Best Cocoa Brownies


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.

Chocolate, BarsShauna Sever