There’s nothing more frustrating than slaving over homemade baked goods only to think, “The box tastes better.”
Yet it’s something I still run into more than I’d like, even as a fairly seasoned cook. When it comes to food, I prefer to be a bake-from-scratch kind of gal, which means my creations often end up a bit more time-consuming and expensive. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that baked with love doesn’t always translate into better flavor, which is why I tend to get a little miffed when a new from-scratch baking project doesn’t come out just right. After all, who wants to lose a blind taste test to a box where you just add a couple of eggs and oil? Or even worse, a sweet that has sat on the shelf for months?
I should note that, though I’m all about so-called “real food” ingredients now, I wasn’t always this way. When I was younger, I remember a classmate bringing delicious-looking store-bought snack cakes daily in her lunch box. At the time, I was insanely jealous and constantly looking for an opportunity to trade for those sugary snacks (funny how mushy tater tots aren’t worth much in a lunch room trade). But today, I look at those brand-name chocolate snack cakes and all I can see are the 40-plus ingredients – seriously, I counted – most of which I can’t pronounce. On the rare occasion that I eat one, I’m immediately disappointed and my sweet tooth is left unsatisfied.
It seems to me that desserts like brownies shouldn’t need a lengthy ingredient list- they should be simple, the way grandma used to make them. Flour, sugar, butter, some type of chocolate, salt, eggs and vanilla. Maybe walnuts if you’re feeling crazy. That’s about it. But too many times, I’ve whipped up a batch of homemade brownies only to be disappointed in the end result. In my mind, the perfect brownie should be rich and fudgy but with a chewy texture, not gooey or overly cakey. They should have the texture of boxed brownies but with a much richer, more decadent flavor.
These cocoa brownies hit the mark on both taste and texture. They pack a deep chocolate flavor without being cloyingly sweet like many store-bought baked goods, and are fudgy without feeling undercooked. Even better, you can make them in one bowl and prep them in 10 minutes or less.
While you can use any unsweetened natural or Dutch-process cocoa powder in this recipe, I recommend splurging on a top brand— for these brownies, I turned to Scharffen Berger, an American artisan chocolate manufacturer that makes its chocolate in small batches. After all, when you’re only using seven ingredients, they should be the very best. Two 6-ounce containers of Scharffen Berger unsweetened natural cocoa powder run approximately $20 online, which isn’t cheap when you consider the price of a box of brownies, but believe me when I say it’s worth it.
These classic brownies may seem simple, but what they lack in ingredient complexity they make up for in intense, chocolaty decadence. Serve with an ice-cold glass of milk or with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. If you feel like making these a gift, you can layer the dry ingredients in a mason jar and seal, but if you’d prefer not to share, who could blame you?
Scharffen Berger Cocoa Brownies
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1” pieces
1 ¼ cups sugar
¾ cup Scharffen Berger natural unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8x8x2” glass baking dish with foil, pressing firmly into pan and leaving a 2” overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray; set baking dish aside.
Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let cool slightly. Whisk sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium bowl to combine. Pour butter in a steady stream into dry ingredients, whisking constantly to blend. Whisk in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. Add flour and stir until just combined (do not overmix). Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top.
Bake until top begins to crack and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 25-35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cool completely in pan. Using foil overhang, lift brownie out of pan; transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.