Saturday, February 20, 2010

Saturday Splurge: Beyond Cocoa Brownies

Brownies. Growing up, like so many people, brownies were a common thing in my house. The Betty Crocker page was smudged with cocoa and butter and who-knows-what-else that missed the bowl (or got thrown out when lifting the stand mixer top - oops!) One thing that always seemed sad about brownies was that we basically never had baking chocolate. I'm not exactly sure why. My mom kept loads of baking supplies around. For a while, I made chocolate chip cookies every Sunday (and would take some to friends). Valinda made potato donuts once a week for maybe 6 months. (mmmm.... homemade donuts!) Our brownies, however, were constantly cocoa brownies. And it was sad. Because every time I made them, I put in the butter flavored shortening (in the days before we knew about evil trans fats) and the cocoa and wondered how they'd be with chocolate.

Since then, I have indeed made brownies with chocolate. They can be insanely good and rich. I also have realized the joys of the quick box of brownie mix. Plus it's so versatile. In my building, we do get cocoa now and then. But baking chocolate? Nope, not gonna happen. I had decided I wasn't going to make brownies. Other people were welcome to, but I didn't want to give in and have the lame attempt that just was never quite right. Until I read this post. With this recipe.

Wait..... cocoa can be an INTENTIONAL brownie ingredient?? How did I never know?? Why did I go so many years without this knowledge?? And so, Hershey's in hand, I went for it. And am I (and the 40 other people who had some) ever happy that I did. I actually had trouble convincing people they didn't have any melted chocolate, just cocoa. I call that true success. The recipe has my description, with extra comments in [brackets]. I made a quadruple batch and it even worked just fine. Impressive. And so pretty! I am sure they'd be perfect with crème anglaise, but remembered that I am, in fact, a student and studying won out over testing the theory. Another day. For sure.

Best Cocoa Brownies
Adapted from Alice Mendrich’s Bittersweet
Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies [I cut it into the smaller ones, and everyone I heard from said that it was the perfect size.]
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks, 5 ounces or 141 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (9 7/8 ounces, 280 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 7/8 ounces, 82 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (or a heaping 1/4 teaspoon flaky salt)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (66 grams, 2 3/8 ounces) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

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 occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth. If you prefer, you can also just melt the butter and mix it all up - I've done it both ways and the only difference I notice is the texture of the sugar. It will probably look like dark, wet sand, but that's fine.
Stir in the vanilla. 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 OR with a paddle attachment in a mixer (for the quadruple batch this was necessary!!) Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan - this is THICK, so you will need to spread it.
Bake until a toothpick in the center emerges slightly moist with batter, about 30-40 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack if you are patient. You can put it in the fridge or freezer to get a cleaner cut, or cut with plastic while hot. [I actually use the back side of the spatula that came with my food processor.)
Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.


  1. In your intro it wasn't quite least to me... that because we never had baking chocolate I taught you to substitute cocoa and extra butter for the intended baking chocolate. According to "Betsy" (Betty Crocker, early 1970's p455)
    3T cocoa + 1 T fat = 1 oz unsweetened chocolate
    ;-} xoxoxox

  2. Uhm I got that and we never had actual butter in our house, but ok.

    So I made these and now I'm going to have to make more because they were awesome!!! I cut then into teeny tiny squares (think thumbnail size) and they were perfect for popping!


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