A few days back, I received a two-part baking question on our Tumblr blog from “redblackapron.” She asked: “Is there a reason why some blondie and brownie recipes require melted butter, and others require just soft butter (at room temperature)? Is creaming butter and sugar only for cookies and cakes?”
I’ll begin with the second question, as it is key in providing an answer to her blondie and brownie dilemma. When you cream fat (i.e., butter, shortening) and sugar, you do so to create tiny, uniform, and evenly distributed air cells and produce a baked good with a feather-light texture. The fat holds these air cells best when it is somewhat malleable. This is why recipes call for butter that is soft enough to give slightly when a finger is pressed into it, but not so soft that it’s collapsing or liquid.
While the creaming method is often used in American butter cakes (as opposed to, say, sponge cakes, which rely on eggs for aeration) and many types of cookies, you can even use it for something like muffins if you wish to achieve an airy, more cupcake-like texture. So what about brownies and blondies? We know that brownies lovers are often divided into three camps: cakey, chewy, and fudgy. The proportion of fat to flour used, the type of flour used, and the use of a leavener will influence brownie texture, but certainly creaming the butter (as opposed to melting it) is one step in the right direction of producing a more cake-like brownie.
Beyond fat, there are other factors that influence brownie texture. For instance, the number of eggs included can boost the cake-like qualities of your brownie. The moisture in the eggs converts to steam in the oven, which is a powerful leavener that will lighten your brownie. When you think of cake brownies, you also think of brownies that hold their structure better than their denser, fudgy counterparts. By providing additional aeration and structure, eggs contribute to this characteristic.
And now that I’ve talked about brownies exhaustively, my stomach says it is time for me to bake some!