12 Ways to Take Brownies Where They've Never Been Before

May  3, 2017

Where do your brownie loyalties lie? Are you Team Fudgy, Team Cakey, or Team In-Between-y?

I'm a fudgy-as-a-truffle gal myself (Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies are my old faithful, preferably straight from the freezer)—but today, we're not here to discuss that age-old question.

Instead, we're here to take you brownie purists and turn you into brownie hedonists!!!! eccentrics. Your ordinary brownies might be extraordinarily good, but consider these tweaks—in the form of swirls, sprinkles, drops, and swooshes (smears, if you prefer)—for when you want to give your brownie a night on the town, complete with facial glitter (that's still a thing, right?) and a thick coat of mascara.

Photo by Julia Gartland

But also, when you want to clean-out your pantry. Dump out that bag of pretzels, smash them up, and mix them into brownie batter. Or put those Marcona almonds you bought for some thing at some time to rest by mixing them into a caramel sauce and drizzling it over the hot-from-the-oven pan.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Using Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownie recipe. Going on 30 minutes with raw batter still in the middle. Is this normal?”
— Chef J.

Start with your favorite brownie batter (or your favorite boxed mix—no one is watching!), but consider the following:

  • Avoid any swirl-ins or add-ons that are very wet (raw banana, for example) if you haven't taken that extra moisture into account. This could make for raw or mushy brownies.
  • If you're choosing a cakey, high-rising brownie (I don't agree with your decision, but I respect it nonetheless), know that the batter will likely grow above whatever topping you've put on, creating a cobbled effect rather than two distinct layers.
  • Brownies with so many additions are rich! You'll probably want to cut them a bit smaller than you're used to (which also means you can taste more variations).

Now go brownie bonkers, brownie bananas, brownie bat$h¡t crazy! We certainly did.

Ready, steady, GO! Photo by Julia Gartland


As pictured:

  • Tahini swirl: Make sure your tahini (use white and/or black) is well-blended. I'm a fan of turning on the blender or food processor to re-emulsify the tahini when it's got that clear, oily layer floating on a hard, chalky bottom. Then, blob it over the raw brownie batter in the pan and use a knife or a skewer to create a marble pattern. Finish with a sprinkle of black and white sesame seeds, then bake.
  • Condensed milk: We nabbed this tip from Stella Parks' forthcoming book (just you wait—it's going to be wild), BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts. Sweetened condensed milk, eased into the sea of dark chocolate with a skewer, caramelizes into golden stickiness in the oven (because you're essentially making pockets of dulce de leche!). And imagine if you mixed that condensed milk with some coffee before you swirled it in...
  • Jam: We used raspberry, but blueberry, strawberry, or cherry would be good, too. And don't forget lemon curd. If your jam is too stiff to swirl, mix in a teaspoon of water until it has a thinner consistency.

As dreamt up:

  • Peanut/almond/sunflower butter
  • Softened, honey-sweetened goat cheese
  • Pumpkin butter
  • Skip the condensed milk and hightail it straight to the dulce de leche

Need help marbling? Look no further:


As pictured:

  • Peppermint patties: Chop them into 1/4-inch pieces and evenly distribute them over the brownie batter. They'll melt and spread into fun shapes under the heat of the oven.
  • Ritz crackers: Crush up buttery Ritz crackers (saltines would work, too!) and sprinkle them over the top of the brownie batter. And here's a fun secret: We actually used the crushed Ritz in place of the flour in Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies, by simply substituting an equal amount of Ritz crackers by weight (65 grams) and plowing forth.
  • Oreos: Self-explanatory. You can crush them to bits or, do as we did and smash each one gently to maintain the shape of the cookie.

As dreamt up:

  • Animal crackers, Nilla Wafers, or graham crackers
  • Pretzels
  • Candied nuts
  • Soft-baked granola
  • Dried tart cherries, plumped up in water and drained
  • Amaretti cookies, à la Dorie Greenspan
  • Roughly chopped chocolate-covered espresso beans


As pictured:

  • Chocolate streusel: We used the topping of Melissa Clark's Chocolate Streusel Pound Cake. Mix 1/2 cup flour with 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Then rub in 4 1/2 tablespoons of cubed, cold unsalted butter so that you have large crumbs. Stir in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips, chunks, or shavings, then spoon over your brownie batter. This would also be good with a hefty dose of cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Peanut butter cookie dough: We stirred together a simple flourless cookie dough (1 cup peanut butter + 1 egg + 1 cup sugar + 1 teaspoon vanilla), added a handful of chocolate chips, and then rolled it into teeny balls that we nestled on top of the brownie batter. They held their shape as the brownies below solidified, which made for delightfully doughy, crumbly mounds perched atop the dense, chocolatey base.
  • Black bottom: Mix together 8 ounces of softened cream cheese (or goat cheese!), 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and 1 large egg until smooth-ish (petite lumps are okay). Mix in a handful of chocolate chips and spoon all over your pan of raw brownie batter. The cream cheese mixture will relax to cover more of the pan as the brownies bake.

As dreamt up:


For these applications, you're working with the pan of brownies after it's come out of the oven.

As pictured:

  • Salted caramel: Make your favorite pourable salted caramel—I used an easy-to-follow recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction—and pour it over the pan of brownies when they've just come out of the oven (that means you'll want to be making the caramel as the brownies bake). Finish with another sprinkle of flaky salt, then set the brownies aside so the glaze sets (and they'll be easier to slice when chilled in the fridge).
  • Matcha glaze: While the brownies cool, whisk together 1 large egg white, 2 cups of confectioners' sugar, 2 teaspoons of matcha, a pinch of salt, and 1 tablespoon of water. Pour over the room temperature brownies and keep refrigerated (the glaze has a tendency to run). It's a combination inspired by Molly Yeh, and the icing formula comes from Bon Appétit's Matcha Doughnuts.
  • Nutella fudge: This truly double-decker brownie comes from Marsha's Baking Addiction. Pour a can of sweetened condensed milk into the bowl of a double boiler along with 1 cup of Nutella and 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips. Stir until melted and smooth, then spread over the cooled brownies and chill until set. Cut into small pieces—these are like candy!

As dreamt up:

And just a few more ideas from the Brownie Queen herself...

What's your favorite way to dress up a brownie? Or are you all about keeping it plain and simple? Tell us in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Christina
  • Faten Rafie
    Faten Rafie
  • Laurence Tillett
    Laurence Tillett
  • plotto
  • Dafna | Stellina Sweets
    Dafna | Stellina Sweets
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Christina April 29, 2018
My father make his brownies with cayenne pepper in the batter and walnuts candied with tequila and lime sugar - they’re incredible.
Paula U. April 29, 2018
Do walnuts and lime go on top or in batter? This combination of sweet and spicy sounds amazing!!! Wish he would share...
Faten R. April 29, 2018
My latest favorite would be sprinkling pinches of powdered harissa all over warm brownies. Chocolate and chili is good, but chocolate with chili spiced with cinnamon, paprika and a touch of cumin? That's a marriage perfectly made in heaven!
Laurence T. February 8, 2018
This may be heretical, but I use the cheapest box of brownie mix in the store, then instaed of the veg oil, use Blood Orange olive oil. The taste is amazing! Chocolate + Orange = heavenly.
plotto May 31, 2017
Thoughts on melting marshmallows and swirling in? My about to be 12 y.o. son's request for his party this weekend. Or just add mini marshmallows to the batter?
Sarah J. May 31, 2017
Hi plotto! I'd probably scatter marshmallows over the almost-done brownies, then return the pan to the oven for the last or 5 or 10 minutes, so that the marshmallows soften and melt a bit. You could also put the pan under the broiler and brown the marshmallows, s'mores-style—but watch carefully! (Also, if you're really committed to the marshmallows, might as well go for this recipe:! It's a keeper!)
Dafna |. May 30, 2017
Hi Sarah!
Any suggestions for infusing booze into brownies? I'm not sure if there's a general rule (probably not?), but I'm interested in things like stout beer, whiskey, Bailey's, etc. I've tried some recipes written with those ingredients included, but I've never liked them as much as I like my classic brownie recipe, so I'm curious about how to infuse booze in general so that I can alter my base recipe. Thanks! :)
Sarah J. May 30, 2017
Hi Dafna,

I'd recommend drizzling the brownies with a boozy sauce or glaze. Maybe Alice's toffee sauce with beer (you could use stout, for sure), would be good?
Chef J. May 8, 2017
My peanut butter cookie dropped brownies are in the oven and taking much longer to bake than the recipe calls for. Using Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownie recipe. Going on 30 minutes with raw batter still in the middle. Is this normal?
Sarah J. May 8, 2017
Hi Jil,

Every batch I made took 25 minutes! Maybe your oven is running low (or mine was running high?). A toothpick inserted into Alice's brownies should emerge "slightly moist with batter"—so no worries if it's not totally clean! I'd take them out. Hope they're delicious!
Oaklandpat May 8, 2017
Yes, I agree that they should be taken out while still moist. Do not under any circumstances take them out when the tester is clean. By then they are over done and will be dry. Alice's brownies are wonderful when moist!!
plotto May 8, 2017
If I should "Avoid any swirl-ins or add-ons that are very wet (raw banana, for example) if you haven't taken that extra moisture into account. This could make for raw or mushy brownies," What do I need to do to compensate for adding the condensed milk?
Sarah J. May 8, 2017
Nothing! The condensed milk thick/viscous enough that you won't have an issue. I'm thinking more along the lines of watery strawberries, bananas that will block the brownie batter beneath from cooking... etc.!
Ttrockwood May 6, 2017
Ever since i saw those (really not good) "two bite brownies" at the store i have been using a mini muffin tin to bake brownies. They take a lot less time and are perfect for making different brownies with the same batch of dough. I love the idea of swirling in sweetened condensed milk! And the black bottomed ones- going to do both tomorrow!
Sarah J. May 6, 2017
I agree—those two-bite brownies are always worse than they look (and we ALWAYS have a box at my parents' house!). Love the idea of baking in a mini-muffin tin. And let me know how those variations work! Thank you!
Oaklandpat May 6, 2017
OK Sarah, tell us which is your personal favorite! I have the marbled Tahini ones cooling now. Can't wait to try them, and hope they taste half as good as they look.

Sarah J. May 6, 2017
I hope they're great!! I honestly... love them all. I have a soft spot for the streusel-covered guys, but if I could only choose one type: PB cookie dough.
Paula U. May 5, 2017
Our favorite swirl is 8 oz cream cheese, 1 egg beaten - add some kind of chips - chocolate, peanut butter, or Nutella or jalapeno jelly and swirl. Awe.some.!!!

Sarah J. May 5, 2017
Jalapeno jelly? W.o.w. Wow!
Gail L. May 5, 2017
Ina Garten's Outrageous brownies are wonderfully fudge-like and over the top delicious
barbara M. May 5, 2017
I must stand by my Mom's 1950's brownies from Hershey even tho they have the word 'best' in their title: these are brownies to me and recently had them at a restaurant where the owner called them 'nostalgia' and so many folks reco and loved them!
Liz D. May 3, 2017
Put peppermint oil in the batter & add chocolate chips
Jim May 3, 2017
Swoosh ones are the best!
Caroline L. May 3, 2017
melissa May 3, 2017
This is one of the most pleasing spreads on Food52 - kudos to the photog and food stylists!
aargersi May 3, 2017
Now I am for sure doing a brownie sampler plate for Mothers Day lunch! Thanks!!!
Sarah J. May 3, 2017
That is a VERY good idea. I just might have to do the same...