7 Ways to Doll Up a Perfectly Delicious Cocoa Brownie

May  9, 2016

You are probably thinking that great brownies don’t need bells and whistles, or swirls, or frosting, or chocolate chips, or any other embellishments. And I agree that when it comes to brownies, plain is fabulous—whether you have one favorite, swear-by-it, crowd-pleasing, super-chocolatey, all-occasion brownie recipe, or an entire wardrobe of them, featuring different kinds of chocolate or cocoa powder, as I do.

But now that I’ve said that (and meant it), who among us can leave well enough alone? Who among us is not an occasional lily-gilder? Where’s the fun in having a great recipe if you can’t turn it into a dozen new fabulous versions?

Here are 8 ways to turn already great plain brownies into fancy ones:

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Start with a batch of your favorite brownie batter (enough for an 8- or 9-inch pan) or my Cocoa Brownies. Then...

Lacy coconut-topped brownies in progress. Photo by James Ransom

1. Lacy Coconut-Topped Brownies:

Use 2 tablespoons less sugar than the your brownie batter recipe calls for (the topping is quite sweet). Spread the batter in a 9-inch pan and set aside. Make a mini batch of Genius Coconut Macaroons using only 1 egg white, 1 1/4 cups (55 grams) unsweetened flaked coconut, 1/4 cup sugar, 3/4 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Use your fingers or a fork to drop lacey clumps of coconut batter over the brownie batter, leaving some of the brownie batter showing through, and bake as usual. Alternately, substitute almond macaroon batter or French macaron batter for the coconut batter.

2. Brown Sugar Pecan or Walnut Cookie Dough-Topped Brownies:

Use 2 tablespoons less sugar than the brownie batter recipe calls for (because the topping is sweet) and spread it in a 9-by-13-inch pan—the layer will be thin. Set aside. Mix a half batch of chocolate chip cookie dough but use only 1/4 of the amount of flour called for (that is, half of the amount that you would normally use for half of a batch), omit the chocolate chips, and double the pecans or walnuts and add an additional handful of nuts so that the mixture looks like lots of large nut pieces coated in batter. Drop forkfuls of cookie batter over the brownie batter, leaving the brownies showing through. Bake as usual.

3. Warm-Spiced Brownies:

Serve any brownies slightly warm (reheat pieces if necessary) with freshly grated nutmeg or cinnamon stick over the top.

4. Shortbread Brownie Bars:

Make your favorite brownie batter (or any of mine) and set it aside in the bowl. Line a 8- or 9-inch pan with parchment or foil. Press a 1/4-inch layer of shortbread cookie dough all over the pan. Bake at 350° F until the crust is golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and spread the brownie batter over the hot crust. Return to the oven and bake as usual, until the brownies test done.

5. Brownie Parfait:

This is especially great when your brownies are getting a little dry. Break brownies into bite-sized pieces and layer them in a parfait glass with whipped cream. Add drizzles of caramel or chocolate sauce, crunchy toasted almonds, and/or Amarena cherries, if you like. Refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving.

More: Or go all out and make a brownie trifle! You don't even need a recipe to do it.

Coconut-topped and Rocky Road-style brownies (and milk). Photo by James Ransom

6. Rocky Road Brownies:

Choose a cakey rather than dense-style brownie recipe for these. You can decrease the amount of sugar in the batter by 2 or 3 tablespoons to compensate for the sweet topping—or not. Make the batter and spread it in the pan as usual. Bake half as long as directed. Remove the pan from the oven, leaving the oven on.

For a 9-inch square pan, scatter the surface with 12 quartered marshmallows or 1 cup (50 grams) mini marshmallows, then sprinkle with 1 cup (100 grams) walnut pieces and 2/3 cup (113 grams) dark chocolate chips. You could replace one quarter of the marshmallows with 3 ounces (85 grams) of cut-up chewy caramels if you like! Return the brownies to the oven and bake until done. These are especially gooey and decadent served warm.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

7. Crazy-Ultra-Rich Overnight Brownies:

A several-hour rest makes brownies taste and feel even richer than they are. (This is an especially good trick for reduced-fat brownie recipes, like my Less-Is-More brownie recipe in Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies.)

Start one day—or at least several hours—ahead. Make any brownie batter and spread it into the pan. Cover and refrigerate the pan overnight, or for several hours. Take the pan from the fridge 30 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven and bake as usual.

We know you've gussied up a brownie before. Hit us with your best ideas in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Oaklandpat
  • Matilda Luk
    Matilda Luk
  • AntoniaJames
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Oaklandpat May 6, 2017
Thank you Alice. If you ever decide to retire, I'm going to be in trouble!! 😂
Matilda L. May 17, 2016
Amazing tips I can hardly wait to use!
AntoniaJames May 9, 2016
Another first-rate reference piece. Wow. ;o)