Brownies are the perfect long day, my-brain-is-fried-so-please-don’t-talk-to-me treat. You can pretty much make them on autopilot, and whether you spring for a boxed mix or make them from scratch, there’s hardly any legwork and the payoff is HUGE.
The best part, though? Brownies are like pancakes: they’re begging for mix-ins! They make things that much more interesting, and if you have a truly unforgettable base, even the so-so mix-ins will seem stellar.
Guys, I think I’ve found my truly unforgettable base; the one I can make from scratch and feel confident will earn rave reviews. It’s a slightly modified version of Alice Medrich’s famed cocoa brownie recipe (which the internet seems to swear is THE brownie recipe to end all brownie recipes).
Instead of melting down an entire $3.99 bag of semisweet chocolate chips — and all the while wondering whether it’s worth making brownies from scratch when the chocolate alone costs more than the boxed version — Medrich’s recipe calls for cocoa powder. It gives the brownies a rich, chocolatey flavor, without being too sugary sweet or veering into bitter territory. It’s a sweet, sweet harmony.
Medrich’s recipe also demands that you heat the sugar, butter, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl over a skillet full of water (so almost double-boiler-style), which sounded like a recipe for scalds and burns to me, so I made a few modifications to make things a bit easier. Instead, I melt the butter in the microwave, then stir it into a bowl full o’ cocoa powder, sugar and salt. As you stir, the ingredients will form a dark chocolate-brown paste, and the butter will cool enough that you can easily crack in the eggs without worrying about scrambling them. That’s one mix-in nobody wants.
I love baking these with coarse sea salt instead of regular salt, since it doesn’t dissolve all the way, giving you the occasional, very slight salty-sweet taste, like a pretzel dunked in Nutella.
Oh, Nutella! That brings us back to the Fudgy Brownie Showdown. In the past, I’ve made brownies studded with napoleon creme, cookie dough and marshmallow fluff, but I had to test out two other mix-ins: mini peanut butter cups and a Nutella swirl. Half the pan was speckled with the peanut butter cups, the other half got spoonfuls of Nutella heaped on top, which I swirled through the batter before baking. (Psst…a “swirl” top is way easier than you’d think: Just drizzle a few lines of the topping onto the batter, then use a toothpick, butter knife or back of the spoon to gently swirl the topping with the batter itself. There’s no need to stir. Just a few swishes and BOOM! It’s ready for the oven.)
Warning: Whichever mix-in you choose, the end result is incredibly (delightfully, wonderfully) rich. So much so that I had to cut the serving size in half, making them two-bite brownies. The flavor is that decadent. Keep some milk — or a cup of coffee — handy.
These brownies are as fudgy as they get, so if you’re looking for something a little bit cakier, use the base recipe for the Hot Cocoa Brownies. For a texture and flavor that’s almost like Ghiradelli-meets-Dove-dark-chocolate, store them in the fridge and enjoy round two cold. I know, I know — that defies all laws of brownies, but it’s as tasty as trying them fresh out of the oven. Pinky promise.
And tell us, which topping would you choose: Nutella swirl or peanut butter cups?
- 2½ cups sugar
- 1½ cups plus 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2½ sticks unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup mini peanut butter cups OR ½ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Set aside.
- In a smaller, microwave-safe bowl, heat butter for 30 seconds, stir, then microwave for another 30 seconds, or until fully melted. Pour the melted butter into the mixing bowl, then use a silicone spatula or spoon to stir everything together. (It'll look like a thick, sugary brown paste at this point; that's totally normal!)
- Add the vanilla extract and eggs, stirring each egg in one at a time. The batter will get a little thinner -- and easier to stir -- and will look a little glossier. As soon as the eggs are combined, stir in the flour, but only enough to make it disappear into the batter. When there are no more white streaks (about 40 strokes around the bowl), pour the batter into the 9"x13" pan and top with peanut butter cups or plop spoonfuls of the chocolate-hazelnut spread on top. Gently drag a butter knife along the top of the batter and Nutella, creating a slightly swirled effect. Cook for 25-28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the batter comes out mostly clean (a few crumbs are okay).
- Let the brownies cool for at least 10 minutes before removing them from the pan.