Best Cocoa Brownies
Brownies are something I rarely ever make, not because I don’t love them– nothing is quite as enjoyable as eating a big slab of brownie with an ice-cold milk 24 hours later… But mostly because I love boxed mix brownies.
Some people have their guilty processed pleasures of Oreos, Cinnabons, Lucky Charms, Girl Scout Cookies, etc., but I am a box mix brownie guilty processed pleasure kind of gal. In my experience, Ghiradelli, Betty Crocker, and Duncan Heines have it down to a T! My personal favorite is Ghiradelli, but when you’re in a pinch, any of those will do.
I’ve never cared to hassle myself with actually measuring out ingredients for brownies because I am perfectly satisfied with a box mix brownie. However, since all the boxed mix brownie options in Italy look like they’ve sat on the shelf since 1950, I decided I better change my ways of thinking.
I went out into the world (or maybe just to the closest market to my apartment) on a search for unsweetened chocolate and came home with nothing… “Senza zucchero” brought me to an assortment of artificially sweetened chocolate and I wasn’t going to have any of that. I always like to keep a handful of 70-85% cacao chocolate bars on hand at any given day… because you never know when you’re going to want cookies or ganache! But 100% cacao chocolate bars are something I rarely ever have on hand… Why would I want a chocolate bar that I can’t enjoy an occasional bite of?
Anyway, I had brownies on my mind and a bunch of half eaten 70-85% chocolate bars on hand… So what’s a girl to do? Nix the chocolate bars altogether and make Cocoa Brownies.
I liked this recipe A LOT. It’s super easy and moooost people have all the ingredients on hand, unless you’re a 22-year old male college student… Don’t even get me started on the state of Tony’s kitchen when I met him in college. But I digress, back to these brownies. You can’t fully appreciate this recipe without knowing the reasoning behind her cocoa-only brownies. Yes, I discovered them by default, but Alice Medrich made them with the complete intention of using only cocoa powder so she could control the fat and sugar contents of the brownies to create a chewy, candylike top, hence why Alice Medrich’s recipe is called the “Best Cocoa Brownies,” and that they are.
These brownies are deep and rich in chocolate flavor and have a crackly and shiny crust with a dense and fudgy middle. They are simply perfect for both the boxed mix brownie lover and the brownies from scratch lover.
10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
½ cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (75 grams) walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
- To make the brownies, 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.
- 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 from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. (It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added.)
- Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
- Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion but it took me at least 10 minutes longer to get them set. Let cool completely on a rack. (I go further and throw mine in the fridge or freezer for a while; it’s the only way I can get them to cut with clean lines.)
- Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.