Brown Butter Cupcake Brownies

February 12, 2014

When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: exactly what you want, when and where you want them.

Today: Find beauty in the mayhem. This weeknight-friendly, deceptively simple take on a chocolate brownie will help.

Brown Butter Cupcake Brownies from Food52

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Friday morning. I stare at twelve duck legs, two frozen lamb shanks, and twenty sausages. I don’t quite believe it, but by Sunday night, in order to celebrate multiple family birthdays, this pile of meat will morph into an enormous pot of French stew. I open my recipe journal from this time last year to find notes on how to make a cassoulet. It was so delicious that I want to replicate every last detail. I search and search. I finally concede that I didn’t write anything down. I burst into tears. I’m on my own.

Saturday morning. The beans are simmering with salt pork. The duck legs are smothered in salt and garlic and bay leaves. The lamb is seared off. I am making shit up as I go along, but I am optimistic. While bashing garlic, anchovy, and tomato paste into a purée, I start thinking about the post-cassoulet dessert. It must be chocolate. It must be elegant. 

Saturday afternoon. My hair reeks of meat. The dishes are climbing. My legs are cramping. I fly up into a handstand. My son cackles as my cooking clogs go flying across the kitchen. I’m not laughing. I exhale out an upside-down rant.

Dash. What am I going to do? The oven isn’t big enough to accommodate both the duck confit and braised lamb and they both take five hours so they must enter the oven together or I will not be able to make dessert tonight and it needs be done so I can assemble the cassoulet in the morning.

Whatever, mom. It’s just food. 

I float down.

Come here. Sit in my lap. It’s not really the food that’s upsetting me. It’s just the fact that another year has passed. And parents are broken records about time. And how it flies.

What’s a record?

I’ll tell you later. Will you help me? Let’s take the racks out of the oven and try to make this cassoulet work.

Brown Butter Brownie Cupcakes from Food52

Late Saturday night. Miracle of miracles, all cassoulet components are braised, simmered, confited, browned, and refrigerated. More than anything, I want to be handed a martini, picked up and carried to bed, and given a vigorous leg massage. But no one is offering. And I still need to come up with dessert. I have this nagging desire to make flourless chocolate cakes with molten centers but I haven’t taken them on in years. I don’t even know where to start. I spy my cupcake pan and that’s all it takes to slam my fancy chocolate fantasy down to earth. I know what to do. Those perfect Alice Medrich brown butter brownies that I made a few weeks ago will save me. I pull the details up on my phone. I’m relieved. I double her recipe, spoon the batter into cupcake molds, and hide a chocolate chunk surprise deep in the middle of each.

Sunday morning. I layer the beans and the lamb. I press the grilled sausages down into the mix. I crown the dish with duck confit. I top it all with a bread crumb, parsley, and duck fat crust. I sigh with delight. I start doing dishes.

Sunday afternoon. I actually have time to make a cup of coffee. I look at the brownie cupcakes and worry that I’ve made a mistake by baking them individually. They look dry. I sacrificially decide I should try one. I warm it up and pry it open. I can’t believe the beauty. I can’t believe the deliciousness.

Sunday evening. I watch my family eat the cassoulet. Much like the year before, I’m gobsmacked by the power of certain foods to slow people down. I warm up the brownie cupcakes and serve them with crème fraîche. We light three birthday candles: one for my dad, one for my husband, one for my daughter. We hold hands around the table, making a few wishes, saying goodbye to another year. My husband says this is one of the best chocolate desserts you’ve ever made but it’s a crime that you’ve served it without vanilla ice cream. I give him the finger under the table, but I agree.

Late Sunday night. I climb up on my kitchen counter, finish off the brownie cupcake scraps, and start taking copious cassoulet notes for next year. A text comes in from my brother. It’s a video of his son high on my cupcake brownies, unable to sleep, and singing about how Batman smells and Robin laid an egg and yada yada you know the rest. I text back, hilarious. But what I’m really thinking is wow, how very beautiful. 

Brown Butter Cupcake Brownies from Food52

Brown Butter Cupcake Brownies

Makes 12 cupcakes

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter (2 1/2 sticks)
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch process)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon water
4 eggs, chilled
2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups walnuts, chopped finely
1 cup chocolate chips (bittersweet or semisweet)

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

Photos by Phyllis Grant 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • MBE
  • Josephine
  • Angela Shaw
    Angela Shaw
  • Lee Ann
    Lee Ann
  • Transcendancing
Phyllis Grant is an IACP finalist for Personal Essays/Memoir Writing and a three-time Saveur Food Blog Awards finalist for her blog, Dash and Bella. Her essays and recipes have been published in a dozen anthologies and cookbooks including Best Food Writing 2015 and 2016. Her work has been featured both in print and online for various outlets, including Oprah, The New York Times, Food52, Saveur, The Huffington Post, Time Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Table and Salon. Her memoir with recipes, Everything Is Out of Control, is coming out April 2020 from Farrar Straus & Giroux. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and two children.


MBE January 26, 2016
Ooey gooey yumminess! I wish I could say eating half of one is plenty but they are just too tasty to stop at half. Definitely need to put them in the freezer so we don't eat them all this week!
Josephine January 23, 2016
Phyllis, it would be wonderful to have your cassoulet recipe, or at least the amounts with which to follow your article. And, how is the bashed anchovy, garlic, and tomato paste purée used?
Angela S. January 21, 2016
I have to say that I so enjoyed your reiteration of your prep days. I love my family and friends and have prepared so many meals similar to your wonderful descriptivee meal. I just have never read the angst of a kindred spirit before explaining everything that it takes to prepare such a gift. It was humorous with a touch of frustration, doubt, but mostly love. Your family is very blessed to have you in their lives. I love your commentary as much as your recipes. Thank you.
Lee A. January 20, 2016
"My husband says this is one of the best chocolate desserts you’ve ever made but it’s a crime that you’ve served it without vanilla ice cream."

Dear husband - after all the work your wife did to put together that fabulous meal, feel free to take your rear end down to the store and pick some up.
Transcendancing September 2, 2014
I am definitely in need of brownies this week and I plan to make this. I also desperately want to try your cassoulet recipe!
Stephanie March 9, 2014
So... how's about that cassoulet link??!
Eagerly awaiting.. !!
Kristen M. February 12, 2014
I'm living vicariously through your cassoulet triumph, your brownie triumph, your beautiful family, and, maybe most of all, the fact that you remembered to take notes this time -- I never would. You should be so proud of all of it.
Phyllis G. February 13, 2014
kristen. thank you. you made me smile.
thefolia February 12, 2014
Beautiful story, your family will remember the dinner (even without the ice cream) for years! I will attempt and see if I can please the members in my nest. Happy Nesting!
baker_eliz February 12, 2014
Helens February 12, 2014
Did you literally do a handstand? I'm impressed.

Also, since you're clearly so energetic, I expect a cassoulet recipe in full within the week. :D
Jennifer V. February 12, 2014
Makes me cry. I understand how time hurts the heart too.
Brette W. February 12, 2014
Love this so much that I actually teared up at the end. Also I want these.