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

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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.

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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.

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

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  • 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!
Ready, steady, GO! Photo by Julia Gartland

Swirl

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:

The Magic of Marbling
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The Magic of Marbling

SPRINKLE

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
Lucky Charm Brownies

Lucky Charm Brownies by Dorie Greenspan

Toulouse Square & Rectangular Baker Set

Toulouse Square & Rectangular Baker Set

$125

Drop

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:

Pierre Hermé & Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies

Pierre Hermé & Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies by Genius Recipes

Rice Pudding with Sesame Crumble and Blueberries

Rice Pudding with Sesame Crumble and Blueberries by Sarah Jampel

Swoosh

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:

How to Make Your Caramel 100x More Exciting: Replace Cream with Fruit

How to Make Your Caramel 100x More Exciting: Replace Crea... by Sarah Jampel

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Valrhona's Caramelized White Chocolate

Valrhona's Caramelized White Chocolate by Genius Recipes

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

7 Ways to Doll Up a Perfectly Delicious Cocoa Brownie
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7 Ways to Doll Up a Perfectly Delicious Cocoa Brownie

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.