The day after Cookulus appeared in the app store we got our first recipe request – for brownies. We’d already started on a master brownie recipe, but it was going to take a few weeks to perfect, so we thought we might stave your brownie hunger with a blog, a diary that would show you how we develop recipes in general, and give us a way to find out just what you’d like to see in the ultimate brownie recipe.
Our first step is to come up with a standard recipe that will become a centerpiece for the parametric sliders, what we call 0-0-0. So about a week ago we started to comb through dozens of brownie recipes in cookbooks, on the internet, in magazines, in our recipe files, and in the files, cookbooks, and kitchen drawers of our friends and family. We came up with 23 recipes. Most were standard classic brownies, but we also went for those that claimed to embody key components of brownieness – chewy, gooey, crackled top, pudgy center. We also included those that pushed the envelope – healthy, lite, dark, dank, ugly (at this point in the process we try to stay open minded).
In order to compare them directly we have to standardize all of their measurements. For brownies (as with most baking recipes) this means dividing or multiplying ingredients by factors that result in each recipe having the same number of whole eggs. Early on at Cookulus we decided that one of our cardinal rules in recipe writing was that no matter how much a slider manipulated a recipe you should never end up with a fraction of an egg. The large egg thereby became Cookulus’ standard unit of measurement.
So all of the recipes were divided by 2 or 3 or 5 (depending on how many eggs they called for) and then all ingredients were recalculated in grams. In order to find an average amount of each ingredient everything has to be measured in the same way. At Cookulus we chose metric measurement as our standard for recipe development because grams are really small allowing you to get pretty precise calculations.
But there was a problem. We could average the ingredients but not the method. Of the 23 brownie recipes we had there were just as many ways for mixing up the batter – creaming the butter, melting the butter, cutting the butter into the dry ingredients, not using any butter. We were stymied and very hungry. By this time we’d spent three days writing and calculating and hadn’t gotten a single bite. We decided it was time to bake something.
We picked a recipe to begin our experimentation. We liked its method because it provided a good deal of flexibility. The chocolate is melted by adding boiling water instead of sitting over a double boiler, which gave us the option for using other liquids to vary the darkness of the brownie. It called for both butter and oil ( a great way for us to manipulate chewiness), and allows for both white and brown sugar.
We baked a batch. Home run! Great crackled crust, moist interior, pretty chewy, but still a little cakey, not too fudgy – a near perfect middle-of-the-road brownie. Completely delicious and very little personality – just what we wanted for 0-0-0.
So we’ve got our mean recipe and we know what two of the sliders are going to be:
- Chewy ———Cakey
We’d love to hear your thoughts about the third. Any ideas?