Let it be known that I don’t throw the word perfect around casually. In this digital era, everyone’s fighting for attention with headlines like “the best chocolate cake” and “10 life-changing chicken recipes” and plenty more that don’t deliver on the promise.
Not only does this come across as disingenuous, but it makes me trust those publications less. The fact is that there are many excellent recipes out there—it all depends on what you’re after. But if we’re narrowing the scope to something really specific and comparing a collection of very similar recipes—for say, flourless chocolate cake or blueberry muffins—then I think we can start tossing the word “best” around. “Best” means the one that yields the ideal version of said food: a blueberry muffin with a tender crumb, tons of juicy berries in every bite, and a slightly sugared crackly domed top.
But we’re not here to talk about muffins! Or blueberries! Or fruit! Or anything resembling fruit! We are here to talk about brownies. [Sidebar: While you could argue that chocolate comes from cacao beans which are technically a fruit, but you and I both know that is a wild stretch, so drop it. I’m on to that sort of thing. I also consider dessert crucial nutrition, if we’re speaking in terms of emotional joy, so in a way it’s really on par with fruit in the ‘good for you’ department in my very unprofessional, non-medical opinion.]
When I say these are the perfect brownies, I mean they are moist and chewy but just slightly cake-like: enough to keep them from being too dense and overly intense like a block of solid fudge. When you take a bite, you’ll leave teeth marks.
They sport a shiny, flaky top—a thin crackly layer that is achieved by using semisweet chocolate chips in the batter. This is important! One of my coworkers at King Arthur Flour, the ever-talented and curious PJ Hamel, did endless tests to figure out how to nail that distinctive crackly crust. She found that chips are the answer—not the percentage of chocolate (dark v. semisweet v. milk). Why? She posits that chips are made with stabilizers and fat to help them keep their shape; these ingredients seem to have a special effect on brownies.
I like my brownies to be teetering just on this side of too rich. I want to be able to eat an entire one without needing to lie down and do some deep meditative breathing (Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies, I’m looking at you here). But I don’t want them to be too tame, like some cocoa powder brownies that leave you needing a chaser of a handful of chocolate chips (oh wait, am I the only person who does that?).
Equally important is freezability. Frozen brownies are one of life’s greatest small pleasures—right up there with diving into the cold ocean on a hot day or the combination of Brie cheese spread on Carr’s water crackers (GO WITH ME HERE PEOPLE). I’ve mentioned this before, but my mom used to make these brownies, then cut them into small squares and stash them in the back of the freezer.
We’d sneak into the pantry when “no one was looking” and grab them, slowly savoring each rich square. Are they better than frozen balls of cookie dough? Listen, I can’t choose. They are both so good, that I urge everyone to immediately reacquaint themselves with their freezer if you aren’t in the habit of freezing…everything. Frozen grapes, too, while we’re on the subject, might be the world’s perfect summer snack (tiny Popsicles, as I think of them).
Have I lost you yet? Well, let’s rein it back in and stick with the point. The brownies are exceptional, frozen or not. Best of all, they’re pretty quick and easy. You can whip up a batch tonight, leaving you with plenty of time to put on this song and sing at top volume, hoping your neighbors don’t notice. (And if they do notice, and for some bizarre reason don’t say “Wow, have you considered performing? How odd that talent scouts haven’t discovered you yet” but rather “Can you keep it down?”, you can just offer them three warm brownies and all will be forgiven.)
Perfect Fudgy Brownies
1 cup (85g) Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional but highly recommended)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup (227g) unsalted butter
2 cups (396g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (53g) packed brown sugar
1 1/2 (180g) cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate or chips
flaky sea salt, to finish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease (or line with parchment) a 9” x 13” pan. [Note: Sometimes I make these in two 8” round pans!]
Melt the butter and sugars together, stirring until the sugar melts and the mixture is pretty smooth. Don’t skimp on this step—the melted sugar helps to make that shiny crust. Set aside.
Beat the eggs together until frothy (at least 3 minutes in a stand mixer—this helps add some air and give the brownies some lift). Add the cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, and vanilla and mix until just combined and smooth.
Add the butter/sugar to the batter and stir to combine.
Add the flour and fold it in gently, mixing until the batter just comes together.
Stir in the chocolate chips and chopped chocolate.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes—start checking a few minutes before that. The brownies are done when a tester inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it; do NOT overbake these! If you underbake them slightly…no one will be mad. In fact, people will love you for it.