Baking brownies: More science than art

What does it take to bake that perfect brownie? Chef Nishant Vijaykumar, the founder of Brownie Heaven, shares the secret...

Nishant Vijaykumar

He sells close to 100 kg of brownies a day. In 2015, when Chef Nishant Vijaykumar started his niche café in Chennai that sold only brownies, he perhaps had no idea that it would be such a huge hit! Today, Brownie Heaven has 16 outlets in Chennai and two in Bengaluru. “We are all set to open one more in Bengaluru (in Koramangala) and one in Gurugram this month,” says the 27-year-old brownie expert, who
“cannot resist tiramisu.”

From roasted nuts, orange peel and popcorn to peppermint, rum and cheesecake, Nishant has mastered the art of replacing the conventional cake base with brownie to create over 60 innovative and lip-smacking varieties of the fudgy dessert. The gold medallist from the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration, Manipal, credits his short stints at seven hotels and nine restaurants — before quitting as a junior sous chef with ITC Hotels to start his own venture — for his solid culinary foundation.

Excerpts from an interaction with the erstwhile-cricketer-turned-food-entrepreneur on the importance of choosing the right equipment, common baking mistakes, and more:

How do you bake such delightful brownies?

I’m not a trained pastry chef. My training involved Indian and continental cuisines. As is the case with all baking, baking brownies is more science than art. It’s important to use the right kind of utensils, temperature, ingredients and methods. Before starting Brownie Heaven, I experimented with each recipe for more than 15 times to get everything right.

How does one get the texture right?

I like my brownies dense and fudgy, with a gooey centre and crusty top. The trick is to reduce the amount of flour to make the brownies rich. As you increase the flour content, the brownies become more cakelike in texture. Also, the texture changes when you make eggless brownies.

Which flour do you use?

Superfine flour works really well. Almond meal is another good alternative to all-purpose flour. You know, there’s a growing demand for keto brownies and millet brownies, wherein we use minimal flour. The food scene is changing rapidly and with greater awareness, palates are getting more refined.

Is it better to use chopped chocolate or cocoa powder?

If you like your brownies dense and fudgy, then chocolate it is! But it’s important to use good quality chocolate, preferably 40-50% dark chocolate. Ideally, you should use the right mix of both — good quality chocolate and cocoa powder. Without the latter, the brownie would be lacking in colour.

What flavours work best with a brownie?

You can use any flavour as long as you understand ingredient proportions and know how to balance out the moisture content. Whether it’s our Nutella brownie loaded with dark and white choco chips, or chilli chocolate brownie with its spicy aftertaste, the basic principle remains the same.

What’s the shelf-life of a brownie?

Five days at room temperature, 10 days in the refrigerator, provided it’s stored in an airtight container.

Any tips for home bakers?

For starters, invest in the right equipment. You need a convection oven to bake good brownies. Although an OTG may also do the job, temperature fluctuations mar the quality of the brownie. Secondly, always use good quality ingredients for best results. And finally, there are lots of ways to bake a brownie. You need to try a recipe at least a couple of times and learn through trial and error. Baking a brownie is really very simple, you just need to get the proportions and methods right. And, yes, men can bake, too!

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