espresso chocolate brownies.

Is it Thursday already? Time flies when you’re decorating for Halloween, carving a pumpkin for a contest you have no business entering into because you don’t know how to carve a pumpkin, and making the Hardest Cake I Have Ever Made. More on that particular cake in an upcoming post, which will be rife with warnings on how to avoid making the same mistakes I did, unless you super enjoy throwing an entire cake in the trash two-thirds of the way through and starting all over again. Maybe that’s your thing. First, let’s talk holiday dessert standbys. 

I had to make semi-last minute cookie trays for a gathering this past weekend. Whenever I have to do that, I remember how nice it is to have some solid, delicious, make-a-lot-with-little-effort recipes around to throw together. Let’s face it: as much as I love baking, when I’m faced with large quantities, the last thing I want to do fiddle around with persnickety recipes or desserts which are best served the same day they are made. You have to have things you can make a day or even a few days before that still taste fresh on the day you serve them.

I went with a few standbys you’ve seen already: the mini deep dish chocolate chip cookies, the lemon buttermilk cookies, and the chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies I made into ice cream sandwiches last year for Halloween. I love all of those for parties because you mix them together, throw them in the fridge, then roll out and bake them when you’re ready. Nothing to it. I also made a favorite brownie of mine which I’ve been making for holiday cookies mixes for years now, so I thought I’d snap a few pictures and share those with you while I’m thinking about it.

I’ve used a few different recipes for chocolate espresso brownies before, but this one – from America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated, the only people who can write a recipe longer than me – is my favorite. It’s reliable, easy to make, and doesn’t go to either extreme in terms of being too cakey and dry or too fudge-y to handle. It bakes evenly (no crispy weird edges like box brownies tend to have) and cuts beautifully, so you can maximize your servings. Anyone who says that you can get 64 servings from an 8×8 pan is dreaming, but you can easily get 36 neat little squares from this, and in my opinion, it’s the ideal size for something this intense and chocolatey.

I make these the day or so before cutting and serving them, which gives them a chance to deepen their flavor a bit and become the easiest brownies to cut, ever. I use a large chef’s knife and a damp towel to wipe the blade; trust me, it’s better than the alternative (ugly brownies).

Short post, I know, but I have pumpkin #3 to carve. Pumpkins #1 and #2 we can call “practice” or we can call “utter failure,” you decide, but I’m not one to give up. I will not be defeated by a gourd.

Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2010 by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated.

Espresso Brownies

  • 1 ounce 100% unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 ounce 70% extra bittersweet  chocolate, chopped
  • 5 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into quarters
  • 3 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

*note: For recipes in which chocolate is the star, I typically use Ghirardelli. It’s relatively easy to find, much more affordable than super-fancy chocolate, and does solid work in terms of flavor and melting. I didn’t know this, but in reading another Cook’s Illustrated recipe, their test kitchen picked Ghirardelli as their favorite bittersweet chocolate. If you have a favorite chocolate, feel free to use it, but I suggest it be a good-quality one.

Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Line an 8×8 inch glass baking dish carefully with aluminum foil (it tears, thus defeating the purpose) and spray with cooking spray.

Melt the chocolates and the butter in a double boiler (or heatproof bowl, like a glass Pyrex) set over simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan of chocolate.  Stir occasionally as the chocolate melts, until smooth. Whisk in cocoa powder and espresso powder and set aside to cool slightly.

Whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt together in a large bowl until incorporated, just a few seconds, nothing major. With your whisk going, pour in the melted chocolate slowly and continue whisking until everything is homogenous. Add the flour, using a rubber spatula to stir in (I like to use a folding motion, but there’s nothing delicate to this, so do it however you wish) until there are no lumps and the mixture is smooth with no floury patches.

Pour batter into prepared pan, using your spatula to spread the fairly thick mixture out towards the corners. Once even, smooth the top and place in the oven.

 Bake for 35-40 minutes, checking at the 30-minute mark for doneness. Your cake tester/toothpick should come out with a few chocolaty crumbs on it, but not batter-like. “Just done” is what you’re looking for here. Place pan on wire rack and let cool completely. Once cool (at least two hours, people; I know it smells good), lift entire brownie out by its foil handles. Do not cut into squares until serving.

Brownies, cut or not yet cut, can be tightly wrapped or placed in an airtight container and stored for up to 5 days in the fridge. If you make these a day or so ahead of when you need them, leave in their whole, uncut form, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and leave them at room temperature or store in the fridge; your choice.

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  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina October 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    I’m going to run a bake sale. I’m going to call it “Jen’s Bake Sale”…all baked goods should be sent direct to me.

    I’m hoping that you’d like to contribute.

    Also, I’d like advance photos of the pumpkin. Because I’ve already imagined sparkles and purple…and I’d like to know if I’m right.

    • Reply shannon October 30, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      i would for SURE contribute to something called “Jen’s Bake Sale.” it sounds legit.

      dang it! in reality world, i suck it at comment replies in terms of them being on time. they like, hide and then i get busy with things, and then pumpkin tragedies happen and i get all flustered…aaaand i forget to send advanced pics. I really wanted to do sparkles, but it was amazing i even got it in on time. next year.

  • Reply Kim Bee October 25, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Ah frick I almost forgot I was suppose to carve my pumpkin. Apparently instead of baking tomorrow I’m winning a pumpkin carving contest. Bah. Thanks for the reminder. My brain is like the stuff you pull out of a pumpkin.

    I love brownies, I love chocolate, I love chocolate brownies.

    I spray Pam on my knife, it doesn’t work that well though so this isn’t like a tip that is going to rock your world or anything.

    • Reply movita beaucoup October 26, 2012 at 2:40 am

      Dear Kim,

      Please stop reading blogs, and focus on my pumpkin carving competition.

      movita beaucoup

      • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:31 am

        i feel like perhaps this request fell upon deaf ears. because i don’t see kim’s pumpkin anywhere. 🙂

    • Reply shannon October 30, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      kim: WHERE WAS YOUR PUMPKIN. I expect to see you at Ginger 2012.

      i’ve heard the Pam thing also, and with mixed results (maybe it depends on the style of brownie?). the “wipe with damp towel until it’s clean” approach is the only thing i’ve done that seems to help, and it’s a pain (lots of stopping and starting) but it usually does the trick. for these, it always works, but they’re a really easy texture to work with.

  • Reply Sharyn Dimmick October 25, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    These look good: I can see the moistness. You got my attention with the title and then the photo. I do not care for Ghirardelli chocolate though — vastly prefer Baker’s: just call me old-fashioned.

    • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:30 am

      Thanks, Sharyn! I refuse to call you ‘old-fashioned’ in a bad way; only in a good way! We used Baker’s brand growing up, and certainly everything my mom made was (and is ) delicious. I still use Baker’s from time to time; sometimes my love for things is habit: now i’m thinking i should pick up Baker’s and make something with it to side-by-side it. 🙂

  • Reply movita beaucoup October 26, 2012 at 2:44 am

    1. These brownies look amazing. There is nothing – NOTHING – like a good brownie.
    2. I can’t wait to see your pumpkin.
    3. I’ve lost pumpkin carve-off almost every year. Last year I came in last. I got ONE vote. So that means only 2.0 or my mother voted for me, and the rest of my friends and FAMILY did not. So, you can rest assured that my pumpkin carving skills are no better this year, and my friends and family are no more loyal, so you’ll probably fair better than I.

    • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:39 am

      i’m still reeling over your one vote for last year. we weren’t friends yet, or hadn’t met, or you would have had my vote as well. you need these brownies to console you, because i can tell it still hurts. there truly IS nothing like a good brownie.

  • Reply Brianne October 26, 2012 at 6:57 am

    I am always on the lookout for a good brownie recipe, and this one looks divine! There’s such a thing as extra bittersweet chocolate? Could I use unsweetened instead? Unsweetened chocolate never gets used up in my house–the stuff we have is crazy bloomed. Oh, no…I hope Emma doesn’t read this! We’ll be carving pumpkins this weekend, too, but it won’t be anything close to fabulous enough for movita’s carve-off. I need practice. But mostly I need to go do my statistics homework. And make these brownies this weekend!

    • Reply Emma October 26, 2012 at 9:47 am


      • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:46 am

        emma: you always make me laugh. it doesn’t even matter what sort of day i’m having.

    • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:43 am

      there’s such a thing in Ghirardelli land – their 60% is “bittersweet” and their 70% is dubbed “extra bittersweet.” I believe the original recipe called for 2 ounces unsweetened and 5 ounces bittersweet, so feel free to switch it up! I think everyone’s taste is different when it comes to chocolate, anyway, so make them according to what you like.
      you know emma will have something to say about your bloomed chocolate, although if it were me, i’d throw it in. mostly because i feel like if you melt it and don’t see the blooming anymore, then POOF: fixed. but i know zero about chocolate. 🙂

      i want to see your pumpkin! believe me, mine is decidedly un-fabulous. it was fun to do, but i’m not a pro by any means.

      • Reply Emma October 29, 2012 at 7:53 am

        bloom schmoom, i’d throw it in too! 🙂

  • Reply Ashley October 26, 2012 at 8:39 am

    Defeat the gourd!!!! I rely on the Pumpkin Master’s carving templates and tools, which you can find at Target and most supermarkets. You tape a stencil onto the pumpkin, prick the outline with a push-pin, take off the stencil and carve. It’s a bit more effort, but you end up with an awesome pumpkin. These brownies also look delicious, and I want them right now.

    • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:46 am

      FINALLY i defeated the gourd, Ashley! it was touch and go – i blew through 2 Pumpkin Masters carving sets (TWO!) and they really are the best carving kits to use. I think my pumpkin was extra thick or hard or something. the book that came with it did really have some cool designs; i saved it and if i have time today or tomorrow, i may carve some of my other pumpkins (using their templates and tracing thing and a knife, since my carving tools are toast.)
      i LOVE these brownies; they’re a total standby for me. I have never once had them turn out bad.

  • Reply Emma October 26, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I’m so excited to see your pumpkin! I was defeated by the pumpkin man himself on my first go – we went to the patch in plenty of time but they had already closed down for the night:( I finally picked some up yesterday, and spent my morning getting leg cramps and shaving away pumpkiny grams of matter. I’m a pretty poor carver, too. But damn, are pumpkins cheap in the middle of nowhere!

    I’m not very up on my brownie recipes, but I made two different batches of swirly cinnamon goat cheese brownies last week. So good, but a teensy bit more difficult to cut than these:)

    • Reply Emma October 26, 2012 at 9:54 am

      Oh, and I always use Baker’s too. Cuz it’s cheap, coz!

      • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:51 am

        Cheap, and a solid offering in the chocolate department. Agree. Bakers has been around forever, and i mean it no disrespect. 🙂

    • Reply Angie October 26, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      I don’t suppose you’ve posted the recipe for cinnamon goat cheese brownies. They sound amazing!

      • Reply Emma October 29, 2012 at 7:36 am

        Oooh, I haven’t, but I should! I’ll post a link here if I end up including the recipe online somewhere:)

      • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:55 am

        Angie, now you’ve made me hungry for cinnamon goat cheese brownies! I figured out this morning that Emma was the one who made those, and she may even share the recipe with you/us. Because obviously i want it too! Emma runs of agates and madeleines, and she’s one of my favorite bloggers (my apologies for repeating information if you already know this.) I’ve asked her about the recipe, so i hope she’s in a sharing sort of mood. 🙂

      • Reply Emma October 30, 2012 at 5:39 am

        Okay Angie, fire up your oven! Here’s my recipe for Swirly Cinnamon Goat Cheese Brownies:

        • Reply shannon October 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm

          my. goodness.
          it’s just “ask and ye shall receive” around here, isn’t it! emma, you just made my day; i got as far as the words “malt powder” and my brain sorta melted with excitement. needless to day, i’m making these.

    • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:50 am

      here’s why i have mad respect for early bakers (and i mean, this is one of many reasons, obviously). i want to know what genius grabbed a pumpkin, opened it up, and thought “hey: this would make a SWEET custard pie, right?” and did it. without a temp-controlled oven. it’s like how i live in continual awe of the first person who made a cake. just things i think about.

      the cinnamon goat cheese brownie mystery is solved! I saw a comment come across from Angie (see above/below?) regarding cinnamon goat cheese brownies, and my thought was both “YUM!” and “wait: i don’t have a recipe for those.” so it seems as though Angie and i are both awaiting this recipe. I’m directing her your way in the hopes you can share.

  • Reply TastefullyJulie October 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    I love how how perfectly square and neat these are! I always end up with ugly brownies when I need to bring them somewhere. I’m going to have to stash this recipe away for the next time I need pretty brownies!

    • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:56 am

      and you’ve just named my most favorite thing about these in terms of food-gift-giving; the slice factor. it’s so hard to find brownies that don’t fall apart or get all crazy! And feel free, depending on taste, to leave the espresso out or keep it in; doesn’t change the texture and the ones without espresso powder are just as delicious.

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats October 27, 2012 at 8:50 am

    These brownies look like the most PERFECT texture…dense and fudgey. I wish I had one right now.

    Also, I can NOT wait to see your pumpkin! 🙂

    • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 7:59 am

      Amy, i should learn to answer my comments in a speedier fashion. One, it’s more organized. Two, i’m answering comments about espresso chocolate brownies and reliving the moment(s) when i grabbed one to chow down on. aaaaand now i want to make another batch.

      i LOVED your pumpkin. I’m super happy we weren’t in the same group because you would have KICKED my butt.

  • Reply Katherine @ eggton October 28, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Brownies that can sit for a day or two before you cut them?! Fantastic!!!

    • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 8:06 am

      it’s pretty awesome how they stay self-contained inside their little outer brownie shell. it’s science or something.

  • Reply natalie October 28, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    those basically look like fudge.
    which, to me, is a good thing. espresso + brownie + fudge = happy natalie
    like beyond happy
    and if this pumpkin turns out anything like your cake… or your pi pie… i think it’s easy to say you have this one in the bag 🙂

    side note: pretty sure these brownies would travel REALLY well… like, across the country well… just sayin. 😉

    • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 8:13 am

      These are basically fudge, or fudge-ish, minus the pitfalls of fudge, like melty-ness and random goo. which is great, because fudge – random goo = happy shannon.

      don’t give me ideas. i have your address. 🙂 i may test that theory at some point.

  • Reply Kathryn October 28, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    I am very finicky when it comes to brownies–can’t be too goeey, and can’t be too cakey–but these look absolutely perfect… and I love, love espresso and chocolate together! Adding these to my must-bake list right now. Thank you!!!

    • Reply shannon October 29, 2012 at 8:16 am

      Kathryn, you’re welcome! I’m the same way with brownies; I get a little upset when I have a recipe that doesn’t come out exactly the way I like my brownies, and too often if they cut well, they’re too dry, and if they don’t? chocolatey mess. These, somehow, manage to be both cut-able and perfectly fudge-like. Total standby for food gifts, parties, whatever.

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog October 29, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Simple is best when dealing with a hungry crowd. Oh M G! These brownies look divine and almost like fudge. I just had a vision of myself double fisting these into my brownie hole. Mmmmm!

    • Reply shannon October 30, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      Agreed: simple is necessary unless people want to see me have some mini-meltdown trying to get things done. You could easily double-fist these things and still manage to keep yourself looking presentable at party; no crumbs and just the right size!

  • Reply Amy (Savory Moments) October 30, 2012 at 5:32 am

    Oh my – these look insanely chocolaty and so thick and delicious! Wow! I love all the different chocolates you used.

    • Reply shannon October 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      Thanks Amy! I like to play around with different types of chocolate in things like this; for me, it’s a good way to learn more about what each does and which combination i like the best (since i’m no chocolate expert). 🙂 So i learn a little something and get a nice treat at the end.

  • Reply Monica April 26, 2013 at 9:07 am

    I can’t stop looking at these brownies. They look insanely perfect. The recipe doesn’t seem all that foreign to me – I’m convinced it’s *you* and your skills, clearly…I love brownies so much…too much…

    • Reply shannon April 26, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      Monica, you give me far too much credit for my cooking skills. These are an America’s Test Kitchen recipe, and i’ll tell you; if i want to make something basic – like brownies, or angel food cake, or whatever – I go right to this cookbook. It’s like a foolproof way to make the best possible something. These brownies were no exception to that, and i’m happy i found them. I bet if you make them they turn out just like mine. 🙂

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