Whether they’re rich and salty or infused with cardamom, the perfect brownie should always be molten chocolate at its heart and light and sugary on the surface
It’s not difficult to see why brownies are so popular – they toe the line between gleeful, childish excess and a more acceptable strain of decadence: a Goldilocks zone between light, cocoa cakes on the one hand, and molten chocolate fondants on the other. They’re at their best when only just baked through – still warm and fragrant from the oven, densely chocolatey at their centre and rising up to a cracked, sugary crust.
Salted milk chocolate brownies
Salt and milk chocolate are made for one another. I’ve been deliberately vague in specifying the quantity of salt here because it’s important to work to your tastes: you’ll want to add more or less depending on whether you use salted or unsalted butter, and add it gradually to avoid overdoing it. Use enough salt to noticeably sharpen the mixture’s flavours (the sweetness of the brownie mixture is such that you really have to go some to over-salt it). Do be sure to use a good quality flaked sea salt for the finish and not plain table salt.
175g butter, salted or unsalted
150g milk chocolate
50g cocoa powder
200g caster sugar
3 large eggs
50g plain flour
1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt
Sea salt flakes
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 20-23cm square cake tin.
2 Melt the butter with the chocolate either in the microwave (in short bursts and with an eagle eye) or in a heatproof bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water. Once melted, sift in the cocoa powder, whisk to combine and set aside to cool slightly.
3 In a large bowl, whisk the sugar with the eggs until very thick and creamy and almost doubled in volume. This can take up to 10 minutes if doing it by hand. With an electric whisk, though, it should take 5 minutes or so.
4 Spoon the chocolate and butter mixture into the whisked eggs and gently fold together using a metal spoon or spatula. The aim here is to keep as much air in the eggs as possible – work lightly, using cutting motions in a figure of eight, and avoid beating or stirring too vigorously. Take care to dig right down to the bottom of the bowl as you mix.
5 Sift the flour into the bowl with 1/4 tsp salt and fold in. Add a little more salt to taste, if necessary. If you want to include chopped nuts, fruit or chocolate chunks, now is the time to mix those in.
6 Pour the batter into the prepared tin and sprinkle sea salt flakes over the top. Bake for 25-35 minutes, until a light crust has formed and the cake is well-risen. It may take slightly more or less time depending on how deep or shallow your tin is – just keep a close eye on it to avoid over-baking. I don’t use the usual knife test (judging whether a cake is baked by whether a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean) on a cake like this because a brownie is always better slightly underbaked.
7 Leave to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into fat squares to serve.
Gluten-free tripe chocolate marbled brownie
Blondies (white chocolate brownies) have a tendency to be cloying, so here I’ve mixed blondie and brownie batters together to give a marbled hybrid that’s the best of both worlds, with the smooth sweetness of white chocolate balancing a dark chocolate kick. The cardamom cuts through the richness with a hint of citrus, though you can swap this for vanilla extract, orange or lime zest, or even a little coffee extract if you prefer.
50g dark chocolate
50g white chocolate
80g unsalted butter, melted
100g soft light brown sugar
3 large eggs
Seeds from 5 cardamom pods, finely ground
50g caster sugar
80g white gluten-free flour
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
50g milk chocolate, chopped into small chunks
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 20cm round loose-bottom or spring-form cake tin.
2 Melt the dark and white chocolate separately, either in the microwave (carefully!) or in bowls suspended over a pan of lightly simmering water.
3 Mix the butter, brown sugar, egg yolks (reserve the whites in a separate bowl) and cardamom together, whisking until creamy and smooth. Divide this between the two chocolate bowls and stir each to combine.
4 In a large, clean mixing bowl (preferably glass or metal, which won’t retain traces of grease as readily as plastic), whisk the egg whites until they form a dense foam. Add the caster sugar a half at a time, whisking well between each addition. Continue to whisk vigorously (or languorously, if you’re using an electric hand whisk) for 5 minutes or so, until the meringue holds stiff peaks.
5 Slacken each of the white and dark chocolate mixtures with 1 tbsp of meringue then divide the remaining meringue between them, folding gently together so as not to deflate the aerated batter. Don’t overmix at this point – as soon as each of the batters is roughly combined, but still slightly streaky, sift 40g flour over each and add the cocoa powder to the dark chocolate batter. Mix lightly to combine.
6 Dollop alternating spoonfuls of the white and dark chocolate batters into the prepared cake tin and then drag a knife gently in a swirling pattern through the mixture to marble it. Scatter the milk chocolate chunks over the top and press gently into the surface.
7 Bake for around 30 minutes, or until risen and springy to the touch but still very slightly gooey in the middle. Leave to cool completely.
Brownies are at their best when only just baked through – still warm and fragrant from the oven. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian