Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies

By • February 26, 2013 136 Comments

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Author Notes: This recipe is 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 that only requires cocoa powder. 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. Any cocoa will work, but natural (not Dutch process) will taste more richly of chocolate. Recipe adapted slightly from Bittersweet (Artisan, 2003)Genius Recipes

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 (unsifted, measured by stirring briefly, spooning into the measuring cup until it's heaped above the rim, then leveling it with a straight-edged knife or spatula -- it should weigh nearly 2.5 ounces)
  • 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 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. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread 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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Comments (136) Questions (11)

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22 days ago Liaw Siew Yee

I'm really confused about the first step (the butter, sugar and cocoa powder step). I spent about 4 hours (sorry if I sound dumb) trying to make the mixture smooth, first in a double boiler, then placed the bowl on a pan filled with simmering water. The mixture was grainy and not smooth at all, so I gave up and moved on to the next step, which was to add vanilla and the eggs. When I added one egg, the mixture was super sticky and the egg white?/melted butter (I'm not really what the transparent liquid is) separated from the mixture and I tried mixing vigorously but they wouldn't come together. Can someone explain to me what went wrong and what is the expected look of the mixture from the first step? Thanks :)

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22 days ago Kris

The mixture will be a bit grainy but the key is that there should be no lumps. If the melted butter is warm but not hot then this is easy. You don't want the mixture to sizzle or bubble or steam at any point. A double boiler is a pan of simmering water but you don't let the bowl touch the water. I think it's ok if the water boils a but as long as it doesn't directly touch the bowl on top

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22 days ago Kris

Also you need to cool this mixture a but if it's hot so no separation happenswhen you add the eggs. I think what happened with you was the cocoa butter mixture git too hot.

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22 days ago Liaw Siew Yee

Ah I see. Thank you so much. So just to confirm, the first step only requires about 5-10 minutes using a double boiler, for a slightly grainy mixture (due to the sugar) but a generally smooth texture from the mixture of cocoa powder and butter?

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about 1 month ago Green Rider

I am allergic to nuts. What should would be a good substitute for the walnuts?

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about 1 month ago Kris

You can leave it as it is . Are you looking for a crunchy substitute ? You could try rice crispies or granola clusters . These are just ideas , haven't tried it.

For non crunchy add in, I would recommend candied orange peel. Goes really well with the dark chocolate flavour or just orange zest. I have tried both.

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4 months ago mornnen

Made these twice the 'featherlight' gluten free flour mix for my dad. Dad really approves of these.

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4 months ago Denise

Fabulously life-changing. I've only made David Lebovitz's supernatural brownies for the last 10 years but I'll be switching to these. I used "raw" cocoa powder which I think is the same as natural? and switched out half the white sugar for brown. I browned the butter and then added 1.5 TB of water because the mixture looked dry and smitten kitchen says that you lose water when you brown butter. My batter still seemed very stiff and dry and I baked it for just under 30 minutes. Perfectly fudgey! These have a nice buttery flavor but I'm Not too sure if you can taste the brown butter--maybe? but I'll try it next time just regular butter. And the chocolate-ness is off the charts. Would never have expected powder to deliver such a deep dark rich cacao flavor.

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2 months ago Makenna Phillips

Just a heads up, I work in a chocolate factory, and raw cocoa means that the beans used to make the powder weren't roasted first, which won't produce as much flavor as a roasted bean. It also leaves a lot of acidity in the chocolate which isn't very good for you. Natural means non alkalized. Love the idea to use a little brown sugar though!! I left out the flour and used Francois Pralus Cocoa Powder :)

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5 months ago Carly

I made these brownies tonight. HOLY SHIT!!!! My cats went crazy. The smell of the brownies sent them off into some sexual deviance with our furniture. The began to claw and hump their way into the inside of each couch cushion. Other then that, the brownies weren't too bad.

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5 months ago kumalavula

these come together easily and smell divine while in the oven.
i had to bake them almost 15 min longer than the recipe stated to get them cooked all the way through but so worth the wait!
i assume our girls basketball that's headed to compete at the state level will think so as well :) this recipe is a keeper!

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5 months ago Debbie

Rich and delicious. I followed the recipe as written and they turned out fantastic. Too bad the company I was expecting didn't come and get to experience these. My husband keeps sneaking out to the kitchen to get another "bite." This will be my new go to brownie recipe. Thank you Alice for a terrific recipe.

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5 months ago Nichola

I've made these brownies twice in the last week, and they are amazing. I used a mix of nuts (walnut, hazelnut and Brazil nut) that I've been struggling to get rid of.

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6 months ago Adventure Girl

Baked mine in 9x9 metal pan without parchment at 325 and pulled at 22 minutes. Left them to cool completely. They set fine.

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6 months ago Ann Godfrey

I made these today and they were not baled through enough at 325 for 25 minutes. DId anyone raise the temperature to 350?

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6 months ago Transcendancing

I love this recipe! I love how it's so pantry friendly! So chocolatey and easy, utterly a win for me. I will say I reduced the sugar total by 1/4 cup, and I used a combination of brown and white sugar - I think that worked really well. They were more chocolatey than sweet which is my kind of brownie. All about the chocolate and a little bit sweet.

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6 months ago java&foam

I have made these three times now, but today was the first time I made them with dutch cocoa (Valrhona), the previous two times being natural cocoa powder (the Scharffen Berger natural cocoa she recommends in her books). Natural cocoa powder wins here hands down...with a flavor profile so different you'd think you were using a different recipe. It is worth picking up just for these brownies alone.

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6 months ago suzanne prael

The tried and true trick to brownies NOT crumbling when they're cut, ALWAYS cut them with a good, solid plastic knife!

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6 months ago Kat

These are very nice, very flat though, but lovely. I would absolutely recommend a scatter of sea salt flakes.

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8 months ago Arthur in the Garden!

These are the best!

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8 months ago Adventure Girl

just delicious! recipe very easy to follow and baked in 22 minutes; added a smidge of espresso powder; all the girlfriends loved them!

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8 months ago Rachel Kuhn Stinehelfer

A friend of mine made these and they were delicious. I have tried twice to make this recipe and they just don't set up. They are liquid after baking.

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7 months ago juliunruly

Rachel I find that I have to bake them significantly longer than the recipe says. Usually at least another 10 minutes. But then, they're perfect.

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10 months ago Marilou

Did anyone else have a problem with the brownies not rising? They were surprisingly thin, close to a quarter of an inch... the recipe is very easy and the taste is ncie and fudgey, but I would prefer a bit more height.

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11 months ago Beth

expecting a smooth batter from the butter, cocoa & sugar, I added about 1/3 cup of olive oil to relax the clumps, and the end result was DELICIOUS.

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12 months ago Emma Yeatts

I added a 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and then sprinkled sliced almonds on top before baking--divine!