Think of the basic fudgy brownie as the ultimate blank slate, endlessly customizable. This one-pot batter (fewer dishes to do!) comes together in minutes and requires no special equipment. And there’s a good chance that the ingredients are already in your kitchen: cocoa powder, sugar, flour, butter, and eggs. Then you can gild the lily any way you choose: mix-ins, swirls of jam, creamy glazes or crunchy toppings.
Yields 24 2-inch brownies
Make the batter
This recipe calls for natural unsweetened cocoa powder, which has a much stronger chocolate flavor than melted bittersweet chocolate. Don’t substitute Dutch-processed cocoa; it has a milder flavor and so will your brownies. If you like you can add flavorings: liqueurs or other aromatic flavoring, or for a traditional brownie flavor, choose the vanilla extract.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325*F. Line the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch straight-sided metal baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, leaving about a 2-inch overhang on the short sides. Lightly butter the foil.
Cut 12 oz. (1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter into 9 pieces and put it in a large (4-quart) saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally until the butter has melted, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in 3-3/4 oz. (1-1/4 cups) unsweetened natural cocoa powder (sift the cocoa powder first if it's lumpy) until smooth, 1 minute. Add 2-3/4 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 tsp. table salt, and whisk until well blended. Use your fingertip to check the temperature of the batter—it should be warm, not hot. If it’s hot, set the pan aside for a minute or two before continuing.
Whisk in your flavoring choice (see options below) and 5 large eggs, two and then three at a time, until just blended. Sprinkle 7-1/2 oz. (1-2/3 cups) all-purpose flour over the batter and stir with a rubber spatula until just blended. Stir in your mix-in choices (see options below).
Choose one or two flavorings
Pure vanilla extract: 2 tsp.
Almond extract: 1/2 tsp.
Peppermint extract: 3/4 tsp.
Finely grated orange zest: 2 Tbs.
Finely grated fresh ginger: 1 Tbs.
Brandy: 2 Tbs.
Amaretto: 2 Tbs.
Baileys: 2 Tbs.
Grand Marnier: 2 Tbs.
Frangelico: 2 Tbs.
Kahlua: 2 Tbs.
Dark rum: 2 Tbs.
Ground cinnamon: 1-1/4 tsp.
Ground cayenne: scant 1/2 tsp.
Instant coffee granules: 1-1/2 tsp.
Choose up to 2 mix-ins
White chocolate chips: 3/4 cup
Butterscotch chips: 3/4 cup
Semisweet chocolate chips: 3/4 cup
Peanut butter chips: 3/4 cup
Toasted, chopped walnuts: 3/4 cup
Toasted, chopped hazelnuts: 1 cup
Toasted, chopped pecans: 3/4 cup
Toasted, chopped macadamia nuts: 3/4 cup
Toasted slivered almonds: 3/4 cup
Chopped dried apricots: 3/4 cup
Dried cherries: 3/4 cup
Chopped crystallized ginger: 2/3 cup
Chopped candied orange peel: 1/2 cup
Cacao nibs: 1/3 cup
Bake the brownies
If you like, you can swirl jam, peanut butter, or caramel into the batter just before baking, for visual punch and another layer of flavor.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Drop a swirl-in, if using (see options below), by tablespoons evenly over the top and, using a knife or small spatula, swirl into the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with small bits of brownie sticking to it, 35 to 45 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool the brownies completely in the pan on a rack, about 3 hours.
Choose one swirl-in (optional)
Nutella: 2/3 cup
Smooth peanut butter: 2/3 cup
Jarred dulce de leche: 2/3 cup
Raspberry jam: 1/2 cup
Orange marmalade: 1/2 cup
Top your brownies (optional)
The brownies are delicious just naked, but if you like, you can add a decadent caramel, chocolate, or crème-fraiche glaze, which is not only delicious in its own right but also allows a a crunchy topping like nuts or candy to adhere to the brownie (If you want to use a crunchy topping, you must use a glaze).
When the brownies are cool, use the foil overhang to lift them from the pan. Invert onto a cutting board, carefully peel away the foil, and flip again. If using a glaze (see options below), pour the glaze over the brownie and spreadt to within 1/2 inch of the edges using a small offset spatula. Sprinkle the toppings, if using (see options below) over the glaze. Set the brownie aside until the glaze is firm.
Cut the brownie into 24 squares and serve immediately, or wrap in in plastic or waxed paper and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Let the brownies come to room temperature before serving.
Choose a glaze (optional; see recipes below)
Choose one or two toppings (optional; only if you use a glaze)
Toffee bits: 2/3 cup, sifted to remove excess powder
Chopped hard peppermint candies: 2/3 cup, sifted to remove excess powder
Chopped toasted pecans: 1 cup
Chopped roasted unsalted peanuts: 1 cup
Toasted slivered or sliced almonds: 1 cup
Chopped toasted hazelnuts: 1 cup
Chopped toasted macadamia nuts: 1 cup
Chopped toasted walnuts: 1 cup
Toasted shredded, sweetened coconut: 1 cup
Recipe: Chocolate Ganache Glaze
Put 6 oz. chopped bittersweet chocolate and 4 oz. unsalted butter (cut into 4 pieces) in a small heatproof bowl set over a small pot of simmering water and stir frequently until melted, about 3 minutes. (Alternatively, the chocolate and butter can be melted in a microwave).
Recipe: Crème Fraiche Glaze
In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup crème fraiche and 3 Tbs. confectioners’ sugar until well blended.
Recipe: Creamy Caramel Glaze
In a medium saucepan, cook 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 3 Tbs. water over low heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook without stirring until the sugar begins to turn golden brown on the edges. Gently swirl the pan over the heat to even out the color and cook until the sugar turns medium golden amber, about 3 to 5 minutes. Slide the pan from the heat and add 1/3 cup heavy cream and 2 Tbs. unsalted butter. Whisk until well-blended and smooth. Return to medium-high heat and boil, without stirring, until it is reduced to about 2/3 cup, about 1 to 2 more minutes. Set aside until the caramel is cooled but still pourable, about 15 minutes