Kitchn Love Letters

The Deepest, Darkest, Fudgiest Brownies Are Also the Easiest

updated Feb 6, 2020
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Credit: Sheela Prakash

After the holidays, most of us resolve to eat better — maybe to cut out sugar or eat more vegetables — and get back to feeling ourselves after the end-of-year indulging. I, too, make this resolution each January. However, a couple of weeks in, I find that it’s just so dark and cold outside that I can’t help but crank up my oven again and get back to baking.

It’s chocolate that calls to me on these mid-winter nights. Usually it’s a Monday or Tuesday and it’s been a long day, and I just really want to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a brownie while I unwind. For these moments, I have Alice Medrich’s Cocoa Brownies. They’ve been my go-to recipe for over a dozen years because they’re just about the easiest, most pantry-friendly brownies around. It doesn’t hurt that they’re also the deepest, darkest, and fudgiest, either.

The Pantry Brownie That Has Never Steered Me Wrong

I first stumbled across this simple brownie recipe while I was in college. I had a tiny kitchenette with next to no space for ingredients and I was also on a student budget. What drew me to them is that they call for plain old cocoa powder rather than chocolate, which was wallet-friendly and could easily be stored along with my flour and sugar. Once I had the super-basic ingredients, I could make these brownies whenever I wanted to.

After baking them once and realizing they were just about the fudgiest brownies I’d ever eaten, they became a staple. I’d bake batches to bring to friends’ dorms or to club meetings and I quickly became known for them.

Years later, nothing has changed: I still bake these simple brownies all the time. I never need to run to the store when I crave them because I always have the ingredients for them. Plus, they’re infinitely adaptable. Sometimes I stir in nuts or chopped chocolate, if I have it. Other times (like my most recent endeavor above), I swirl in caramel sauce, peanut butter, or the last bit of jam at the bottom of a jar. They’re impossible to mess up and always result in applause.

Credit: Sheela Prakash

The Lazy Road to the Best Brownies

The first time I read through this brownie recipe, I felt that, despite the short pantry ingredient list, there were a few fussy steps involved. However, I followed them all — including the step of beating the batter for 40 strokes with a wooden spoon or spatula (my arms got quite a workout). Then, each time I’d make the recipe thereafter, I’d find ways to simplify things. I stopped counting how many times I beat the batter and ditched the water bath called for when melting the butter and cocoa powder. My lazy approach has yet to fail me.

This is how I make this recipe: I start by cutting the butter in rough cubes and tossing it in a medium saucepan. I heat the pan to medium and let the butter start melting. Once it starts to melt, I add the sugar, cocoa powder (either natural or Dutch-processed work and I’ve also used a combination of the two), and salt. Then I stir it until it’s all melted together and sort of smooth.

Credit: Sheela Prakash

Once that mixture cools a bit off the heat, I stir in the vanilla extract and two large eggs, as directed, then I add the flour. I stir in the flour until it completely disappears then give the batter a handful of fierce stirs. I pour the thick batter into a parchment paper-lined baking pan, spread it out, and transfer it to the oven to bake.

I find that while the recipe says the brownies will bake in 20 to 25 minutes, it’s often more like 25 to 30 minutes for me, but I start checking at 20 just to be safe. The edges will be firm and a toothpick stuck into the center will come out with some moist, fudgy crumbs. Since there’s no baking powder or baking soda in these brownies, they won’t rise. You’ll get squares that are a bit over 1/2-inch-thick. They are dense, rich, and, in my mind, absolutely perfect.

Get the recipe: Best Cocoa Brownies by Alice Medrich