When you're cooking, it's all about a dash of this and a splash of that. But baking is another matter, an exact science. In this series, we're going behind the bakery case and into the kitchens of some of Phoenix's finest purveyors of sweets (and some savories). Fresh out of culinary school, Chow Bella contributor Mabel Suen will work with local chefs to learn their tricks for making perfect pastries, baked goods and desserts. Stay tuned for findings once the flour settles.
The Baked Good: The Brownie The Chef: Eileen Spitalny The Place: Fairytale Brownies
Thinking about the estimated three million brownies and cookies that come out of ovens annually at the mail order baked good company Fairytale Brownies brings to mind visions of Willy Wonka's magical chocolate river.
There's no actual river at Fairytale Brownie's Phoenix corporate headquarters, but the company does go through a staggering 180 to 672 pounds of chocolate per day.
Twenty years ago, co-founders David Kravetz and Eileen Spitalny dove head-first, Augustus Gloop style, into the brownie business. To this day, they still make them the same way mom did, using the recipe Kravetz's mother prepared for them as kids.
Spitalny says she hasn't been the one to bake the brownies in years. Instead, a team of about 37 year-round employees (which multiply to about 125 during peak holiday season) prepare and package each batch by hand in FTB's well-buttered factory. A walk over to the far end of FTB's storefront provides a life-size snow globe view into production through tempered glass.
Signs hung high in Fairytale's signature purple hue indicate various stages of the process including batter mixing, brownie cutting and chocolate enrobing. In a separate section of the warehouse, employees swiftly assemble gift boxes packed with insulation and ice packs to ship across the US and beyond. It all looks like an episode of the Food Network's Unwrapped - hey wait, they've actually been on that!
To Spitalny, the perfect brownie has a good, strong aroma from high quality chocolate, melts in your mouth, isn't too sweet, and leaves a pleasant aftertaste. It is a classic rise and fall recipe with a flaky top, a dense, fudgy interior on top of a sturdy bottom layer, and toppings carefully sprinkled in by hand. She's keeping FTB's secret recipe to herself, but read on for her advice on how to achieve these qualities. The tools: A double boiler and a good mixer that works at a good constant motion.
Terminology: Make sure that your chocolate has a good sheen: The color of your chocolate should be clear without impurities or grittiness, and bars should snap, not bend. Make sure you're tempering correctly, or holding a consistent temperature while melting chocolate so it never gets too hot. The flavor of chocolate is a huge part of the brownie, so if it's burnt at the beginning stage, it will come out in the end product.
Technique/s: When incorporating wet ingredients into dry, start low to incorporate ingredients and then mix on a constant high speed to add air, creating a fluffy texture.
Spitalny and staff explain how to effectively incorporate jam or other liquid ingredients into the top layer of your brownie batter here:
Tips & tricks: Sift your flour for a finer, smoother mouth feel in the finished product. Use parchment paper and a light spray of oil to make depanning and clean-up easier. If your batter is thick, be sure to spread it evenly with a spatula to ensure even cooking. Once you fill your oven, move things around during the baking process for even baking. Let your brownies cool before you cut them for clean edges. To monitor progress, watch for the rise and fall. Then, use the toothpick test. The brownies are done when a toothpick inserted into the middle of the brownies comes out clean.
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See what else The Baker's Lab has examined: Anatomy of a Scone with Candy Lesher of Baci d'Amore Truffles and Scones