Brownie S.O.S. - Common Brownie Fails And How To Fix Them

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We’ve all tried our fair share of not-up-to-scratch brownies, but when you invest time and money into baking your own, it can be frustrating when they let you down or don't go according to plan.

As a professional baker, I can assure you that it probably isn't your fault - baking is a science, and a large number of factors play into your baking process to give you picture-perfect results. The recipe writing, equipment used, the ambient temperature, the oven temperature, the specific ingredients used - it's a minefield!

Below, we share our brownie troubleshooting guide for the most common brownie fails - what to do when your brownies just aren't behaving.

  1. My brownies are TOO DRY
  2. My brownies are TOO GOOEY
  3. My brownies are NOT CHOCOLATY ENOUGH
  4. My brownies DON'T HAVE A SHINY CRUST
  5. My brownies are TOO BITTER
  6. My brownies are SINKING

Problem 1: My brownies are DRY

A dry brownie is, IMO, a cardinal sin. It's the only type of failed brownie that will end up in my bin. Too-gooey brownies I can work with, but dried out brownies with burnt edges are a no-go for me.

If your brownies are turning out dry, it's for one of two reasons - either you’ve overcooked the brownies or there is too much flour in your recipe.

Overcooked brownies?

You can tell the difference using the edges; if they are a little burnt-looking and very dry, it’s likely that the brownies are overcooked. If the edges are overcooked but the centre is not, the temperature of your oven was too hot.

To avoid overcooking, remember that brownies will firm up A LOT once taken out of the oven; the brownie should still be wobbly in the middle when you take it out of the oven (there is a lot of butter and chocolate in the mix, both of which are basically liquid when hot, but firm when at room temperature).

To determine when it's baked, we would recommend looking for a solid crust on top of the brownie, but a good wobble in the centre when you shake the pan. 

If the middle is raw but the edges are burning, your oven is too hot. For a standard recipe, cooked in an 8 inch square tin, we'd look to cook the brownies low-and-slow - around 30 minutes at 160C.

Too much flour?

Go back to your edges - if they're not burnt, look a good colour (similar to the centre) but the brownie is too cakey and dry throughout, the recipe probably included too much flour. 

One of the key differences between a sponge cake recipe and a brownie recipe is the ratio of dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, etc) to wet ingredients (butter, eggs, etc). A sponge cake has a much higher proportion of dry ingredients than a brownie. A good brownie recipe - and by good, we mean paper-thin crinkly crust and FUDGY middle - should have a relatively small amount of the dry ingredients, ie. flour and cocoa powder. They don't need a lot of flour - the butter and chocolate, once solidified at room temperature, create the fudgy texture that we want.

If you've checked your cooking time and temperature but still can't get that fudgy centre, look at your recipe and compare it to other well-reviewed ones - I suspect that your brownies have too much flour in them.

Extra tip: adding too much sugar can make brownies more susceptible to burning, you can always cover with aluminium foil if the top is going too dark.

Problem 2: My brownies are too GOOEY

(Is there such thing?)

Honestly, there is a slim chance they are underbaked, but it's more likely that they just need to firm up in the fridge.

Our brownies are basically a chocolaty puddle when they come out the oven.

If you think about it, the ingredients that create that fudgy texture - the chocolate and butter - are completely liquid when hot, but solid at room temperature.

We would never attempt to slice a brownie less than 2-3 hours after baking - it'll be a gooey mess. For perfect, fudgy brownies, let them cool in their tin for 1-2 hours after baking, and then put them in the fridge overnight. Using a hot knife, you'll be able to slice them straight from the fridge and achieve those perfectly neat, sharp edges.

Solution: if you still think they're too soft once cooled, cook them for a few minutes longer next time. But first, pop them in the fridge overnight and have a bit of faith.

Problem 3: My brownies are NOT CHOCOLATEY ENOUGH

Perhaps the biggest offence to brownies is using just cocoa powder, and no actual chocolate. Even worse if you use low quality cocoa powder. This is where the chocolate flavour will come from.

Also, actual chocolate isn't only needed to make the brownies rich and chocolaty - it also plays a crucial role in creating the right texture. The fats in the chocolate will soldify and help the butter to create that fudgy centre.

A brownie can only be as good as the chocolate it’s made with. Make sure you use a chocolate that you would love to eat. It doesn’t have to be premium, extortionately expensive chocolate, but equally, discount supermarket own-brand chocolate isn’t going to do you any favours.

Problem 4: My brownies don't have a SHINY CRUST

Tastes good, but I WANTED A SHINY, CRINKLY CRUST!

While your brownie may taste just as good, a dull-topped brownie is never as inviting as a shiny one.

The paper-thin crinkly crust can only form if the sugar in the brownies has fully dissolved and broken down. The best way to achieve this is by making sure you thoroughly beat the sugar and the eggs. We would recommend whisking the eggs and sugar to 'ribbon stage' - this is achieved when you reach a thick, foamy consistency (and when you lift the whisk, a ribbon should form on top of the mix for a few seconds). We would recommend an electric whisk for this stage, or be prepared to go all-out with a hand whisk.

Recipes calling for melted butter also tend to give a better crust - as butter is made up of 20% water, heating it will allow the sugar to dissolve more readily.

Problem 5: My brownies are TOO BITTER

It’s worth remembering that unsweetened cocoa powder is a very bitter thing in itself. Good quality dark chocolate is also 70% cocoa solids, which most people would consider quite bitter.

Do not swap out the dark chocolate for milk chocolate - it will ruin your brownie. Even if you normally prefer eating milk chocolate, milk chocolate will not be able to impart enough chocolate flavour when combined with the other ingredients, making your brownies taste bland. Dark chocolate also plays an important role in the texture.

If you're finding your brownies too bitter, look at alternative recipes containing more sugar and / or less cocoa powder.

While less common, bitter brownies could be caused by other factors:

  • Your chocolate could have been slightly burnt - this is common if you melt your chocolate it in the microwave,
  • Your oven might have been too hot - slightly burnt edges can impart a nasty bitter taste
  • You might have used too much baking powder - leavening agents can create an acidic taste

Problem 6: My brownies are SINKING

Ah, the horrible feeling you get when you look in the oven to see the skatepark that has formed in your brownie.

WELL, most likely you just over-whisked your brownie mix. The only step that should be whisked with an electric beater is the eggs, everything else is best done by hand. This prevents the brownie from gaining too many air bubbles, aerating in the oven and then collapsing back down. 

Another common culprit is too much flour / too much leavening agent (ie. baking powder) in your recipe.

Brownies are perfect when the middle is just baked, so it sets to a fudgy, moist consistency - if your flour and baking powder are causing the edges to rise, cook and set too quickly, they will give the appearance of a sunken centre, even if the centre is perfectly cooked.