as chewy actually).
  5. Oily on the bottom (yes this is important).
The homemade brownies were definitely chewy but they were not flaky on top nor did they have the oily bottom. Looking at the ingredients, I am thinking that this recipe will not be a good base to build on. So let's do a recipe comparison of the main ingredients to see if we can find the secret. I don't have a box of Duncan Hines on hand but I can make some educated guesses as to what the ingredients are. The earliest credited fudge brownie is the Lowney Brownie from 1912.

LowneyDuncan HinesKing Arthur
1 cup of sugarsugar2 1/2 cups of sugar + 1/3 cup of corn syrup
1/2 cup of flourflour1 1/3 cups of flour
2 squares of chocolatecocoa powder6 ounces of chocolate
1 stick of butter1/4 cup of water + 1/3 cup of oil1 1/2 sticks of butter
2 eggs1 egg5 eggs

Two quick notes, the Lowney Recipe is not proportional and I accidentally used 6 eggs when I made mine yesterday but I don't think that had any affect on my disappointment.

So the key difference appear to me to be in the fat content and type added and the emulsifiers content, i.e., eggs. It seems that fewer eggs equals more chewy (Duncan Hines' directions say to add two eggs for cake like brownies). So I'll carry that info forward for future experimentation.

The butter versus oil content is very interesting. It makes we wonder about how long the Duncan Hines mix has been around. Follow me on a short diversion. The cake mix that we are all most familiar with is the butter cake. The butter cake uses butter, flour, sugar, eggs and maybe baking powder. In the 1920s a guy named Harry Baker developed a cake called the chiffon cake. His secret was the use of oil as a fat instead of butter. Hmmm..... Chiffon cakes need egg whites to be whipped full of air for the cake to have body. That's not done with brownies. I'm not a food historian or even a food expert but it seems to me then that brownies then lie in a family of cakes in between butter cakes and chiffon cakes, a marriage of the two. By the way, Mr. Baker sold his secret recipe to General Mills/Betty Crocker after WWII and the rest is history. (I learned all of the watching Good Eats one day).

So I think the next step is to take a basic chocolate butter cake recipe, limit the egg portion of the recipe and replace the fat addition with oil. I haven't figured out the water role but maybe that is to rehydrate the cocoa powder.

Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Dinah said...

I'm looking forward to all of the taste testing!