filling the empty nest with food

Blonde Brownie Chemistry

Have you ever gotten a craving for something, but when you go to all the trouble to bake it, it doesn’t turn out the way your taste buds were envisioning? That happened to me recently with a craving for blonde brownies. I made a pan and was so disappointed to have them turn out to be cakey and a little dry. Just when I was dreaming of a soft, chewy butterscotch bar.

Since that craving wasn’t going to be satisfied until it got the exact kind of brownie it was hoping for, I set out to figure out what had gone wrong. After comparing about 5 different recipes, I learned the secret. It’s simple, but important to keep in mind. The crackly-top-with-chewy-inside brownie had only baking soda as a leavener rather than only baking powder or a combination of baking powder and baking soda. (No, I didn’t make 5 different recipes to find this out. I cheated and read the reviews of recipes that looked likely. You probably know this, but if a recipe’s reviews are consistently positive and, especially if they’re over the top complimentary, the recipe is worth trying. And I don’t mean the reviews that say: This recipe was awesome and I followed it exactly except that I was out of this and substituted that and added a bit more of such-and-such and I didn’t have the right sized pan and my oven was on the fritz, but other than that, this is a great recipe.” What do you even do with a review like that??!!  But, I digress.)


For those of you science-minded cooks, the baking soda’s leavening properties need to mix with acidic ingredients to do their work. For this recipe, that would be brown sugar and chocolate. Baking soda neutralizes the acid and produces tenderness. Just baking powder made the bars rise too much and inhibited browning–which boosts the butterscotch-y flavor. While adding both baking powder and baking soda produced a cake-like texture. If your chemistry curiosity just lit up, check out this article in the Huffington Post. It really does matter which leavener you use.  

Otherwise, skip the chemistry lesson, bake the brownies below, and enjoy!IMG_1350

Blonde Brownies (adapted from Rhonda O’s recipe on
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 cups brown sugar (packed)
2 large eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Melt butter in a saucepan on top of the stove. Take pan off the heat. Add brown sugar and stir to combine. Let cool slightly. Add eggs and stir thoroughly. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to butter/sugar/egg batter. Add vanilla, then nuts if using. Spread batter into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top of batter. Bake at 350° for 25 – 30 minutes. Bars will be soft to the touch and barely done in the middle. That’s how they should look and will then stay soft and chewy once they cool.

If you have a reasonably-minded appetite, you can halve this recipe and bake it for about 20 minutes in an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 pan.

5 comments on “Blonde Brownie Chemistry

  1. prrecious
    March 5, 2014

    I’m making them tomorrow! Thanks. I will give them away!

    • Catherine
      March 5, 2014

      Excellent! I think you’ll make some friends that way!

  2. ruthsmason
    March 5, 2014

    Love your analysis and conclusions. I seldom crave sweets like this anymore; but, I have a good recipe for when guests are at the table! See you Sat. R.

  3. Susie Steinbach
    May 2, 2014

    I made these this week and loved them–especially appreciative of this post because not only have I had this problem, I’ve had this problem with this exact food! One problem–they were gooey enough that I had trouble cutting them neatly enough for other people to see (of course this might not be a bad thing). Any advice about how to get them to slice into neat bars? Maybe refrigerating or even freezing before slicing?

    • Catherine
      May 9, 2014

      Usually, when they’re warm they’re gooey. If they last long enough to cool, mine typically slice ok. Refrigerating might be worth a try. Good luck!

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2014 by in Butter, Desserts, Recipes and tagged , , , .

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