March 26, 2013

Cocoa brownies

As I was blathering on about brownies the other day, I realized something was glaringly missing from my repertoire...cocoa-based brownies!  As in the kind made with cocoa instead of some kind of chocolate.
To paraphrase chocolate and baking expert, Alice Medrich, everyone should have more than one brownie recipe in their repertoire, and cocoa should be one of them because it's easy to work with and provides deep chocolate flavor.  I listen to the experts and since I'd never made cocoa brownies before, I had to correct my oversight.

In my search, it seemed like *the* definitive cocoa brownie recipe is one developed by Alice Medrich herself and that's what I went with.  This recipe reminds me of the Scharffen Berger brownies (Ms. Medrich does work with the company), where a good, thorough mixing of the batter is key.  The major difference between the recipes is while those brownies are made with bittersweet chocolate, this one is built on cocoa. 

Since you start with unsweetened cocoa powder, you literally add back the fat (butter) and sugar that otherwise already exists - to varying degrees - in chocolate (cocoa butter and sugar).  So don't be alarmed if, like me, you can't help but notice there's more butter and sugar called for here than you might be used to with other brownie recipes.
I used Dutch-process cocoa because that's what I have on hand and it's the kind I use regularly but I hear that natural cocoa actually brings an even greater depth of chocolate flavor to these cocoa brownies than its darker counterpart.  If anyone can confirm this, I'd love to know (and give the natural cocoa version a try down the road).  [*See update at end of post]

These dark brownies are dense, yet moist and soft.  They're creamy in the center yet chewy (I dare say they're chewier than the chewy brownie recipe I just tried).  And I learned that using cocoa does, in fact, make a brownie with plenty of chocolate flavor.  In fact, it's a seriously deep flavor that I think is rather unique.  I feel like I'd be able to tell a cocoa brownie from a chocolate one because there's a different level of intensity and flavor to it somehow.
I'm glad that when it comes to brownies, we don't have to pick favorites.  What's not to love, right?  There are a lot of good versions out there, each with its own set of characteristics and selling point.  But Alice Medrich is right - a cocoa brownie is a good one to have among your brownie arsenal.  These stand up on their own, plus, you never know when you need/want brownies and find yourself without dark chocolate in the house. 

This brownie recipe is like most others, a one bowl mix. 

You can literally place the butter, cocoa, sugar, and salt into a heatproof bowl and set it directly over a skillet with just simmering water to begin.  You can do this since you're working with cocoa and not worried about scorching chocolate.  Alternatively, melt the mixture using the standard double-boiler method.  Be patient and stir the mixture until the butter melts and the cocoa dissolves.  The mixture should feel hot to the touch and will be thick and, in my experience, look quite grainy (translation: not very attractive) at this point.

I've actually also seen a video where Ms. Medrich makes these cocoa brownies by first melting the butter in a saucepan and then adding the cocoa, sugar, and salt right into the hot butter to combine.
Allow the mixture to cool a bit before adding the vanilla and eggs, giving it a good thorough stir until the mixture turns thick and shiny (above).  Next, add half a cup of flour and combine it until the flour is absorbed into the batter.  Then, very importantly, you beat the mixture vigorously for 40-50 strokes.  It should look very glossy and be pulling away from the sides of the bowl when you're done.
The mixture is very thick so you'll need to take your rubber spatula or a small offset spatula to spread it evenly into an 8" square baking pan.  Mine took 20 minutes in the oven.  A toothpick or tester inserted into the brownie should come out with slightly moist batter so that you have a moist brownie.  I love that moist, chocolaty center.
These brownies are as dark as Brooklyn Blackout and old-school, in a good way.  They're dense and moist, just asking to be sliced into mini squares and passed around.  I didn't resist the natural urge to serve them with ice cream also.

I was wondering: How do you store and eat your brownies?  Sometimes I'll freeze extra since it thaws so quickly and I like having a stash of homemade treats in the freezer.  I know there are fans of storing brownies in the refrigerator and eating them cold.  I understand the appeal of a cold brownie texturally (it's fudgy and slightly chewier) but I miss some of the flavor that seems lost that way.  I actually really love it warm, coupled with a scoop or two of ice cream, of course...

* Update (September 12, 2013): I recently made these brownies again using natural cocoa powder as opposed to Dutch-processed.  The brownies were excellent - same amazing chewy texture and, I think, a slightly more intense chocolate flavor than using Dutch-processed!  It was quite an eye-opener for me, as I always assumed the opposite (maybe because of the deeper color of Dutch-processed cocoa).  It would've been a better "test" if we were able to do a side-by-side comparison but based on memory, my husband and I actually liked the brownies made with natural cocoa more, if we had to pick. At the very least, both make for excellent cocoa brownies so don't hesitate to use either (or try both to see what you think)!

** Update (November 29, 2014): For individual-portioned brownies, you could bake them in standard-size muffin tins.  Grease the muffin cups with baking spray and then divide the batter among the 12 cups.  Bake until a tester comes out with some moist crumbs attached, about 20 minutes.  Let cool, then remove with the help of a small offset spatula.  I found they turned out quite easily.


Cocoa Brownies
From Alice Medrich via food52

- 25 small or 16 larger brownies -

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed or natural cocoa)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cups walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. (I butter the pan before lining it with parchment.) 

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and slightly hot to the touch.  It will look grainy at this point.  (You could just use the typical double-boiler method; I've also seen a video where Ms. Medrich first melts the butter in a saucepan and them immediately adds the sugar, cocoa, and salt in to mix.)  Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is warm instead of hot.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40-50 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using.  Spread the batter evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes.  Let cool completely on a rack.

Remove the brownie from the pan using the parchment or foil overhang.  Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 16 or 25 squares.  I find that aside from chilling the brownie first, a hot but dry knife cleaned in between slices works well.


  1. I made and blogged about these brownies 2 weeks ago. LOVE THEM! They're my new fave! I love how dark and perfect yours turned out!

  2. This looks soo good Monica! (: (: Super fudgey, mmM! xxxx

  3. Mmmm, I love this recipe - such tasty brownies! Delicious. :)

  4. Thanks! I love myself some brownies and I couldn't believe I'd never done a pure-cocoa one.

  5. I seldom make brownies but these look definitely decadent and rich in chocolate. :) I'm sure they'll be my family favorite.

    hm...everyone should have more than 1 brownie recipes? hm...I don't even have one yet. but I think this would be a very good start. ;)

  6. Oh yes, I think this Alice Medrich recipe would be a great place to start, Amy. I haven't met a brownie I didn't like in some way so I can't help making them and trying new recipes. Perfect with your ice cream!

  7. Oh my gosh! I love cocoa brownies and yours looks absolutely moist and decadent :)

  8. These looks so moist and fudgey and full of yummy chocolate flavor. I have all of the ingredients on hand too, looks like I will be making these lovely brownies soon :)

  9. Those brownies look so very dark and chewy! I wish I had one now (and its 7am). I agree...everyone needs more than one brownie recipe! Thank you so much for sharing!

  10. Thank you, ladies. There's nothing like a brownie to make the day better. The fact that I'm very likely to have all the ingredients on hand to make this whenever I need to is re-assuring! ; )

  11. I love brownies. I wish I can have a piece everyday after kids come home from school... I need to get energized to keep up with them. :) Your brownie looks YUMMY! So rich and delicious, Monica!

  12. Nami, I also use my 7-year old as an excuse to make and eat more brownies! Love 'em!

  13. These look so dark, chocolatey and fudgy - definitely the perfect brownie! Is there such a thing as leftover brownies? Ha!

  14. Ha - so right, Eva! It takes a lot of self-control and restraint to have leftover brownies...

  15. These brownies look nice and fudgy! Mmmm!

    I love the King Arthur Flour brownie recipe. My favorite! I would think that natural cocoa might not be as strong as the Dutch for the chocolate. I like the darker cocoas myself and hardly use the natural. I always eat my brownies room temperature unless I have something with them that needs to be cold (I keep the rice krispie treat ones I make in the fridge).

  16. Hi Alyssa - I with you on using Dutch process cocoa but amazingly enough, I read an article where Alice Medrich says natural cocoa powder gives these even more chocolate flavor and that people are always surprised (there was a blind taste test involved, I think). Yikes, all this brownie talk has me wanting one!

  17. I probably drive people nuts by extolling the virtues of the homemade brownie; SOOOOO much better than box versions (although i'll admit to having one or two boxed versions that are delightful), and truly about the same to make. I've never tried making an exclusively cocoa-based brownie; i've made a hybrid of cocoa/melted chocolate, but that's as close as i've come. This one is on my list; they look glorious, and so dense, and yes, you never know when you might need a brownie (even if it's um, 8 am and you're commenting on a brownie post.)

  18. Shannon - it's so funny because I always think back fondly on boxed brownies because that's how I started out, if you will. I remember one day a couple of years ago, I had to make something quick and I went for the box of brownies sitting in the pantry. I made it and when I tasted it, I couldn't believe it didn't taste nearly as "good" as I remembered it! : )

    I had never done a cocoa-exclusive brownie before this. I've done unsweetened choc, dark chocolate and the chocolate and cocoa combo like you. This was a revelation...I'd definitely make it again.



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