Whole Grain Brownies: the little black dress of baking

Think about it. They both fit any occasion, from day into evening. They both dress up or down with equal aplomb. And they’re both appropriate, no matter the circumstance.

But whole grain? Isn’t that like wearing a burlap sack to the prom?

Au contraire. Not when you have the right recipe.

In the test kitchen, we’re sometimes so involved in our “mad scientist” mode, thinking up new combinations of flavors, or the next new thing as far as technique, that we forget that other people may still be looking at whole grains as punishment food. And that the wonder of white whole wheat flour may yet be undiscovered by many bakers out there.

The collective food memory of the 60s and 70s’ boat anchor bread loaves dies hard.

When PJ, Susan Miller (the head of our Baking Education Center) and I marched into the test kitchen to work on our cookbook, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, we had a singular mission in mind. Of course, it was serious business and nothing but every day.

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No recipe was good enough until it tasted great. Period. Not “great, for something made with whole grains.” No qualifiers were allowed. Along the way, we cranked out a pile of leaden loaves, rocklike crackers and sunken cakes, so you wouldn’t have to.

Every once in a while, we’d get a break during the testing process. We gradually learned how whole grains behave, and two of the guiding principles we came to trust were these: Whole grains need more moisture, and they need more time. PJ had the cookies and brownies chapter, and in the process created this classic. Like a little black dress, it’s easy to reach for. Let’s put some Whole Grain Brownies together now. You can also see a video of me making these very brownies at how2heroes.com.

Preheat your oven (350°F), and grease a 9″ x 13” pan. If you’re planning to take these brownies out on the town, I suggest you accessorize with a piece of parchment paper underneath; more about that later (and on the video).

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Place the butter and brown sugar in a large, microwaveable bowl, or in a medium saucepan. PJ decided the more assertive flavor of whole wheat was better matched with brown sugar than white. Smart lady. Melt the butter.

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Stir the mixture, then heat just until it’s hot (110°F to 120°F). This little extra bit of heat helps the sugar to dissolve, which is where the shiny crust comes from on top of your brownies. This is how the mixture looks after another 40 seconds at low power in the ‘wave.

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Off the heat, stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla.

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Here is my artsy, mirror-image photo of vanilla being added. This vanilla was from the very bottom of the bottle where the solids were, so it looks a tad cloudy in the measuring spoon.

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Stir until smooth; check that the mixture isn’t too hot: pleasantly warm to the touch is ok, but you don’t want to cook the eggs when you add them. Now add the eggs, one at a time.

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Stir between additions, and watch the texture of the batter change and get thicker.

Add the flour

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and chocolate chips. This step is where you can add your own personal touches. Mint or white chocolate chips? Sure! Peanut butter chips? Go on, turn some heads! Toffee bits? By all means.

For you raisinet fans, try a cup of dried cranberries and a cup of bittersweet chocolate chips. And don’t forget nuts! I’m fond of macadamias in brownies, when I can afford them, but walnuts or pecans are just fine, too. Add 1 cup of whatever “accessories” you choose.

I went with some chocolate chips, white chocolate chunks, and walnuts in this batch.

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Transfer the batter to the pan,

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and bake for 28 to 30 minutes.

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Test kitchen head smack here. Parchment has this annoying habit of flopping over in the oven. I know this, yet, do you think I’d remember to take proper measures to address it? Not this time.

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I can tell you, however, that if you’re planning to go this route, it’s best to collect yourself a couple of little metal alligator clips to secure the parchment to the edge of the pan.

Back to the baking. How do you know they’re done? PJ often gives her pans of brownies a “belly button”, but poking a small hole in the center to look at the texture of the brownies there. It should show wet crumbs, but not raw batter.

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Look at the edges, as well. They should be set. With whole grain brownies, you may not see a lot of “pull” from the edge of the pan, the way you’d expect to with a white flour recipe, so don’t let that fool you into overbaking. This is how the edges look after baking.

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Take the brownies out of the oven. Now for the hard part. Keeping your hands off them.

Because the true miracle of this recipe happens overnight. After the brownies are cool, cover them and let them rest at room temperature. The bran in the flour will absorb moisture overnight, and do a graceful disappearing act. Like a lot of recipes, a little rest where all the flavors can talk to each other is a good thing.

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Now, about that parchment thing. When it’s time to serve, you can pick the whole batch of brownies straight up out of the pan, and place it on a cutting board. Now you can cut out shapes to drape in chocolate (a PJ specialty), frost, or drizzle with caramel and a sprinkling of salt. Cut into diamonds for a change of pace, or sandwich a slab of your favorite ice cream between two squares for the ultimate ice cream sandwich.

Brownies are an all-occasion kind of food, and welcome everywhere. No cooking wardrobe should be without a classic recipe like this. Just like your little black dress.

Please try, rate and review our Whole Grain Brownies.

Susan Reid
About

Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently enjoying her fourth career after stints in advertising, running restaurants, and teaching at the New England Culinary Institute. She joined King Arthur in 2002 to ...

comments

  1. Erin in PA

    Yummy! I love your recipe for the “On the Fence” Brownies, but I am definitely looking forward to trying the whole grain version! :) Thanks for all the tips and photos!

    Reply
  2. KAT_D

    WOW!!! WHOLE GRAIN, WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED! These look fantastic and I can’t wait to try this recipe tomorrow. As I live alone, my friends will all get a share. They complain that I am making them all gain weight. What a way to go! Now I can tell them that these are healthier for the.

    Reply
  3. Erin in PA

    WOW! I definitely love the “On the Fence” Brownies that you talked about earlier in the Baker’s Banter blog, but I will be sure to give these a whirl – I love using whole grains where I can! I definitely need to add the KAF Whole Grains Cookbook to my Christmas Wish List! Thanks for the great info and photos – they are a tremendous help!

    Reply
  4. Cathy in MD

    Hmmm. These look great! My husband loves brownies, but fusses at me when I make them. (We’re trying to eat better.) I think whole grain brownies could fit into his/our healthier lifestyle. Thanks for the great recipe! I’m going to bake them tomorrow and sample them on Wednesday.

    You’re most welcome, Cathy. Enjoy! Susan

    Reply
  5. Laura B

    I just sent this recipe to a friend with the following note:
    These brownies are full of win. And by win, I mean 2 cups chocolate chips.

    This is one of my favorite recipes so far from the Whole Grains book. I love seeing it step-by-step! I always tell myself the whole grain flour (usually I go WW, not WhiteWW) negates the butter/fat/sugar. :) They’re not bad fresh – not at all – but the overnight rest was amazing for their texture – rich, fudgy, chocolatey… DROOL.

    Thanks for the firsthand endorsement, Laura. Susan

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  6. John

    I have been using the white whole wheat in a lot of stuff with great results. Chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, chocolate cake, zucchini bread just about all baked stuff. Maybe I have low standard and bad taste buds but I don’t get any complaints from the “testers” around here!

    As for the substitution, I just use it like regular flour, same amounts.

    The NYT no knead bread is a bit different, but that is only my most picky of testers.

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  7. carml13

    Didn’t you post on these last fall? I remember baking some as a thank you bribe for our Thanksgiving cat sitter. And playing with a pumpkin version (maybe this year i’ll get it to work.) The waiting is torture – but the brownies ARE wonderful!!

    Quite possibly, but we didn’t have the happy video to go with it, so we thought a good thing was worth repeating ;-) Susan

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  8. Monica H

    I’ve seen the clip thnig done before and I think about it everytime I line something with parchment. But I’m afraid of melting the clip in the oven. Are they okay to go in the oven? for how long?

    Monica: they’re made of spring steel, and unless your oven gets to blast furnace temperatures (in which case you won’t be eating the food you put in it anyway), there’s no trouble with having them in the oven. We’ve used metal t-pins to hold cake strips, paper clips, anything metal is fine. Susan

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  9. stephie

    Hello ! I´m from Germany and I love your site. But I and many others have a BIG problem, please write your recipes in gramm, we do not have butter sticks and cups and teaspoons etc. ;-) THANKS A LOT IN ADVANCE

    Sorry, Stephie, there aren’t enough fields in our recipe module to accommodate volume and American weight and metric weights, too. You know what I do, to convert European recipes? Go online and Google an ounce-to-gram converter. Works just fine – PJH

    Reply
  10. Diane

    I have the whole grain baking cookbook. I love it!!! Every recipe I have tried has turned out great. My husband always says “what’s that” and after trying I get “that was great”. You do have to pay attention to cooking time. Like this blog states you cannot eyeball things the same way as white flour.

    Reply
  11. Maggie

    I’ve made your whole wheat brownies a couple of times. These are seriously the best brownies I’ve ever had! Once I tried substituting canola oil for the butter and they were not nearly as good; too oily. But if you use butter, let them sit overnight and follow the recipe as written, they are marvelous. This is my go-to brownie recipe now. I’m always on the look out for using whole grains. Thanks for a great 100% whole grain recipe!

    Reply
  12. Mags

    I send weekly treats to work with my hubby and I’m guessing at least half of these treats are made from recipes from your whole grain baking book. I actually made these brownies and blogged about them: http://othersideof50.blogspot.com/2009/05/whole-wheat-double-fudge-brownies.html

    I have yet to make any recipe from this book that hasn’t been delicious, and as you said, not just delicious “for whole grain,” but delicious period.

    My question is in regard to the type of whole wheat flour you use for this recipe. The book states traditional whole wheat and your online recipe calls for white whole wheat flour. Any advantage to using one over the other?

    Mags, It is purely a matter of taste preference. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  13. Teresa

    Hello! These brownies look great, but I enjoy a more cake-ier brownie. How can I accomplish that using this recipe? -Thanks!

    Teresa: For the best cakey brownies I know of, you have to go to the Cookie Companion. I’m not a cakey brownie person, but the ones in that book are amazing. Looks like I should find some time to get that recipe online. If you’re desperate, drop me a line and I can email you an electronic copy. susan.reid@kingarthurflour.com. Susan

    Reply
  14. Laura

    Hi ~

    I made these yesterday and let them sit until today….and they are wonderful ! However, my husband thinks they taste “whole wheaty” – if I were to make the recipe using white flour, how much flour would I need to use. Any other modifications?

    Thanks.

    Hi Laura – Here’s a recipe for the same brownies made with all-purpose flour. Enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  15. Jenni

    Is there any way to make these without the butter? I see one commenter substituted canola oil and didn’t have such great results. My main brownie-tester is severely lactose intolerant and I’ve created a whole lot of spectacularly awful (though funny) “fail” in my attempts to bake with various butter substitutes on the market. Some fare better than others. Any ideas?

    I’d try margarine first, but only for half the butter called for. Try using applesauce for the rest; I think that could get you pretty close. Susan.

    Reply
  16. Margy

    What about using solidified clarified butter? The process of clarification removes the milk solids which contain the lactose that cause the side-effects. There’s anecdotal evidence that clarified butter is OK for those who arre lactose-intolerant.

    Reply
  17. Teresa

    Mmm, these sound really good. I will have to try. I finally picked up a bag of whole wheat pastry flour so I can try out the recipes in the Whole Grains Baking book.

    I just made the coconut cupcakes from the book and they are Delicious!! Frosting not needed! The nuttiness of the whole grain flour goes really well with the coconut! I will make it again! Thanks!

    Reply
  18. HMB

    Nice brownies — they are very moist and are keeping well. Some brownies dry out after a day or two, but these are still fresh-tasting. Yummy!!!

    Reply
  19. Melinn Geery

    This recipe really put the Brown in Brownies…the overnight wait was worth it. Ready for more ww dessert and snack items,bring ‘em on! mmg

    Reply
  20. Lauren B

    Spectrum palm oil shortening seems to work well as a butter sub in all my dairy-free experiments. :)

    The brownies look wonderful! I’ve always wondered how to get the crackly crust.

    Reply
  21. April in CT

    I baked these tonight and wondered the whole time how I would get through the overnight wait period. I finally came up with a solution! I told my husband we should do a taste test of some tonight and then some tomorrow to see how much of a difference we noticed. I have to say the ones tonight are fabulous…and they’re supposed to get better than this?! I can’t wait until dessert tomorrow night!

    Reply
  22. Livingwell

    I just recently bought a bag of your white whole wheat flour to get more whole grains into my baked goods. Can I make this recipe using a 50/50 combination of it and your unbleached all-purpose flour to ease into the whole whole grain thing? I wish there was a smaller bag of the white whole wheat available. I had to buy a 5 pound bag and that’s a lot of flour to throw away if we don’t like it. Though I routinely buy the 5-lb. bags of your all-purpose flour, it was also available in a small 2-lb. bag. Thanks for your help!

    This brownie recipe is AMAZING! and can be made using either white whole wheat or the traditional whole wheat flour.
    Drop that whole wheat flour into a freezer safe bag and store in the freezer to extend the shelf life.
    You can also use the white whole wheat flour in all purpose recipes – start with 25% white whole wheat in the recipe and see if it meets your taste and texture expectations. You can increase the amount up to 50%. After that, it is best to use a recipe written for whole wheat flour, subbing the white whole wheat for the traditional red whole wheat flour. Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  23. Jess

    Can I replace some of the butter with applesauce or Greek yogurt? And would I be able to change the amount of brown sugar without significantly changing the texture (what would you recommend?) and would it be really good with some peanut butter or even cream cheese in the batter?
    I think making all of those changes at once would be a little risky and you would be compromising the flavor and texture noticeably. Try altering one thing at a time. I would use applesauce to replace the butter. We have a recipe for cream cheese brownies that you may want to try. ~Amy

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Susan, I wouldn’t use brewed coffee; it’ll change the brownies’ texture. You can certainly leave out the coffee element all together; though if you have instant, you could try substituting about 1 1/2 teaspoons of that. Enjoy – PJH

  24. Brandy

    These are my favorite brownies. The only change I make is to replace half the butter with apple sauce. I did it as directed the first time, and the brownies were greasier than I like. With the apple sauce/butter combo they are perfect….but we have never waited 24 hours before eating them.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Sure, Laniesha – wrap them tightly in plastic, then put in a plastic bag and wrap in foil; you want two layers of wrapping to try to preserve their moistness as long as possible. PJH

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