When I was a teenager, I spent many evenings at our friends-and-neighbors the Schmidt’s house, playing games that often involved throwing people off the couch, having sleepovers, or getting way too into weeknight shows like American Idol. Odds were we’d end up wanting something sweet, and would often satisfy our sweet cravings by pulling out a box of brownie mix and stirring in some oil and eggs; we’d be eating hot-lava-like brownies, piled with mounds of melting vanilla ice cream, within the hour. (It was either that or drive Downtown for a “gotta have it” sized cup of cake batter ice cream with Twix from Coldstone.) And yes, my stomach used to be made of steel.
While my intestines may not be able to withstand the onslaught of so much decadence all at once like they used to, I still crave a hefty square of chocolatey goodness every now and then. When I do indulge I want them to be richly chocolatey, a little gooey and chewy, and so satisfying, just like they were when I was younger. When I think brownie, I picture the quintessential, regular ol’ basic brownie: no frills, no nothing besides the hero flavor, chocolate. There’s a time and a place for those brownies—made with rye flour, nuts, or topped with everything from caramel or pretzels to coconut—but most often the recipes I come back to over and over are the simplest ones.
The best thing about these brownies is that they can be tailored to fit many different needs: bake them for longer to make them cakier; bake them for less time and you end up with a fudgy, gooey interior; add chocolate chips for that extra hit of chocolate or flaky sea salt on top for you fellow salt lovers out there. I went back and forth on what to name these (Basic Brownies? Chocolatey Brownies? Bit of a redundancy there), but in the end I went with the truth: they’re just brownies, and they’re damn good ones. Most of the time I eat them plain, with a cup of tea or coffee, but I also use this recipe, baked a little longer and without chocolate chips, to be mixed into my (incredible, if I do say so myself) peanut butter brownie ice cream.
My goal is to eventually provide multiple brownie recipes on this blog; there are so many out there that are slightly (or wildly) different, and each has its time and place. When my husband heard I was posting a brownie recipe he asked, “Oh good, are you making the Ad Hoc recipe?”, which famously uses three sticks of butter for an 8×8-inch tray—they are the most decadent, make-your-heart-beat-double-time brownies I’ve ever had. Jonji and I made those brownies a lot when we were first dating, baking them in the cramped kitchen he shared with four friends in Davis, and which disappeared alarmingly quickly. One day I will post that recipe, but for now I want to provide a more versatile one that will serve most, if not all, of your brownie needs. Enjoy one on its own, with a hot mug of coffee or tea, a cold glass of milk, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
makes one 8×8-inch tray | adapted from Sweet Cream & Sugar Cones
130g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 stick + 2 tbsp (10 tbsp total) unsalted butter, cubed
6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
40g (½ cup) brown sugar
225g (1 cup) granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (optional)
flaky sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8×8-inch baking dish with butter and line with parchment paper.
Whisk 130g flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt together in a small bowl. Set aside. Heat 1 inch of water in a small pot over medium heat. Place a medium bowl containing the chopped 1 stick butter and 6 oz chocolate on top of the simmering water—just make sure the bowl isn’t touching the water (you can use a bain-marie to do all of this instead). Stir occasionally, until the butter and chocolate have fully melted.
Take the bowl off the water, then stir in both sugars. Whisk the eggs in one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated after each one, then whisk in 1 tsp vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and use a rubber spatula to mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips, if using.
Pour the brownie batter into your prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes for a fudgier brownie (until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out mostly clean; you want to take them out before fully clean so as to retain that fudge-like center), or 35-40 minutes for a slightly cakier brownie. Sprinkle immediately with a couple pinches of flaky sea salt, if using. Let cool fully in the pan, then lift out and cut into 9 or 16 squares. Enjoy at room temperature, ideally.
Note: these brownies are best enjoyed after several hours rest time! I prefer to bake mine the day before I plan to eat them, but of course I understand the need to eat a brownie right away. These will still taste incredible out of the oven, the just might have a cakier texture because they won’t have had that cooling and compressing time.