If your favorite brownies are like-the-boxed mix chewy gluten free brownies with that crackly top, this is your new best recipe.
How do you get that crackly top on brownies?
There’s a fair amount of disagreement on the Internet about how to get the crackly top on brownies. Everyone seems to be certain of their method, and the reasoning behind it.
If you’ve been around this blog and my recipes for a while, you know that I am all about the science of baking. I try to explain why I do just about everything I do in my recipes. I find that it’s the perfect way to show you the proper respect, and to increase the chance that you’ll follow the recipe exactly as written!
I have made this recipe many, many different ways (ask my family—they’ve been all brownie all the time recently), and this recipe, with these ingredients prepared in this way makes for chewy brownies with a crackly top. I’m certain of that. I am not, however, 100% certain of why it works.
I do know that the crackly top looks gorgeous, and is formed when a bit of the egg whites in the recipe separate from the rest of the batter. During baking, they form a very thin meringue. I believe that the meringue is formed in this recipe because it has the right balance of ingredients, but also that they’re prepared in exactly the right way.
You must melt the butter and the sugar at the start of the recipe (and allow it to cool so that mixture doesn’t cook the eggs). You also must beat the heck out of the mixture before the flours are added. Adding additional chocolate chips to the very top of the batter (I just reserve about 1/5 of the chips in the recipe) also seems to help create that meringue.
What makes brownies have that perfect chewy texture?
There are a few elements of this recipe that ensure that proper chewy texture. First, the chocolate in these brownies comes entirely from cocoa powder (other than the chocolate chips, of course). Using chopped, melted chocolate in the batter makes brownies denser and fudgier.
Second, melting the butter with the sugar, and then beating the egg-butter-sugar-cocoa powder mixture senseless helps a ton. I have found that, when I’ve mixed only by hand and not gone the extra mile and used the hand mixer to beat the batter, the brownies aren’t as chewy (and the crackly top was spotty at best).
Adding very little gluten free flour, plus lightening it with some cornstarch, also help to create a lovely chewy texture.
Ingredients and substitutions
This is the sort of recipe that is really not a great candidate for substitutions. Each ingredient was selected specifically to achieve that fudgy-but-chewy texture and the crackly top that we all (do we?) love when we make a boxed mix.
If you can’t have all of the ingredients in the recipe and would really like to try substitutes, I will provide as much information below as I can.
Dairy-free: These days, my favorite way to replace butter in bars and cookies is to substitute half of the weight of butter called for in the recipe with Earth Balance buttery sticks and the remaining half of the weight with Spectrum nonhydrogenated shortening. That tends to provide the best balance of moisture, fat, and flavor.
If you do use Earth Balance buttery sticks, omit the additional salt in the recipe, though. That product is suuuuper salty already. If you’re dairy-free, be sure you’re also using dairy-free semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Egg-free: There are only 2 eggs in this recipe, so your favorite egg substitute might work—but you won’t get the exact chewy texture and you won’t get the crackly top. My favorite egg substitute (for effectiveness and ease) is a “chia egg,” so maybe try that?
Corn-free: This one is actually quite easy. Just use arrowroot in place of cornstarch. Side note: If you are using Cup4Cup flour blend as your all purpose gluten free flour, just replace the cornstarch with that much more flour, gram for gram.
Chewy Gluten Free Brownies
9 tablespoons (126 g) unsalted butter, chopped
1 1/4 cups (250 g) granulated sugar
2 eggs (100 g, weighed out of shell), at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (80 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-processed)
1/3 cup (47 g) all purpose gluten free flour (I used Better Batter)
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your blend already contains it)
2 tablespoons (18 g) cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat your oven to 325°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick aluminum foil (or line with regular aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray). Set the pan aside. In a small saucepan, place the butter and sugar, and place over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until melted and simmering. Remove the saucepan from the heat and set it aside to cool until no longer hot to the touch. Alternatively, place the bottom of the saucepan in a bowl of cool water to speed the cooling process, but make sure the butter does not solidify.
In a large bowl, place the eggs and vanilla, and whisk until well-beaten and combined. Add the melted and cooled butter and sugar to the bowl slowly, whisking constantly. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the cocoa powder has been absorbed. Using a handheld mixer, beat until very well-combined. Add the flour, xanthan gum, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt, and mix with a silicone spatula or spoon until just combined. Add about 4 ounces of the chocolate chips and mix until just evenly distributed throughout the batter. The batter will be thick and sticky.
Transfer the brownie batter to the prepared pan and, using an offset or silicone spatula, spread into an even layer. It helps to moisten the tool you are using to smooth the top a bit to prevent it from sticking. Scatter the remaining chocolate chips evenly over the top of the brownie batter and bang the pan firmly on the countertop to help the chips adhere. Place in the center of the preheated oven and bake just until the brownies are no longer wet in the center, about 28 minutes. The center may dome during baking, but the brownies will settle as they cool.
Remove the brownies from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan at room temperature until the pan is no longer hot to the touch. For clean lines when you slice the brownies, place the brownies, still in the pan, in the refrigerator to chill for about an hour before removing them from the pan, peeling away the foil, slicing, and serving. These freeze incredibly well.