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One-Bowl Cocoa Brownies

  It had been a bad day.  If I remember rightly, there was rain and cold and the dreariness of another schoolwork-filled day.

  Mid-afternoon, I shoved aside algebra and flipped onto my back, staring at the delicately painted ceiling of our family room.  Hands digging into the plush green carpet.

  I let out a sigh.  Mom was pottering about in the kitchen, one of her least favorite places to be.  I began to rack my head for what we had to work with in the pantry, I'd started to get pretty good at throwing together last minute meals.  Sometimes that meant bean dip, or a makeshift pot pie consisting mostly of freezer-burned peas.  Or a kick-ass grilled cheese with a few stray cans of tomato soup.

  As I began thinking about whether or not we had enough sandwich bread to make everyone grilled cheese, mom came and set on the steps in front of me.

  "I think we need brownies. Warm. With ice cream."

  My mom and I are different people, but many times we are very much on the same wavelength.  That was the first time I'd ever had a brownie fresh from the oven, a simple scoop of vanilla on top.  Each bite made every bit of grayness in that day seem like sheer perfection.  Cold ice cream just chilling the steaming hot brownie to an edible temperature, its creaminess alleviating the rich chocolate.  

  A true love was born that afternoon.  I've been obsessed with brownies (good brownies) ever since.  When the craving hits, as it does my mother, really nothing else will do.

  Soon after, I began experimenting.  My mom had a trusty recipe, but she wanted one that would give her more of a crackle-y, shiny meringue finish on top.  But the brownie itself couldn't be too fudge-y, or everyone just felt a little sick afterwards.

  I made lots of brownies at home.  Fudgey, cakey, and crackley.  All were devoured happily.

  Thinking back on those family-oriented afternoon dessert sessions makes me a little nostalgic.  When my mood is low and inspiration is lacking, I often find myself reverting back to one of mankind's basic necessities.  A good chocolate brownie.

  When your apartment is slightly in shambles and your kitchen is only so big, it's hard to take on big baking projects.  I used to laminate pastry dough and make 4 layer cakes.  Now, I do my best to limit dishes and avoid anything requiring an expensive stand mixer.  It saddens me sometimes, but I like to view this part of my life as a challenge.  I'm providing for myself, and anything I produce in this tiny kitchen is a feat in itself.  But it must always be good, and worth my time.

  And this, this crackle-y crusted, just the right amount of fudge-y one-pot brownie, is entirely worth your time.  Served warm or cold, it's sure to please.  And on this day of celebrating women, I'd like to thank my mowm for teaching me to find happiness in the gray, and how to take delight in the little things.  She has always been a great provider, not just to our stomachs, but also to our psyches.

One-Bowl Cocoa Brownies
Yield: one 8x8 inch pan, about 12-16 brownies

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Heaping 1/2 cup chocolate chunks (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8x8 or 9x9 inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper. Grease the parchment and set aside.

Set a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter until hot and bubbly (but not browning). Next, add the granulated sugar and vanilla. Stir well with a wire whisk for about a minute (really go at it, this will create that flaky layer!). Turn off heat. Then, whisk in the eggs one at a time, beating very well after each addition. Remove from heat.

Whisk in the cocoa powder until combined. Add the flour and salt, stir/fold in well with a wooden spoon until the flour is fully incorporated, but do not beat. Add the chocolate chunks (if using) and stir gently to fold them into the batter.

Pour batter into the previously prepared baking pan and smooth out. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-40 minutes. A toothpick or sharp knife inserted into the center should come out with a few moist crumbs attached. If there's still raw brownie batter on the toothpick, give it a few more minutes. Cool completely, or at least 20 minutes before serving.

Remove parchment paper (with brownies) from the pan. Peel away the parchment paper and cut the brownies into serving size pieces. Store cooled leftovers in an airtight container.

Sources: heavily adapted from Good Life Eats