Genius Recipes

Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies

By • February 27, 2013 • 73 Comments

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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.

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A genius brownie has been tricky to pin down -- until now.

I've been searching with the same vigor as the genius roast chicken hunt of 2012 -- a stab at science, driven 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, then flour. They come together fast, and you are a happy clam. Still, I figured something even better had to be out there.

ingredients

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

If all brownies are genius, aren't no brownies genius? I gave up.

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Then pastry chef Shuna Lydon told me about a recipe that was different from the herd. It did not surprise me at all 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.

alice medrich 

"Alice knows chocolate. It speaks to her. We're lucky to have her as a translator," Lydon wrote to me. "Alice's cocoa brownies changed my life."

The recipe comes from Bittersweet, the 2003 IACP Cookbook of the Year -- it's one part of a master brownie recipe Medrich designed to use whatever chocolate you 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 only a forgotten tin of cocoa powder remains on the shelf.

mix batter

By taking out the chocolate, with its inevitable fat and almost-inevitable sugar, Medrich was able to control and fine-tune the proportions of both. When she added back in the fat (via butter), the middles stayed softer. When she added back in granulated sugar, the crusts were shinier and more candy-like.

She also threw in 40 strokes of beating with a wooden spoon, to set the batter straight (don't worry -- there's so little flour, you won't overwork it).

batter - pan

What kind of cocoa, you ask? Anything you've got will work.

However: "When I teach, I make two batches of the brownies, one with (my favorite) natural cocoa powder and one with Dutch process cocoa," Medrich told me. "People often think the darker (Dutch process) brownie is going to taste more like chocolate. They are usually surprised to find that this is not true!"

done brownies

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. "Those are Best Cocoa Brownies 3.0 or 4.0 or something like that."

Oh, and that 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

Recipe adapted slightly from Bittersweet (Artisan, 2003)

Makes 16 large or 25 smaller 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 cold large eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

brownies final

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: genius, Alice Medrich, best cocoa brownies, brownies, chocolate, cocoa, brown bag lunch, bake sale

Comments (73)

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2 months ago L Kaylor

These remind me of my favorite brownie ever at Nancy Silverton's La Brea Bakery in LA. They are not as thick though. Hard to describe (I'll try!) the smooth, creamy, brownie like intense chocolate goodness. Topped mine with chopped pecans. Salted 5 minutes before they were done. Because there is so little flour the GF Cup 4 for Cup worked great. Using Swerve or Simply sugar makes it ok to eat more. Simply addicting.

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3 months ago Malinda

I've been using this exact recipe for years (actually have some on my kitchen counter right now), and it makes - hands down - the best brownies. Absolutely adore them.

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3 months ago tastysweet

Can one use extra large eggs? Or will that completely alter the outcome. I remember Ina Garten mentioning she always uses xtra large eggs.
Looks tempting to make. I seem to have problems making brownies so I make them into cup cakes. And then I freeze them. Defrost 30 sec. in microwave and behold an almost lava type brownie. Oh, chocolate chips must be in batter.....for me.

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3 months ago swaff

I only use eggs from local suppliers who treat their chickens well and they aren't graded. This is difficult because the sizes vary within a box of a dozen, from small to jumbo. I wish more recipes called for a measurement of eggs - like 1/2 cup of eggs or 1/3 cup. It would make things easier. I try to be exact when baking - I weigh my dry ingredients, but the egg thing has me stumped. Does anyone else have this problem?

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3 months ago swaff

I find the brownie recipe in an older Joy of Cooking to be the best.
Melt 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate w/ 1 stick unsalted butter. Cool
Beat 4 eggs w/1/2 tsp. salt until light and frothy. Add 2 cups sugar and beat for several minutes. Fold in chocolate mixture and 1 tsp. vanilla, then fold in 1 cup flour. Add nuts if desired.
Bake at 350. 25 minutes in 9x13 pan, or 31 minutes in 9x9 pan. Perfect brownies.

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4 months ago lee

My mom's recipe! One pan brownies we called them. Melt the butter in 9x13 pan, add all the rest stir and do not, as I learned very quickly one brownie making session, do not overbake. Mom passed away before I could write this down for the ratios, so I am happy to see this here.

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6 months ago Elizabeth George

For me, this is more a gooey chocolate cake than a brownie. A brownie needs more heft I think; this one yields too quickly. And there is no thin crumbly paper-thin crust. The Baked brownie, for me, is the perfect brownie. So while Alice Medrich's creation is exceptionally tasty, for a brownie, I don't think I'd go there.

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2 months ago Dimitrios

This was my experience as well. A little too gooey and not enough substance.

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7 months ago Lizz

I've been making these brownies for /years/--after having a mad brownie craving and no chocolate in the house. They are transcendent, and the only brownies I can eat anymore. All others feel inferior. Thanks for bringing them to a whole new audience!

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7 months ago Dina Moore-Tzouris

I've been eyeing this recipe and trying not to make it for two weeks. I finally caved last night, and I realize I should never fight the instinct to bake something that looks so delicious! This is THE BEST brownie recipe ever. Everything Monica M says below: fudgy, chewy and surprisingly chocolatey. So easy to make--you can do the whole "melting" process while you're cooking something else. I baked mine on 325 in convection mode on a lower shelf, and got an excellent almost crispy crust on the top. Trying to stay away from them until tonight.

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7 months ago Monica M

I've been making this recipe a lot lately. It seems to keep getting better. And (surprisingly to me) Alice is right - natural cocoa does seem to make for an even more chocolaty brownie than Dutch-process. Who knew! Great, great recipe for an extremely fudgy, chocolaty, and chewy brownie. That's everything I'm looking for in a brownie! Thank you, Alice!

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7 months ago Kathcooks

Growing up, I didn't know unsweetened chocolate came in solid squares. The Hershey's Cocoa can was the only cooking chocolate in our house. It made everything from hot cocoa, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and the absolutely most fantastic boiled fudge and chocolate brownies. Thanks for sharing!

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7 months ago Kelsey Irvin

These have been up on Smitten Kitchen for years. Give the lady some credit.

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6 months ago Franziska

Just fyi Kelsey, Deb (of Smitten Kitchen) actually credits the recipe on her blog to Alice Medrich. (see here: http://smittenkitchen.com... )

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8 months ago pooh

BEST BROWNIE RECIPE EVER!!!!! they're so perfectly gooey and chocolately!

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10 months ago Latetotheparty

These have become my all time favorite chocoholic craving treat. Always fantastic. I do add a bit of esprsso and have substituted demerara on occasion. It always works. Next time I will tray a glaze.

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about 1 year ago on tray

I've made these again over the weekend and got a wild hair. I divided and baked the dough in cheesecake pans and tonight I'll be making lady finger lined Tiramisu, Orange Dreamsicle and Almond-Cherry Cheesecakes with the brownie base.

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about 1 year ago denise&food

I have made these twice and they are fantastic. A great chocolate taste and not too sweet. They travel well and freeze well. The nuts are necessary!

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about 1 year ago patb

A hit with our family. A great dense brownie, not too sweet. Love the fact that it uses cocoa powder rather than melted chocolate. I always have that on hand. A keeper for sure!

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about 1 year ago wenditos

Is it possible for the mixture to seize like regular chocolate. My mixture is really thick and clumpy despite the butter being melted. Also should I keep it on the water until the sugar melts too?

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about 1 year ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Senior Editor of Food52

It will look sludgy and gritty, definitely, but not clumpy. How did it work out?

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about 1 year ago wenditos

Delicious! It's a keeper. I was wondering though why couldn't you just melt the butter and mix it in rather then the double broiler way.

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about 1 year ago NakedBeet

This recipe is almost identical to the Katherine Hepburn brownies I make that are also phenomenal (http://leitesculinaria...). And yes, these do remind me of the Hershey's back of box recipe as someone else has pointed out (https://www.hersheys.com...). What's old is new again?

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about 1 year ago Summer of Eggplant

No, they don't rise much and really they are incorporated after about 10 minutes of stirring. As mentioned previously they only make about 9-12 brownies and they do not need to (in any of the ovens I have used) go on the bottom rack.

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about 1 year ago Paulaob

I made these today and have a few questions. My brownies did not rise much at all. They are about 1/2 inch thick. Is that how they are supposed to be? Also, it seemed to take a very long time for ingredients to melt during first step and even then the mixture was still quite thick. They are very good though. Thanks.