When I first started by blog I wrote a post with some of my well-loved baking tips and tricks, though those were mostly geared towards baking cookies. Since then I have been obsessed with making bars and brownies, as they really are my preference, just so much more to sink my teeth into! Don’t get me wrong, a good cookie is still a good cookie, but my first love will always be those thick and dense dessert bars and brownies, and in actuality many bars (not brownies) are simply an adaptation of your favorite cookie recipes. If you are looking for a dessert that impresses the crowd, try a layered bar or an ultra-thick brownie recipe with these tips:
- My #1 tool in the kitchen is a high-temp rubber spatula, I’d be lost without it! I personally use Pampered Chef ones, the traditional white ones, but I know a couple other companies out there make similar rubber spatulas. You want to make sure that the rubber part is study, but still nice and flexible and that it can hold up to high temps. I don’t even think twice about leaving mine in a pot of boiling caramel as I know it can handle it.
- Parchment paper is my #2 weapon and is far superior to wax paper. In fact, I only use wax paper when I need a clean cutting surface or for storage purposes. I NEVER use it for baking, candy making, etc…I’ve had one too many horror stories using it and it burns so easily in the oven. Use Parchment paper to line your cookie sheets, brownies pans, cake pans, caramel pans, etc… I’ve never had it fail on me.
- Speaking of parchment paper, this is exactly how I get great bars and brownies every time! Whatever pan I am using, I make sure to line the bottom and 2 of the sides (so cut a piece long enough to go up the sides a little) with parchment paper, and the other 2 sides I use butter or or cooking spray. Once in a while I do the “grease and flour” non-stick method, but I find that it leaves a white flour residue on my brownies that isn’t always the most attractive, though it works just fine and does save money vs. buying parchment paper.
- Getting THICK bars (the ones pictured are 2 inches tall at the edges) …is easier then you think! I use an 8 x 4.5 bread pan for all of my bars, but use a FULL recipe to fill them. So for all recipes calling for an 8×8 pan, I stuff it into a bread pan! For the 9×13 recipes I cut it in half, and it fits perfect in the bread pan. If you plan on doing this, make sure to keep an eye out on the timer, as it may take a longer to cook due to the batter being thicker. However, I always under-estimate the time and check every few minutes, just to be safe
- Those beautiful layers. I don;t know about you, but layered brownies IMPRESS me. They just look so fancy and elegant, almost too pretty to eat sometimes! If you’ve never done this before, it isn’t as hard as it looks, but you do need to remember a couple things.
- 1) Your bottom layer needs to be at least 1/2 way cooked before you place the “middle” layer on top of it. If it’s not, it may come out undercooked. For whatever reason, once you place your middle and top layer into the pan, it’s almost as if the bottom stops cooking.
- 2)Be prepared for this en devour to take almost twice as long to cook as a normal flat pan of brownies, maybe even longer. Once you add in the “middle” and top layers (they usually cook together), it will normally take just as long to cook as the bottom did. So those bars pictured there, those took about 50 minutes to bake. Again, I used a recipe meant for an 8×8 pan, which said to cook them for 25 minutes. So with an 8×4.5 pan and 3 layers, it took 50 minutes.
- 3) Think about how you want the final product to look, as that will determine how things are layered in the “middle” if there is more then 1 item to be added. For example, in the brownies I used the middle layer consists of pecans, caramel, and chocolate chips. Caramel is VERY hot when “cooking” so I knew if I put the chocolate chips underneath it, I’d probably end up with more of a “puddle” of chocolate rather then the “chip” shape. I knew the nuts would be ok though, and mixed in with the caramel they would look really nice plus add some visible “height” to the layer, so I layered the middle as such: pecans fist, then my caramel, lastly my chocolate chips.
- Patience is the key. Bars and brownies require much more patience then cookies in the sense that they take so much longer to cool! If you want that “perfect cut” with no crumbs, the bars MUST be completely cooled before you go at it. In fact, it could be an all-day affair and I always make my bars they day before they are needed. I allow them to cool on the counter for at least 2 hours, then I place them in the fridge for at least another 2 hours. I admit then when in a hurry I have placed them in a freezer, but if you have the time, stick to the fridge. Once they are well chilled, use a clean and sharp cleaver to cut into them. You could use a sharp knife as well, but I prefer the cleaver as it has a a nice long and tall blade, allowing me to cut the entire bread-pan batch in half in one slice.
- Looking for a good and cheap cleaver? Try your local Asian store, no kidding. They all have a knife/bowls/spoons section and the prices are cheap. The ones we use are between $5-$10 a piece and I have no complaints, they are great for so many things! In fact, that’s all I use in the kitchen for dicing, chopping, scraping veggies off the cutting board, etc…
- Making these as a gift? I suggest not even cutting the bars if possible, as un-cut bars will stay the freshest. This way they also fit inside the small flat-rate priority mail boxes the post office now offers, making it more affordable to send then normal priority mail as bars & brownies can get quite heavy! When they are completely cool, at least a few hours later, Wrap them in wax or foil paper, then tighly seal them in a ziploc bag or wrap them in cling-wrap. If you have a heat-sealer, use that. Stored this way most bars and brownies will still taste great at least a week later, plenty of time for loved ones to enjoy if you send them via priority mail 🙂
Hopefully a few of these tips will help you turn out some great LOOKING, as well as nummy tasting bars and brownies! They make great gifts and look scrumptious on a party tray, I guarentee you’ll get quite a few “ooohhh’s” and “aaahhh’s” along with many requests for your “secret” recipe 😉