One of my favorite desserts is a brownie. Flaky tops that crumble when you bite? Soft centers that melt in your mouth? And those chewy edges so idolized someone invented a gadget to ensure every piece has an edge? My mouth waters just hearing the word. The problem is I’ve never come across a homemade brownie I like as well as a box mix.

I have several grievances with homemade brownies: the chocolate is too bitter, the texture is either spongey like a cake or crumbly like a bar, and the tops lack that paper-thin, almost-separate flaky layer I love so much. Perhaps preferring a box mix indicates an unsophisticated palette, but I like what I like, and I’m determined to find a homemade brownie recipe on par with a box mix.

The recipe I chose was written by Alton Brown, and if there’s anyone from television I can trust, it’s him. I’m skeptical from the start because the ingredient list doesn’t include oil, which is integral to all box mixes. I was tempted to add some because I think it’s responsible for the desirable gooey center, but if I’m going to find a box replica, it’s important to maintain the integrity of the recipe before making any alterations. Also, I’m not sure I’m qualified to make alterations. And I can’t argue with Alton.

There was little to note concerning the recipe; it’s fairly straightforward and simple. Although I did get to use the whisk attachment on my stand mixer, which is equal parts rare and exciting. (The pandemic has lowered the bar for excitement significantly.) The recipe also called for sifted dry ingredients. My dad, the best baker I personally know, tells me I should sift dry ingredients every time I bake, but not often do you find a recipe that actually instructs you to sift. Come to think of it, this is only the third recipe I’ve made that calls for sifted ingredients. And of those three, two of them were written by Alton Brown. My dad may have a point. Anyway, moving on from this disheveled paragraph, if all this rambling can even be considered one.

An episode of Jane the Virgin later (I highly recommend), I opened the oven to find a less-than-flaky top, and was utterly disappointed. A toothpick test told me the brownies were finished, so I set the pan of sadness on the counter to cool and waited until the next morning to taste. Something about a brownie binge at 10 o’clock p.m. feels like a cry for help. I got ready for bed and pondered my new-found appreciation for Pillsbury.

The result the next morning, however, was a sweet surprise: I liked the brownie! I grabbed an edge piece (duh) and thanked Alton for his contribution to both society and my life. Was it box-caliber? No. But the top was sort of flaky, the center was soft, and the edge was chewy, so I didn’t throw it away.

Although I was pleasantly surprised, this isn’t the recipe I’m searching for. I’m after a flakier top and a gooier center. I will give it brownie points (sorry, I had to) for its edges, though.

This particular brownie would be best served with a drizzle of raspberry sauce and a side of ice cream, but I want one so super it doesn’t need sidekicks. The quest continues.

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