I’m standing in my kitchen aiming a hairdryer at a pan of uncooked brownie batter, and feeling like I might have finally lost my mind. I’ve done a lot of strange things in pursuit of recipe perfection, but even for me, this is an odd one.
Brownies are a funny old beast. We think of them as quite straightforward, both in the making and in the eating. But actually, that’s not fair. There are countless variables which can produce anything from a dry chocolate cake to uncooked fudge. And – more importantly – for a glorified traybake, they’re pretty damn expensive to make. A whole pat of butter, lots of chocolate, anything from three to five eggs, a boatload of sugar, rarely simple granulated. It’s a commitment.
So I knew that if I was going to give a recipe for brownies, it had to be a good one. I approached this with the kind of diligence and professionalism that repeatedly making delicious chocolatey treats demands. I whisked and I folded, I melted and I cooled. I went to sleep thinking about brownies and woke up convinced I’d had some kind of epiphany overnight. I tried countless recipes and methods. I read forums and blogs. And that’s how I came across the hair dryer method.
Courtesy of a smart cookie called Aurelia Lambrechts, this method takes a small amount of milk chocolate, chops it finely, sprinkles it over the uncooked brownie batter, and blasts it with a hairdryer. It’s to do with the soy lechithin and milk solids in the milk chocolate, and it ensures that – no matter how you like your brownie – you end up with a perfect glossy, shiny and taut top. You can use this method with any brownie recipe you like, just add the milk chocolate at the end and take aim with your hairdryer.
Of course, to make a fantastic brownie, you don’t need to wield a hairdryer, and I’m evangelical about this bake in its own right. Follow this recipe, omitting the grooming apparatus, and you will have a fudgy, slightly chewy brownie, studded with pecans, that will make you the most popular person in any room. It’s dark and rich, soft and yielding in the middle with gorgeous, crusted corner pieces (my favourite bit). But it would be remiss of me, having tested the hairdryer method not to share with you its brilliant success.
Perfect chocolate brownies
Makes: 12 large chocolate brownies
Takes: 15 minutes
Bakes: 30 minutes
250g salted butter
150g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
250g light brown sugar
85g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
For the topping
30g milk chocolate
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a rectangular tray measuring approximately 20 x 30cm with a long strip of baking paper that overhangs at each end of the tray, just shy of the width of the pan.
2. Melt the butter and both types of chocolate together in a medium-sized pan over a very gentle heat, and once completely melted, set to one side to cool for a couple of minutes.
3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together until increased in volume and lighter in colour. Pour the chocolate butter mixture into the eggs and sugar, and stir to combine. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and fold into the mix, followed by the chopped pecans. Pour into the prepared tin.
4. Finally chop the milk chocolate for the topping. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the brownie. Using a hairdryer on the hottest temperature, but lowest power setting, gently melt the milk chocolate. When it has melted, smear the top of the mixture with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes.
5. Allow to cool completely before removing from the tin, and cutting – for the neatest squares, use a hot knife.