It had been dawning on me that the surest way to achieve brownie nirvana, the kind of fudgy chocolatiness that wimpy people say is too chocolaty (and then go on to polish off another brownie or two), is best achieved by combining cocoa powder and melted chocolate. During this period of intense brownie contemplation I had lunch with Melissa Clark, food writer and mom to young Dahlia, and mentioned my brownie quest. She thought she had a recipe somewhere with dueling chocolates, and she e-mailed it to me that afternoon. I tinkered with it a bit, determined to decode a perfect brownie that could be mixed right in the saucepan. This is the one-pot result. Fifteen minutes of hands-on time, max, and well worth every minute. I am also ridiculously pleased to say that this recipe shaves off two more common brownie-making steps. Often a recipe will tell you to chop the chocolate before melting it. Here you just make sure to melt it with the butter over low heat, and the chocolate will dissolve gently into the butter, without scorching. Also, you can skip the whole double boiler thing if you keep the heat low enough, don’t stray too far, and stir frequently. This saves you washing a chopping board, a knife (or a food processor bowl and blade), and the second double boiler pan. You will want to celebrate this with a brownie.
Yield: Makes 12 huge or 24 reasonably sized brownies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus butter for greasing the baking pan (optional)
Nonstick cooking spray (optional)
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
½ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2½ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1½ cups all purpose flour
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 13 by 9–inch baking pan or spray it with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Place the butter and chocolate in a medium-size saucepan over low heat and let melt together, stirring until smooth. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cocoa powder, sugar, and salt, then blend in the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stirring to mix quickly so they don’t have a chance to cook at all before they are blended in. Blend in the flour.
3. Scrape the thick batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake until the edges just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
4. Let the brownies cool in the pan on a wire rack. When completely cool, cut them into 12 or 24 squares.
Cooking Tip: A bit of bad news, I’m afraid. You really need to let these brownies cool completely before you cut them or they will cut messily and not hold their shape very well. It’s best to leave the house to avoid temptation. But, hey, they’re for a bake sale. You weren’t going to actually eat one? Oh, okay, that’ll cost you $1.00. By the way, the brownies are so much better, both in terms of taste and consistency, when they are completely cool—in fact they’re even better the next day, firm and amazingly moist inside, with that gorgeous lightly crackled top crust.
Make Ahead: I have heard that these brownies can be stored in a tightly sealed container for up to five days, but this may be just a rumor.
What the Kids Can Do: They can measure, mix, dump, stir, pour, stand around saying“Are they cool yet? Are they cool yet? How about now? Are they cool now?”