UPDATE 10.25.23: I just heard from the Baker’s Edge Pan company that those pans are back in stock and on sale now. I am not financially connected to them at all, but I strongly urge you to buy one of these pans to enjoy the best brownies of your life. Here’s the link.
UPDATE 7.15.23: I made an important additional comment about pan types to use, in the pan section. Also see under Step 5 in the recipe. At the end of that step I talk about toothpicks. Just me trying to be thorough.
Like everyone else I did a lot of the same things I always did (like bake bread, I didn’t just start because of the pandemic) but then I also did things I never really had time or inclination for.
I decided that because I wasn’t able to go out and about for my usual treats early in the Pandemic, that I would discover how to make the best brownies possible.
With a lot of experimentation and the cocoas available from King Arthur I cracked the code. Everyone who has tasted this brownie loves it.
Of course the first thing I did was read about brownies in my cookbooks (slim info there) and on the internet. People of course argue about cake versus chewy brownies, but if you know me at all you know what I want is a chewy brownie with a bit of an edge. (This becomes very important as you’ll learn.)
Next I gathered a bunch of recipes that seemed likely candidates. (I’m pretty good at reading recipes and imagining what they will taste like—I think because I wasn’t allowed to cook as a child, and because our second grade teacher read the “Raggedy Ann and Andy Books” to us at lunch and they seemed to always be eating treats.)
There are a million brownie recipes out there so I narrowed it down to about 5.
I made a batch of each of them using the cocoa I had on hand from King Arthur. I don’t even recall why I had all that cocoa, but I think it was an aspirational impulse buy at the beginning of the pandemic.
I made the same recipes with the each of the different cocoas. It seems like a lot of batches, but Dick and I were feeling no pain. (This was also before my lung issues and I was still riding 14 to 21 miles a day on my bike. Probably shouldn’t try this, come to think of it, unless you have a similar work out schedule or a very large and hungry family. But wait, you don’t have to do this because I did it all for you, read on.)
I can’t give you the names of the reject recipes because after the process was over (about 6 weeks) I packed it all way, and that was before “The Move—Phase One,” and who knows where all that stuff is now.
But basically I narrowed everything down to two cocoas and two recipes.
I was still trying things like neutral tasting oils, and coconut oil, but I didn’t like the flavors, so I quickly went all melted butter. That’s right. A treat is a treat, get over it!
I have tried pretty much every cocoa I can get my hands on. This includes the five types of cocoa King Arthur carries, Rodelle Baking Cocoa, Ghirardelli, Guitard, Valrhona.
I didn’t want to try Hershey’s because all I could find was their natural cocoa. They do make a dutch-processed cocoa, but I couldn’t get any, and that’s what I was using.
Also I couldn’t find any Callebaut or Scharffen-Berger as they were sold out everywhere I looked. I didn’t want to try Droste because we used to always eat their chocolate bars, but they got absorbed by another company and the quality wasn’t the same.
At some point you really do just have to call it.
The recipes I was reading called for Dutch-processed cocoa. (If a recipe called for actual chocolate I didn’t test it because I wasn’t able to get any of the baking chocolates I like at the beginning of the pandemic.)
If you don’t know the difference between Dutch-processed and natural you can read this handy post on the King Arthur site. I read hundreds of pages on this topic. I’ve just saved you a ton of time. You’re welcome.
I can also tell you that Rodelle Dutch-processed cocoa is available at Sam’s Club or Trader Joe’s or some place like that. I have a friend who goes to all those stores. She gave me some to test. It’s a good cocoa and if that’s what you have and you enjoy the taste of it, use it. It reminded me of my childhood when my mom made brownies from Hershey’s. It seems less full-flavored and smooth than the other cocoas I was testing. But nostalgia factor can often trump superior quality and taste. I rate it higher than the Guitard, Valrhona, and Ghirardelli as a brownie.
Ghirardelli, Guitard, and Valrhona weren’t as good as the King Arthur Cocoas we tried. And the Valrhona was actually very disappointing and “generic” tasting, by that I mean (interpreting my own notes) flat with no follow up flavor.
But everyone likes different things in their cocoa flavor. It’s like coffee in a way—the coffee shop carries all the different kinds of coffee and people keep buying them.
If you use any of the cocoas I’ve mentioned here, in the recipe I’ve listed below, you will be happy with your brownies. And if you want to step it up, try the cocoa I use.
My rating for the brownies are King Arthur Cocoa in this order from best to also very, very good.
Double Dark Cocoa Blend (come right over I have some brownies made with this in the freezer!)
Bensdorp Cocoa (chocolaty but don’t end up tasting as sweet as the Double Dark. Dick prefers the Bensdorp but he’s learned to live with the Double Dark because after all I’m making them. Also he’s a coffee drinker.)
Burgundy Cocoa (which they seem not to have at this posting). A sharp, rich chocolate taste at the front of the tongue, then a pleasant aftertaste at the back of the throat but not as rich as the Double Dark.
Triple Cocoa Blend (for a nostalgia taste, not as rich as the others). I found this had a nice chocolate taste but a slight “burnt coffee-esque” smell and taste. Almost a sort of frosting taste—I’d use it for that. Not for me, as a standby cocoa for brownies.
Black Cocoa—I didn’t use this alone. They write about mixing it with other cocoas and the smell didn’t indicate to me I would like a brownie made only with this. If you try it yourself, report back please.
Once I had the recipe, the “oil,” and the cocoa that got me the taste I wanted I knew that what I wanted was the best bake on the brownie I could get—and for me that meant crispy, chewy bottom and edges.
So I tried various baking pans:
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that if you are using Pyrex you want to use only the CLEAR Pyrex, not a dark brown (or other colors they may make; I don’t know how their opaque white Pyrex would be, start testing doneness early if you use it.)
I was talking about pans with another reader and remembered my omission.
I originally tested a brown 8 x 8 Pyrex batch as well. I found that the timing was all off and they cooked much quicker. It makes sense since the glass is darker. Whatever the reason I don’t recommend using dark glass. A disaster was only averted because I used a staggered doneness check and began 2 minutes earlier than the earliest check time stated in the original recipe. The brownies were already “overdone” compared to what I would like, and more cakey. But happily they weren’t burnt—but the sugar in the crust was just about to turn and that would have meant bitter brownies indeed.
A Silicone pan with a metal rim—(top left) that rim is really important because it allows it all to stand up and makes extraction easier. I didn’t care for the cook in this pan (top center/red, in the photo) because it overcooked the brownies. By that I mean it made them cakier no matter how I played with time. I think it had to do with the black silicone effecting heat dispersal, but only because someone mentioned something about black steel causing issues. Whatever. I didn’t like it. I’d skip that pan.
A Stainless steel—bottom right. If you have one of these, just rub soft butter all over it (as you’ll do on any of these), and you’ll be right. Things will come out easily and your crustiness will be fine.
A USA Pan with a ribbed base and “Americoat” (“a clear, nonstick, non-toxic environmentally friendly coating especially formulated for the easy removal of baked goods,” according to King Arthur.) (Bottom left) I know people want to avoid coatings of all types on their cookware. If you do—get the plain steel mentioned above. I tested this one because it’s not like I eat brownies every day…What I can tell you is this pan makes good brownies.
The Baker’s Edge Pan shown at the opening of this post. This is an aluminum pan with a non-stick coating. I know, you want to avoid those right? I asked and they said the magic letters that it didn’t have, so I decided to get it and try it. All the “edge-forward” pans I was looking at had teflon, which I didn’t want, or some other type of coating. Again, you can always get the plain steel.
Regardless of the pan you’re using, cooking times will vary. I have a note on my copy of the recipe that the Baker’s Edge pan needs less cooking time. And that makes sense because it is in “rows” with more edges exposed so it is going to cook faster. I put my times for this pan in the recipe below.
For all pans, start with the least amount of time and do a toothpick test. You’ll be glad you did. And as with everything I do and suggest you try—take notes, notes, notes.
Update 7.19.23: Currently the Baker’s Edge Pan is available again. I wrote to them after people wrote in not finding it. You can get it through Amazon at this link as of today. (I just checked on a whim and there it was.) I recommend you get the Complete Set because it comes with the silicone plug and that is essential to have if you’re going to use this pan to bake my recipe. You also get a spatula which is great because it fits the rows, and a lid (which I have never used—go figure!). It’s worth the $69.99 price tag. If you elect to get the “Brownie Pan” it only has the full pan and spatula. So you will need to buy the plugs separately and they come in sets of 3 on the Baker’s Edge website—but they cost about $15.00 and some postage. So you’re getting to the same price. If you don’t want the lid and you want extra plugs that’s a way to go. Just know if you want to use the pan the way I do you must get an option that gets that plug.
Get an oven thermometer you can hang on one of your oven racks and read it when you set up your temperature. Use that thermometer, not your oven’s stated temperature as the “real” temperature because ovens so often don’t agree with “themselves.”
I don’t remember how I landed on the site that had this brownie recipe. I bopped all over the internet as I mentioned earlier. There are some really awful brownie recipes out there and I know enough about baking that I could read them and simply not make them.
I saw a recipe on LoveandLemons.com (you can read the recipe here), and I felt that little bit of hope leap up in my heart. Bloggers Jeanie and Jack are actually referring on their blog to Michelle Lopez’s “Weekend Baking” which includes a recipe for Boxed Mix Brownies From Scratch. I loved this recipe so much I bought the book. However I am still making brownies…
I have written my version (which is very close) below.
I am not a vegetarian. I wanted to give you my annotations and deletions—I do not use chocolate chips because none of the chips I could get matched any of the cocoas, and I think you already got the right idea that chocolate flavors matter to me.
My adjustments are in this red color.
Prep Time: 5 mins. (Takes me about 10 mins., but I can do it in my sleep. It’s just a lot of pieces of things to get out.)
Cook Time: 45 minutes (36 mins. in the Baker’s edge; cooling time—2 hours)
Serves: 16 Brownies (I cut this batch size into 12 brownies, it’s the way things seem to go in the Baker’s Edge Pan.)
1—1/2 cups granulated sugar* (I only use C & H “pure cane sugar…” You sort of had to grow up in the 1960s. Look don’t get me started, on either the singing of the jingle (which you can see on YouTube) or the evils of beet sugar. I’ve been baking for 43 years—ever since I moved in with Dick and had a kitchen. We live in Minnesota where beets are grown and beet sugar is made. (Crystal) Look, he brought some home one day and I used it and things didn’t work out at all—pats not cookies. Our relationship could have ended on that day, but he cared as much about the right sugar as I do. So save your relationship and always get C & H “pure cane sugar…”)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I use Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose. I use this flour for all my cookies and such. I have used King Arthur All Purpose and they turn out well—but a little hardier, so I prefer GMUAP for this.)
2/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy (See list of Dutch-process cocoas in introductory comments.)
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy (Also C&H for obvious reasons.)
(I sift all of the above, and the salt, together, whether they are lumpy or not)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I omit these to avoid clashing chocolate notes)
3/4 teaspoons sea salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil or extra-virgin olive oil** (I use 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted and allowed to cool a bit. Land O’Lakes unsalted—one stick equals 1/2 cup. I’m brand loyal and this is good tasting butter. You can try other unsalted butters, but I want you to know what I have success with.)
2 Tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (I use McCormick’s as it is readily available and I grew up with it. It is bourbon-y enough to pair well with Häagen-Dazs Vanilla ice cream, and you really want to consider these things when making brownies! Recently I had to use some King Arthur Vanilla. It’s excellent, but it doesn’t have the same bourbon-y taste of McCormick’s and my youth, so nostaligia wins this round.)
I measure a cup, etc., by scooping into the container and gently lifting up the measuring cup, tapping the top 2 times with the back edge of a butter knife to settle any “voids” and then drawing the back of the knife edge across the top of the measuring cup so that any voids are further filled, and any excess is pushed off into the main container again. I’m sure this might horrify purists, but I watched my grandmother and mother do this, and since I wasn’t allowed to cook, and didn’t take any lessons, it’s what I still do—unless I’m weighing ingredients for bread baking. I just wanted you to know how I do it, in case you weren’t trained either.
I begin by cutting one stick of unsalted butter into cubes and putting it in a small Pyrex dish, loosely covered with plastic wrap or wax paper—you want it to be able to vent. I set the microwave for 35 seconds or less depending on whether or not the butter is frozen. Yes there are issues with doing this with your butter—best to have it at room temperature and then zap it only a few seconds or melt it in a pan. But this is real life here and I get it to work as I’ve described it. By the time I need it it will be cool enough to use because it’s the first thing I do. You can deal with the dilemma of melting butter as independent study—just don’t get it partially melted and after letting it cool a bit zap it again, because it sets up quickly and that’s when it will explode! Check after the first zap and re-zap it right away if needed.
1. Preheat the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly spray an 8 x 8 inch baking dish (not a 9 x 9 dish or your brownies will over cook) with cooking spray and line it with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper.
(I use the Baker’s Edge pan and use the insertion red silicone piece to make it an 8 x 8 inch pan. But using either it or the other 8 x 8 pans I tested I do NOT spray the pan, I put some unsalted butter that is at room temp on a paper towel and rub that on all the cooking surfaces of the pan. All the sprays I’ve looked at have ingredients Dick doesn’t want me to use. If I get to choose the chocolate I can at least let him have this input.)
2. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, chocolate chips, and salt.
(I have a flat-ish wide metal prep-bowl that I place a strainer on the rim of and put all these ingredients, sans chocolate chips in the strainer! I sift them by shaking the strainer. I also wear a mask because I have lung issues and the powdery stuff can rise a bit into the air. I then stir all of this very well so no white streaks remain. I use a silicone spatula for this.)
Just an aside, because I felt it was also something I discovered in the Pandemic—prep bowls. I love them. I have a ton of them now. I buy them from places like Webstaurant. I have several of a bunch of different sizes. (Don’t get the sets, buy five of one size and five of another, and you get the idea. Really small ones will hold your garlic, medium ones will hold your potatoes for most recipes. You’ll get the hang of it. When I cook my leek and chicken soup I cut and cook as I go along because I have the timing down. But during the Pandemic I started making usual things and didn’t want to waste anything with mistakes or bad timing so I started using prep bowls. I cannot tell you how happy they make me. I love to fill them up and see them lined up on the counter (which for a couple years was a card table so I needed to find joy where I could). One can argue that it’s more to clean, but if you’re making a new recipe using them saves so much time when you have things ready to go, and it isn’t hard to clean the extra bowls, even if you’re washing dishes by hand. It makes everything easier. And joyful. Prep bowls.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, olive oil, water, and vanilla.
(I whisk together the melted butter which is pretty cool by now with the water and vanilla. When that is whisked the butter is definitely cool enough to whisk in the eggs, so I do that.)
4. Sprinkle the dry mix over the wet mix and stir until just combined.
(We are entering the land of controversy here—how much to mix. Basically most sources say to mix as little as possible if you want crackly tops. I’ll leave you to find your own way into and out of that rabbit hole of technique. What I do, and it works every time, is I pour 1/3 of my dry material on to the whisked materials. With a silicone spatula I fold things together by taking one swoop around the bowl, bringing the bottom materials up. I do this until the dry material is pretty much incorporated, no more than 3-5 passes, same direction—I’m superstitious. Then I pour on the second 1/3, repeat, and finally do the last 1/3 and repeat the mixing. I am not beating anything vigorously, it’s more like folding things in. It’s kind of zen. You shouldn’t be raising a cloud of dust.)
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan (it’ll be thick—that’s OK) and use a spatula to smooth the top. Bake for 40 to 48 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with only a few crumbs attached (note: it’s better to pull the brownies out early than to leave them in too long). Cool completely before slicing.*** Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. These also freeze well!
(This batter doesn’t pour. Think Steve McQueen’s “The Blob.” This batter eases and oozes its way, guided by your spatula. This will be the most difficult part as you want it to be even, but don’t over work it. I use the Baker’s Edge Pan which causes things to cook faster than the recipe suggests. I set my timer for 36, 38, and 40 minutes. When I test it at 36 minutes every time the toothpick has come out with maybe a couple small bits sticking to it, it’s not liquid, it’s not covering the toothpick. It’s just right. So I stop there. When I’m using the other pans they have other baking times which you’ll have to discover—by starting with the shortest time and working up. If you control your oven temperature you’ll get repeatable results.)
Additional Update Note from Roz 7.15.23: I realized when I came in to update about the pans today that I didn’t say anything about my toothpicks. I find it’s important to use ROUND toothpicks. “Reading” an angled cut toothpick isn’t as straightforward. The roundness helps cut down on false “doneness” tests. I use Diamond Brand Round Toothpicks, and when I can get them, their really fancy ones with the carved ends. These are smooth and give accurate results. If you don’t have toothpicks you can use bamboo skewers, metal skewers, a carving fork if it has THIN, LONG tines. You will get extra holes in one central brownie, but as long as the tines are long enough you won’t depress the top of the brownie. I’m sure there are other things you can use, but those are the things that pop to mind. During the early phases of the Pandemic it was very difficult to get good quality, round toothpicks! I don’t know what everyone was doing with them—perhaps everyone was baking brownies?
*If you’d like to reduce the sugar, I’ve had success with 1 cup granulated sugar instead of 1-1/2 cups. (I use the full amount of sugar because this is a treat! And also because I want that sugar to help me get the crispy edges I crave.)
**I like to use olive oil because it’s what I keep on hand and I enjoy the pairing of olive oil with chocolate. Keep in mind that you will taste it here. For a more neutral flavor, use canola oil.
(Look, when I read the recipe I almost didn’t make it because who wants brownies to taste like olive oil? [that’s a rhetorical question] I use BUTTER. Unsalted BUTTER. Just BUTTER. I want BUTTER to pair with the chocolate. Who wouldn’t want that? Seriously, why are we having this discussion. Use BUTTER.)
***When these brownies come out of the oven, they’ll be super gooey in the middle. Allow them to cool completely, about 2 hours, before you slice into them, to give them a chance to set up. They’ll continue to firm up the longer they’re out of the oven. If you still prefer a firmer brownie, store them in the fridge.
OK, this note didn’t make any sense to me—why would you store brownies in the fridge because that will cut down on your ability to really taste the full chocolate flavor. You want them to be at room temperature. Frankly, I think if you’ve cooked them correctly to toothpick test doneness they won’t be so gooey that you’d think you needed to do that. But here is the GREAT NEWS—when you do cut them after cooling you can wrap these individually and put them in a plastic container in the FREEZER. Then a couple hours before you want one you can take one out and put it on a plate and let it sit until it comes to room temperature—about 1 to 2 hours depending on your heating and cooling. The brownie, if you use the cocoa I’ve recommended, and you used BUTTER, will taste as good as it did the day you baked it.
How long do they last in the freezer? Who knows. We each eat one a day for however long they are there so a batch is gone in a week. Seems reasonable to me. Then when we want them again I make another batch. I serve the thawed brownies to visitors and they never even guess that they were frozen! It beats fighting with a whole room of people who want to cut into them when they are cooling. It’s hard enough to keep Dick away from them while they cool.
That’s it, that’s everything—in red—that I do to make them and they have turned out perfectly every time.
To Make Brownies: The Philosophy
Look, there are some things you just learn in life. I could, right now if I were to travel anywhere (that I could scrounge together the ingredients), make from memory a pan of brownies and while we waited for them to bake and cool I could bind you a journal of any papers you had scattered about. That’s just part of my skill set.
Is making great brownies going to change the world? Nope not enough people are coming by to try them, and people I suggest make them, because they are already bakers, tell me they are on diets.
You have to decide what you want to do, and how badly you want the best brownie in the world.
And then you have to think about how satisfying it will be to make something truly wonderful. And if you’re fortunate to have a family you can share the brownies with them. I am betting they will worship you for it.
And if you make them for yourself because you live alone, well you are worth it. Remember these freeze really, really well.
It is so wonderful to eat something so delicious like this, made from scratch. It takes such a small amount of time. Just go ahead and make them. Wanting them and not making them doesn’t make much sense because they are so easy. And having something this good is so satisfying that you won’t eat the whole pan—you couldn’t, you’d pass out. These are seriously rich. You’ll have one brownie and then you’ll go about the rest of your day, knowing that tomorrow or the next day you have another brownie appointment because they are waiting in the freezer.
I used to eat a lot of chocolate bars until I started making brownies. Now I rarely eat chocolate bars. Things that really satisfy us are a joy. But you have to decide what is right for you.
What I can tell you is something I learned and said to Dick after the second batch of brownies that I made…and I had not even perfected the method, cocoa selection, or recipe yet!
“Why would anyone ever make these from a box? If a mom ever told her kids she didn’t have time to make these she’d be a bold-faced liar.” (Actually I used other words but I try to keep the blog PG. And it goes for a dad baker in the family too.)