Thin shiny crust brownie

I have some leftover chocolate powder at home, made Alice Medrich’s brownie, highly recommended by @Rooster a while ago. It was okay, I baked it longer than the time indicated, but didn’t have the thin shiny crust I was looking for. (It had a dull matte surface). I re-examined the recipe photo, it didn’t have that thin sheet of crust like the photo below. I’m no brownie expert, made maybe 3 times in my life, wandering if one needs higher temperature to achieve this?

Is a thin crust reserved for cakey and not fudgy brownie? TIA.


(photo credit: https://www.seriouseats.com/bravetart-glossy-fudge-brownies)

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I think the glossy crust has more to do with the fat used (oil vs butter) than the overall texture. Brownies from a box, which nearly always call for oil, also nearly always have that thin glossy layer on top. The Serious Eats link you included also mentions that the way the eggs are whipped contributes to the top layer.

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The recipe from Tartine always gives me that crust. I have read a lot about this topic and I dont think there is a scientific consensus yet. The popular theories are that it’s melted chocolate, whipped egg meringueness, or dissolved sugar. I have empirically found the crust forms less with just cocoa powder. (Versus chocolate or cocoa/chocolate combination)

Further reading: https://www.thepancakeprincess.com/2018/05/14/best-brownie-bake-off/

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Now you mentioned Tartine… Napa Valley’s Model bakery achieved this close enough. Made this long time ago.

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My favorite recipe.

I don’t recall where I read this, but I do distinctly recall reading it - white sugar gives you the crackly, glossy crust, turbinado (or natural or anything with some molasses) does not.

This proved true when I made them over and over, so I now I stock regular white sugar just for baking.

Actually I just looked at that bake-off, and my brownies from Alice Medrich’s recipe don’t look like hers at all - they look like several of the others (Tartine, Baked, Bravetart, etc) with glossy, crackly tops.

When you say it was “okay” - aside from the crust, what didn’t you like?

If you have a brownie type you enjoy, it may just be about picking the right recipe for that type of result. This one is fudgy not cakey, with deep chocolate flavor from the cocoa.

My adjustments: a bit of baking powder to lighten the texture just slightly, rounding down the butter to 8T (which is 1 U.S. stick, rather than the 10T called for, because it annoys me to cut into another stick), and chocolate chips mixed in (old college habit).

Have you ever tried without these and still had the crust?

Yes

The chips are usually a last-minute mix-in, and I only use them sometimes

The sugar is what makes the difference for me

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My Medrichs usually come out like the Princess, SK, Food52, and @naf ; there isn’t a well-defined, shiny crust. Hmmm…

Are you microwaving or double boilering?

You got the crusts when using the full amount of butter, too, right?

I’ll have to check my notes, maybe I started reducing the sugar on recent batches.

@naf, did the flavor improve on subsequent days?

I added 10 more minutes of cooking, so it was slightly too cooked for me.

Very strange, the mixture became black after mixing in the Kitchen Aid. I used half white sugar and half cane sugar.

Before cooking:

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Heated up the butter slightly with sugar in MW.

All gone the first day.

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Adam Ragusea covered brownies with thin, shiny crust in the below video:

I haven’t tried his recipe/technique but he summarizes his conclusions up front then explains the processes he used to arrive at it for the rest of the video if you don’t want to watch the whole thing.

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I’ve done both, but these days mostly microwave.

Yes

Here, I dug up some pictures.

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image

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Here is Smitten Kitchens writeup of Alice Medrich’s recipe - mainly she uses the microwave for melting.

With all brownies, the only think I don’t skimp on is the instruction from “the box” - ie the brownie mixes that we used back in college: 40 strokes before baking (and before adding any mix-ins).

(I haven’t seen any analysis of what that does, but it’s possible that it’s what others achieve by creaming first.)

What cocoa did you use?

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Valrhona cocoa powder

The Dutch processed will give you darker brownies like in the food52 picture and yours.

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Yup. That’s why I asked.

Might have affected texture as well.

Sorry, in the US we may have differing terminology.

By white sugar, do you mean beet sugar? Over here, most sugar sold in supermarkets is sourced from cane and is “white”. Darker sugars like “raw”/turbinado are becoming increasingly popular, however.

I mean, I gotta ask - why on earth wouldn’t he halve the recipe to 1 egg for his experiments and conserve ingredients.

Batch size doesn’t affect the “skin.” Sigh.

ETA:
I did wonder if my 40 strokes was part of the difference, which this confirms because that definitely helps dissolve the sugar. Also, turbinado crystals are bigger than white sugar (in the US), so that explains my own experiences as well.

The most interesting bit to me was where he just rests the batter - now I know how to save myself the 40 strokes. But… brownies are usually a last-minute dessert for me, so I guess not.

@naf - Try again, with a half batch!

Here, we use the term caster sugar. Yes it’s usually made of beetroot.

Sorry for the confusion. By cane sugar, I meant cassonade, which is brown sugar or raw cane sugar. Here, raw cane sugar becomes so fashionable and « healthy », white refined caster sugar is sometimes difficult to find in normal supermarket.

That’s a good question (especially if he did 50 batches or whatever he said). If I were to guess it may be because it’s hard to find a half size brownie pan and he wanted to emulate the common baking conditions in trying to isolate what causes the skin. Then again, I’m not an apologist for the guy and I haven’t tried the recipe so I’m inclined to think it was a bit wasteful, too.