I just received my latest copy of Cooks Illustrated and I am beyond excited at the prospect of a CI-optimized recipe for chewy brownies with the shiny, crackly top. Though I posted an uber-delicious recipe for brownies but a few weeks ago, the one thing it lacked was the shiny, crackly top. More of a cosmetic concern when compared to taste, but vexed me nonetheless.
This is why I love Cooks Illustrated. It's the food and kitchen gadget version of Consumer Reports magazine.
It accepts no advertising, so their editorial content is beholden-free. Not to mention, it's chock full of high quality content, maximized on each beautifully hand-illustrated page.
There are kitchen appliance reviews that take into account price and performance (its editor-in-chief is a frugal New Englander) and explain why a particular brand was not rated a Winner, with several Best Buys as runners-up, again explaining why (usually has to do with an exorbitant, status symbol price tag --- cough cough Viking cough cough).
And even better, the recipes are optimized. A Cooks Illustrated recipe with its strange quantities are there for a reason. Because someone literally made the recipe over and over again (I've heard mention of eighty times) slowly adding or subtracting an ingredient in tablespoon quantities until hitting the sweet spot.
Last week I searched for banana bread recipes on the internet. They all contained the usual ingredients, but some had both baking soda and baking powder in them. It didn't really make much sense to me. It felt like "Well, that's the recipe my mom used."
Sure enough, I went to Cooks Illustrated and found their recipe that called for a single leavening agent. And if they had both soda and powder in the recipe, they would have explained it in the accompanying article. The recipe explanations satisfy the budding food scientist in me. My questions are laid to rest, knowing that someone has methodically questioned every ingredient in the recipe to ensure reproducibility and best taste.
So imagine my surprise when the accompanying CI article mentioned that it was box-mix brownies that pioneered the shiny, crackly top! Saturated fats (read: fats that are solid at room temp) in addition to unsatured fats (oils at room temperature) were apparently the secret.
Looks like there's going to be brownies in my future...