In 2021, Cargill conducted a proprietary survey called ChocoLogic™ to measure consumer preferences, motivations and attitudes towards chocolate on its own, as well as when integrated into applications such as baking. Cargill collected responses from more than 600 top grocery shoppers in the United States. For most of these consumers, chocolate flavors are their first choice. Eight in 10 consumers choose chocolate flavored pastries like brownies at least half the time.
The study also explored how various claims resonated with consumers when purchasing chocolate flavored products. Cargill has found that simple, more familiar claims such as “made with real chocolate” and “no artificial ingredients” have risen to the top.
“Our survey also revealed that interest in premium chocolate remains high, with cocoa content and provenance claims among the attributes consumers use to judge quality,” said Gretchen Hadden, Marketing Manager , Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate North America. “For brownies, bakers can leverage this information by highlighting these attributes on the packaging. To further enhance the indulgent experience, bakers can romanticize the way they describe chocolate ingredients for extra shelf impact.
The perfect brownie lies in the eye of the beholder. Some prefer light and cake; others enjoy a chewy, melty treat. For extra indulgence, bakers can double (or triple) the level of chocolate, wrap inclusions, mix in caramel, or add a mouth-watering topping (or two). As bakers set out to mix their next batch, here are some tips from Cargill:
- Pay attention to the size of the sugar granulation as it can have a huge impact on the final texture and appearance of the brownie.
- If you’re aiming for a more cake-like brownie, regular granulated sugar is for you. If you want even more volume, add a small amount of dextrose alongside the granulated sugar for brownies with a bit more height.
- However, if the goal is a soft, gooey brownie, you’ll want to use sugar with a finer granulation – either a Baker’s Special sugar or opt for a combination of regular granulated sugar with powdered sugar. The finer grit will also provide a sweet, flinty crust on top.
- The volume of eggs included in the formula also plays an outsized role in the final texture of the brownie. Recipes with more eggs will have more volume and look more like a cake. Bring the eggs back and you’ll have a richer, fudgier brownie.
- Yeast choices also impact volume. For the more fudge brownie, you’ll want to use a small amount of baking soda. For a cakeier finished product, use a little more baking soda or opt for baking powder.
One of the most important decisions concerns the selection of cocoa. A natural cocoa will result in brownies with a lighter color, according to Cargill. To achieve the rich chocolate color that consumers typically associate with decadent brownies, bakers will want to use an alkalized cocoa.
For an even richer chocolate flavor, consider incorporating Cargill’s Wilbur® Duet™ into the formula. Wilbur Duet works like cocoa powder, but includes ground chocolate liquor, for a more intense chocolate flavor experience.
However, you will still want to include cocoa powder in the recipe to achieve a rich, dark brownie color. I often use one-third Wilbur Duet, two-thirds cocoa powder in my recipes. This approach gives you the best of both worlds: the richer flavor of chocolate liquor and the deep melting color of alkalized cocoa.
Beyond ingredient selection, bakers also need to be careful about mixing, according to Cargill. Here, less is more. Most brownie recipes only require a short mix – you just want to put it all together. Too much mixture and the brownies will lose their flint coating.
“Finally, brownie batter is a great vehicle for inclusions like chocolate chunks or nuts. It’s usually thick enough to hold the inclusions and keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter. Just be sure to add them at the very end, so they don’t get damaged during mixing,” says Tim Christensen, Certified Master Baker, Cargill.
The right oil
Achieving fudgy brownies takes a combination of the right oil and the right technique, says Roger Daniels, vice president of research, development, innovation and quality at Stratas Foods.
“One secret is to replace any solid fat shortening with high oleic soybean oil. High oleic soybean oil releases the fudgy out of fudgy brownies,” he shares. When the goal is to make dense, gooey brownies, air is the enemy.At Stratas Foods, LLC, our advice is to use a high quality oil like high oleic soybean oil. from Stratas and use a sufficient folding mixing process to simply combine the brownie ingredients.
High oleic soybean oil does not have the body of a solid fat type shortening. It does not contribute to building the structure of a baked product. As such, it minimizes the formation of air cells in your brownies.
Using this idea coupled with care in your process to fold the brownie ingredients together without over-mixing is the secret to achieving your desired brownie texture, Daniels explains.
Specifically, these two components, ingredient selection and process, prevent excessive air entrapment in the mix. Without air expansion in the oven, the brownies won’t puff up as much. The result is dense, gooey brownies.
Replacing a solid fat type shortening with oil, however, has benefits beyond the texture of the final product. Typically, an oil contains less saturated fat, which results in a more neutral flavor, allowing your chocolate and cocoa powder flavors to take center stage.
“Plus, using a high-oleic oil, which is more stable than other oils, can extend the shelf life of brownies by a day or two,” Daniels adds. “High oleic soybean oil also has more monounsaturated fats (the healthy fats) and less polyunsaturated fats, so it’s the healthier option when choosing oils.”
Vegetable oil options
Vegetable oil is the best oil to use at home and in a bakery if you expect the brownies to be consumed in 5 days or less, points out Daniels. Vegetable oil is derived from soybeans and as such is sometimes also called soybean oil.
In the preparation of brownies, oil is used to help fold the ingredients together and provide moisture to the finished brownie. The main reason vegetable oil is recommended is that the oil has a bland or neutral flavor, which helps bring out the benefits of the other ingredients.
If a bakery is making brownies that require a shelf life longer than 5 days, one option to consider is a more robust form of vegetable oil known in the food industry as high oleic soybean oil. This oil has a bland flavor and was developed to be more stable than traditional vegetable oil, giving the brownie maker the confidence to meet shelf life expectations every time, Daniels says.