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Why do my brownies always turn out this way?

OK, so I fancy myself a fairly good cook, but I can NEVER get my brownies to turn out right. (This is, admittedly, from a box.) I always follow the directions on the box, but they always turn out hard and overcooked on the edges, and undercooked and gooey, almost liquid, on the inside. I don't think it's my oven, because I never have trouble getting my cookies to turn out fine, and cakes too, but it's those darn brownies!!!!
Chowhounds, I KNOW you know the answer to this one, WHAT am I doing wrong???

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  1. You're using a box mix... j/k

    Turn the temperature of your oven down and cook for a longer time.

    1. First of all, stop using a box :P

      Secondly, you can never really go by cooking times on a boxed recipe, as every oven is a little different and cookware has a big impact as well. What type of pan are you using? Glass? Aluminum? If the outside is overcooked and the inside undercooked, then lower your temp and cook them longer- this will cook them more evenly.

      Third, I don't think this is industry wide, but there seems to be a small trend in packaged foods to minimize cooking times regardless of the negative impact on the finished product. I think the belief is that if the average buyer looked at the package and saw the time it took to actually cook/bake the product properly, they'd walk the other way. I'm not saying this is happening here, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was.

        1. Hi... I use the boxed brownies from Costco (ghirardelli) and I can't make them as great as these ones... they take forever to cook (an hour for a small tray) but they are amazing. I would agree with the advice to increase the cooking time and lower the heat; also let them sit for a while after cooking (if you can!) because they firm up on the counter.

          1. I have to wonder hot hot you are baking them at and in what size and material pan are you using? Id suggest 350° and a 9x9" pan so that the product is no thicker than 1.5" or they center will never be done before the edges over-bake. If you are already baking at 350, your oven is likely too hot and you should drop it another 50°.

            Brownies are too easy to make from scratch to use a boxed mix, but others have already stated that opinion previously.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Kelli2006

              Seriously, bake them from scratch! Brownies are soooo easy to make, the Joy of Cooking recipe is great, they taste so much better than the boxed kind.

              1. re: visciole

                I have memorized my brownie recipe because I have baked them so often and it is so easy.

                The only boxed mix that it tolerable is Ghirardelli, and I occasionaly buy them for my daughter in college because she doesn't have the time to bake from scratch.

            2. Oh, how I wish people would stop telling you to make them from scratch. yes, it's not that hard. Yes, they do taste better. But that's not the question you asked, and there are times when a mix is the best/only option (for example, when you're not in your home kitchen with all the scratch ingredients readily available, or when you really only have 3 minutes, not 15, for prep time). Anyway, I second turning down the oven temp, and I also find that brownies, whether scratch or mix, bake more evenly in a pyrex pan rather than a metal one.

              2 Replies
              1. re: cookie monster

                Funny... we certainly have different opinions about Pyrex... I far prefer metal pans for baking. I like my Pyrex 9x13 for deeper, wetter casseroles. But for a thin sheet of brownies, I've had some mishaps.

                ...now I'm confused. What's aurora to think?

                1. re: BernalKC

                  hmmmm . . . I definitely prefer metal for almost all baking, but brownies seem to be an exception. Maybe it's my wacky oven.

              2. I'm guessing you're cooking in a Pyrex 9x13 pan. They conduct too much heat to the edges, especially the corners, and will leave those dry and hard with the centers undercooked. If I'm right, get a metal pan.

                And are you placing them on a rack near the top of the oven? If it is too low, the temperature will be on the low side -- and if it is a gas stove the blasts of heat will also overheat the pan and cause problems.

                Lastly, have you tried a different brand? Maybe the one you've tried is just bad. Or was not tested in dry, sea-level (Ontario CA) conditions? Seems unlikely, but its easy enough to try a different brand to test the possibility.

                3 Replies
                1. re: BernalKC

                  First of all, I want to thank everyone for their replies. It's certainly given me a lot to think about.
                  - Yes, what I've used is an oblong Pyrex pan.
                  - I've been using Duncan Hines mix. (I know, I know......)
                  - I have a gas oven.
                  - I have never really noticed where I place the pan, probably around the middle.
                  - I don't have enough time or energy to make my own at this time, because I'm taking care of my mother with terminal cancer. I just have enough time and energy to make dinner, and an occasional dessert.
                  - When I try brownies again, I will try baking them at 50 degrees lower -

                  - For how much longer than the box says?
                  Thanks again, everyone!

                  1. re: aurora50

                    Hi, Aurora.

                    Most manufactured food producers have a "help line", like the Butterball Turkey Line around Thanksgiving.

                    Here is the phone number Duncan Hines posts on its website for home cooks who have questions or comments about their products: "Call us at 1-800-362-9834".

                    Why don't you give them a quick call, tell them how you bake their mix and what the problem is, and see what they recommend? They'd know their product best and might be able to suggest in a just a few minutes how you can adjust the baking to your oven, pans, etc.

                    I'm sorry to hear that your mother is ill. You and she will be in my thoughts.

                    1. re: Normandie

                      Thank you, Normandie. That's a great suggestion.
                      Thank, you, all.
                      : )

                2. Your oven is out of calibration. Boxed brownies are among the most foolproof products at the market.

                  Just hire a tech to fix your oven. Well worth the averted frustration.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: dmd_kc

                    Cook's Illustrated has a video on their website on how to check your oven temperature without an oven thermometer.

                    You just need an instant read digital thermometer.

                    Set oven rack to middle position.

                    Heat oven to 350-F for at least 1/2 hour.

                    Fill 2-cup pyrex measuring cup with 1 cup tap water.

                    Adjust water in cup with hot and cold water until it reads 70-F.

                    Place measuring cup of water in center of middle oven rack for 15-minutes.

                    Remove cup. Stir water with thermometer probe and read temperature of water.

                    It should read within a couple of degrees of 150-F.

                    If the temperature is not within that range your oven is running too hot or too cold and needs adjustment.

                    1. re: dmd_kc

                      Well, we had the oven looked at by someone at the Gas Company a few months ago, and they said the oven was fine ---

                      1. re: aurora50

                        I could never get baked goods to turn out properly in my gas oven, even after it was replaced (with the same brand). Now I have an electric oven with a fan that circulates the hot air, and cookies, cakes, etc. turn out so much nicer. It's comforting to think that all my previous failures were only partly cook's error.

                        Sorry to hear about all you have going on. Good luck and here's to a successful brownie recipe!

                    2. First off, huge props to you for trying to provide a home cooked meal and a dessert while taking care of Mom. I am a pastry chef by profession and I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with you using a boxed mix. The fact you are taking the time to do this for your family far outways any loss of quality in the end product. Your kids, or husband are not going to complain that you made boxed brownies. I would switch to a metal pan, as suggested above, bake in the middle but slightly closer to the bottom. My gas oven fluctuates a lot during a baking process, so I have lined the bottom of the oven with quarry tiles I picked up at the home improvement store for a few dollars. It takes longer to preheat the oven, but the quarry tiles help keep the temp even during baking. My home baking improved immensely when I made that tiny change.

                      Glass is a terrible conductor of heat, a metal pan will work much better for you. Brownies should have a smooth shiny top but still be slightly "undercooked" or soft in the middle when you take them from the oven. They will firm up when they cool off.

                      I think the biggest issue you have is a hot oven and a glass pan.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: gardencub

                        And if you already own a pizza stone, just store it on the floor of your oven (not on a rack, but on the bottom surface of the oven). That's what I do. Same effect as the quarry tiles...

                      2. get an oven thermometer the next time you are at the grocery store.
                        use a metal pan.
                        place your rack in the middle of the oven, and the pan in the middle of the rack. turn pan around half-way through baking.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: alkapal

                          Thanks, I will switch to a metal pan, and invest in an oven thermometer.
                          Thank you!

                          1. re: aurora50

                            Just an update everyone, my mom passed on December 1st. : (
                            But I did try Ghirardelli before Mom passed, she got to taste it, and it worked much better. She enjoyed them very much.
                            Happy New Year to everyone, and thanks again for your help.

                            1. re: aurora50

                              Aurora, I'm so sorry for your loss. I just read this thread for the first time, and my heart goes out to you. How wonderful a daughter you are, to have taken such good and loving care of your mother during her illness. Take care, and I hope the new year brings you all good things.