Sunday, October 18, 2009

“Best Cocoa Brownies”

A painful tooth sensitivity to sugar seriously limits the number of desserts that appear on Little Scarlet, but a lazy afternoon and a craving for brownies created the perfect opportunity to post a new recipe. I grew up in a house of “fake bake” - light, airy cupcakes made from a box mix with just eggs, oil, and water added - which I loved. While Duncan Hines makes delicious brownies, I figured that, with the right guidance, Little Scarlet could post something just as great, but made from scratch.

I can be pretty careless when it comes to baking - I frequently misread baking amounts and directions, often execute steps incorrectly, and generally make a big mess of things whenever I try to bake something other than cookies (remember the key lime pie disasters? and yes, that’s plural disasters). I tried to be painstakingly careful while making these cocoa brownies, but when they had been baking for 20 minutes and had about a half inch of butter bubbling above the brownie mixture, I was convinced I had somehow managed to completely ruin them! I baked them for an extra ten minutes, and then turned off the oven, thinking I’d let them cool off before throwing them away and cleaning the pan. Apparently, the “butter layer” didn’t do any damage, and the recipe turned out beautifully, with the richest, most dense brownies I’ve ever had.

They’re very sweet, but the Dutch cocoa powder gives them a pleasant bitterness. The crust on top has a candy-like crackle to it, and the interior is closer to fudge than the cake-like brownies of Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. Eating them over the course of the last week, I wonder if it might be possible to use a little bit less butter - maybe it could be reduced by 1/4 stick without altering the outcome too significantly. If anyone tries it with less butter than what’s posted below, please let me know how it turns out!

Directions (modified from Alice Medrich’s BitterSweet):
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)*
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup walnut pieces (optional)
*recommend using the best quality cocoa available, but these turn out divinely even with a no-name generic brand cocoa!
  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. Spread evenly in the lined pan, and sprinkle walnuts on top. Walnuts can also be incorporated into the batter, if desired, after it has been beaten for those 40 strokes.
  4. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes (25-30 if using a gas oven). Let cool completely on a rack.
  5. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into squares.

In Medrich’s BitterSweet, she explains that, “cocoa brownies have the softest center and chewiest candylike top ‘crust’ of all because all of the fat in the recipe (except for a small amount of cocoa butter in the cocoa) is butter, and all of the sugar is granulated sugar rather than the finely milled sugar used in chocolate.”

I hope you give these a try - I promise, they’re well worth the effort!


  1. These sound great! Can't wait to try them!

  2. Ive stopped making brownies because I cannot stop at one or even two...... they are too good!

  3. Awesome brownie recipe! I can't wait to give it a try...Thanks for sharing.

    Heads up: I am offering a giveaway on my site!! :)

  4. I love brownies especially with walnuts! While "fake bake" can be very satisfying, I'm eager to try these delightful bites made from scratch. When are you going to make these for me?!?

  5. Beautifully rich brownies? Yes please! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  6. I want one (or two) right now! Would go good with a bit of an Amaretto on the side too.