Soul Satisfying Brownies

IMG_5471In the film version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s must-read memoir, Eat Pray Love, Liz (aka Julia Roberts) introduces her Italian tutor to a new English word. Holding up a bottle of wine, she says, “Therapist.”

In the way that Eskimos have a hundred words for snow, I believe Americans have a thousand words for therapist. Wine is one.

Brownie is another. When you’re having one of those days, nothing is faster, easier or more satisfying to your beleaguered spirit than a brownie. Am I right?

And, in the way that there are a thousand words for therapist, there are (at least) a thousand recipes for brownies. We all have a favorite – or many favorites. I grew up making theIMG_5470 one-bowl recipe on the back of the Baker’s chocolate box. In high school, when my friends and I suddenly found ourselves hungry (you remember how that can happen, right?), the Duncan Hines Fudge Brownie mix was the answer. Although, as I recall, the yield was somewhat less than indicated on the box due to excessive batter eating.

Today, there are several brownies I enjoy: I like a dark chocolate fudgy one straight from the fridge, I like a dense IMG_5473chewy one like the kind they sell at Zaro’s Bakery in Grand Central Station (the commuter’s best friend I always say), I like a fancy one like cream cheese swirl or salted caramel swirl. They’re all good. They all make me happy. (Despite an earlier post as to whether I actually like them or not. This is about “therapist” not about best treat ever.)

But they don’t all make me satisfied. Happy stomach, happy brain, sure. Satisfied heart, soothed soul? For that I need a no-fuss, traditional, cakey brownie. No bells or whistles, no fancy ingredients you might not have. Just the basics, whisked together in a single bowl and baked for 25 minutes.

It’s a cure for what ails you. (Or at least one of them.)

Soul Satisfying Brownies

Yield: 16 2-inch brownies

Note: I am tinkering with low cholesterol and gluten-free baking. This recipe reflects both. You can make it the “regular” way using whole eggs and unbleached flour.)


6 Tbs (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

2 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/3 c sugar

2/3 c brown sugar, packed (I used turbinado crystals for a cakier texture)

½ c Egg Beaters egg substitute (or two large eggs)

1 tsp vanilla

½ c Cup4Cup gluten free flour (or the same amount of regular flour)

¼ tsp salt


Butter an 8-inch square pan, lining the bottom and two sides with parchment leaving a 1-inch overhang. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine the chopped chocolate and butter in a microwave safe dish (I use a Pyrex measuring cup), and zap on low until melted. Check every 15 seconds and stir. Set aside.

IMG_5474Combine sugars in a medium mixing bowl. Add the chocolate-butter mixture and whisk to combine. Add the Egg Beaters, in two additions, whisking after each. Whisk in the vanilla. Add the flour and salt, whisking until combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 25 minutes until edges just start to pull away.

Cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan using parchment handles and cool on rack completely.





Pitch Black Cocoa Brownies

I was going to title this “The 40 Stroke Brownie” but my editorial staff felt that could go offIMG_2531 in too many unintended directions. Whatever. I still feel it’s interesting to note that many, many recipes instruct one to “beat vigorously for 40 strokes.” Not sure where it comes from and a Google search was exhausting scrolling through pages of health-related results. (Point taken, editors!) What I find, though, is that those 40 strokes with a wooden spoon are magical – your batter transforms into something satiny and wonderful. And whatever you’re baking is heightened – heavenly textures.

40 strokes of beauty

40 strokes of beauty

As was the case yesterday when, in mid-afternoon, I was toiling away at my desk and thinking I’d like something chocolate. And knowing there was nothing to be had at the moment (having finished my usually reliable supply of frozen chocolate bars). What to do?

Basic brownies. One bowl. 45 minutes from start to finish. Let’s go!

I was interested primarily in speed and ease so considered making from memory the recipe from the Baker’s box. But instead I once again invited Alice Medrich into the conversation and pulled together her Cocoa Brownies tout suite.

Because she’s Alice and therefore the bomb, her recipe includes a little discussion about cocoa and the flavor profiles when using natural (nonalkalized) or Dutch-process (alkalized) cocoa. She remarks that Dutch-process cocoa delivers a flavor reminiscent of Oreo cookies. Interesting. I use Droste Dutch-process cocoa and have never noticed the Oreo effect. I have noticed it, though, quite robustly, when using something called “Black Onyx” cocoa.

AccordingIMG_2532 to the Savory Spice Shop website, “[Black Onyx] has been alkalized to the extreme, producing a dark, purplish black cocoa that makes for an impressive black-as-coal baked good. This extreme alkalization neutralizes the natural bitterness, removing some of its chocolate flavor and a lot of its butter fat (10-12%).” I discovered it at my local heaven, er, specialty food shop, Surfa’s. It’s definitely black and definitely delivers the Oreo notes. You’ve got to be judicious in its use unless you love Oreos that much.

Yesterday I was also out of Droste, but did have a tub of Hershey’s cocoa in the cupboard. So I measured two ounces of Hershey’s and one ounce of Black Onyx into the recipe.

The results? Black as night, Oreo note present and accounted for, moist and slightly chewy texture. And exactly what this hardworking girl needed to get through the afternoon! I do believe it’s those last 40 strokes that make the texture so delightful.

Because the brownies are so intensely dark, these would make an excellent Halloween treat with just a single candy corn slightly off center on top.


Pitch Black Cocoa Brownies

Adapted from Alice Medrich, Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies

Preheat oven to 325. Butter an 8-inch square pan, or line with parchment or foil, creating overhangs. Set aside.IMG_2530


10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter

1 ¼ c sugar

2/3 c (2 ounces) natural unsweetened cocoa powder such as Hershey’s

1/3 c (1 ounce) Black Onyx unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cold large eggs

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs (1.75 ounces) all-purpose flour


Position a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Melt butter gently in heatproof bowl in the microwave. Add the sugar, cocoa powders and salt to hot butter, stir to combine, and set aside to cool until just warm.

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 strokes with the wooden spoon.

Spread evenly in the prepared pan.

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

Remove from pan and cut into squares.