How to make brownies with shiny crust: the surprising secret ingredient

Inquiring bakers want to know: what’s the secret to making brownies with shiny crust?

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Some brownies have a dull, matte-brown crust.

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And some brownies have a a mere glimmer of satiny sheen.

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But some brownies have an ethereally delicate top crust, a series of whorls and ridges that shatter with every bite, showering lighter-than-air chocolate flakes onto plate and counter.

How do you attain this elegant/attractive crust? I discovered the answer, but not before baking multiple batches of brownies over a couple of days.

Oh, the trials and torture we go through for you, dear reader! Suffice it to say, my neighbors – plus the car repair guys down the street, AND my pals at Titcomb’s Bookshop – are very happy right now.

Without further ado, here’s my secret to brownies with shiny crust.

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Chocolate chips.

I start the shiny crust quest with our Fudge Brownies recipe, which makes a reliably shiny crust every time.

Wanting to discover the science behind the shine, I Google “brownies with shiny crust.” And come upon several sources in agreement with one another: shiny crust is the result of dissolved sugar and egg migrating to the brownies’ surface as they bake, where the sugar melts and becomes shiny; and the egg white joins the sugar to form a very thin, delicate layer of meringue.

Thus the successful brownie’s signature shiny/delicate/flaky top crust.

Some bakers say the key to making brownies with shiny crust is dissolving the sugar in melted butter before adding; others call for several minutes of beating, to make sure sugar and egg are fully combined.

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So I devise a series of tests.

I won’t bore you with their exact nature; suffice it to say they’re a combination of hot melted butter vs. cold butter; 5 minutes of beating vs. no beating at all; and adding the eggs at different points in the process.

I do the tests. It takes a good day and a half. And guess what?

EVERY BATCH OF BROWNIES I MAKE HAS A DULL CRUST.

So, back to square one. I re-read my original recipe, a recipe I’ve made upwards of 100 times. Why are my brownies suddenly dull as dishwater?

Wait a minute. Could it be…? The final ingredient in the recipe is “2 cups chocolate chips.” I’d been leaving the chips out, to save money. Could the chocolate chips lend just enough additional fat and sugar to the batter to produce that elusive shiny crust?

Once more into the fray. I follow the recipe exactly, mixing eggs with cocoa, baking powder, salt, vanilla, and espresso powder as I heat the butter and sugar; then adding the hot mixture to the eggs along with the flour.

I divide the batter in half: chocolate chips in one half, none in the other. Spoon the batter into two pans. Bake. Apprehensively peek into the oven. PLEASE let me get some closure here…

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Eureka! No chips on the left: dull crust. Chips on the right: shiny crust.

I feel obliged to do one more test. Does length of beating – or heating butter with sugar – have any effect on crust? Or is it strictly the chips?

Our Quick and Easy Fudge Brownies recipe is a simple stir-together affair, no beating involved. And while it uses melted butter, there’s no attempt to dissolve the sugar.

Will adding chips to a different recipe make brownies with shiny crust?

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Yes indeed.

While not as pronounced, the chips definitely add shine to that top crust, don’t they? And I suspect heating the butter with the sugar, and beating the batter, would produce even more shine.

Are chocolate chips the answer, or will melting solid chocolate into the batter work just as well? What if you simply increase the sugar and butter – will that work?

These are tests for another day. I urge you to try your own experiments around brownies with shiny crust, and report your results here (in comments, below).

In the meantime, though –

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Shine on!

.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Angela

    pls consider adding a note to the various brownie recipes on this site that the ingredient optional chocolate chips contribute to shiny crust.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Angela

    I’ve tried several of your fudgy brownie recipes and all are delicious thank you! When incorporating your shiny crust tips into the brownie recipes, it seems like they fit best into the first fudgy brownie recipe on your site (the one that calls for mixing eggs and cocoa first, then melting sugar and butter).

    Just wanted to add (since that many of the recipe comments concern issues with timing and measuring along with shiny top issues):

    1. in a breville large toaster oven, convection setting, my shiny crust is diminished, so I stick to conventional setting. ( I use a Chicago metallic nine inch square pan lined with KA parchment). Even in conventional setting, and even accounting for pan darkness, the cooking time is seriously diminished (I check at 18 minutes and pull out at 22-23 minutes which yields a very fudgy brownie once cooled), but there is a shiny crust.

    2. Also, I believe that somewhere, possibly in another blog on shiny crust, there is a recommendation to stir the melted butter and sugar mixture until combined evenly and then continue to heat until butter is much hotter than 120 F.

    I then wait, until the mixture is cooler, to add in the egg and cocoa mixture (because of fear of scrambling). But I do add the chocolate chips when the butter sugar mixture is still hot. Otherwise, my shiny crust is interrupted by chips migrating to the surface but not melting. I could bake the pan longer to melt the chips, but I like a very fudgy brownie.

    Thank you again!

    Reply

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