Expert Interview Series: Deborah Peralta of Dello Mano Luxury Brownies About Making a Better Brownie

Deborah Peralta created the Dello Mano Luxury Brownie; and together with co-founder Bien Peralta, they drove the Australian Brownie Revolution. She happily lives in beautiful Brisbane, Australia with two kids and a fridge full of brownies. We spoke with...

Making a better brownie

Deborah Peralta created the Dello Mano Luxury Brownie; and together with co-founder Bien Peralta, they drove the Australian Brownie Revolution. She happily lives in beautiful Brisbane, Australia with two kids and a fridge full of brownies. We spoke with Deborah about how she introduced her brownies to the Australian market, and also learned how to make better brownies in a home kitchen.

Why did you choose to open Dello Mano? Where does the name come from?

Dello Mano is corrupted Italian meaning "of the hand." The name Dello Mano was inspired by an Italian vacation. We were both working corporate lives with small children, and my husband Bien and I decided to take a holiday and use the time to think about our long-held dream to develop our own artisan business. We had planned and dreamed for years about our business and felt like the time was right to cut the corporate ties and follow the advice of our fridge magnet: "Just do it."

In Italy, we were mesmerized by the beauty of food purchasing. Everything was presented from the deli to the baker as if the provedore was passing across a gift to behold. That beauty was so inspiring that it created the idea of celebrating beautiful handmade food gift giving.

How does your background as a food scientist impact the way you cook and bake today?

My food science background still is important today. I love food and everything about it from the chemistry to the culture. I started my career in food product development at Cadbury, so a small business that is now free to create new products according to our vision is the perfect home for a food scientist!

On your website, you say that you "pioneered the Australian Brownie revolution." What makes your brownies different and unique when compared to most other brownies? How did Australia react to your luxury brownies?

We came back from Italy with a business vision. I was traveling domestically and internationally with my full-time job at the time, so I was studying food everywhere that I went. In Australia, I started to notice that brownies were a non-event. Most shops didn't carry them, and if they did they were dusty, "cakey" things that were on the bottom shelf. At this time (2005 and 2006), cupcakes and macarons were all the rage with the media and everyone else. I looked at the brownie and thought that with my food science expertise, chocolate knowledge, and research/branding experience, I could create the Luxury Brownie.

We called it a Luxury Brownie because it was really special - a unique combination that was more chocolate fudge than cake. It was a new way of thinking about brownies. No other brownies that I had found were branded, lauded, or packed for gifts at that time. We drove our own concept for brownies.

We created the "Australian Brownie Revolution." Magazines, newspapers, and tv stations started requesting our products, running stories, and displaying photos. Then I think it was our pure determination to hang in there until the media started supporting brownies. We can still remember seeing brownies starting to appear on the covers of magazines. Because we were there first, we called ourselves Brownie Pioneers. We think it is well-deserved after years of people scoffing and discouragingly saying things to us like "You have got to be kidding! You can't build a business on brownies!" Now, there is even a small market of brownie makers!

The Australian people also loved our products. From the beginning, everyone loved the taste of the brownie, which led us to a very sample-driven marketing plan to this day. The sampling helped, but it was definitely a case of us leading the market; since people had no knowledge of brownies, they did not have a need for them.

Your site also notes how you use "artisanal methods" when preparing your brownies. How do those methods differ from traditional brownies made in bakeries?

My career in food trend research had me convinced that eventually, people would respond positively to smaller, beautiful handmade food. At first, we were more expensive and smaller compared to almost everything on the market. This was one of our biggest challenges; people needed to taste our product not only to experience the flavor and texture difference, but also to feel the humanity of our Luxury Brownie in every bite. This was a slow and very committed journey for us.

We were also innovative in that we used only the best ingredients from day one, including Belgian chocolate, real butter, free range eggs (even when this was not the trend) delivered direct from the farm to our door by the farmer, local nuts and ingredients where possible (most sourced from our fellow marketeers from the Farmers Market where we started), and honey direct from the farm and city beehives.

When it comes to Luxury Brownies, we focus on small batches. We don't look to increase economies of scale by pumping batter and filling huge big baking trays. Luckily, beautiful food really does come from small "cared-for" batches. We still bake in small ovens, and we hand mix and fill every batch. Also, we don't use premixes, which is a common bakery approach. Instead, we use from-scratch ingredients for our Original Brownie Recipes. We carry the banner for real food by real people for real people, and won't be tempted to change our methods in order to save money.

For people who want to make better brownies at home, what advice or suggestions can you offer?

It is all about using the best possible ingredients. In addition, I suggest really using trusted recipes. I know from my brand management days in Cadbury marketing that people are really disappointed when a recipe doesn't work out; after all, it is very expensive to cook with chocolate and not have it work out. So if you are new to brownies, use a respectable recipe source that mentions that their recipes are tested. There are lots of chocolate recipes out there, but so often they're not viable or very borderline in terms of the likelihood of success. Finally, don't overcook a brownie; learn to take it out of the oven when it is just cooked.

What should people look for in a mixer? Are there any specific qualities or features that are important?

After we had sold some brownies, we moved on from our 40-year-old hand mixer (which is still running!) and invested in a Kitchenaid mixer for smaller tasks - mine is white because I love the laboratory look of it - and a Hobart mixer for our bigger kitchen work. I love Hobarts; I did my thesis on whipping egg albumen in one, and to this day I absolutely love them.

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