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.
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.
"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.
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).
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!"
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)
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
The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."