The Ultimate Fudgy Caramel Brownies
And I don’t feel one bit bad about doing it.
I’m talking about cheating on my old faithful brownie recipe. It’s a fabulous recipe for fudgy brownies and has served me well since 2009, and I’ve had it on my blog since 2011. Every brownie recipe in my cookbook uses it as the base. The batter comes together in minutes by melting chocolate and butter together in the microwave, whisking in sugars, eggs, and flour. No mixer required, nothing complicated, and the results are fantastically fudgy, dense, rich, and perfect.
So why would I cheat on it? Good question. The simple answer is curiosity got the better of me.
The longer answer is that with cooking, if we only ever stuck to something we liked and never branched out, we’ll miss some gems along the way.
I cheated on these Chocolate Chip Cookies and was rewarding with finding my favorite new recipe for Chocolate Chip and Chunk Cookies. The old recipe was and still is fine, better than fine; I just prefer the new one. But plenty of people still write saying they made the older recipe and are thrilled.
The same with these Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies. A few simple tweaks to an already solid recipe and I now have Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies (gluten-free), my new favorite peanut butter cookie recipe.
Sometimes my favorite recipe for an item is on such a pedestal and almost nothing could trump it, and to try is just an exercise in dishes-doing and ingredients-wasting. Oh, I’ve been there. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.
But I have seen so many adaptations to the Alice Medrich brownie recipe from her 2003 cookbook, Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate.
So many good cooks, websites and newspapers just can’t be wrong. Deb’s version has 763 comments, most of them glowing, so it seemed like a good gamble. The worst thing is that I’d be out of is some cocoa powder.
Yes, this recipe uses cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate. Up until these brownies, I was of the mindset that cocoa powder is totally inferior to melted chocolate and that nothing made with it could ever compare. Well, I was wrong, big time. These brownies are every bit as fudgy, moist, rich, and not at all dry, cakey, or inferior in any way to melted chocolate brownies.
I’m a stickler for fudgy-only brownies with zero traces of cakiness. If they fell short in any way, I’d be the first to say it. Actually, I was almost looking for a reason to shun this recipe and was going out of my way looking for faults, but can’t offer a single flaw.
These brownies, like my old recipe, are so fast and simple to make. They’re as easy as using a boxed mix. In fact, if you like the taste of boxed mix brownies, you’ll especially love these. There’s some old-school nostalgia that comes from using cocoa powder.
They’re made in one bowl and the batter comes together with a whisk in minutes. Melt butter, cocoa powder and sugar together in the microwave. Stir in vanilla, two eggs, flour, and you’re done. If you’re looking for a short ingredients list brownie recipe that’s foolproof, look no further.
After pouring the batter into a foil-lined 8-by-8-inch pan, press 20 caramels in, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Alice suggests baking for 20 minutes but based on reading literally hundreds of comments on various sites from people who’ve made a version of this recipe, 20 minutes seems awfully short, even for me. And I love brownies so fudgy they’re nearly raw.
I recommend baking for 20 to 25 minutes, checking with a toothpick, and if it’s still soupy, bake for 5 minutes. Do not bake over 30 minutes. The toothpick test won’t necessarily come out clean, but when I inserted a toothpick into the center at 25 minutes, it was still watery-fudgy. At 28 minutes, they were done. They will continue to firm up as they cool.
Don’t be tempted to bake longer than 30 minutes, even if you think they’re raw; they’re not. The longer they bake, the greater chance the cocoa powder will either scorch, burn, or dry out, and you won’t have the wonderfully moist, uber-fudgy experience you deserve.
I let the pan cool on the counter for one hour, covered with a piece of foil, and placed it in the refrigerator overnight before slicing. I don’t think it’s possible to make really clean cuts unless these brownies are well-chilled because they’re so very fudgy. You could try cutting them with a pizza wheel if they’re sticking to your knife. Plus, in giving them time to really set up, the edges will firm up and turn chewier and the interior remains gooey, soft, and tender.
I prefer rich, fudgy brownies, French Silk Pie, chocolate mousse, and a piece of rich fudge to be served chilled. Or, you could skip all that, disregard any ideas of clean-cuts, and just scoop them out of the pan with a spoon. You may want to grab a huge ladle so you can shovel them in more efficiently.
My husband said these brownies are not only the best brownies he’s ever had or that I’ve ever made, he said they’re the best dessert I’ve ever made, period.
With over 500 recipes on my blog, 100 in my cookbook, and oodles more that I try and don’t make either cut, for him to say that these are the best dessert I’ve ever made is ridiculously high praise. He does say this every 6 months or so, and he forgets what he likes, but still they trump hundreds of other things.
The Bruce Springsteen song, Tunnel Of Love, comes to mind with the photo below.
I have been trying to decide which recipe I like better, the old or the new. The old recipe produces brownies that are slightly chewier, and the surface and base have a crisper “skin” because there’s more butter by two tablespoons, and there’s cocoa butter solids from the melted chocolate. They also have a slightly more buttery flavor.
The new recipe is also chewy on the edges but is softer in general. Not cakey soft, just soft and tender and lighter-weight. They’re the brownie equivalent of a Softbatch-style cookie. Both versions are ridiculously fudgy, dense, rich with zero cakiness.
The old is made in a slightly larger pan (9×9 versus 8×8) and based on how much I cook, we don’t need big batches of anything, and the smaller size is preferred, yielding just 9 generous squares.
Both recipes are equally fast and easy to make; made in 1 bowl in the microwave, wish a whisk, no mixer.
There’s less ingredients in the new recipe – 2 eggs versus 3, and just granulated sugar rather than a mix of granulated and brown sugars. Neither recipe produces “sweet” brownies; both are deep, dark, and rich, but the new recipe is even less sweet. They’re a dark chocolate and fudge lover’s dream.
And not to be cheap but cocoa powder is less expensive than dark chocolate. As Alice said, “The best version happens to be the one you can make when you’ve eaten all the 70% bars you bought for baking, and only a forgotten tin of cocoa powder remains on the shelf.” Ironically I used cocoa powder that I’d had for ages that was just sitting on my shelf. I used natural, unsweetened cocoa powder (non-Dutched). However Dutch-process or Hershey’s Special Dark may be used.
Look how dark these are, without even using Hershey’s Special Dark. Unfortunately, I can’t find it in metro San Diego. I have a circuit of about 6 major grocery stores and Target that I utilize, and no one carries it.
I think, overall, I like the new recipe better by a tiny margin; almost too close to call but I couldn’t very well say it was a tie. There’s a nostalgic quality that reminds me of the boxed brownies I’d made as a kid when I came home from school by stirring in water, oil and an egg and grossly underbaked them so they’d stay fudgy. Except with these, the flavor is infinitely darker, deeper, richer, and better.
And biting into huge caramel chunks doesn’t hurt either.
The Ultimate Fudgy Caramel Brownies
Possibly the best brownies I’ve ever had or made, and definitely my husband’s new favorite. It’s a one-bowl recipe that’s whisked together in 5 minutes and produces ridiculously rich and fudgy brownies with zero cakiness. They’re made with cocoa powder rather than melted chocolate, and ff you think cocoa powder brownies are inferior to melted chocolate brownies, these will change your mind. Not too sweet; very deep, dark, and rich. They’re a dark chocolate and fudge lover’s dream, with big chunks of caramel baked in. Ready from start to finish in 30 minutes – as easy as using a boxed mix with results that taste a zillion times better.
- 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process, I used natural)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, optional and to taste (I did not use salt, personal preference)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (original recipe is 1/2 teaspoon)
- 2 large eggs, cold
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (weighing nearly 2.5 ounces or 65 grams)
- 20 caramels, unwrapped (about 1/3 cup very thick, good-quality caramel sauce may be substituted and swirled or marbled over the surface)
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil leaving overhang on the sides, spray with cooking spray; set pan aside.
- In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine butter, sugar, cocoa, optional salt, and heat on high power to melt, about 45 seconds. Stop to stir, and heat in 10-second bursts until mixture has melted and can be stirred smooth (mine took 45 seconds + 15 seconds). Batter will be very granular.
- Add the vanilla, eggs, and stir vigorously until batter is thick, shiny, and well blended. Add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with a wooden spoon (I used metal) or a rubber spatula. Pour batter evenly into the prepared pan.
- Add caramels in four rows of 5 across, pressing each caramel down into the batter so that the top surface of the caramel is nearly flush with the batter surface. They should be wedged in quite deep but not bottoming-out and not touching the bottom of the pan or they’ll be prone to sticking to it.
- Bake until a toothpick in the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes, is Alice’s suggestion, but I think this is too short. I baked for 25 minutes, checked with a toothpick and it emerged soupy/watery at 25 minutes. I baked for 28 minutes total.
- I recommend baking 25 minutes, checking with a toothpick, and baking for up to 5 more minutes, as necessary. Do not bake over 30 minutes or brownies will be prone to scorching, burning, turning dry, or setting up too hard. Brownies will firm up as they cool. I recommend cooling brownies on counter in the pan for 1 hour, covering pan with a piece of foil (to prevent fridge smells) and placing pan in refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight, to cool completely before slicing if you want clean-cuts because they’re so fudgy; using a pizza wheel may help if brownies are sticking to your knife.
- Brownies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. I prefer them chilled and keep them in the fridge. The caramel gets a touch hard, but softens in a few minutes at room temp.
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies, also appearing in her cookbook, Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate
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Tell me about your perfect brownie. Fudgy or cakey? Frosted – and if so what kid of frosting? Stuffed with candy or cookies? Or are you a brownie purist?
Have you ever cheated on a favorite recipe? Did it pay off?
Thanks for the Breakfast For Dinner Cookbook Giveaway and Unreal Candy Giveaway entries!