You Won't Believe The Secret To These Brownies

By Kristen Miglore

Every week — often with your help — FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The secret to the chocolate brownie of your dreams? Take the chocolate out.

A perfect brownie has been tricky to pin down — until now.

I've been searching with the same vigor as I did for the genius roast chicken hunt of 2012 — driven this time by memory and chewy, chocolate lust.

What I've found is that most brownie recipes out there are remarkably consistent: chocolate is melted with butter, then mixed with sugar, eggs, and flour. The treats come together fast, and you are a happy clam. Still, I figured something better had to be out there.

But, all of these brownies in their various guises— from squat, melting fudge bars to pliant shingles of cake— were all unfailingly, suspiciously good.

If all brownies are genius, aren't no brownies genius? I was ready to give up.
Then, pastry chef Shuna Lydon told me about a recipe that's different from the herd. It did not surprise me to learn that it came from Alice Medrich. She's written close to a dozen books on baking; she's the First Lady of Chocolate, and the one who brought out macaroons' punk-rock side.

The recipe, which comes from Bittersweet, the 2003 IACP Cookbook of the Year, is one part of a master-brownie recipe that Medrich designed to use whatever different kind of chocolate you may have in the house. 

But, the best version happens to be the one you can make when you've eaten all the 70% bars you bought for baking, and all you have left in the cupboard is a forgotten tin of cocoa powder.
By removing solid chocolate — with its built-in fat and sugar — from her recipe, Medrich was able to control and fine-tune the proportions of each. When she added in the fat (via butter), the middles stayed softer. When she added in granulated sugar, the crusts were shinier and more candy-like.
What kind of cocoa, you ask? Anything you have will work.

She has continued to tweak this recipe over the years —  you may have seen the browned-butter version on the cover of Bon Appétit a few years back. 

Oh, and the sprinkle of flaky salt on top? That's not Alice, that's us. But, I don't think she'd mind.
Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies
Makes 16 large or 25 smaller brownies

10 tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-processed)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour 
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

1. 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-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on 2 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. Stir in the nuts, if desired. Spread batter evenly in the lined pan.

4. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. 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 16 or 25 squares.

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