Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies

February 27, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The secret to the chocolate brownie of your dreams? Take the chocolate out.


Shop the Story

A genius brownie has been tricky to pin down -- until now.

I've been searching with the same vigor as the genius roast chicken hunt of 2012 -- a stab at science, driven by memory and chewy, chocolate lust.

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.

bowl 1

Then pastry chef Shuna Lydon told me about a recipe that was different from the herd. It did not surprise me at all that it came from Alice Medrich. She's written close to a dozen books on baking; she's the First Lady of Chocolate, and the one who brought out macaroons' punk rock side.

alice medrich 

"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.

mix batter

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).

batter - pan

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!"

done brownies

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)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

brownies final


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

Order Now

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.

Order Now


J April 23, 2015
Alice Medrich: These brownies are GENIUS! I have made them 4 times, and if the recipe was mine I would be trying to patent it! Baking the recipe makes me happy because it is a reliable five star success! [One question-what kind of knife do you use to cut the brownies? I have been using a bread knife, which works, but is there a better choice?] I will be looking for your other recipes!
FavourFlavour March 6, 2015
These are as close to a dark chocolate truffle as you will ever bake. Such amazing deep chocolate flavor! Highly recommend.
Sigita July 5, 2014
Nothing beats the flavor and texture- especially with great cocoa.
VickyD June 12, 2014
I just finished baking these, and they're amazing!!!! Here are a few things I did:<br /><br />-browned the butter then poured it over the cocoa, sugar, salt and vanilla and mixed it up, so I didn't use the simmering water step as the hot butter was enough heat<br />-let that mixture cool for 5 min, then added the eggs one at a time with a hand mixer to REALLY beat the ingredients together until it was quite thick<br />-added the flour as directed and poured the mix into an 8x8 lined with parchment (key!) then I really had to spread the mix as it's very thick to make sure that it was even in the pan<br />-baked at 325, mine took 27 minutes total<br />-cooled TOTALLY, then pulled out the brownies using the parchment and sliced with serrated knife<br />They look/smell/taste incredible! I've made this recipe before and will definitely use the brown butter in the future for the depth of flavor it adds (esp. since I use plain old Trader Joe's cocoa powder)
L K. March 6, 2015
Love that idea of browned hot butter!
L K. February 8, 2014
These remind me of my favorite brownie ever at Nancy Silverton's La Brea Bakery in LA. They are not as thick though. Hard to describe (I'll try!) the smooth, creamy, brownie like intense chocolate goodness. Topped mine with chopped pecans. Salted 5 minutes before they were done. Because there is so little flour the GF Cup 4 for Cup worked great. Using Swerve or Simply sugar makes it ok to eat more. Simply addicting.
Malinda February 2, 2014
I've been using this exact recipe for years (actually have some on my kitchen counter right now), and it makes - hands down - the best brownies. Absolutely adore them.
tastysweet February 2, 2014
Can one use extra large eggs? Or will that completely alter the outcome. I remember Ina Garten mentioning she always uses xtra large eggs. <br />Looks tempting to make. I seem to have problems making brownies so I make them into cup cakes. And then I freeze them. Defrost 30 sec. in microwave and behold an almost lava type brownie. Oh, chocolate chips must be in batter.....for me.
swaff February 2, 2014
I only use eggs from local suppliers who treat their chickens well and they aren't graded. This is difficult because the sizes vary within a box of a dozen, from small to jumbo. I wish more recipes called for a measurement of eggs - like 1/2 cup of eggs or 1/3 cup. It would make things easier. I try to be exact when baking - I weigh my dry ingredients, but the egg thing has me stumped. Does anyone else have this problem?
Andrew C. May 26, 2014
Eggs are surely graded by weight. Google weight of large eggs, then weigh your eggs.
L K. March 6, 2015
I just know a large egg measures about 1/4 cup. And recipes typically call for 'large'.
swaff January 25, 2014
I find the brownie recipe in an older Joy of Cooking to be the best.<br />Melt 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate w/ 1 stick unsalted butter. Cool<br />Beat 4 eggs w/1/2 tsp. salt until light and frothy. Add 2 cups sugar and beat for several minutes. Fold in chocolate mixture and 1 tsp. vanilla, then fold in 1 cup flour. Add nuts if desired.<br />Bake at 350. 25 minutes in 9x13 pan, or 31 minutes in 9x9 pan. Perfect brownies.
lee December 6, 2013
My mom's recipe! One pan brownies we called them. Melt the butter in 9x13 pan, add all the rest stir and do not, as I learned very quickly one brownie making session, do not overbake. Mom passed away before I could write this down for the ratios, so I am happy to see this here.
Elizabeth G. October 20, 2013
For me, this is more a gooey chocolate cake than a brownie. A brownie needs more heft I think; this one yields too quickly. And there is no thin crumbly paper-thin crust. The Baked brownie, for me, is the perfect brownie. So while Alice Medrich's creation is exceptionally tasty, for a brownie, I don't think I'd go there.
Dimitrios February 3, 2014
This was my experience as well. A little too gooey and not enough substance.
Lizz October 1, 2013
I've been making these brownies for /years/--after having a mad brownie craving and no chocolate in the house. They are transcendent, and the only brownies I can eat anymore. All others feel inferior. Thanks for bringing them to a whole new audience!
Dina M. October 1, 2013
I've been eyeing this recipe and trying not to make it for two weeks. I finally caved last night, and I realize I should never fight the instinct to bake something that looks so delicious! This is THE BEST brownie recipe ever. Everything Monica M says below: fudgy, chewy and surprisingly chocolatey. So easy to make--you can do the whole "melting" process while you're cooking something else. I baked mine on 325 in convection mode on a lower shelf, and got an excellent almost crispy crust on the top. Trying to stay away from them until tonight.
Monica M. October 1, 2013
I've been making this recipe a lot lately. It seems to keep getting better. And (surprisingly to me) Alice is right - natural cocoa does seem to make for an even more chocolaty brownie than Dutch-process. Who knew! Great, great recipe for an extremely fudgy, chocolaty, and chewy brownie. That's everything I'm looking for in a brownie! Thank you, Alice!
Kathcooks September 27, 2013
Growing up, I didn't know unsweetened chocolate came in solid squares. The Hershey's Cocoa can was the only cooking chocolate in our house. It made everything from hot cocoa, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and the absolutely most fantastic boiled fudge and chocolate brownies. Thanks for sharing!
Kelsey I. September 26, 2013
These have been up on Smitten Kitchen for years. Give the lady some credit.
Franziska October 21, 2013
Just fyi Kelsey, Deb (of Smitten Kitchen) actually credits the recipe on her blog to Alice Medrich. (see here: )<br />
pooh August 8, 2013
BEST BROWNIE RECIPE EVER!!!!! they're so perfectly gooey and chocolately!
Latetotheparty July 6, 2013
These have become my all time favorite chocoholic craving treat. Always fantastic. I do add a bit of esprsso and have substituted demerara on occasion. It always works. Next time I will tray a glaze.
on T. April 15, 2013
I've made these again over the weekend and got a wild hair. I divided and baked the dough in cheesecake pans and tonight I'll be making lady finger lined Tiramisu, Orange Dreamsicle and Almond-Cherry Cheesecakes with the brownie base.
denise&food March 22, 2013
I have made these twice and they are fantastic. A great chocolate taste and not too sweet. They travel well and freeze well. The nuts are necessary!
patb March 11, 2013
A hit with our family. A great dense brownie, not too sweet. Love the fact that it uses cocoa powder rather than melted chocolate. I always have that on hand. A keeper for sure!
wenditos March 6, 2013
Is it possible for the mixture to seize like regular chocolate. My mixture is really thick and clumpy despite the butter being melted. Also should I keep it on the water until the sugar melts too?
Author Comment
Kristen M. March 6, 2013
It will look sludgy and gritty, definitely, but not clumpy. How did it work out?
wenditos March 6, 2013
Delicious! It's a keeper. I was wondering though why couldn't you just melt the butter and mix it in rather then the double broiler way.
NakedBeet March 5, 2013
This recipe is almost identical to the Katherine Hepburn brownies I make that are also phenomenal ( And yes, these do remind me of the Hershey's back of box recipe as someone else has pointed out ( What's old is new again?
Summer O. March 4, 2013
No, they don't rise much and really they are incorporated after about 10 minutes of stirring. As mentioned previously they only make about 9-12 brownies and they do not need to (in any of the ovens I have used) go on the bottom rack.
Paulaob March 4, 2013
I made these today and have a few questions. My brownies did not rise much at all. They are about 1/2 inch thick. Is that how they are supposed to be? Also, it seemed to take a very long time for ingredients to melt during first step and even then the mixture was still quite thick. They are very good though. Thanks.
sweet F. March 4, 2013
I did a used DEMERARA sugar from mauritius. I also used Almond flour to make them gluten free. They are remarkablely good !!! All the non Gluten free types are snatching them up regardless. However for the G-free gang these are great.
golddeer March 4, 2013
These took 45 min to bake at 325F and yielded 9 brownies using a 8 x 8 square pan.
DebJ March 3, 2013
These brownies are terrific! Thanks for the recipe.
Jack M. March 3, 2013
The most popular flake salt I hear about is Maldon's, but now there are many on the market. I used Murray River....the flake adds a nicer texture...Hersheys is fine...I used Scharfenburger (? however it is spelled). 40 strokes works great.
Jack M. March 2, 2013
Any time someone named Aparna Balasubramanian follows the comment of Jack May, you know your website is having gotta love it....flack salt is key.
thirteenJ March 3, 2013
Hi Jack! (Jill here)<br />Pray tell-flack salt?<br />All I have is Hersheys cocoa.Will it work?
Aparna B. March 2, 2013
Jack M. March 2, 2013
that solved it!...just GREAT!
Jack M. March 2, 2013
Oops my wife finally figured it out. I used baking chocolate instead of I go to get powdered......thanks for the help...stay tuned!
Jack M. March 2, 2013
Thanks for the encouragement, but it all looked great after I put it in the separated in the oven....
Jack M. March 2, 2013
They looked so great I just cooked them but somehow the liquid separated and is all sitting on top.....what did I do wrong?????
Melissa @. March 2, 2013
Jack, it doesn't matter if that happens--it happens to me too. Just continue and beat in the eggs--it will all come together once you've done that.
Sasha (. February 28, 2013
Oh! I love that this just uses cocoa powder. I can't tell you how many times I go to bake and realize that's all I have.
J D. February 28, 2013
Oh, yes! On the to do list today! <br />Looking forward to the day when a genius recipe for an olive oil cake appears (hint, hint).
Mewd February 27, 2013
How much Flour
Sarag February 27, 2013
Yum, but aren't these the brownies whose recipe is right on the cocoa tin? The one anyone my age (nearing 50) probably whipped up at least once a week after school back in the seventies and eighties...before such things as a commonplace understanding of "good chocolate" and the delicious tweak ofsalt on sweets?
Jo M. February 27, 2013
I have been making brownies from an almost identical recipe I was given 20+ years ago. My South African friend who gave me the recipe tried over 100 brownie recipes over the years and these were consistently the best. She became so famous for them that when she died of cancer two years ago, the recipe was printed on the Order of Service at her funeral.
[email protected] February 27, 2013
I have been using Alice's recipe for years. It is perfection on its own but can also stand up to variation. To wit, laying down half the batter and 'tiling' with thin Bendick's mints, then covering with the remaining batter. Total yum
speechless1 February 27, 2013
Bravo! I was looking for a chewy brownie. This has perfect texture. I added two teaspoons of espresso and raspberry dust on the top. Thx
Polly H. February 27, 2013
There are no BAD brownie recipes. When a 'new' recipe sounds very much like an 'old' recipe, be happy that today's younger cooks are introduced to a tried and true 'keeper' that has stood the test of time. I love it for them.
Mary L. February 27, 2013
Try Alice's Chocolate Wafers too! They are dead on like Nabisco's Famous Wafers!
Nonny February 27, 2013
I sub a 1/2 cup of brown sugar and add 1 T. of espresso powder. That has been my "go to" brownie base for years. I like to top them with salted caramel and bittersweet chocolate ganache. My workmates like them topped off with a sprinkle of gray sea salt.
charles Z. February 27, 2013
A 1/2 cup of flour that wieghs 5oz? Is that a mistake/
Pastry C. February 27, 2013
Has to be a mistake. It's either 1 cup flour (5 oz) or 1/2 cup (2.5 oz) which is usually about the correct weights.
Author Comment
Kristen M. February 27, 2013
Yes, it was a mistake and I just fixed it -- thank you for catching that!
Aparna B. February 27, 2013
I have been making brownies this way, with cocoa and quite a bit bit less of butter and sugar, all these years. They're a little less fudgy and more cakey and that's the way I like them.
shirleyanne S. February 27, 2013
What a lot of sugar (I have to deal with some cancer cells that start growing under the influence of sugar) maybe I could cut the sugar back a bit. Cocoa is a good choice because "fair trade cocoa" is more reasonably priced than chocolate.
mrslarkin February 27, 2013
They remind me of my all time fave On-the-Fence Brownies from the King Arthur Cookie Companion. When the sugar dissolves in the heated butter, it creates that shiny, crispy top. Crazy good.<br /><br />Time to make some brownies!
EmilyC February 27, 2013
Those are my favorite brownies too! I can't wait to try these and see how they compare.
TheWimpyVegetarian February 27, 2013
I took a few classes from Alice when I was in school, and she personifies genius in the kitchen, and especially with chocolate. Her cookbooks may be the only one (especially those focused on baking) where every recipe I've tried has been stellar with dead-on accurate instructions. I have this cookbook, but haven't tried this recipe yet. But that will soon be changing :-)
cookingcontestjunkie February 27, 2013
Hershey's recipe from 20 plus years ago!Simple,delicious!
Alice C. February 27, 2013
oh my goodness! LOVE this!
alexa_van_de_walle February 27, 2013
I found this recipe on February 14th this year and wowed my family. Truly the best brownie recipe ever - 5-stars.
BlueKaleRoad February 27, 2013
Another genius pick, Kristen! Alice Medrich has brought so much chocolate joy into our lives. I just made her easy chocolate mousse, which is indeed easy and heaven in a bowl. I'm baking a batch of these brownies today (using almond flour...thanks for the gf suggestion).
Ellesbelly February 27, 2013
I love this recipe. It's my go-to brownie. While it is utterly delicious with regular cocoa powder, an extra rich one like valrhona or scharffen-Berger makes them outrageous and amazing.
dymnyno February 27, 2013
I love cooking Alice's recipes from her gorgeoous books. They don't just work...they work brilliantly!
Dede N. February 27, 2013
My favorite is Alice Medrich's New Classic Brownie from her book "Cookies and Brownies." And you MUST use the Steve Ritual -- I think it makes a big difference (plus it's a funny story). I've actually met Steve!
Sandy February 27, 2013
I've happily used a similar recipe for years! One tip: don't be careful when measuring the cocoa powder -- heap it on with abandon!! I've also added a chocolate/butter/rum glaze when getting fancy. It's just a little lump of butter and some good chocolate chips melted over a very low flame and thinned with rum. These brownies just keep getting better.
myimagine2 February 27, 2013
I've been using this recipe for years and I love it! It's my absolute favorite brownie :)
darksideofthespoon February 27, 2013
Yum! I can't wait to try these. My go to brownie is currently "the Baked Brownie", however you can never have too many favorite brownie recipes, true? I really like that this is cocoa only, and I have a giant package of that in my pantry, waiting for me.
sweet F. February 27, 2013
Can I substitute almond flour to make these Gluten free? Or any suggestions on flour substitutions for G Free version?
Melissa @. February 27, 2013
Because these don't contain any leavener (i.e. baking powder or baking soda), they're already really dense, which is the perfect scenario to substitute almond meal. I bet they'd be delicious.
ekling211 February 27, 2013
I'm going to try exactly that myself.
Melissa @. February 27, 2013
I make these all the time (with the addition of some Callebaut chocolate chips, since I like some extra texture), and they get raves unlike any other brownie recipe. The fact that they're incredibly fast and easy doesn't hurt either.
zahavah February 27, 2013
I also threw on some fleur de sel when I made them right after the Bon Appetit cover came out! <br /><br /><br />
thirschfeld February 27, 2013
It just now occurred to me I have never made Lynnie brownies. We will be rectifying this oversight this afternoon after school.
sabele February 27, 2013
This recipe looks very similar to my current go-to brownie recipe (except for the cocoa powder instead of chocolate thing), which is Katharine Hepburn's Brownies from Gourmet... I'll be interested to try this!
Summer O. February 27, 2013
How funny, this is my go to brownie recipe and I made these this weekend, they brought joy to many.