Mar 8, 2010

Best Cocoa Brownies

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Remember in back in, say, early grade school when you first learned about the elusive concept of “Opposite Day”? Like yes meant no and stop meant go and basically it was just a ripe opportunity for little kids to act like they were way smarter than their parents because no matter what kind of discipline parents tried to instill on their children, the child could deflect the power by simply proclaiming it Opposite Day? Yeah. I was really into the concept of Opposite Day. How did my mother not lock me up for life by defying her with nonsense?

Anyway, I’ve since gotten over the idea of Opposite Day in a big way. I like order. Predictability. I like to know that when a brownie recipe contains only cocoa and no solid chocolate that it will probably turn out dull, dry and lifeless and be a complete waste of calories. Well. Let it be known that the ever-inspiring pastry phenom Alice Medrich is a saucy minx who is apparently a huge advocate of Opposite Day.

A few weeks back, I exposed myself as a Team Fudgy brownie lover and shared a recipe that I’d had high hopes for, but had turned out too much on the cakey side to be something I’d call a real brownie. And oh, the irony! It had all sorts of melted chocolate in the batter, an element that nearly every legendary brownie recipe incorporates. This latest brownie recipe I’m bringing to you has 100% cocoa as its backbone, not a speck of bar chocolate to speak of and get this–it’s as moist and fudgy and amazing as all get out.

It’s almost a little like the box mix brownies that even this scratch baking enthusiast can’t resist, and to me, that’s high praise. What? I don’t care if it makes you think I have a dirty, secret Sandra Lee underbelly, I plowed my way through three boxes of brownie mix in as many weeks during the last trimester of my pregnancy, and if you’d scoffed at me then, I would’ve cut you. I love me a box mix brownie. Fact.

But truthfully, after making a batch of Alice Medrich’s Cocoa Brownies, I really don’t see a reason to go down that box mix route again. Well, except for a 10-for-10-bucks sale at Safeway, but c’mon, who can resist THAT? Communists, that’s who. Anyway, this recipe involves barely more steps or dirty dishes than making box mix brownies, and there’s no way my sister Betty Crocker could turn out a batter so midnight dark and deeply chocolaty, courtesy of copious amounts of Valrhona cocoa, because when I go all out, I go big.

And really, if you’re going to make a recipe with an ingredient in the title, I think it’s a good indication that you should pull out the big guns, in this case a rich premium cocoa powder such as Valrhona, Scharffen Berger or the like. It’s so worth it, if for no other reason than to have your mind blown by the idea that something can taste more like chocolate than chocolate itself but with no solid chocolate actually in it. No, I meant that. I know I may look crazy with these fudgy brownie crumbs in my teeth, but I know what I’m talking about.

Best Cocoa Brownies

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet

I am typically a brownie purist and like them plain, but if you’re a nutty brownie person, Medrich recommends pecans or walnuts. Note that the eggs need to be cold in this recipe, as opposed to the room temperature eggs that are called for in so many other baking recipes.

Makes 16 brownies

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. Spray the pan and lining with cooking spray.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth, though it will appear somewhat gritty. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not at all hot.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well-blended, add the flour and stir until all the streaks of flour disappear, then beat vigorously for 40 more strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Set the pan in the freezer for 10 minutes (it will make for clean cutting of the brownies).

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.

  • Brownie mixes are awesome when you're in a time crunch. Cake mixes too. For a while some cake boxes were $0.88! Who can resist that?? I've made some pretty awesome cakes from cake mixes..

  • You are funny! I'm new here to your blog and a little hooked;) Your pictures are awesome, your food looks good and I want follow along!!!
    These brownies look divine:) Come by and check us out we're new-

  • Honestly, my favorite brownie recipe is one that is VERY similar to that. I adore a good cocoa brownie.

  • I tried this recipe a few weeks ago and was completely sold!! And that was with cheap cocoa…I haven't found a source for the good stuff yet. This is that wonderful fudgyness of a box but oh so much better flavor and goodness I was already trying to resist making these today, but I think I'm doomed now that you brought them up again 🙂

  • OMG Shauna why do you do this to me? I just had the conversation this weekend with my husband about cutting back on baking since he is training for a race. Now I am trying to figure out how I can sneak in making these tempting little pieces of heaven

  • I love love love your blog!

  • I read your blog all the time but never comment. This had me laughing out loud, thank you for the laughs!

  • I read your blog all the time but never comment. This had me laughing out loud, so I thought I must thank you! I will be making this recipe this weekend, can't wait to see how it turns out!

  • I hate commies.

  • That look like the world's most perfect brownie! I have become a cocoa powder convert recently too. I'll try these and see if I can make mine look half as pretty as yours 🙂

  • I was planning on using a box mix for a girls night next week but I will be doing these instead.

    And I am like others that have posted – love a good brownie box mix and I can doctor a cake mix to make amazing cakes! 🙂

  • I've used this recipe a few times from another source, and since it's such a brick, works wonderfully for a brownie canvas (cookie-cake style, but slightly more classy) or as the base for a baked alaska.

  • You're very funny. The funniest part though, 16 brownies? You must be kidding, more like 4. Plus, I am totally with you on the whole nuts in brownies thing. How can you swallow them whole with nuts? Seriously.

  • Must. Make. These. Omg! These are like little pieces of heaven. I'm literaly drooling. Thank you sooo much for sharing!!!

  • I just made these! The best brownies EVER.

  • This is a great recipe! I made them tonight in midst of studying stress. I didn't have enough sugar so I used 1/3 c cane sugar and then 3/4 cup of agave nectar and baked them at a lower temperature for a longer amount of time. Super easy, rich, and delicious!

  • Yum! These look so super fudgy and moist. Perfect for a stressful day when a girl just needs some chocolate love.

  • Hi…recently found your blog via it! Just got right up and strated making brownies!

    Am impatiently waiting for these lovely brownies to come out of the oven, Found that I was without vanilla (shame on me) so used frangelico, topped them with tiny bit of hazelnuts and stirred in cocoa nibs, which are my new favorite thing in the whole world, the texture of nuts + the taste of chocolate.

    THANKS !

  • Aw I used to love opposite day hehe 🙂 these brownies look AMAZING! Yum!!

  • Just sampled these and they're super yummy. I loved not having to chop chocolate and the flavor is still phenomenal. I just melted the butter in the microwave instead of doing everything stove top and the results are just as great. YUM!

  • Oh my! These look amazing! And only cocoa! Wow. Even though I don't have access to good cocoa, I'm going to try this soon!

  • Hilarious post!! I am right there with ya on box brownies – bring 'em! Duncan Hines or Pillsbury, I can't remember who now, used to make a mississippi mud brownie mix. It was amaaaaaaazing!! I miss it. I miss it so.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this recipe – I'll be trying it ASAP!

  • I just made these. They are fantastic. I didn't use nuts, but will definitely add them in next time. They were a favorite with everyone who tried them.

  • Have you tried the Hershey's Dark cocoa ever? I hear its a mix of natural and dutch process, just want to know if you or any of your readers have used it and have any reviews? Will be so helpful 🙂 I have a tin I got as a gift and want to know about it. Thanks! 🙂

  • Anonymous–You know, I haven't tried it. I'd love to know what you think about it. It would be great to have something richer and darker available at the supermarket!

  • Ok Shauna, so NEVER pick up that Hershey's special dark tin ever 🙁 Absolutely zilch on flavour!

    I have a question, I found Valrhona 66% cocoa (I think it is 66/65, isn't it?)but it didn't say dutch processed anywhere. And since it costs an arm and a leg here and is available in only one store in the entire city, I thought I'll just clarify with you if all Valrhona is Dutched? Or does it say on the pack if it is?

  • I just made these last night and they are delicious. They taste better today too. Instead of the double boiler method described in the directions I just melted the ingredients over very low heat and stirred the rest of the ingredients into the pot. I liked only having one dish to clean! They definitely are thin, dense, chewy, and fudgy!

  • Anonymous–Valrhona is dutched. I think many of the premium brands are because it gives it a richer, smoother flavor. Both natural and dutched can be used in this recipe because there's no leavening. Enjoy!

  • Made these a few days ago and They.Rocked.My.Socks.OFF!!!

    SO GOOD!!!

  • I wanted to do a double batch and considered using a 9 x 13 … but chickened out and am doing 2 X 8 X 8 pans (they're in the oven now). Have you ever doubled this recipe and baked in a 9 X 13? Was worried that the cenre would be mushy and the edges too done …

  • I am more of a cakey brownie kind of person–my husband likes fudgey brownies (how can we even stay married, I wonder?) but this recipe converted me. So easy, so fantastic. We didn't even let them cool properly, just hacked them molten out of the pan and dumped some vanilla icecream on top. Heaven! And I used Trader Joe's Cocoa Powder, not even the fancy stuff.


  • Just made these. They're pretty good, but a bit heavy on the cocoa. I love dark chocolate, but after a couple bites, even I needed some milk or ice cream with these.

  • I just made these and almost cried! Haha! These are amazing. Thank you so much for giving me the best taste I could think of tonight. My husband and I just had 2 squares each. Amazing from the freezer. I added a pinch of cinnamon in the mix. It adds an evil something with the vanilla. And I was right. Evil, evil, evil stuff that is just so good. Thank you once again. If I post about this on my blog, I'll let you know.

    – Sarah

  • i made these this weekend & they were DE-licious !!! i almost didn't want to share. i love how it has a such a rich chocolatey flavour 🙂

  • i just made these and they are good. personally i'm not a fan of thick brownies, so next time i'd make them in a bigger pan. delicious with vanilla ice cream!

  • I just made these and I was a little sketched out by the lack of baking powder. I didn't know what would make it rise, but I read your post thoroughly and other people's comments as well. Unfortunately, I was right. The brownie mixture was very dry and then after being baked, the brownies were completely flat. I don't know what went wrong, I followed your recipe exactly. Help?

  • Anonymous–For me, the best brownie recipes don't have leavening, like this one. It makes for a dense, fudgy brownie, and so it doesn't really have much of a rise. If you prefer a cakier brownie, you could check out Rich Chocolate Snack Cake in my recipe index. I think Ina Garten's brownie recipe has some baking powder too!

  • Shauna, I followed the recipe exactly but I hated the hard crunchy crust. It ruined the brownie for me. Did yours turn out that way too? Yours look so pretty!

  • Anonymous–I've never gotten a crunchy crust from these brownies, so sorry that happened to you. My first thoughts would be:

    The batter was overmixed.

    The oven was too hot (do you have an oven thermometer?).

    The oven rack wasn't in the lower third of the oven, so the top was too close to the heat coming from the top of the oven.

    Other than that, I can't think of what went wrong. Report back!

  • I just made these and am waiting for them to cool. They were very easy to make. I rarely bake, simply because I am not very good at it. So I really only use parchment paper when I make Xmas cookies. How do you fit the parchment paper so it's taught in the corners. When I spreaded in the brownie mix it looks like it make be jagged around the edges b/c the paper wasnn't taught/tight against the side of the pan. Any suggestions?

    We will see how the turn out after the cool and put into the freezer for 10 mins to cut them.

    Thanks and spotted many more recipes I would love to try (if this turns out for me 🙂

  • Anonymous–I typically cut a strip of parchment about as wide as the pan I'm working with, and lay it across the bottom of the pan. Sometimes if you spray the pan first, then lay the parchment in, it will help it stay in place, just give the paper a little spritz, too. Can't wait to hear how they turned out for you. Go forth and bake!

  • This is my favorite brownie recipe. I make this ALL THE TIME, and it’s a big hit. I just use regular cocoa, since I don’t have access to better stuff, but it’s still gorgeous. I bet it’d taste even better with gourmet cocoa. 🙂

  • May I know if you set the bowl with butter and cocoa touching the water in the skillet or is it suppose to be a double boiler. The brownies look awesome! Thanks!

  • I have these in the oven now. I added a teaspoon of decaf instant coffee, we’ll see how that works out!

  • […] thank God for brownies. Here’s the recipe if you want to try them (and you […]

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