Back to Brownies: A New Look At an Old Favorite

By and
Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Brownies have always sparked heated debate among their devotees: cakey versus fudgy. Cocoa powder versus strictly unsweetened chocolate. Nuts or no nuts. Fat Witch versus Baked. Now, though, the field has grown, and the newest batch caters to increasingly common dietary restrictions (vegan, gluten-free), satisfies appetites for alternative whole grains, and exploits the boom in bean-to-bar chocolate-making. And even though this classic American confectionwhose first, chocolate-free iteration traces back to Fannie Farmers 1896 cookbook­has been overshadowed of late by trendier treats, its never gone out of fashion. Here, a bakers dozen of New Yorks newest models, with a handy Fudgeometer gauge, from cakiest to fudgiest and all points in between.

Fudgeometer: Cakey=1, Fudgy=9

1. Mast Brothers
111 N. 3rd St., nr. Berry St., Williamsburg; 718-388-2625; $3
These Fat Witch-size little guys pack a punch. Theyre made with the chocolate factorys Stumptown-coffee-flavored bars, and theyd be especially good to have around if you were a student pulling an all-nighter or a truck driver on a long haul. Mysteriously, they start out cakey, but after a few chews, you swear they fall under the heading of fudgy. 5

2. Tip of the Tongues Espresso-Cheesecake
43 Lincoln Rd., nr. Flatbush Ave., Prospect Lefferts Gardens; 718-693-2253; $3
Cronuts are all well and good, but as far as Frankenpastries go, that venerable crowd-pleaser the cheesecake-brownie deserves more credit. Case in point: this fantastically rich, perfectly balanced espresso-flavored beauty from a Brooklyn caterer who recently opened a brick-and-mortar coffee-bar bakeshop. 7

3. Maison Kayser
Multiple locations; maison-kayser-usa.com; $4.25
Incredibly, the Frenchbaking guru Eric Kayser among themhave embraced le brownie. And judging by Kaysers pecan-topped, muffin-size version and Mille-feuilles brownie (see No. 6), they lean cakey. 4

4. Café Grumpys Salted Caramel
Multiple locations; cafegrumpy.com; $3.75
As if to atone for defiling a decadent confection with wholesome raspberries, the coffee shops in-house baker sinks a cache of caramel into the top of what amounts to a brownie sandwich and showers the thing with Maldon-sea-salt flakes. 6

5. Ovenly
31 Greenpoint Ave., nr. West St., Greenpoint; 347-689-3608; oven.ly; $3.25
These substantial sea-salted specimens get a remarkable depth of bittersweet flavor via good cocoa powder from San Francisco chocolatier Guittard and a touch of Stumptown Hairbender espresso (and also serve as a rebuke to the anti-cocoa-powder brigade). The extra-moist texture is somewhere between fudgy and squishy. 8

6. Mille-feuille
552 La Guardia Pl., nr. W. 3rd St.; 212-533-4698; $2.50
A fine example of the cakey school: When super-fresh, they fairly dissolve in your mouth like brownie cotton candy. The flavor from the bittersweet Valrhona chocolate is terrificsubtle and nutty with a hint of roasted coffee beans. 1

7. Vegan Divas
1437 First Ave., nr. 75th St. 212-734-0845; $3.50
In a bizarre twist of fate, François Payard is married to a vegan, Fernanda Capobianco, who runs a vegan bakerypresumably to counteract her husbands profligacy with butter and eggs. Her contribution to the brownie canon has cookie-crisp edges, a domed top sprinkled with sugar, and a cakey spelt crumb that derives its flavor from vegan chocolate chips and organic cocoa powder. 1

8. Daveys Ice Cream
137 First Ave., nr. St. Marks Pl.; 212-228-8032; $2.25
Most brownies you find in brownie sundaes disappoint and serve as a kind of sad, outsize garnish. Not so at Daveys, where the streamlined versions are so gooddelicately fudgy, well balanced, with a long finishtheyre also sold separately. 6

9. Runner & Stone
285 Third Ave., nr. Carroll St., Gowanus; 718-576-3360; $3
It is not immediately obvious whats different about these classic-looking brownies. But the slightly grainy texture and earthy flavor come from baker Peter Endrisss use of local whole-grain rye flour and a smidgen of toasted, ground caraway. The result: an unabashedly fudgy brownie that tastes almost virtuous. 6

10. Mah-Ze-Dahrs Dark Chocolate
At Intelligentsia at the High Line Hotel, 180 Tenth Ave., at 20th St.; 212-933-9736; $3.50
In a quest for the perfect balance between fudgy and cakey, online baker Umber Ahmad achieves a variable texture thats crisp on the edges and almost deliquescent in the middle, the tender crumb riddled with nuggets of bittersweet-chocolate chunks. Its a handsome specimen, too: Cocoa powder imparts the pitch-black color, contrasted by a flurry of confectioners sugar on top. 5

11. Choc. Peanut Butter & Honey
At Stumptown Coffee Roasters, both locations; stumptowncoffee.com; $5
Two things you should know about these Los Angeles imports: They were devised to throw people off the cupcake train, according to co-owner Monika Gray, and they really show best when refrigerated and eaten cold. (Lukewarm, they turn to mush.) Utterly smooth and ganachelike, they derive textural contrast from a garnish of cacao nibs and crushed peanuts and an inner layer of salty, crunchy peanut butter. 8

12. Du Jour
365 Fifth Ave., nr. 5th St., Park Slope; 347-227-8953; $3.50
A super-crisp, powdered-sugared top, plus a fairly soft and fudgy center with a smattering of chopped walnuts, make for a classic everyday brownie whose only flaw is that it errs on the side of too sweet. 6

13. Seth Greenbergs Brownie Crunch
Whole Foods; $6.99 for a four-ounce bag
Seth Greenberg, son of William Jr., has brownies in his blood, but his latest concoction may baffle purists. The Brownie Crunch is to the brownie, you see, as the bagel chip is to the bagel. Its meant for those who like only the crisp edgesa brownie-eating species weve yet to encounter. (Fudgeometer not applicable.)

*This article originally appeared in the November 11, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.