The Right Way to Test Brownies with a Toothpick
When it comes to level of difficulty, desserts are pretty transparent. I mean, anyone attempting a herringbone lattice should prepare themselves for at least a little bit of stress. But brownies? They’re supposed to be easy. They’re billed as the bake-sale favorite, the last-minute hero, the pantry-friendly project that even the kids can make. They don’t require piping skills or fancy kitchen equipment; they just need one bowl and an oven.
But until recently, I could never get them quite right. Getting them into the oven went smoothly; it was taking them out that induced panic. If my toothpick came out gooey, I had visions of serving raw brownie batter to guests. Too clean, and I knew I had overbaked them — which, in many ways, seemed worse. Ironically, the simple dessert that should be relieving my stress was causing me quite a bit of it.
And then, as I was testing out brownie recipes for a celebrity recipe showdown, I came across a game-changing tip. In America’s Test Kitchen’s chewy brownie recipe — which swept the competition — it says to “bake until toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.” Not only did this tell me what to look for on the toothpick, but also where to insert it.
Previously, I’d been sticking my toothpick in the center of the brownies, which is the last place to finish cooking. But inserting it in between the center and the edge gives me a much better read of what’s going on. If it emerges with batter, I know the brownies need more time. But if it comes out with moist crumbs, I can assume just the middle of the pan is still gooey. Because the brownies will continue to cook as they cool, pulling them out now is the key to perfectly set centers. (For the same reason, this is also the best way to tell when pumpkin pie is done!)
Of course, there’s always the risk that I’ll hit a chocolate chip, which looks like batter but is really just melted chocolate. That’s why I always test the brownies in a few different spots before making that crucial decision.