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Question about my brownies

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CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

Question about my brownies

Hi!


For the past few years I've been noticing a problem with my brownies when they bake, I'm just getting around to asking about it now. :D  This is my recipe:


Ingredients:

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup butter (softened or melted) or canola/ vegetable oil*
1/2 cup milk or water*
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/3 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips, or nuts, or additions of your choice

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9x13" pan.

2. Using a wooden spoon, mix cocoa powder and baking soda. Stir in butter (or oil) until combined. Your mixture might look a little clumpy, but stay with it.

3. Add the sugar and mix.

4. Add milk (water), vanilla and eggs, mixing until smooth. It WILL become smooth, promise, just keep mixing!

5. Add the flour and your chips or nuts or whatever, and stir to combine. By now you should have a nice even chocolate-y and slightly grainy mixture.

6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes. Test the centre of the brownies to see if they are done to your satisfaction. Remove from the oven and cool when they are right.**

7. Cut into desired number of squares, or get a fork and dig in.

* If using oil/water, your brownies will come out slightly less rich and a little crustier. But then you don't always have to have butter and milk on hand to do this. If I make the oil/water variation, I will add 1 tsp. butter flavouring extract to make it taste buttery. This can be found in cake decorating supply stores, used to flavour white icings.

**The centre of the brownies tend to sink in further than the outsides, but the centre tends to be fudgier.


 


When I bake them (or any other brownie type recipe), they look like this:


(for a larger image, http://i782.photobucket.com/albums/yy101/JFieldRecipes/IMG_0939.jpg)


It looks like the edges of the brownie rise up and curl over the top of the brownies, for lack of a better description. This can sometimes happen with my cakes, not as often with box cakes as it does with cakes from scratch.



I keep meaning to get an oven thermometer, but when I remember it it seems to be out of stock everywhere. But this *only* happens with brownies, blondies and the occasional cake. I have baked them at a lower temp and the same thing occurs, and while I am in *NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM* knowledgeable about baking, I thought if the same thing occurred at a lower temp then it is unlikely to be that problem.


Any thoughts are welcome, but if I don't respond please don't take it as rudeness, I have been finding the reply messages in my spam filter and don't always catch them.


 


Thanks!


 

spriolo's picture
spriolo

I wonder if the problem is location?  I know 350 degrees is like the magic baking number, so rather than mess with that, what if you baked the brownies on the top shelf of the oven (household oven)?


Or maybe for more extreme control over location, can you test your process by putting your brownie pan in a water bath in the oven?  I do this with my cheese cake and the edges finish baking at the same time as the middle in many cases.


The beautiful thing about test baking brownies is that you GET MORE BROWNIES!  Awesome!

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

I bake them top shelf of my oven, but the same thing happens if I bake them at 325F. That made me question the oven being too hot. But it's worth a try in a water bath- yay for more brownies! :D 


And I really really have to find an oven thermometer somewhere in stock in my area! Everyone can't be questioning their oven temp all the time around here! :D

spriolo's picture
spriolo

I can't stop thinking about brownies...


I was also thinking that about your bakeware.  I think glass has a different result than aluminium and a dark pan has a different result than those two.


Could this be an issue?  have you tried baking in glass? 

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

I usually bake them in a glass pyrex dish, but I needed it today for Eggplant Parmesan - trying to get cheese and tomato sauce off metal is a nightmare! 


Same thing happens with the glass.. They don't taste bad, just crunchy.

mimifix's picture
mimifix

It looks as if the edges are baking faster than the center, definitely indicative of heat that is too high. And since heat rises, the top shelf will be hotter than the middle shelf. Try setting your thermostat at 350 degrees in preheat. Then (quick! quick! quick!) open the door, place brownies on the middle shelf, close the door, and lower temperature to 325 degrees. Don't open the door again until it's the minimum bake time.


If this appears better but not ideal, the next time preheat to 325 and after the brownies go in (middle shelf) turn the thermostat down to 300 degrees.


Cake mixes are formulated to handle a wide range of consumer abuse, which is probably why you don't find this happening as much with a mix. 


As I stated tonight in another post, I'm not an expert but I worked for an appliance company testing ovens.


Mimi

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

I'll give it a try, it can't hurt. :D

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Based on the images, your brownies are definately baking too quickly.  Which would be a clear indication of a heat setting that is too high for all factors involved (recipe, type of vessel used, hydration of the brownie mix, design of the oven cavity, etc.)


Baked goods cook from the outside toward the center.  Without an accurate oven thermometer you can only guess and you can't develop a meaningful plan based on guesses.  Start with a careful examination of you oven's ability to establish and maintain a proper heat range (once it's preheated it should vary no more than 25 degrees above or below the temperature you set) and once you've got that data down try adjusting heat settings so that the brownies bake more slowly and, hopefully, more evenly.


Every super market in my region has oven thermometers in their cooking accessories section.

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

My local grocery store is supposed to carry oven thermometers, but they have been "temporarily out of stock" for 3 years. There are three Walmarts in my area, none of which have them on the shelves when I'm there, the department stores (Sears, The Bay) don't carry them, or so the sales clerk has told me.


There is one more place to check, their online page is saying they have them in stock for $9. As soon as my son is over his flu and back to school I'll be able to get up there and get one. Then no more guessing. :)


I just assumed that if it happened at lower temps as weel then it isn't a "too hot oven" problem.


 

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

A baking stone will help to moderate temperature swings in your oven.  I've found that I no longer need to rotate trays of cookies and everything bakes more evenly if I leave the stone in while baking other things.

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

I have a stone, I've never gotten it out of the package. I'm slightly intimidated by how you're supposed to handle them, so I never tried.  I'm a big wuss. :D

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Caution  -  the stone can be left in the oven but when baking in a pan be sure not to place the pan on the stone during baking.

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Unless you're having a problem with things baking faster on top than on the bottom, such as pies.


I put my pyrex pie plate on the stone and it helped even out the top/bottom baking time difference.


Not cold from the fridge onto the hot stone!  I don't chill my pie plate (some people swear by it) and I let it heat up about 5 mins in the oven before moving it to the stone.

yy's picture
yy

how are you greasing your pan? it's just strange that there's such a sudden transition from your shiny brownie top to the darker edges, as if something spilled on the parts that look darker. I would think if it was cooking unevenly that there would be a more gradual appearance.

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

I've been using either Pam for baking or Whilton's non stick baking spray. But this particular batch I used butter as I has some on hand and none of the baking spray.


I assumed they'd be burned if it was too hot, but they aren't.

yy's picture
yy

another question: do you notice any bubbling around the edges of the pan while the brownies are baking?

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

I haven't noticed any bubbling, but I haven't watched too closely while they are baking.


This has been happening for a few years, but only in the past 2 months has it *really* bothered me enough to ask what might be wrong.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and adjust shelf so the pan top edge is at the mid line of the oven.  Also try not to crowd the batter to the edges of the pan.  Leave a space if you can of about 1/2" for the dough to swell and fill.  This applies to most bar cookies as well,  like chocolate chip cookie dough done all at once in a pan.  What happens is that the edges melt and go fluid expanding the only way they can (up) before the rest of the middle dough melts.  Get all of the dough to melt at the same time, will give a more uniform surface.   Almost impossible but a space helps and so does preheating the oven.  Like with pie crusts, a aluminum foil strip can frame the top edge of the pan but most skip that extra step.  I not only grease the pan but dust it with bread crumbs or grated nuts as well.  


Fudge Brownies do sink in the middle. :)

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

This is where I bake my brownies in the oven, on the upper rack:



is this the middle of the oven or the upper rack?


 


I have been getting the batter to the edges, and I always preheat. I haven't changed anything that I've been doing for the past 18 years, but only in the past 3 has this been happening..

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

so that the top edge of the pan is in the exact middle.  :)

swtgran's picture
swtgran

Years ago, brownie mixes directed you to grease only the bottom of the pan.  That is what I do now.  I don't know the reason for this, but supposed it was so the edges could cling to the sides and climb as the brownies baked.  I usually bake the cake like brownies and bake at 325 degrees instead of 350 degrees.  It takes longer to bake but I don't seem to have that probem with mixes or homemade or the fudgy brownies.

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

Hmm..


 


I'll try this the next time. Do the brownies stick to the sides of the pan?

Leisesturm's picture
Leisesturm

FWIW I definitely think your oven is too hot. At least 50 degrees by the look of things. Ovens can and do vary by that much. Mine runs about 25 degrees cool though. Oven (and refrigerator) thermometers are available in the kitchen gadget section of any supermarket chain you can think of. I think obtaining one should be the beginining of your efforts to track down the problem. Glass or light colored metal should result in less heat applied and are also a step in the right direction. I always grease my brownie pans up the sides (commercial mix) and have never had a problem doing so. This may not be everyone's problem but mine is overmixing. Overmixed brownies rise too much (cakey). I have to fight hard to resist the urge to overmix brownie batter. When I am successful (more and more) my brownies are sublime and my wife is happy. That makes me happy. YMMV.


 


H

CoveredInFlour's picture
CoveredInFlour

I found one today, they were just restocking the shelves- they only get 6 per shipment, so that might explain why I couldn't find them before.


Anyway, I tried it. Preheated 350F oven registers 275F, 450F registers 425F. Even if the first measurement was a bit off if the thermometer was colder than the oven as I just got it home, the second measurement 5 minutes later would have been accurate,


So I'm not running hotter, which in a way is a relief. Now if I could just figure out that the heck is wrong with the brownies..

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

You probably want to leave the oven at the same temp for at least 20 minutes to be sure it's stabilized before checking the thermometer reading.

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

One cause of sinking in the middle is too much leavening.  Others are using flour that is too weak or undermixing, neither of which is normally a problem with Brownies, because you don't want too much structure.  But these are things that might have changed without your thinking it signficiant.  Have the brands you used changed?


Also, be aware the different cocoas respond differently to the banking soda.  Natural cocoa is acidic and will react with the baking soda to produce carbon dioxide.  Dutched cocoa is not acidic and will not react.  Are you sure you're using consistent brands?


Also, the photo makes it look like the pan is very deep.  Is it?


Another technique you can use to keep the edges from cooking too fast (if that's what happening) is to use these Magic-cake strips; you soak them in water and wrap them around the circumference of the pan.  I do this, and it keeps the edges from getting hard.


Based purely on your description of the edges "curling" over onto the middle, I'd guess a leavening problem...the middle bulges early in the baking and collapses, allowing the batter on the outside to curl on top of the middle.  If this sounds at all like what you're witnessing, you might reduce the baking soda.

Erica's picture
Erica

Try placing the baking dish at the first third of the oven..


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